Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Danila Botha

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Danila Botha

South African-born, Toronto-based author Danila Botha's first collection of short stories was praised as "formidable", with Danila praised for her "staying power" as a writer. Both qualities are abundant in her follow up effort and first novel, Too Much on the Inside (Quattro Books).

The novel is set in Toronto's Queen West neighbourhood, where four young people intersect while attempting to escape violence, the past, and themselves. From Brazil to Israel, from Nova Scotia to Toronto, love and heartbreak follow these characters on their adventures both interior and exterior. A powerful sophomore achievement from a talented and promising writer, Too Much on the Inside has been praised as "tenderhearted and sharp in all the best ways" by Zoe Whittall, herself a writer admired for her razor-sharp depictions of Toronto.

Today we welcome Danila to Open Book: Toronto to take the Proust Questionnaire, one of our favourite ways of getting to know an author. The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

Danila tells us about the lure of warm locales during a Toronto winter, the birds with which she sympathises and shares a couple of great quotes as mottos that will keep you motivated.

What is your dream of happiness?

Spending as much time with the people I love the most. (I’d love for all my friends and family to move to the same place, and see everyone on a daily basis)
Also, being able to experience and do everything I want to do all the time.

What is your idea of misery?

Minus thirty degree weather, when the cold is so blistering you don’t even want to leave the house, but you know you have to (and you know you have at least two more months of winter ahead of you)

Where would you like to live?

I really love living in Toronto (the arts, the multiculturalism, the people) but in the winter I find myself fantasizing on a minute by minute basis about the sun. I love any amount of heat, even humidity. I’d also love to be able to see and smell the ocean from my front door. I think about any island in the Caribbean (I love every one I’ve been to) or Tel Aviv/Herzilia or Cape Town or even Miami.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Kindness, confidence, compassion, and positivity.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Kindness, confidence, compassion, and positivity.

What is your chief characteristic?

Open heartedness and quiet ambition.

What is your principal fault?

Overthinking everything and worrying too much.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Travel. But also, buying tons of books and magazines, and all kinds of stuff that my son doesn’t actually need but I find impossible to resist… how does anyone resist cute buying totally superfluous baby stuff?

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Not being punctual (I’m so bad with time myself) and not being organized.

What do you value most about your friends?

Their love and loyalty. Also their resilience and senses of humour.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Cruelty, judgementalism and arrogance.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

What is your favourite virtue?
Kindness and courage.

What is your favourite occupation?

Definitely writing (and also researching for writing, and reading).

What would you like to be?

Happy, and grateful, always. Also present in every moment.

What is your favourite colour?

The brightest shade of orange. (I also love gold and silver).

What is your favourite flower?

Orange and pink roses or gerber daisies.

What is your favourite bird?

Doves are great. I also love pigeons and seagulls (seriously, they need love)

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Nelson Mandela.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Heather O’Neill. K. Sello Duiker. Lynn Crosbie. JD Salinger. Jennifer Egan. Zadie Smith. Etgar Keret. Eshkol Nevo. Hanif Kureishi, Camilla Gibb, JM Coetzee, Russell Smith, Jowita Bydlowska, Roxane Gay, Zeruya Shalev, Alison Pick, Ayelet Tsabari, Lisa de Nikolits, Andre Brink, Marlene Van Niekerk, Neil Smith, Simon Rich, Pasha Malla, Michael Christie, Joel Hynes, Shaughnessy Bishop Stall, David Bezmosgis, Katie Boland, Grace O’Connell.

Who are your favourite poets?

Rene Bohnen (amazing Afrikaans poet) Lynn Crosbie, Liz Worth, Sandra Kasturi, Ingrid Jonker, Aryan Kaganof, Toast Coetzer, Michelle Mcgrane, Nicole Aube, Charles Bukowski, Evie Christie, Zoe Whittall.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

Roald Dahl’s Matilda
Nouschka in The Girl Who Was Saturday Night
Franny in Franny and Zooey
Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye

Who are your heroes in real life?

My husband. My son. My parents and brothers. My aunts. My best friends. They’re all incredibly loving and thoughtful and giving. I feel lucky everyday.

Who is your favourite painter?

Henri Matisse and Jean Michel Basquiat. The way they use colour makes me so happy. (I also love Keith Harring and Jim Dine, and all the artists who work with words, from Tracy Emin to Jenny Holzer. I love their mix of installation and poetry/interesting phrases) And I love all graffiti.

Who is your favourite musician?

I love Fiona Apple and Tori Amos. I love the Clash and Black Flag and just about every kind of punk. I love Metric (I’m listening to them right now) The Roots. Jay-Z. Jill Scott. Martha Wainright.Berry Shacharof. Chris Chameleon. Brixton Moord en Roof Orkes. Lately, I like Kendrik Lamar and Hozier a lot.

What is your favourite food?

I love sushi and Thai food. I also love anything with peanut butter or almond butter. And apples and berries of every variety.

What is your favourite drink?

I love green juices, and smoothies of any kind. I also love rooibos.

What are your favourite names?

Definitely not my own. I’ve wanted a normal name my whole life.
My favourite names are the names of my favourite people.

What is it you most dislike?

Being told what to do (and being told that I wouldn’t like or want to do something).

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

I would love to be able to dance.

How do you want to die?

In a very, very long time, with loved ones, feeling like I’ve done and seen everything I wanted to do (I hope to live a very long life)

What is your current state of mind?

Happy and exhausted (in the best possible way).

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Having a life that feels genuinely happy and fulfilling, and full of family and people that I love so much. Not letting any fears hold me back from the things I most want to experience or accomplish. Getting to write and publish.

What is your motto?

There’s a great quote I’ve always loved by Estee Lauder: “I didn't get here by dreaming about it or thinking about it. I got here by doing it"
There’s a great quote by Ayelet Tsabari about writing that I love, too: “I’ve never believed in ‘write what you know.’ I believe in ‘write what you must’.”

Danila Botha is a fiction writer based in Toronto. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, she studied Creative Writing at York University and at Humber College’s School for Writers. Her first book, a collection of short stories called Got No Secrets was published by Tightrope Books in 2010. It was also published in South Africa (Modjaji Books, 2011). Danila has guest-edited the National Post’s “The Afterword,” and her short stories have appeared in Broken Pencil’s fiction issue, Douglas Glover’s Numero Cinq Magazine and the Adroit Journal. Too Much on the Inside is her first novel.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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