The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Alberta, Canada. That’s right in the middle of Canada, where the long low prairies meet the rocky mountains. That’s where I was raised and schooled too. Saskatchewan, where Etta and Otto and Russell and James is set was right next door (it’s nothing but prairie), and my childhood holidays were spent out there visiting my mom’s family. Long hot empty days in that long hot empty place. Nothing but wheat fields and gophers…
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I never gave the same answer twice. One day it was a vet, the next a lawyer. Once it was a choral conductor because I noticed they got a lot of flowers. An ice-hockey player, an actor, a palaeontologist … the only certain thing was my indecision. And now that I’m all grown up with three jobs I still can’t decide…
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
I was fiercly, fiercly, independent at that age. Didn’t want to have to rely on anyone for anything ever… I still value independence and want to be able to always land on my own two feet, but I now also see the value, the potential, of needing other people sometimes. Of teaming up…
4. What were three works of art – book, painting, piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
A book: Ocean Sea by Alessandro Baricco
A painting: The collected works of Erin K Hooper (my sister) and Jeff Kulak (my friend)
A piece of music: ‘Heartland’ by Owen Pallet
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I’ve always been fond of narrative, of story-telling, that folds in and out of itself, everything from Borges’ Labyrinths to Egger A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. We don’t experience life linearly, we’re always thinking about what happened yesterday, or where we’ll be tomorrow, or both at once, so I was striving for a form that could capture some of that fluidity. That, and I’ve got quite a fondness for puzzles… for taking a bunch of seemingly disparate pieces and figuring out how to fit them together into one beautiful whole… A novel seemed the only and best form for that.
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
My favourite is The Times’ (of London’s) description, so I’ll steal that: “a fantastical yet deeply human adventure story starring a wild, brave, outdoorsy heroine striding alone across the North American wilderness. A heroine who happens to be a little old woman…”
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
I hope they get the inspiration and impulse to do whatever it is they want to do. We all have goals and desires like Etta’s, that don’t always make sense to everyone else, or even to ourselves, sometimes. The “I’ve always wanted”s. If the book inspires one person who used to say, “I’ve always wanted to do X” to go ahead and do it, I’ll be happy. Swim with dolphins, living in Japan, making fudge, making a rocket, anything, everything.
I admire writers who play with magic and reality, and who embrace joy as well as suffering in their books. Examples are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Karen Russell and Jonathan Safran Foer.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Never stop making.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Learn your grammar. Really. No one’s above the basics. And no one will take you seriously until you do.
Emma, thank you for playing.
by Emma Hooper
‘I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.’
Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two, she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to the water.
But Etta is starting to forget things. Her husband, Otto, remembers everything, and he loves … Read more
About the Author
Emma Hooper is a musician and writer. As a musician, her solo project ‘Waitress for the Bees’ tours internationally and has earned her a Finish Cultural Knighthood. Asan author, she has published short stories, non-fiction pieces, poetry and libretti as well as a number of academic papers. She is a research-lecturer at Bath Spa University, in the Commercial Music department, but goes home to cross-country ski in Canada as much as she can afford.