Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Kyo MacLear

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Kyo Maclear

Stray Love (HarperCollins Canada) is Kyo Maclear's most recent book for adults. It tells the story of Marcel, who is born of an interracial affair in the uneasy environment of 1960s London.

In addition to Stray Love, Kyo is also the author of Virginia Wolf (Kids Can Press), a brand new and beautifully-illustrated children's book.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Kyo tells Open Book about a fondness for the Buster Keaton-esque, the formula to avoid ever being bored and her favourite musician, who is very close to home.

The Proust Questionnaire was not invented by Marcel Proust, but it was a much loved game by the French author and many of his contemporaries. The idea behind the questionnaire is that the answers are supposed to reveal the respondent's "true" nature.

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What is your dream of happiness?
Swimming in the ocean with people I love. Then dining al fresco while someone sings.

What is your idea of misery?
No swimmable oceans. No love. No food. No song.

Where would you like to live?
A stone cottage in the South Downs. Or an Eames house on the west coast.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
A roomy mind. Humble confidence. Stylish dishevelment. A good comic sense. (e.g. Buster Keaton circa 1920s.)

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Same as above. (e.g. Guilietta Masina circa 1950s.)

What is your chief characteristic?
Attentiveness.

What is your principal fault?
Distractibility. (The paradox of zoning into something is that you’re always zoning out of something else.)

What is your greatest extravagance?
Take-out. Beautiful books and clothes I can’t afford.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
Minor hoarding. (I am a minor hoarder: glass bottles, long scarves, weird postcards, etc. I call it curating.)

What do you value most about your friends?
Wisdom. Humor. Kindness.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
Selfishness. Narcissism. Cruelty.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Rigidity, otherwise known as fear and insecurity. I do heaps of yoga in the hope of becoming more pliable.

What is your favourite virtue?
Curiosity + Discipline = An inability to be bored.

What is your favourite occupation?
Being a writer.

What would you like to be?
A quicker, slightly happier writer. Possibly a writer who also draws and definitely one who spends as much time in the world as possible.

What is your favourite colour?
Blue.

What is your favourite flower?
Purple Opium Poppy.

What is your favourite bird?
Sparrow.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
The people who took risks against the Nazis, the Chilean poets and musicians who stood up to Pinochet, anyone who has ever put their life on the line by defying state power.

What character in history do you most dislike?
The despots, murderers and land-stealers — those we know by name and those who remain unnamed.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Marguerite Duras, Jean Rhys, Annie Ernaux, Virginia Woolf, John Berger, Sei Shōnagon, Haruki Murakami, Michael Ondaatje, Rebecca Solnit, W.G. Sebald, Ali Smith, Marilynne Robinson, Tillie Olsen, Annie Dillard, Rachel Carson, Lorrie Moore, Patti Smith, Mary Gaitskill, William Faulkner, Graham Greene, Jamaica Kincaid, Joan Didion, Meg Rosoff, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Florence Heide Parry.

Who are your favourite poets?
Emily Dickinson, Anne Carson, Lisa Robertson, Sharon Olds, Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Derek Walcott, Adrienne Rich, Roy Kiyooka, Dionne Brand, bp Nichol, Dr. Seuss, Lewis Carroll, Shel Silverstein.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Aunt Sylvie in Housekeeping. Conor O’Malley in A Monster Calls. Daisy in How I Live Now. Max in Where the Wild Things Are.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Climate change activists. Public space activists. People who are protecting the commons and other essential living things we often take for granted.

Who is your favourite painter?
Agnes Martin, Gerhard Richter, Louise Bourgeois, David Milne. And on the illustration side of things: Beatrice Alemagna, Olaf Hajek, Kevin Waldron, Maira Kalman, Matte Stephens, Isabelle Arsenault, Marcel Dzama, Carson Ellis, Douglas Florian.

Who is your favourite musician?
Brian Eno, Glenn Gould and my husband David Wall (for approaching music as a life method and placing it at the heart of everything.)

What is your favourite food?
Lemon & arugula pasta, pho soup, sake-steamed clams, lime & fresh mint gelato, tapioca in coconut milk.

What is your favourite drink?
Cava. Almond milk.

What are your favourite names?
Mika, Yoshi. (The ones I chose for my children.)

What is it you most dislike?
Purism.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
To draw like Cy Twombly, dance like Pina Bausch and sing like Amalia Rodrigues.

How do you want to die?
I would like to evaporate and have my clutter disappear with me, except maybe a few mementoes that would fit into a shoebox.

What is your current state of mind?
Slightly muddy. (But Thich Nhat Hanh says: “No mud, no lotus.”)

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
Juggling: books & babies, art & life, me & you.

What is your motto?
Sometimes one must whisper to be heard.


Kyo Maclear was born in London and grew up in Toronto as the only child of a foreign correspondent. Her father reported on some significant world events, including recording the first interviews with American POWs in North Vietnam. While Stray Love is entirely a work of fiction, it is informed by her experiences living with her father. Her first novel, The Letter Opener (2007), was awarded the K.M. Hunter Artists Award and shortlisted for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Maclear is also an award-winning visual arts writer and the author of two children’s books: Spork (2010) and Virginia Wolf (2012). Visit her online at her website.

For more information about Stray Love please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with great Canadian writers.

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