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Laferrière Questionnaire

Charles Foran takes the Laferrière Questionnaire

The winner of the 2011 Governor General's Award for non-fiction submits to our very own 20 questions, courtesy of author Dany Laferrière.

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.

Foran, Charles cr James Lahey.jpg1. 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'd come back. Stories, for storytellers, are all in the telling.

2. If your home were on fire, what prized keepsake would you grab on your way out?
Once everyone was safe, I wouldn't care much. As long, that is, as I'd backed up all my files.  Otherwise, I'd be saving the computer.

3. What childhood fear do you still have as an adult?
Closets, cells, any small, windowless room. Feared them then, fear them now. I doubt I'll like being in a casket either.

4. Would it be okay to have a miserable childhood if that were a prerequisite for becoming a writer?
Childhood forms the adult. It's involuntary and permanent, and you never, ever get over it.  What kind of exchange is that - a miserable childhood for something to write about? A terrible one, in my view. 

5. Do you wake up at night to read or write?
Only to read, and only because I can't sleep. Not sure I've written a single nocturnal sentence in my life. Mornings are when I light up.

6. Do you feel anxious or excited when you start to write?
I feel relieved, purposeful, and alert. 

7. Does darkness soothe you or frighten you?
Mostly, it is just darkness: near half our days, near half our natures. On occasion, though, it gets all existential - lonely, solitary, lost. Then I battle those feelings.

8. Do you tend to hang on to a thousand little scraps of paper, or do you regularly clean out your drawers?
Scraps of paper, sadly, are my inept 'filing system,' my lame 'diary,' my woeful 'archive.' Luckily, my head self-organizes pretty well, so I get by.

9. Which animal would you rather be: a cat or a dog?
Dogs smile easily and trust instinctively, and have natural happy feet. They walk upon this earth with just the right step.

10. Does love dry up your creative juices or make them flow faster?
Romantic love doesn't enter much into it. (Remember: I don't write at night.) Love of virtually everything else, cosmic and banal, eternal and fleeting, is my daily fuel. Love, and empathy, a desire, I suppose, to wrap my arms around 'it,' before it - or, rather, me - is gone.

11. Do you remember your dreams?
Only rarely. When I do, I take careful note. If a dream sticks around past my making coffee, it is probably a psychic flag, most likely red.

12. What's your favourite colour?
No preference, especially not red.

13. What's your favourite season?
Spring, summer, fall. Winter is the only problem. I know: I'm Canadian; how can I not have fallen for its bracing charms?
14. Does pressure motivate you?
As a painter friend likes to say: I don't need an alarm clock - I have my career to wake me up every morning.
15. Would you rather live to write or write to live?
Not a choice. Two types of people: those who want to write, and those who need to write.  Those who 'want' to will almost certainly live happy, rich lives doing something else. Those that 'need' to, well, they are going to live to write and, slowly, surely, the writing will kill them. (Or maybe it will be the life, which has it in for all of us, equally.)

16. What published book do you secretly wish you had written?
Martin Amis's Money, if only I'd been born smarter, funnier, tougher, and more daring. Oh yes, and wicked with talent.

17. Are you the paranoid type or calm, cool and collected?
My sister once worked in a bank in suburban Toronto, and was held hostage for several hours by an inept, troubled robber. A local TV station covered the incident 'live,' and I remember my father falling asleep on the couch while waiting to find out what would befall his only daughter. That degree of calm runs through my veins.

18. What would qualify as the afternoon of your dreams?
A great lunch with my wife and daughters, a nap, a matinee of a smart, funny film, and then drinks with friends in a quiet bar.

19. Are you more like the sun or the moon?
Oddly, even though I burn, rather than tan, and suffer heat stroke after about an hour - I am too Irish, too freckled, and don't wear hats - I love the sun, love the heat, love the tropics. Southeast Asia, where we lived for years, suited me well - except when I had to sit in a dark, air-conditioned room for days, on account of my love.

20. Do you hear voices?
I know a fiction project is going well when my characters talk incessantly - to each other, to me, to themselves. Sometimes they keep talking long after the novel is finished. Once, I finally had to promise them a sequel in order to get them to vacate my head. (I lied.) Does this describe a writer's nature, or a psychological disorder? You decide: I can't. 

Charles Foran is the 2011 Governor General's Literary Award winner in the non-fiction category for Mordecai: The Life and Times, his biography of Mordecai Richler. The book has also won the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize, the Helen and Stan Vine Canadian Jewish Book Award and the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-Fiction. Mordecai: The Life and Times was also shortlisted for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, and it's a finalist for both Canada Reads: True Stories and the CBA Libris Award for Non-Fiction Book of the Year. 

Photo credit: James Lahey

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