Monday May 22, 2017

Steven Heighton takes the Proust Questionnaire

Steven Heighton won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry.

Steven Heighton won the 2016 Governor General's Literary Award for poetry. (Hamish Hamilton )

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Steven Heighton is a novelist and poet with more than a dozen books to his name. In 2016 he won the Governor General's Literary Award for his poetry collection The Waking Comes Late. His latest novel, The Nightingale Won't Let You Sleep, explores buried secrets, the repercussions of war and finding love among the ruins.

Heighton took The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire. 

What is your favourite occupation?

Writing. When I'm writing at white heat, when I've entered that zone, the story or the poem is writing itself. That's my favourite occupation. The thing is, it takes two, three, four hours to get into that zone. Two, three, four hours of hard and sometimes tedious work and I can always find ways to procrastinate, ways to distract myself, ways to not do the work necessary to get into that zone, which is kind of sad. 

What is your favourite journey?

I've been lucky to travel quite a bit in my life. There was nothing quite like going to Tibet in 1986 just after it had been opened to tourists and travelers by the Chinese government. Because of the altitude and because I was quite ill at the time, I was in an altered state. Tibet was a dream-like place to begin with — the bare mountains, the monasteries, the smell of incense in the air. I remember the whole thing now as a kind of fever dream or narcotic dream.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

That's easy. The lowest depth of misery is to have become a Leafs fan, as I did, the year after the last time they won the cup. They won in 1967 — 50 years ago. In 1968, I can remember sitting on the chesterfield with the old man watching Dave Keon and the Leafs, and my dad puts his arm around me and says, "You're going to enjoy being a Leafs fan, Steve. They win the cup every couple of years." It has been a long incarceration.

What is you greatest extravagance?

I don't have many extravagances. I'll drive a car until it wears out. My laptop is now 19 years old. But the one extravagance I do have would probably be wine. I always swore I would never buy anything but table wine and I still don't buy expensive bottles. But there is a slight creep. You start to actually learn something about wine and then you're not as easily satisfied. 

Steven Heighton's comments have been edited and condensed.