This session was largely focussed on exploring the character of Olive Kitteridge, and while I’m yet to read these two novels, I still found this entire chat wholly delightful. Elizabeth shared the personal observation that she believes all people are complex, even if they don’t think they are. And it’s this complexity that draws readers to Olive Kitteridge. Elizabeth thought that once she’d written the first Olive book, that she’d never return to the character. Olive, however, had her own ideas about that. I really loved the way Elizabeth spoke about Olive, as though she is a real person, not an imagined character at all, but someone who has moved off page and formed their own fully fleshed out life. The chat about Olive really pulsed with affection, it was truly lovely.
In discussing her writing process, I was fascinated to learn that Elizabeth never writes anything from beginning to end. Rather, she writes in scenes. Her process is to sit down and write a scene that has a heartbeat in it, a scene that feels like it has life in it. Over time, she trusts that these scenes will all connect. In terms of putting the scenes together to form the actual novel, Elizabeth says she’s heavy on the discarding. She cites a good day’s work as being one where she looks at yesterday’s work and realises it was bad.
For Elizabeth, the key to writing is in the observation of people. She has always been a people watcher, a habit triggered within by her mother’s own habit of watching people and making observations about them based on their body language and/or actions. Elizabeth says that her mother’s observations would ignite her imagination and she would then create a whole story about someone she had only observed for a few moments.
As a writer, she is propelled forward by the quest to know what it feels like to be another person.
My only disappointment with this session was that it was advertised as running for sixty minutes but only went for thirty-five. I could have listened to Elizabeth for a lot longer and would have loved to hear more about her other books.
I am very keen to read the Olive books, and I have another Strout on my shelf waiting as well, Anything is Possible.