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Laferrière Questionnaire

Charlotte Gray takes the Laferrière Questionnaire

In a special Women's History Month edition of our very own 20 questions, the biographer of Nellie McClung, Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill makes us look up at least one word in the dictionary.

About the Laferrière Questionnaire: We asked writer Dany Laferrière to reinterpret the Proust Questionnaire for the 21st century. He put together 20 questions that shine a light on who we really are, both as writers and as individuals.



1. If you were Alice, would you rather stay in Wonderland on the other side of the mirror, or come back to the real world to tell your story?
I would rather stay in Wonderland, although it is a rather scary place.

2. If your home were on fire, what prized keepsake would you grab on your way out?
My dog and my Mac.

3. What childhood fear do you still have as an adult?
Being locked in a small dark room.

4. Would it be okay to have a miserable childhood if that were a prerequisite for becoming a writer?
I don't know. I had a very happy childhood, despite the fact that, to some degree, all childhoods are miserable: growing up is such a challenge.

5. Do you wake up at night to read or write?
I wake up every single night to read, usually between 2 and 4 am. Sometimes I manage to stop myself, and go back to sleep... especially if I am reading a boring book.

6. Do you feel anxious or excited when you start to write?
Both. Doesn't everybody? Will the words come, to capture what I want to say? Will they be the right words? Will anybody read them? Is this going to be my best book so far? The best book anywhere on this subject? The best book in the whole world?

7. Does darkness soothe you or frighten you?
Depends on my mood. Depends on the darkness - cold and sharp? As soft as a duvet? Clammy? Fragrant?

8. Do you tend to hang on to a thousand little scraps of paper, or do you regularly clean out your drawers?
Both. I winnow.

9. Which animal would you rather be: a cat or a dog?
I prefer dogs, but I would rather be a cat. Dogs are too needy.

10. Does love dry up your creative juices or make them flow faster?
Love enhances everything.

11. Do you remember your dreams?
Many of them, especially when I wake up in a cold sweat. But often the dream is vivid one second, and then suddenly swirls round and disappears down the plughole of my consciousness.

12. What's your favourite colour?
Plum purple.

13. What's your favourite season?
Early summer. Hot, bright, full of promise of weeks spent reading on the dock and swimming to my favourite rock.

14. Does pressure motivate you?
I do everything to avoid pressure. So yes, it does.

15. Would you rather live to write or write to live?
Write to live. I am exasperated by people for whom experience is unreal until they've captured it in their own solipsistic words. The way leads to irony overload.

16. What published book do you secretly wish you had written?
Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

17. Are you the paranoid type or calm, cool and collected?
Who's asking?

18. What would qualify as the afternoon of your dreams?
See question 13. It would be even better if my husband and three sons were busy somewhere in the background, there but not pushing me off the dock.

19. Are you more like the sun or the moon?
Dunno. I am not sunny-tempered, nor am I a lunatic. But I do hope to shed light.

20. Do you hear voices?
Yes.

Charlotte Gray, one of Canada's pre-eminent biographers, has won many awards for her writing, including the 2002 UBC Medal for Canadian Biography, the Edna Staebler Award for Creative Non-Fiction and the CAA Birks Family Foundation Award for Biography. She has received the prestigious Pierre Berton Award for a body of historical writing, and is the chair of the National History Society. Her latest book is Gold Diggers: Striking It Rich in the Klondike.

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