Introducing: Irina Kovalyova

Say hello to the authors of the 2015 Vancouver Writers Fest! Each week in August - October, we'll be introducing you to three of our Festival authors with a blog post filled with interesting facts about the author and their upcoming book. Read all about them, buy their book and then come see them at the Festival in the fall. Enjoy!

Irina Kovalyova
British Columbia, Events 52 "True to Form" and 87 "The Interviews"

Irina Kovalyova has a master’s degree in chemistry from Brown University, a doctoral degree in microbiology from Queen’s University and an MFA in creative writing from the University of British Columbia. She is a senior lecturer in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University. Kovalyova interned for NASA and worked for two years as a forensic analyst in New York City. Specimen is her first collection of stories.

Nature vs. Nurture: Although perhaps an unusual combination, Kovalyova’s extensive background in the sciences lends itself well to writing short fiction. In Specimen, her characters work as botanists in North Korea and archivists in physics institutions; meanwhile, the collection is united by the theme of the search for knowledge and how study and data analysis have the potential to lead us to discovery. However, as this review from Quill & Quire says, “no school could instill in someone the innate gifts Kovalyova possesses.” Read on.

The Function of Humour: While many of the stories in Specimen deal with dark and uncomfortable topics, there is a touch of irony that keeps things from getting too depressing. As one reviewer explains, this irony is “often derived from the contrast between the attempts of science to explain everything and the mystery these attempts only serve to deepen.” Read on.

A Neural Network of Inspiration: When asked about where the inspiration for the stories in Specimen came from, Kovalyova said, “I am inspired by all sorts of events in the course of a single day—experiments in the lab with my students, conversations with friends, philosophical questions my six-year-old daughter asks—it’s hard to keep track of different influences that surface in my writing.” She also said that she imagines inspiration as “a little bit like a vast neural network, with all linkages interconnected, even though individual neurons might be firing at different times.” Read on.

Early Riser: On writing days, Kovalyova wakes up at 4am and—once she’s made some coffee—sits down to write. “Early mornings are the best time for writing for me, when my family is asleep and the world is waking up and I can sense all sorts of interesting possibilities in it. When I write in the early morning I feel like I’m helping to unfold one of those possibilities.” Read on.

Sharing Her Knowledge: In the fall, Kovalyova will be teaching a course at Simon Fraser University called “Monsters and Mutants,” about the science behind science fiction. “We will be looking at stem-cell technologies, DNA cloning, the nature of inheritance, the nature of mutations—all of which I think are good for any educated person to know.” The reading list for the course includes The Island of Dr. Moreau by HG Wells, The Adromeda Strain by Michael Crichton, Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood as well as an actual textbook on cell biology. Read on.