We asked Alison Pick five questions about taking a break between books and how Strangers with The Same Dream allowed her to explore the bond of motherhood. You can find her at IFOA 2017.
IFOA: Strangers With the Same Dream is set in 1921. What was the research process like?
Alison Pick: Part of what I love about writing historical fiction is learning about a time and place deeply enough to be able to set a book there.
I travelled to Israel three times as I was writing, and visited the archive at Kibbutz Ein Harod, the kibbutz that my own novel’s kibbutz is loosely based on. I met the archivist, an incredibly kind and grandmotherly woman who was eager to share her stories and the stories of the early kibbutz with me. Many of the documents were in Hebrew, and so I also hired a translator—another kibbutz member whose mother-in-law was there in the early days. The two of them helped me navigate the massive number of primary sources. It was a very enjoyable process, second only to the writing itself.
IFOA: Strangers With the Same Dream has been described as feminist. How important was it for you to explore subjects such as motherhood?
Pick: The experience of women on the early kibbutz was hugely interesting to me. On the one hand, the kibbutz members espoused gender equality, and wanted to free women from the biological constraints of motherhood in order for them to work the fields alongside the men.
On the other hand, this implies that motherhood is not its own kind of equally demanding work, something I know about firsthand. Babies were raised collectively in Baby House under the supervision of one or two caregivers, and while there were benefits to this system, many of the now-grown children describe intense emotional difficulty stemming from their early separation from their biological parents.
I wanted to look at the primal bond that exists between babies and mothers, and Hannah and her daughter Ruth were a way for me to grapple with this on the page.
IFOA: Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Pick: I am a writer who adores the act of writing. I write every morning, and am a big believer in the power of ritual and routine to prime the subconscious from where much of our creativity comes.
In the final stages of Strangers With the Same Dream, I was lucky enough to win a residency from the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, a true haven for writers (and artists of all kinds). Meals were prepared for us; I was given a small studio with a fireplace and a huge desk but no Wifi or Internet of any kind. I was amazed by how deeply I could work, and how long I could focus in this environment. I got more done in those two weeks than in the two months leading up to them. I am trying to incorporate some of what I learned there into my own creative routine at home.
IFOA: What are you working on right now?
Pick: I’ve been writing a series of articles timed for the publication of the novel—I have pieces coming out in Toronto Life, Chatelaine, Today’s Parent, the National Post, Hazlitt. I’ve also been preparing to speak publicly about the novel, something that is slightly terrifying to me given the fraught subject matter.
As for the next book, I haven’t started or even really thought about it, although I do have January 1st in my mind as a start date. I’m about to turn 42, and have six books to my name, and it would seem I’ll be lucky enough to be in this book writing business for the long run. I’m learning that I need to pace myself, and that giving myself time to think and breathe and just be between books is critical to my sanity and also to the quality of my writing.
IFOA: What are you reading now?
Pick: I’m reading We Were the Future, a wonderful memoir about growing up on a kibbutz in the 1960s by Israeli writer Yael Neeman. I recently returned from teaching at the Sage Hill Writers Experience where I read, among other great student manuscripts, Kate Armstrong’s book The Stone Frigate about her experience as one of the first women in the Canadian military. I hope she finds a publisher because this is a book the world deserves to read!
I also have Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada beside my bed, and The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron, and a collection of essays by Edward Said on Palestine.
Alison Pick was the 2002 Bronwen Wallace Award winner for the most promising young writer in Canada. She has published three acclaimed volumes of poetry, and her first novel, The Sweet Edge, was a Globe and Mail “Best Book”. Her second novel, Far to Go, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, won the Canadian Jewish Award for Fiction, and was named a “Top Ten of 2010” book by the Toronto Star and NOW Magazine. It was also published internationally to acclaim. Her memoir, Between Gods, was published internationally, was a finalist for the BC National Award for Nonfiction, a Globe and Mail “Best Book” of 2014, and a national bestseller.