Eliza Robertson has had a crazy year.
The fourth-year UVic writing student won three prestigious literary journals’ fiction awards in a 12-month period, picking up top prize from Prism International, The Malahat Review and The Fiddlehead. But she’s trying not to let the success go to her head.
“Luck has a big part to play,” said Robertson. Now that she’s volunteering as an intern at the Malahat Review, she’s seen the selection process first-hand. “It’s sometimes really close. There’s always a level of arbitrary-ness,” she said.
Robertson has something else to be excited about; her piece “Ship’s Log” has been shortlisted for the Journey Prize. If it is narrowed down to the top three, she will be flown to Toronto for the awards ceremony.
“I’m trying not to think about it. There’s a lot of pressure. It’s pretty nerve-wracking,” said Robertson.
She said the news has motivated her to work harder in her classes.
“I’m terrified I’m going to peak at 22,” she said.
Robertson classifies her writing as language-heavy.
“You can write a story in an infinite number of ways,” she said. “What I’m striving for while I’m putting lines on a screen isn’t an exciting plot. It’s the language I’m using, the rhythms of the sentence. I like wordplay.”
“I don’t think poets should have all the fun,” she added.
Robertson said she admires Cormac McCarthy’s writing, which includes The Road, because “the story isn’t subordinate to the sentence. It’s more about the language than what’s actually happening.”
While at UVic, Robertson found further inspiration from UVic alumnus Mark Anthony Jarman, a poet and novelist whose work includes New Orleans is Sinking. After being introduced to his writing in her first year at UVic, Robertson said Jarman made an unconscious impact on her style.
Robertson likes to experiment with form. “Ship’s Log” is told in the form of a diary written by an eight-year old boy. Her story “Road Notes” takes the form of letters written between estranged siblings. Robertson has also written an unpublished story in the form of an etiquette book.
“Right now I feel like I got that out of my system. I’m trying to write some more traditional, straight prose,” she said.
“Ship’s Log” was originally written in a second-year fiction workshop with author and UVic teacher John Gould. He encouraged her to pursue the piece further.
“He told me not to do anything too drastic, in fear I’d mess it up,” she said.
Robertson started out at UVic as a political science student, but eventually decided to pursue a double major. “I decided I wanted to pursue something I wanted to do, rather than something more realistic and pragmatic,” she said.
On top of her writing, Robertson has kept busy as the star of Freshman’s Wharf, a student production that recently wrapped up its production. She starred as the main love interest in eight of the 10 episodes.
“I’ve never had so much fun on set,” she said.
She said the entire cast and crew are proud of the finished product, which can be watched online. But when asked if she thinks of herself as a celebrity on campus, Robertson laughed. “I hope not,” she said.
Robertson is now applying to graduate schools, and hopes to live in New York one day. Though she’s never tried writing longer fiction, she hopes to one day finish a novel.
“I want to be a Canadian writer, but I’d like to be read by more than Canadians,” she said. “That’s the dream.”
–Story and photo by Will Johnson