Eileen Cook is a wonderful author who’s multiple novels have been published in eight different languages. On top of this, her books have also been option for film and TV, so stay tuned for that! Her latest book, With Malice has accrued some incredibly positive reviews, make no doubt – Eileen Cook is an author on the rise. Not satisfied with just writing books, she also is inspiring and teaching another generation of authors with her work as an instructor/mentor for the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program. I was very excited to speak with Eileen about the books that have inspired and influenced her life and flourishing career. Here is my interview with Eileen Cook…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
It took me years to get used to saying this, but I now say: “I’m a writer”. I used to qualify it: “I’m a counsellor, but I also write”. Now I own it. When I listed writer as my occupation on my passport application I half expected a SWAT team to descend on me and demand I change it. If I am feeling cheeky I will say: “I make things up for a living”.
I am in the middle of You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott. It’s fantastic!
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
Two books leap to mind: The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster and The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I’ve re-read these as an adult and loved them in a completely different way.
Can you remember the first real story you wrote?
I don’t have a memory of it, but my parents saved a homework assignment I did in second grade. We were supposed to write sentences describing a picture we were given, but I turned mine into a story. My teacher wrote on it “I’m sure someday you’ll be an author.” When I published my first novel my parents had it framed and gave it to me.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
This will shock no one; I wanted to be a writer. I was also open to being a princess or time traveler. Clearly, choosing easy career paths was not my destiny.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
School age me would be shocked at how little adult me worries about what other people think. I spent my teen years obsessing over what people must think of me (Was my hair okay? Was my outfit edgy or just weird? Did everyone hear me snort when I laughed?). I realized along the way that most of the time no one is paying nearly as much attention to you as you think. It’s remarkably liberating to understand that and move on. It leaves you much more time to focus on the things that matter.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
I would wrap up a lovely leather bound set of Shakespeare’s plays. You can never go wrong with re-reading a master.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
Is compulsively a routine? I get anxious when I don’t have a stack of books at the ready. I carry them in my bag, have them next to me on the bedside table, stacked in the living room and office. I’ll read on my phone if I’m trapped without a book. I do read almost every night before going to sleep. It’s how I wind down my day.
How does anyone choose one book? For me books come into our lives at different times and resonate for different reasons. If I had to choose one, I would select Salem’s Lot by Stephen King. Not because it was my favorite book, but because when I was a kid the librarian tried to discourage me from checking it out – declaring it would be too scary for an eleven year old. I was offended because how scary could it be? It was just made up. Turns out, really scary. I remember lying in bed at night and thinking how amazing it was that he made up this story, we all knew it was made up, but it made me feel real emotions. I decided then that I wanted to do this.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring writer?
Read a lot. Books are the very best teachers. Try and figure out what you liked about the book, take it apart, look at how the writer structured it (whose point of view, when does information come out etc.). The second piece of advice is to write a lot. Writing is a craft – it takes practice.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
One summer while complaining there was nothing to do, my mom gave me her copy of Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I think she thought it would at least keep me busy for a while, but it also opened up the idea of reading older books. I then went on to Vanity Fair, Rebecca etc.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
I try and recommend something that I think they’ll like. Since I read widely I usually have a wide range of ideas. I love The Secret History by Donna Tartt and it crosses many genres so I recommend it a lot.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I love both depending what kind of mood I am. For non-fiction I tend to enjoy things by Mary Roach or Erik Larson. Overall, I read a bit more fiction.
Do you think reading is important?
I think it is the best way we can understand the world and the people in it.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Argh. Hard question. I recently re-read The Secret History by Donna Tartt for a bookclub and since that is one of my all-time favorite books it would make the list for certain. I also really enjoyed the thriller Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
Generally, I prefer print books in part because I love them all tidy and on my shelves like friends. However, for travel you can’t beat digital. Also since I’ve gotten older I love how you can increase the font size on a digital book.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
I am going to go with the stacks of picture books that my parents and grandparents used to read to me when I was young. That began my love affair with books and stories. I can’t imagine my life without books and I am so grateful they gave me that love.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
Some favorites include:
I could do this for days….
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I have a plan to set my next book in England so I’ll be doing some research on that during the year as well as picking up a large stack of random other books that take my fancy. I’m a sucker for a book recommendation (which is why your site can be dangerous). If someone tells me they loved a book I often read it in part because I want to know what they enjoyed about it.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
I Still Don’t Know What I’m Doing. I used to believe that adults all knew what they were doing. Now I realize we’re all pretty much making it up as we go along.