The Story of My Book: Eowyn Ivey on The Snow Child
Bookseller and writer Eowyn Ivy guest blogs to tell us the story of how her debut novel, The Snow Child came to be – from discovering a Russian fairytale at Fireside Books in Alaska to writing drafts out of a converted closet.
I work as a bookseller here in Alaska at Fireside Books, and one of my favorite jobs is shelving books. This is where I find new authors and discover topics I didn’t even know existed. We sell both new and used books, so it is an eclectic mix that always surprises me.
One winter night several years ago, I was shelving a stack of books when I came across one of those surprises. It was a children’s version of the Russian fairy tale Snegurochka, illustrated by the Alaskan artist Barbara Lavallee. It was a simple story, so I read it quickly standing there in the store. As I finished the last page, a strange tingly sensation overtook me. This was it! For years I had been searching for a path to the novel I wanted to write – a magical tale, set in Alaska, full of beauty and danger. I purchased the children’s picture book and brought it home.
I had been working on an entirely different novel for nearly five years, and I felt compelled to finish it. I tried to ignore the draw of Snegurochka. But in my spare time, I allowed myself to continue researching the fairy tale. I discovered different versions, told through Russian lacquer paints, storybooks, even a ballet and opera. At last the temptation became too great – I abandoned that first novel and gave in to Snegurochka.
My mom, Julie LeMay, is a poet, and the two of us made a pact. Each week, she would give me a new poem and I would give her a new chapter of The Snow Child. We weren’t heavily critiquing each other’s work, but instead encouraging each other and providing ourselves with a deadline. That same winter, I gave birth to our second daughter. Each night, I would wait for the baby to fall asleep. Then I would sneak up to the walk-in closet I had converted into a make-shift office and write the next chapter. When I was done, I would come downstairs to read it to my husband and oldest daughter, and the next day I would give it to my mom. The Snow Child soon became a topic of discussion in our family. Would Jack shoot a moose to feed them for the winter? What would happen to Faina?
Thinking back on those months – the snowy days, the fire crackling in the woodstove, my family sharing in the excitement as The Snow Child was born – I realise what a magical time it was.