Best of 2021 Q&A: Emma Gilchrist

Emma Gilchrist appears on our Best of 2021 list for the piece “Genetic Mapping.” You can read it at Maisonneuve.

GCL invited writers on the list to answer a questionnaire to give us further insight into their work. The following are Emma’s answers:

How did you start working on this story?

I’d been working on writing about my journey as an adoptee since attending a Banff Centre writing retreat in 2013, but couldn’t figure out exactly what form it should take. When a DNA test led to a new twist in my story, I knew I had to write about paternity surprises in the age of direct-to-consumer DNA testing.

How long did it take to write this piece?

I went to a little Airbnb on the west coast of Vancouver Island for a week and came home with a full draft. The fine-tuning and editing process took about a month after that.

What was the most challenging part of writing it?

The article spans four decades, so there was a lot of rummaging through historical documents and old journals. But mostly, I was really concerned about being fair to all of my parents — all five of them!

Do you have a particular writing ritual you follow?

I don’t write very much these days, except for when I have a dying urge to do so — and then I just really go for it, when the moment strikes.

What did you find different about writing during a global pandemic?

If anything, I think it helped me to focus by limiting distractions.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about your subject (or in the case of a personal essay, yourself) during the process?

How malleable memory is and how elusive the “truth” can be.

What sort of reaction has your piece received from readers?

It was really wonderful and a bit overwhelming — I’d never received this kind of reaction to a story before. I heard from people near and far — from old friends to total strangers — who shared how the story resonated with them, which was really beautiful.

For any fellow non-fiction writers reading this, do you have a favourite writing tip to share?

I wish I did!

What writing projects are you working on currently?

I’m starting to think about writing another personal essay, but I’m not quite ready to share the subject just yet. Other than that, I’m busy working as an editor at The Narwhal.

Find Emma on Twitter: @reporteremma

This Q&A may have been edited for clarity and length.


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