Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Proust Questionnaire, with Richard Scarsbrook

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Richard Scarsbrook

Author, musician and creative writing instructor Richard Scarsbrook was recently awarded the 2011 White Pine Award for his YA novel The Monkeyface Chronicles (Thistledown Press). Join him and the Featherless Bipeds at the Lower Ossington Theatre's new Green Door Cabaret on Friday, June 17 for a literary/musical hybrid show that will raise money for Toronto Youth Theatre and other fabulous projects sponsored by the Lower Ossington Theatre. Visit our Events page for details.

In his answers to the Proust Questionnaire, Richard Scarsbrook (who recently visited Proust's grave) tells us his dream of happiness, his greatest extravagance, his principal fault and more.

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.


What is your dream of happiness?
I would like to live like Hemingway did. . . minus the war, the impotence, and the eventual suicide. Oh, minus the sport fishing, too. In fact, never mind that; I only want the part where I get to write and hang out and drink and talk with cool, talented people in Paris and Havana. Make that every beautiful city in the world, and we’ve got a deal, happiness.

What is your idea of misery?
Being trapped in the same place, doing the same thing over and over and over again.

Where would you like to live?
See above. It would be fun to be a traveller and a local at the same time.

What qualities do you admire most in a man?
Kindness. Honesty. Confidence. Humour.

What qualities do you admire most in a woman?
Kindness. Honesty. Confidence. Humour.

What is your chief characteristic?
Aw, this is the kind of question that makes me glad that someone else writes the blurbs for the back cover of my books.

What is your principal fault?
Saying yes to too many things (inlcuding things to which I would much rather say, “No. No! No no no no! Did you hear me? NOOOOOOOOO!”).

What is your greatest extravagance?
My collection of vintage red Italian sports cars! I spend countless hours in the garage polishing them, and. . . ha ha ha ha ha! As IF! I’m a writer!

My real answer: vintage red wines. I’ve definitely polished off a few of those.

What faults in others are you most tolerant of?
I suppose that I am most tolerant of the faults in others that I also recognize in myself: forgetfulness, indifference, confusion, narcissism. . .

It’s okay with me if you’re not perfect. I’m not perfect, either.

What do you value most about your friends?

Remember that great Groucho Marx quote, “I would never belong to any club that would have ME as a member”? Well, I’m just grateful that such an interesting, talented, and diverse group of people have let me into their club.

What characteristic do you dislike most in others?

What characteristic do you dislike most in yourself?
Selfishness. (Alas, it’s a symptom of our time, and maybe of our species.)

What is your favourite virtue?
Honesty. (Tempered with kindness. You don’t have to be a jerk to be honest with someone.)

What is your favourite occupation?
Author! (Followed closely by Musician, Actor, and Independently Wealthy Citizen-of-the-World Philanthropist.)

What would you like to be?
All of the above.

What is your favourite colour?
Generally, I am pleased by the blue/red/purple segment of the colour wheel.

What is your favourite flower?
Umm. . . violets, I guess. They remind me of my parents’ farm.

What is your favourite bird?
Eagles. Hawks. Falcons. Fast and agile.

Or maybe Big Bird. Goofy and sincere.

What historical figure do you admire the most?
Winston Churchill (especially for all those great quotes, apocyphal or not).

What character in history do you most dislike?
Adolph Hitler.

Who are your favourite prose authors?
Way, waaaaaaaay too many to list, so I’ll mention a few who infuenced me greatly at various phases of my life. Seuss, Silverstein, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Faulkner, Bradbury, Wilde, Lawrence, Atwood, Davies, Shields, Hodgins, Kinsella (who wrote a great review of my first book — still one of my favourite writing career moments). Many of my current favourite prose authors I also count among my friends (you know who you are!).

Who are your favourite poets?
Again, too many to list, but I do remember the first poem that really moved me as a kid, which I first heard recited at a remembrance day ceremony: “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr. “Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. . .”

Who are your favourite heroes in fiction?
Puck. Beatrice. Han Solo. Hawkeye Pierce. Hagar Shipley. Batman. Dunstan Ramsay. King Leary. The Cat in The Hat.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Anyone who cares about what they’re doing. Anyone who tries to make things better for anyone else.

Who is your favourite painter?

Predictably, I suppose, I like impressionism, so any painter you can find in d’Orsay in Paris is likely to be a favorite of mine.

My favourite painter that I know personally is my friend Charlotte Conlin. It’s satistfying to observe someone you know developing their own creative style.

Who is your favourite musician?
I admire singer/musician/songwriter types, who write great lyrics and music, and then can perform them, too. Greg Keelor from Blue Rodeo, or Ron Hawkins from The Lowest of the Low, for example.

What is your favourite food?
Just about anything, from any culture (as long as it doesn’t have green peppers in it).

What is your favourite drink?
For pleasure: good beer, red wine, port, dark rum, a well-made mijito.

For hydration: tap water.

What are your favourite names?
Sarah. Emily. Grace. Ferrari GTO. Ford Mustang. Supermarine Spitfire. Hawker Hurricane. Han Solo. Darth Vader (come on, give George Lucas some credit).

What is it you most dislike?
Hmm. . . how do I answer this without sounding like a Miss America Pageant contestant? “I dislike war.” “I dislike famine.” “I dislike people who are mean.”

Wait! I know! The Shamrock Shake! No, seriously. . . so much of what is wrong with our society is embodied in the Shamrock Shake. The is no milk in it, so they can’t call it a “milkshake”. And what does green extract number 453, artificial mint flavoring and enough sugar to power 50 Mojitos have to do with the lovely, symbolic shamrock? It’s a sham, alright.

Hang on, I’ve got another one! The auto-tune effect. Yeah. I dislike that, too. You want to be a singer? Here’s a hint — LEARN TO SING! Don’t rely on some digital effect that makes you sound like Hal 9000.

And another thing. . .

What natural talent would you most like to possess?
I was going to say something like “stop speeding bullets and leap tall buildings in a single bound,” but really I would just like to be better at the things I’m already sort of good at.

How do you want to die?
To quote Woody Allen, “I don't want to achieve immortality through my work... I want to achieve it through not dying.”

What is your current state of mind?
Clear (with fog predicted for the morning. . .)

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?
I always hope that my greatest accomplishment is just over the horizon.

What is your motto?
Patience and Perserverance. Or: Laughing is Better Than Crying.


Richard Scarsbrook is the author of the hilarious and insightful YA novel Cheeseburger Subversive, its rock ‘n’ roll sequel, Featherless Bipeds and a collection of prize-winning adult literary short stories called Destiny’s Telescope. His latest novel, The Monkeyface Chronicles, won the 2011 White Pine Award.

His short stories and poems have appeared in Prairie Fire, Descant, Matrix, Carousel, The Dalhousie Review, PRECIPICe, The Guardian Unlimited (UK), Rampike, Storyteller, The New Orphic Review, The Nashwaak Review, The Harpweaver, The Backwater Review, NeWest Review, Lies With Occasional Truth, The Moose and Pussy, Jones Avenue, Verbicide (US), Surface and Symbol, Zygote and many other magazines and anthologies.

Richard’s books have been shortlisted for the Canadian Library Association’s Book of the Year Award (twice), the Ontario Library Association White Pine Award (twice), the Stellar Book Award (twice) and the ReLit Award. His short stories have won a number of prizes and awards, including the Matrix Litpop Prize, the Hinterland Award for Prose, two New Century Writer Awards, and first prizes in the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts Shorts Story Competition and the New Orphic Short Story Competition.

Richard also teaches adult creative writing courses at George Brown and Humber Colleges in Toronto, plays in a couple of bands, makes regular appearances at school, libraries, and festivals — and sometimes sleeps.

More about Richard’s literary adventures can be found at his website and his blog.

For more information about The Monkeyface Chronicles please visit the Thistledown Press website.

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

Check back for more Proust Questionnaires with Canada's literati in this latest series of interviews on Open Book.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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