Eva Stachniak provides a much-needed writer recharge

Alright already, I know it’s been awhile…

In fact, I’m acutely aware of it. With the monumental elephant-in-the-room distraction of school, it’s been a slim couple of months in terms of my personal writing and author mental health.

You know what I’m talking about, right?

When I don’t carve out a space for myself to be detached and just write, I get a sensation of bugs crawling beneath my skin, as if the cold,  sharp edges of little serif crawlers were poking me and prompting me to knock off whatever I think I’m doing that’s so important and just write dammit!

With this in mind, yesterday I made my way to CBC studios in downtown Vancouver to participate in CBC Radio One’s Book Club, featuring author Eva Stachniak. From the get-go, Stachniak’s talk promised to be a good’er. She opened with a reading from her new novel The Winter Palace, which was rich in the texture of the Russian Court and the towering historical figure of Catherine the Great. The narrator of the story is a servant, who will later become a wily spy. Hearing Stachniak discuss the character of Catherine was inspiring to say the least. Catherine is an outsider in every sense of the word: culture, language, and class, haunting themes to probe.

Stachniak had a tendency to talk in lovely and captivating ways about the craft of writing, so much so that I had to stop halfway through the talk to work out the cramp in my hand from scribbling down the nuggets of advice. Here are a couple of my favourites, which I have continued to dwell on today and hope to apply to my own writing:

  • In response to a question re: how does she distinguish between fact and fiction in a work of historical fiction?

“How do we know history? It’s a collection of stories. What we hold as truth/facts are in themselves just stories.” Stachniak jokingly referred to her line of historical fiction as “archival fantasy.”

  • Stachniak described the white nights of St. Petersburg, in which the sun remains visible for twenty-four hours due to latitudinal position of the region. She referred to the emotional and physical ramifications of a person in such a circumstance, and the impact of temporal space on the sensations.

I was fascinated by this—often there is a tendency to describe the weather (“It was sunny,” “It was rainy”) in straightforward no-nonsense tones. But how does the weather affect the psyche? How does space, and one’s relation to that physical space, impact a person’s actions? They are questions that we are so immune to as a result of simply getting up and breathing everyday that taking a concentrated look reveals some truly interesting things.

Writing muscles recharged, I’m off to put them to good use!


The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak (CA)

Published: Jan 03, 2012 by Doubleday Canada
ISBN: 9780385666565
Price: $24.95