Published on April 5th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant0
Interview: Writer Alice Kuipers – Me (and) Me
Me (and) Me is the new novel from Saskatoon writer Alice Kuipers. We talk to Kuipers about her writing and the balance of her life.
Saskatoon young adult fiction writer Alice Kuipers is releasing her new book, Me (and) Me, on April 11th. This is Kuipers’ fifth novel, the latest in a successful run of work that has sold well and garnered some awards, both local and international. Me (and) Me is the Sliding Doors-esque tale of a teenager that’s forced to choose between two people that are drowning, and in that moment, her life splits into two lives, showing her the consequences of both actions and tasking her with answering the question — which life is the correct one?
Kuipers manages to find balance, having time to work, even with four kids and a partner that also has an international writing career (Yann Martel). I interviewed her on the eve of this latest release to talk about her career, life, and her writing. (You can learn more about Kuipers and her other books at her website, www.alicekuipers.com).
THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Where are you from, originally? Why did you come to Canada?
ALICE KUIPERS: I was born in London and I moved to Canada in 2003 when I fell in love with a Canadian writer. He had a job here in the prairies, as Writer-in-Residence at Saskatoon Public Library, so we took the plunge together. That was nearly fourteen years ago.
TFS: What is it about Saskatoon that keeps you and your partner here?
AK: We came for the residency at the library but we stayed because we found Saskatoon to be a creative and supportive place for two writers. Yann and I hardly knew each other when we moved in together (we’d spent five weeks in each other’s company), and as we fell in love with each other, we fell in love with this city. We have four children here now and we’re happy with the quality of life that all of us experience here — we like our children’s school, our friends, the river walks we take with our little dog.
TFS: How did you get into writing?
AK: I started writing when I was very young — I wrote a novel when I was eleven as a school project. When I was eighteen, I realized that I wanted to be able to keep making time for writing (and for reading) even with the busy-ness of adult life. So I kept writing and eventually, many many years later, published a novel. Since then I’ve gone on to publish five YA novels, two picture books and I have a chapter book coming out soon. But for each book I write, I seem to have a lot of unpublished work too — I have a lot of ideas and I love writing, but not everything works on the page.
TFS: Where did the story for Me (and) Me come from? What was the inspiration?
AK: Me (and) Me is a book that I began twenty years ago. I started writing a book about a character whose life splits into two, but the character was too much like me and that book didn’t work well. I came back to this idea when Lark — the main character of Me (and) Me — came into my mind. She was seventeen and into writing songs and her band. She made me want to write about her.
[A video still from the Me (and) Me trailer].
TFS: What is your writing process? Is there any place special you like to physically be to write?
AK: I use a laptop to write, although I have a treadmill desk that I could use more often than I do. I stick on headphones, put on music and settle down whenever I have a moment, wherever that happens to be — often in cafes, like D’Lish or Citizen. I have four small children so work is always a bit scattered — but I have a weird habit of listening to the same song over and over and over and over again, which seems to help me tune into what I’m doing. I write lots of words when I settle down — easily 1000. That’s probably why I have to throw out so much of what I write! I spend most of my writing life editing.
TFS: How do you capture the teenage voice so well? How does it differ from an adult voice?
AK: I interview my characters as I start to write a new book, so that I get to know them well; I don’t write about adults, so all the voice I hear are teen voices. But I do hear their voices in my head — so Lark was pretty easy to hear. I had to discover her world by doing research into parkour and songwriting, which was fun. Then I read all my dialogue out loud, well, I read all of my manuscripts out loud, to see how the words sound. I think that makes the voices truer. My brother thinks all my characters sound like me. But other readers are more complimentary.
TFS: How do you find the time to get any writing done with four kids? I have one and finding any time for long-term projects after family, the day job, and freelance work is a huge challenge, haha.
AK: I schedule everything very carefully, and then when one of my children keeps me up all night puking, I throw the plan in the garbage. At the start of the week, I sketch out what I’d like to get done by the end of the week. Then I break down what I need to do each day to make that happen. I don’t always get it done. But I get a surprising amount done like this. I also know exactly what I want to write next should I have time to write — I keep scenes playing in my mind like a strange movie. As we’ve added in more children, I’ve had to get more organized. I never used to be like this
TFS: That’s pretty good scheduling advice, and fairly close to what I end up doing: following To Do Lists. What is the most major change in your writing, or your thought process about writing, between Life on the Refrigerator Door and the new book?
AK: This is a great question and I’m not sure I have a clear answer. I suppose as a writer, I’ve tried to challenge myself with each book, which is exactly what I tried to do with Life on the Refrigerator Door. I’ve worked hard to become better at writing a good scene, while trying to stick to the emotional truth of strong stories. Life on the Refrigerator Door was the first book I’d written that I felt I understood how to tell a story — it was the sixth novel I’d written but the others weren’t strong enough to connect with readers and so they remain unpublished in quiet files on my computer.
TFS: And I know it’s a clichéd question for writers, but I am genuinely interested in this kind of thing — what are you reading right now?
AK: I’m reading a novel called The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy, and Nostalgia by M.S Vassanji, and I just finished Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. I’m also reading Delirium by Lauren Oliver — I love her YA novels. Basically, I like reading lots of books at once — if I get weary of one, I flip to another. Sort of like how I write.
TFS: Is there anything I’ve missed that would be important to mention?
AK: If anyone is interested in writing and in taking their own writing further, I have a free course online that people can sign up to. Freeflow: A Writing Journey. Join now here and here’s my website www.alicekuipers.com.