Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Philippa Dowding

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Philippa Dowding

Philippa Dowding is the author of The Gargoyle at the Gates (Dundurn), the third instalment in the Lost Gargoyle series, which features the beloved gargoyle, Gargoth.

In her answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Philippa tells Open Book about psychic stability, the moment she knew she wanted to write and the perfect grilled cheese.

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?
Living in Cape Cod in an ancient, rambling, breezy house, writing full time, with friends and family who come to visit for just the right amount of time.

What is your idea of misery?
Being stuck inside for the entire month of January with two sick children (happened many years ago, but the idea of misery is still very sharply defined when I remember it).

Where would you like to live?
Cape Cod or the west coast of England, near my roots.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Intelligence, perseverance, humour and being a good role model for his children.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Intelligence, strength, humour and being able to get through the entire month of January stuck inside with her sick children, and still love them (and herself).

What is your chief characteristic?
A writer’s reserved personality, bit of a recluse. I like my kitchen table.

What is your principal fault?
Overthinking things.

What is your greatest extravagance?
My dog, an expensive acoustic guitar and bringing my daughter home from university on the train at the drop of a hat, whenever she asks.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
I can forgive others for being overly anxious or irrational about phobias. I get that, no problem!

What do you value most about your friends?
The fact that most of them aren’t overly anxious or irrational about phobias. I look for psychic stability in my friends.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?
An adult braggart is a total bore.

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
My preference for solitude. I’m drawn to gregarious people, but can’t think what to say.

What is your favourite virtue?
I admire loyalty, and those people who are wisely cheerful without being annoying.

What is your favourite occupation?
I’m sure everyone who answers this says the same thing, but it’s being a writer. The day I finished reading my first book to myself (Charlotte’s Web), I knew I wanted to tell stories. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. If I couldn’t be a writer, then I’d want to be a painter, although I have no talent for it so it would be a difficult and unfulfilled life.

What would you like to be?
A writer, who can also paint more than stick figures.

What is your favourite colour?
Forest green.

What is your favourite flower?
Black-eyed Susan.

What is your favourite bird?
Phoenix.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Winston Churchill.

What character in history do you most dislike?
Jim Jones, because I was a young teenager at the time of the Jonestown massacre and it was the first truly terrible news story I can remember.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Ian McEwan, Miriam Toews, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sinclair Lewis, Michael Ondaatje.

Who are your favourite poets?
W.B. Yeats, Keats, Auden, Gwendolyn MacEwen, Dennis Lee.

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Ishmael and Queequeg, Jane Eyre, Harry, Charlotte.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Jane Siberry (for facing her demons and coming back to her art), and (corny though it sounds) my husband for driving so far to work every day, and being there even for those 8 o’clock classes in mid-January. I find our local children’s librarian to be pretty heroic, too.

Who is your favourite painter?
Johannes Vermeer.

Who is your favourite musician?
Neil Young.

What is your favourite food?
Grilled cheese sandwich on brown, with a dill pickle on the side. You can tell a good restaurant by its grilled cheese.

What is your favourite drink?
Drinking it right now: chocolate mint tea.

What are your favourite names?
Benjamin and Sarah.

What is it you most dislike?
I really dislike people who talk and don’t listen. I also dislike thoughtless drivers. As a pedestrian in Toronto, I can honestly say it’s the single most upsetting thing that I have to deal with on a daily basis. A respectable-looking older woman in a Volvo almost killed me at an intersection one day recently, then gave me a very rude gesture when I tried to get her attention. Honestly.

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I’d love to be able to fly. But since humans haven’t developed that as a natural talent, I guess it would be painting gorgeous, lavish, wall-to-ceiling landscapes and still-life. Or perhaps playing the harp.

How do you want to die?
At home, in perfect health, mid-chuckle.

What is your current state of mind?
Somewhat alert, must be all the contemplative dog-walking (and the chocolate mint tea).

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
30 years together and still married.

What is your motto?
“The code is more what you'd call ‘guidelines’ than actual rules.”


Philippa Dowding įs a freelance writer and poet, and her 20 years of professional work as an award-winning copywriter have allowed her to make a living from words. The character of Gargoth of the Gargoyle trilogy was inspired by an experience in an odd antique store populated with gargoyles. Philippa lives in Toronto.

For more information about The Gargoyle at the Gates please visit the Dundurn website.

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

Check out all the Proust Questionnaire interviews in our archives.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications

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