Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Susan Paddon

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Susan Paddon

Susan Paddon's Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books) is a poetry collection from an unusual perspective: the speaker is a daughter caring for her ailing mother, and while she does so, she reads Chekhov obsessively, relating the story of his last days. She uses his life and work as a prism to examine her relationships. An honest, witty collection, Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths is a promising debut that straddles the divide between poetry and verse novel.

Today Susan joins us to take on the Proust Questionnaire, where she tells us about her favourite poets, the perfect peach and the personal motto that has served her well.

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.

And don't miss the chance to hear Susan herself reading from Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths in this recording created by Brick Books.


What is your dream of happiness?
I think it would involve a lot of free time for guilt-free relaxing. Daydreaming but without ever becoming bored or frustrated with ideas. Endless supplies to make things (that have an organized storage area). My friends being close by. And my health. And my family’s good health.

What is your idea of misery?
I don’t get bored very often (I can usually do nothing for a very long time) but I wouldn’t want to be without a project. I don’t like city buses in humid weather either.

Where would you like to live?
I think I live there — Emerald, Cape Breton.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Hmm. Empathy. Compassion. A good memory. Energy.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Empathy. Compassion. Love.

What is your chief characteristic?
I work hard.

What is your principal fault?
Self-criticism. Monomania.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I love hot baths. I would love to have one everyday. I also love fabric. I bought a lot of fabric in Bordeaux last year. Doors. Old doors — I have been collecting them. Is that extravagance?

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Oh gosh, if your intention was genuinely honest and good, all is well. We can get over so much.

What do you value most about your friends?
My dearest friends are like family. I value their desire to spend time together even if it means crossing oceans. It is wonderful to feel like you are loved as much as you love.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
I won’t tolerate bigotry or self-aggrandizing.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
I worry a lot.

What is your favourite virtue?
Perhaps courage. I think if you have that, you’re set.

What is your favourite occupation?
Creating something.

What would you like to be?
A writer and a potter.

What is your favourite colour?
Yellow ochre?

What is your favourite flower?
Wild tiger lilies growing in ditches in Southwestern Ontario. And the ginger root flower. I used to buy them in the market in Brixton at least once a week.

What is your favourite bird?
A heron.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Socrates on his last day.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Pol Pot was rather awful.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Mavis Gallant. J.D. Salinger. Chekhov. Carver.

Who are your favourite poets?
Anne Carson. Sharon Olds.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
The teenager in Nuclear Heartland.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My mom. My husband and his brother.

Who is your favourite painter?
Egon Schiele.

Who is your favourite musician?
I really love Bob Dylan, Philip Glass, and Melanie. And I would be lying if I didn’t include Leonard Cohen.

What is your favourite food?
An Ontario peach — circa 1986.

What is your favourite drink?
Maybe water.

What are your favourite names?
Lennart, Hildegarde and Esme.

What is it you most dislike?
Well, it is a terrible feeling to disappoint someone. I also don’t like portapotties. Or jobs that suck the life out of you. Or toxic chemicals and fumes.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I wish I could sing like Lindsay Cuff.

How do you want to die?
I’d like to be old and ready. At home with flowers all around my gardens. I would like to have just finished something. Anything.

What is your current state of mind?
I am very well. Thank you.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Moving to Cape Breton with my husband. And not being in a rush.

What is your motto?
Do your best. Your best is all you can do.

Susan Paddon was born and grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, attended McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and lived overseas in Paris and London before settling in Margaree, Nova Scotia. Her poems have appeared in Arc, CV2, The Antigonish Review and Geist.

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

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