Interview with the talented Danila Botha, about her new novel, Too Much on the Inside

When I met Danila Botha in 2010, she had just published Got No Secrets and I had just published The Hungry Mirror. We met because I emailed her saying I'd love to meet up — I was very new to the writing community and something about Danila (and no, it's not just because she's a fellow Canadian from South Africa!) told me she would have a warm heart and I was very right. Danila was (and still is) very connected, respected and well-liked in the literary community and she, and her huge big heart welcomed me and we have been firm friends ever since.

I am delighted to interview Danila today, about her soon-to-be-released novel, Too Much on the Inside.

1. What is the name of your latest work (and publisher) and when will it be published?

My novel is called Too Much on the Inside. It will be published by Quattro Books in May 2015. The official launch date is June 2nd, at Supermarket in Kensington. I’m really excited.

2. Where did you get the idea for your protagonist and is he or she your favourite character in the book? If not, who is your favourite character in the book? Or, in your case, with this book, do you have more than one protagonist?

I do, I actually have four protagonists. The book is told from the rotating first person point of view of four people who’ve recently moved to Toronto. There’s Dez, who is from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, Nicki (whose real name is Nili) who is from Ra’anana, Israel, Marlize from Cape Town, South Africa and Lukas, who is from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia.

I really loved writing all of them but I probably had the most fun with Dez. I always wanted to write a character who has a good time the way that he does (his scenes were so fun to write) but also has depth and complex ideas. I wanted him to have a complicated relationship with his family, his culture, religion, etc but also wanted him to be close to his sisters, to feel genuine guilt about things he’s done. And I wanted him to have read a lot, and to know some feminist literature, etc. I was very conscious of not writing him as a misogynist.

The things Marlize and Nicki have been through in their own countries are things I’ve always wanted to write about, having lived in both places and seeing how those realities affect people first hand. I’ve always wanted to write a character with Marlize’s emotional restraint and then see the veneer crack a little. With Nicki, I wanted her to be incredibly open (emotionally and to ideas) and then explore what would happen in real life if someone took that many risks. I really loved her character too. Lukas was initially inspired by a person I met in Nova Scotia who had a terrible story. It was fun to write him in some ways, but also sad. His perception of self, I think makes him the most tragic of all the characters, and he breaks my heart a little.

3. How would you characterize your relationship with this book (as opposed to previous books that you have published?)

That’s a great question. I really loved writing this book. It’s fun with a novel to be able to go much more in depth with characters and storylines, just because you have so much more length. I really enjoyed being more focused on people’s personalities, and their backstories and the reasons why they do and say what they do. It felt like tremendous freedom.

I also loved being able to set the book on Queen St, and being able to write about all the things I love about it so much.

I had a really amazing time with the editing process. I was very lucky to work with Sandra Kasturi. She is a fantastic editor (meticulous, and the best combination of pushing for improvement and really encouraging) She totally understood what I was trying to do with the novel, supported the concept and then helped me to make it so much stronger. I can’t recommend her enough. It was an amazing experience and I would love to work with her again.

I also got great support and advice from my publishers at Quattro Books. Overall, I can’t say enough good things.

4. Chris Bucci (of Anne McDermid) is your agent - what has been his best (most helpful) advice to you, so far?

Chris is a really great agent. I feel lucky to get to work with someone who is enthusiastic about what I write, and also excited about writing in general. He always seems to understand the reference points with the writing, in terms of what inspired it, what it’s similar to, etc which I think is so important especially in the early stages. He gives a lot of practical advice.

It’s great to be able to ask questions about contracts or readings or if my idea for a new novel makes sense, or would work. I really appreciate getting feedback on ideas before something is done, and I really value his opinion. He also has a background as an editor, so he gives great notes that consider things that I often overlook. The most helpful part I think, is having an agent who believes in your book and your vision, believes that it will find the right publisher, and is willing to be persistent until that happens. I’m really grateful for that especially, it’s a huge thing.

5. What is your favourite part of the publishing process?

I love it all, from writing it, to signing the contract, to the editing, to holding the finished book in my hand at the end. There’s something so special about having a physical book. It’s so exciting and concrete.

6. The Quill & Quire has listed your book among those most anticipated for this Spring - how does that make you feel?

You don’t even know how excited I am. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that. I really love Quill and Quire,, I read it every month, and I have for years.
It means the world to me. I’m really grateful.

7. What is the best piece of advice you've heard or been given by another writer?

I read recently, and I wish I could remember who said this, that the writing and editing process is supposed to be fun. You’re supposed to enjoy or connect emotionally with what you’re writing… and when you feel debilitated, you have to remind yourself of that. It’s an amazing thing to get to write and we should (mostly) love it. I really liked that perspective.

I remember, and this was so immensely helpful, Richard Scrimger telling me to be confident in what I write, to want it to be the best version of what it can be (to be willing to do the hours of work to make that possible) and to know instinctively what should be changed to make something better, and what is essential to the story I want to tell and shouldn’t change. I think that possibly is the best advice I’ve ever heard.

The best advice I’ve gotten recently, from my amazing editor Sandra, was to be aware of time and time lines in my writing, and plausibility, and to be aware of physical details, space, proximity, little grounding details.

Sometimes when someone gets what you’re trying to do, and advises you on the best way to enhance it, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Zoe Whittall, whose writing is amazing (see: everything she’s written) did a manuscript consultation for me on my new shorts stories that was really helpful recently. She told me to remember to slow down. At times, I’ve been guilty of rushing through key parts of a narrative to get to the good emotional stuff. But it’s important to make sure to describe a lot of key things as they happen, in real time. I never think of these kinds of practical things, and it was so helpful.

8. What are you working on now?

I’ve been editing a new collection of short stories until recently. Now I’m working on a brand new novel, but it’s way too early to talk about it (you know how it is, it may be completely different book in a few months, It keeps going in unexpected directions.)

9. What are you reading now?

I just finished reading Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing and I LOVED it.
I read it in about a day and a half, couldn’t put it down. Her tragi-comic writing, full of these amazing emotional insights, reminds me of Dave Eggers’ in his Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius era. I loved the way it just ended, too, where you wonder as a reader what’s going to happen to the character. It’s so realistic.

I also just read Jennifer Lovegrove’s Watch How We Walk. I found it fascinating. Also, I loved the relationships between the sisters. It reminded me of the memoir Her by Christa Paravani (a great, heartbreaking and very literary memoir)
I love Emily Pohl Weary’s new collection of poetry, Ghost Sick (set in Parkdale, incredibly beautiful, gritty and meaningful) and Janette Platana’s A Token of My Affliction.

I’m incredibly excited for Heather O’Neill’s new collection of short stories, The Daydream of Angels. All of her work is so incredibly inspiring. I think I’ve reread her novels ten times. Her short story I Know Angelo (from a few years ago) is my favorite short story of all time so I’m thrilled about a whole collection of short stories.

I can’t wait for Lynn Crosbie’s Where Did you Sleep Last Night? Her writing (all of her poetry, her amazing book Liar, her novel Life is About Losing Everything is amazing beyond words. I can’t wait for a new book.

I’m also excited for Lisa de Nikolits’ new novel which comes out this fall.
[Thank you!]

10. What is your current favourite quote, even if it only applies to today or even right now!

I have three that I always love:

I’ve never believed in “write what you know.” I believe in “write what you must."
-Ayelet Tsabari

“I’d rather go down in flames then write a nice little book”
-Zsuzsi Gardner

"I didn't get here by dreaming about it or thinking about it. I got here by doing it" - Estee Lauder

11. What is a typical writing day like for you?

It usually involves a combination of research and writing. I’m actually not so visual when I write, so I google a lot of images to get ideas for descriptions, and for inspiration.

I try to spend a good amount of time, usually a few hours a day, on writing, and then some time on editing and rewriting. For me, it’s not about number of words or pages a day, but about how in depth I can go into a scene (emotionally, plot wise, etc) Then usually I go back and add more details.

12. Is there anything else that you'd like to add that we haven't covered here?

Not that I can think of, but there will be more news about writing and readings on my website


PS, I've had a sneak peak at Too Much on the Inside and it's great! I can't wait to get my hands on a copy, Danila is a very gifted and exciting writer.
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