The Next Chapter·Proust Questionnaire

Why Susanna Kearsley loves finding intrigue in the ordinary

The bestselling Ontario author takes The Next Chapter's version of the Proust Questionnaire.
The Vanished Days is Susanna Kearsley's latest bestseller. (Wendy McAlpine)

Ontario author Susanna Kearsley is a former museum curator and author whose stories interweave the past and the present.

Her novels, which have made the New York Times, USA Today, and Globe and Mail bestseller lists, have been published in more than 25 countries.

Her new novel, The Vanished Days, is a suspenseful story of love, lies and loyalty set against the backdrop of the early Jacobite rebellions in 1700s Scotland.

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

Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.

My favourite character in fiction actually comes from a novel called Trustee from the Tool Room. He's a an ordinary man named Keith Stewart, who is called upon to do an extraordinary thing. I've always loved those stories of ordinary people who carry their heroism inside them in a way that you can't always see when you meet them on the street. And Keith Stewart is sort of the embodiment of that for me. He's a character that lived with me for a very, very long time and still does.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

The absence of hope for me is the worst kind of misery.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

There's a line in the film While You Were Sleeping where the the patriarch of the family is talking to his son and he says, "You know, you have those days where everybody is healthy and everybody is happy and everybody's together. And in that moment, life is good."

That, for me, comes pretty close to perfect happiness — when everybody you care about is healthy and happy and doing what they want to do.

And that for me, I think, comes pretty close to perfect happiness — when everybody you care about is healthy and happy and doing what they want to do. And you just kind of hold that moment and then it moves on and you go on with life — but you get those little moments, and that's happiness for me.

What is your greatest regret?

I try not to have them. I lost a boyfriend when I was 16. He drowned. And it taught me very young that life is not forever, and that you'd better live it as though you don't know what's around the corner. And it was a very valuable lesson to learn.

It taught me very young that life is not forever, and that you'd better live it as though you don't know what's around the corner.

It gave me a life from that point on that I do try to live without the space for regret. If I love somebody, I tell them I love them. If I want to do something, I do it so that I don't look back and think I should have taken that chance. So it changed my life in a very fundamental way.

Who are your favourite characters in history?

The people who were affected by the motions of the kings and the queens and the ones who were writing the laws are the ones that I care about. A lot of the time, I find their written letters in the archives, and I just feel so compelled to put them back on the page if it's within my ability to do so.

I think of a man like Anthony Wheelock, who was in charge of managing the French prisoners of war in New York during the Seven Years' War. There's a letter he wrote to his superior in which he actually said that his whole life he had not been promoted specifically because he told the truth. He took the honourable route and he chose to live his life in that way.

So I felt compelled to put him in my book Bellewether, because he's the kind of person that goes through history and doesn't leave a ripple that the historians want to put in the books. But he leaves a greater ripple without knowing it, because of the way he lived his life. And that's a ripple that I think is worth commemorating and worth writing about, because it matters. It matters that he lived.

Susanna Kearsley's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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