May 28, 2015

Interview: Anna North - The Life and Death of Sophie Stark

1) Could you tell my readers a bit more about yourself?

I’m a fiction and nonfiction writer. In my life as a journalist, I write editorials for The New York Times, and also write for and edit the editorial page’s blog. I like to work on my fiction in the early mornings, before I go to work. That’s when I have the most energy, but it’s also when my mind feels clear and quiet, and I haven’t yet started thinking about the news or what’s going on in my day. When I’m not writing, I love reading, watching “Game of Thrones,” bird-watching, and yoga.


2) The Life and Death of Sophie Stark reads like a movie, the documentary about her life. It's almost like reading through a camera, was it difficult to create this effect?

Thanks, that’s really flattering! From the beginning I was thinking about Sophie’s legacy, about what people would say about her when she was gone. And so even when I was writing about Sophie’s early life, or her first big love, I was sort of thinking about her posthumously, in a way, about how she’d be remembered. I think Sophie, after a certain point in her life, thinks of herself this way too.

3) Sophie isn't very likeable, but everyone loves her and it's very natural. It's a contradiction which works very well, her character seems to be made of contradictions. Is that a coincidence or have you planned it this way? It's like coexisting contradictions are the base of the novel: movie-book, dislike-admiration/love, breakable-strong, building a relationship-destruction, etc.

I definitely thought of Sophie as being composed of contradictions. I wanted some people to be drawn to her, even though she doesn’t understand people very well (though she may understand more than she lets on). I think all the other contradictions may have flowed from Sophie’s contradictory nature — I wanted her to be this mystery at the center of the book, and everything else kind of came from that.

4) It's almost as if Sophie is someone who really exists (is this because the book reads like a movie or is it a coincidence?). Was it like that for you when you were writing about her? How did/do you see your main character?

I had a sense of her physically very early on in the writing process. I had some models in mind (famous people, not people I know), but Sophie took on her own distinctive appearance for me very early — the hawk-like face, the big eyes. I had such a sense of her personality early on, too, despite her contradictions, that she felt like a real person to me.

5) Your novel has an unusual construction. How did you get that idea and why did you write it like that?

I made a bunch of attempts to write the novel from a single point of view. I tried it from Robbie’s point of view, and from the point of view of a character who would later sort of morph into the critic, Ben Martin. But I wasn’t really satisfied with any of them. Then I decided to try putting the novel together from all of their points of view — when I tried that, I was happy with it for the first time.

6) Unusual talent is a big theme of the novel. What's your advice for people who have a talent like that? What should they do with it?

Maybe just to understand that talent isn’t everything. Sophie always chooses her art over other people, and while that’s sometimes good for her art, I’d argue that it’s sometimes bad for it. Sophie was a fascinating character for me but she’s definitely not a model for how people should live. I definitely think artists, like anyone, need to be compassionate to the people around them. They shouldn’t assume their talent is the only important thing about them, or their lives.

7) Sophie's life hasn't been easy and she makes it even harder for herself, why does she do that, because there's no other way or because she's like that and doesn't know how to be anything else, etc.?

I think on one level, she doesn’t know how to be any other way. I don’t think Sophie knows how to be really kind to people, or to put their interests ahead of what she’s doing in her films. Sometimes, though (and yes, even my understanding of Sophie changes somewhat by the day), I think she could have learned. She has models in her life of people who are kind, and some people ask her explicitly not to do things but she does them anyway. I think Sophie has a vision for the kind of art she wants to create, the kind of artistic persona she wants to have, and the kind of artistic legacy she wants to leave. In some ways she’s driven toward these things by the kind of person she is, but she does have some choices along the way, and she always chooses the art and the legacy over what might be best for the people around her (or, sometimes, for herself).

8) The story has many dimensions and stories within stories as every time someone else is telling about Sophie it's their story that is taking over. How was it to distinguish them and to make them all equally strong?

I really let myself get lost in each person’s story when it was his or her turn to talk. I let my imagination go off on tangents, and trusted that exploring each character and his or her back story would reveal more about Sophie and advance the plot, too. Sometimes it was hard to give all the characters equal attention — I had to spend extra time with some of them, imagining things like their physical appearances, their families, and their fears.

9) If you'd have met Sophie what would you have said to her?

I think I’d say I loved her work (I imagine that I would, though of course it’s hard to imagine what her movies would be like if they were real). I wouldn’t bother to ask her any questions; I’d know she wouldn’t give me satisfying answers.

1 comment:

  1. I'd have said the same thing to Sophie, had I meet her. How I would love to meet her... :(


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