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Short Story Prize

The Shortlist: Q&A with Eliza Robertson

There are five names on the shortlist for this year's CBC Short Story Prize. Before we announce the winner, we want to introduce you to the finalists and their stories.

Eliza Robertson's story "L' Étranger" is one of the five stories on the shortlist. She tells us about her stay in Toulouse and how the wildlife in BC influences her writing. 
Tell us about yourself.
Let’s see. I’m 25. I was born in Vancouver and raised in Victoria. I studied creative writing and political science at UVic, then moved to England for my Master’s Degree. Those are the basic facts. I also like to swing dance.

What do you usually write?
I am working on a novel as well as short stories. Though as I wrote my novel, I pretended it was a short story. I did this to annoy my MA supervisor. 

Have you submitted to the competition before?
Yes! Three times. Every year my sworn last. It’s like gambling.

What is your story about?
The story is about a woman who lives in Marseille with a churlish housemate. But the situation isn’t quite so clean. I won’t spoil what happens. There are slugs. 

What was the inspiration for your story?
Funny thing. I rarely write autobiographical fiction, but I did in fact live with a churlish housemate. Temporarily. No slugs, but it was enough to spark a story. The setting was inspired by my time in Toulouse, where I lived in a greasy hole not unlike the one described. Enter the slugs. 

How long did you work on the story? How many drafts did you write?
I worked on a longer version of this story over a few months. Then I chipped away at it until it fit inside the contest word count. 

BC is heavily represented on the longlist for the prize. Is there something about where you live (Victoria) that is particularly inspiring? Is it the banana slugs?
It’s the slugs, yes. The slugs and the cougars. Someone in England once asked me if I thought I wrote “wilder” fiction because of the Canadian terrain. I'm not sure, but at UVic it is not uncommon to find cougar watch notices. In England, I think the largest mammal is a badger. Or a deer. But really, Vancouver Island is stunning. The landscape feeds most of my writing. This story, however, sprouted from France. 

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Not that long ago. Five years? Six? Before that, I wanted to be a lawyer. 

Name one of your favourite Canadian writers. What is it you love about their work?
Only one? How about MarkJarmanZsuzsiGartnerAnnabelLyon. They’re really good. But really, in all of those cases, it’s the language that grabs me. And that particular, slanted reality.

How does it feel to be shortlisted for this prize?
Fantastic. Completely unexpected. I know how arbitrary contests can be, but it is still such an honour to be on this shortlist.

Eliza Robertson is in the running for the CBC Short Story Prize. 

The winner will be announced on March 26. The Grand Prize is $6,000 from the Canada Council for the Arts, a writing residency at The Banff Centre, and publication in Air Canada’s enRoute magazine.

Photo credit: Samantha Hart


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