Concordia alumna, winner of the 2017 Quebec Writers’ Federation Literary Prize, shares her journey to literary success
A graduate student in creative writing at Concordia University, an instructor at the Atwater Library and the winner of the 2017 Quebec Writers’ Federation (QWF) Literary Prize for Young Writers wait near the Hive Café for an interview. What do they have in common? They are the same person. What are they passionate about? Books.
Nicola Sibthorpe, a second-year master’s student, emanates an aura of deep affection and pride when she discusses books. “I’m a book a day kind of girl,” she said. When asked about how many books she had read in her lifetime, Sibthorpe responded: “I’ve read maybe 10,000 books?”
The exact number eluded her, but she estimated being the owner of approximately 3,500 books, while also being the “proud owner of a library card.” Sibthorpe grew up obsessed with folklore, fairy tales and myths. Her original passion was for Greek and Celtic mythology. She describes her enthusiasm for the genres as her “childhood love.” Sibthorpe remembers reading Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales in secret as a child because of their sad and gruesome nature, keeping her private reading interests from her parents.
These literary genres represent a familial connection for Sibthorpe, as they are “the same stories that your parents will tell you, that their grandparents told them and it really allows you to tie yourself back to your family in a specific way or a specific culture.”
The poem that won her the QWF Young Writers award encompasses many different themes. The format of this poem is conventionally different such as using spacing and parentheses to convey additional layers of meaning. It contains vivid imagery that can be interpreted a variety of ways, such as “Grief cause by absence/ (Used to flavour wine)” or “Think of radioactivity/ Chemicals seeping into water.”
When probed, Sibthorpe refused to provide an interpretation of her work, stating she believes that “truly the author is dead,” leaving it up to the reader’s imagination to shape the canon of her work. She recently submitted her proposal for her thesis consisting of a modern adaptation of The Odyssey set in Newfoundland and Montreal. She’s very fond of worldbuilding (creating alternate, fictional worlds) and the morals that one could derive from fairy tales, while also appreciating the darkness of original myths. In her spare time, Sibthorpe works on a young adult novel that she describes as “one of those [in a] magical world, [with] children exploring and learning and growing throughout that.”
Her goal is to write what she wants to read. She aspires to write the books that she would have liked to read growing up, that could have helped her as she faced her challenges.Sibthorpe thinks the world has changed a lot since the 19th century and today there are great differences in morals.She believes that fairy tales should reflect the current climate with modern and inclusive values. It’s not all serious though, she also likes books for their entertainment value and enjoys writing fun stories.
Her favourite pieces to write are the ones that subvert what people expect in a certain way “whether that’s through fairy tales, gender, sexuality or ways you can twist it in a certain way, I think that’s very fun.” When asked what work she was the most excited to work on, she didn’t need to think twice, she immediately answered “All of it? All of it, all of it!”
Sibthorpe is very optimistic when it comes to tackling new work despite it not necessarily being her own personal endeavour. She feels that every project she starts becomes a project that she wants to work on. “I think that passion is very important,” she said. “It’s about finding the ways that a project can become something interesting to you rather than starting off with the idea from the get-go that it’s something you love.”
Writing can be isolating for the author, but she finds that sometimes “it needs to be.” Sibthorpe is grateful to be in a program with likeminded people who share similar ambitions. This allows her to curb the feeling of loneliness by being in a room of other student writers, being “isolationists together,” she said with a smile.
“There are always ways to get yourself out there and experience stuff,” said Sibthorpe about Montreal, which she finds has a strong community of writers. Having such a community makes it easy for her to be inspired, due to the plethora of poetry readings or other literary and artistic events around the city.
Having grown up in a big family, Sibthorpe became accustomed to being surrounded by noise and activity, and she now likes to surround herself in environments that have something going on. If not, she always has a Spotify playlist with music from artists like Maggie Rogers or Firewood Island, a group that falls under the genre of ‘Celtic Viking’ music
Her academic ambition at the moment is to one day complete her PhD, but she tries to keep the future for the future. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, she avoids looking further than three months ahead. Sibthorpe thinks that what will happen in a year is too far away, but if she focuses on a smaller chunk of time, she can manage her expectations and duties better. In three months she’ll be visiting family in Newfoundland, catching up on some Netflix and working on her thesis.