Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Sara Tilley

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Sara Tilley

Sometimes the best stories are the ones closest to home. Award winning author Sara Tilley puts that theory to the test in her new novel, Duke (Pedlar Press), which is based on her own family history. The titular Duke is William Marmaduke Tilley, who left Newfoundland in 1905 in a quest to support a struggling family business. After an amazing journey that takes Duke as far as Vancouver and Alaska, he returns home to find his father, on whose behalf he's been working for years, mysteriously angry with him. The elder Duke goes so far as to banish Duke and his wife from the community, leaving the young couple to unravel the reasons why. A gripping family story, Duke is an exciting new offering from a talented writer drawing on the powerful inspiration of the east coast. Imbued with humour and insight, it's a story of endurance, family and how home can sometimes be the strangest place of all.

Today we welcome Sara to Open Book to take on our version of the Proust Questionnaire. She tells us about winter extravagances in Newfoundland and the most beautiful shade of green, and she weaves a description of her current state of mind that acts as a mini-story of its own.

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.

You can catch Sara in person on June 22, 2015, reading Ben McNally Books in Toronto (366 Bay Street), with Robert Mellin & Brenda Leifso. The reading will begin at 6:00p.m.

What is your dream of happiness?

A cabin in the woods, near the ocean, with stacks of books, a radio and a vegetable garden.

What is your idea of misery?

A fluorescent-lit shopping mall, anywhere in North America.

Where would you like to live?

See my first answer.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?

Honesty, intelligence, humour, passion, creativity, openness, respect.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?

Same as above.

What is your chief characteristic?

Extreme sensitivity, as though I am made of tissue paper.

What is your principal fault?

Same as above.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Organic produce in Newfoundland, in the winter.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?

Ignorance and forgetfulness.

What do you value most about your friends?

Their openness, their eccentricities, and their ability to make me laugh. Their care.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

Violence — physical, sexual, emotional or psychological, or a mixture of all of these.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?

My wavering self-esteem, which sometimes blossoms into paralyzing bouts of self-hatred and social anxiety.

What is your favourite virtue?


What is your favourite occupation?

I can’t really choose between writing and performing, as each satisfies me in a different way.

What would you like to be?

A writer, a performer, and a clown!

What is your favourite colour?

The colour of the first leaves which appear on the trees in spring — an optimistic, fresh green that makes your eyeballs feel new again.

What is your favourite flower?

The bright pink wild roses that grow in Newfoundland.

What is your favourite bird?

The puffin. Clown of the skies.

What historical figure do you admire the most?

Harriet Tubman.

What character in history do you most dislike?

Well, Hitler, I suppose. And all those of a similar frame of mind.

Who are your favourite prose authors?

Margaret Atwood, Angela Carter, George Saunders, Peter Carey, Carson McCullers, Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Who are your favourite poets?

Sylvia Plath and Stevie Smith got me through my adolescence, so I think that makes them my favourites, although I enjoy many contemporary Canadian poets working right now.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?

They are all from children’s literature: Lyra from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, Lucy from the Narnia series, Madeleine L'Engle’s character Meg Murray, Stuart Little, and the BFG.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Many of the people I know, for their fierceness of self, their vision and passion, their sense of community, and the integrity with which they live.

Who is your favourite painter?

Although perhaps better known for her sculpture than painting, my favourite artist is Shary Boyle.

Who is your favourite musician?

At the moment, Ibeyi, Fatima, Lightning Dust and Y La Bamba are on repeat. Gillian Welch is an all-time favourite.

What is your favourite food?

Perfectly ripe cherries from the tree in my backyard — possible for about one week in the summer each year, if weather conditions allow the fruit to set at all.

What is your favourite drink?

The first cup of coffee in the morning.

What are your favourite names?

Ones that are satisfying to repeat over and over to yourself, like Bob Loblaw.

What is it you most dislike?

The violence that has marked our history as a species so far, played out both in large scale and interpersonally, as well as in our relationship toward the planet itself.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?

The ability to harmonize effortlessly.

How do you want to die?

In my old age, in my right mind, and in my sleep.

What is your current state of mind?

Like that of a small child sitting in a fully-decorated living room with a pointy cardboard hat on, not allowed to touch anything yet, staring at the gloriously bright icing on the cake and waiting for the first of the guests to arrive.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?

Founding a community garden in my neighbourhood, along with a friend of mine.

What is your motto?

Be present.

Sara TIlley is a writer, theatre artist and clown who lives and works in her home town of St. John’s, Newfoundland. Her artistic work bridges writing, theatre, and Pochinko Clown Through Mask technique. She has written, co-written or co-created eleven plays to date, all of which have received professional production. Skin Room, her first novel (Pedlar Press, 2008), won both the Newfoundland and Labrador Percy Janes First Novel Award and the inaugural Fresh Fish Award for Emerging Writers, and was shortlisted for the Winterset Award and the Thomas Raddall Atlantic Fiction Prize.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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