(Women's) Writer's Block: Danila Botha

October 12, 2016

For Women's History Month, we've saved Wednesdays for highlighting Canadian women writers, their latest work, and their writing process. This week, we feature Danila Botha, whose latest short story collection  For All The Men (and Some of The Women) I've Known (Tightrope Books) explores the complexities of human relationships in a manner both raw and relatable.  Lynn Crosbie says of the collection that "Everyone in this book is alive. Painfully, nervously, ardently."

Below, Danila tells us her top reading recommendations, giving yourself permission to write "badly", and, if there are any teachers in the audience, that your encouragement really does go a long way.

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For Women's History Month, we've saved Wednesdays for highlighting Canadian women writers, their latest work, and their writing process. This week, we feature Danila Botha, whose latest short story collection  For All The Men (and Some of The Women) I've Known (Tightrope Books) explores the complexities of human relationships in a manner both raw and relatable. Lynn Crosbie says of the collection that "Everyone in this book is alive. Painfully, nervously, ardently."

Below, Danila tells us her top reading recommendations, giving yourself permission to write "badly", and, if there are any teachers in the audience, that your encouragement really does go a long way.

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Is there one stand-out moment or experience you had that helped you realize you wanted to become a writer?

I think I always knew that I wanted to be a writer but it took me a long to have the confidence to say so. I had an amazing teacher in my elementary school in South Africa, Mrs. Aviva Notelowitz, who encouraged me. She noticed that I loved to read, and make up stories, and she suggested that I start writing them down. It was a moment that changed my life.

I knew that what I really wanted was to write fiction. I was really interested in other people’s stories, in their motives and reasons for making certain choices. I wanted to imagine what it was like to be them, and to tell those stories convincingly and authentically.

Studying Creative Writing, first at York University, and then at Humber’s School for Writers was hugely inspiring. I was also so lucky to have amazing mentors at Humber – Richard Scrimger and Nino Ricci – and they were both so supportive and encouraging. I wrote most of my first book, Got No Secrets, when I was in those programs. The workshops were unbelievably useful, because I had so much to learn in terms of technique, and storytelling, but also, it taught me to listen to, and trust my own instincts as a writer.

I thought about these things a lot when I wrote my novel, Too Much on the Inside, which was published last year. One of the short stories in For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, “Another Other,” was the first short story I wrote when I was in the program at York. I was so happy to have it included.

 

Which writers have influenced you or had the most impact on your own writing?

When I was a teenager, I read J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey for the first time. I couldn’t get over the immediacy of the first person, the vulnerability, and the economy of language. I remember thinking, I really want to learn how to do this.

When I was in my early twenties, I discovered a collection of poetry by Zoe Whittall called the Best Ten Minutes of Your Life. I loved it so much.  It was so exciting, funny and beautifully written. I had to run out and buy her other collections of poetry, and her novels. They have such perfect physical descriptions and contemporary settings, and fizz with a fresh and exciting energy that comments so precisely on our culture and on people.

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I then discovered a wonderful collection she edited (with Emily Pohl Weary) called Geeks, Misfits and Outlaws. It contained an incredible short story by Heather O’Neill called “I Know Angelo,” that to this day is my favourite short story of all time. It’s gorgeous and honest and has some of the most beautiful and unusual metaphors I’ve ever read. It opens with amazing dark humour, and it ends with touching romanticism. I remember rereading her imagery over and over (each line is perfect, you have to read it to believe it).

When I was in my twenties, I discovered Lynn Crosbie’s poetry. I was so inspired by the beauty of each line, the openness and vulnerability, and the perfect phrasing. Her book, Liar, which is a long poem in the length of a novel about the dissolution of a long-term relationship, was a huge inspiration in writing and editing For All the Men (and Some of The Women) I’ve Known. It’s so powerful, beautiful and emotionally acute. I think it’s the bravest book I’ve ever read on the subject. My new collection was also inspired by short story collections by Etgar Keret, Michael Christie, Heather O’Neill’s The Daydreams of Angels, and Neil Smith’s Bang Crunch.

 

What’s one book you always recommend?

I always suggest short stories by Etgar Keret. I’ve recommended his collections, The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God, or Missing Kissinger to everyone. He’s such a master of the short story form – he packs so much humour and commentary and great dialogue and emotion (and surreal imagery, and truths about humanity) into such a tight and precise form. I also often recommend David Bezmosgis’s Natasha and Other Stories (a fantastic collection set at Bathurst and Steeles in Toronto) Lauren Kirshner’s Where We Have to Go, and Dionne Brand’s What We All Long For.

 

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Have you ever experienced writer’s block? What did you do about it?

Of course. It always happens at the worst times, like really close to a deadline. I’ve found it most helpful to take breaks, to go for walks, or a run, to read or listen to music. I try to push myself to write through the self doubt, even if I think I won’t be happy with that day’s results. I try to give myself permission to write it anyway. I tell myself that that’s what the drafting and editing process is for, and that I can always go back and edit it completely later. I also find it helpful to give myself writing goals of, for example, a thousand words (or fifteen words, or a whole scene, etc) a day, no matter how frustrating or joyful the day is. And I always remind myself of a wonderful quote by the amazing novelist and memoir author Alison Pick: “Remember that every novel you love started with a bad first draft” 

 

What are you working on now?

I’m writing a new novel about two women in their twenties who are close friends. They are both hiding enormous and serious things from each other, and the people who know them. I probably shouldn’t say too much more this soon, but I’m really excited about it. It’s about deception and family, lies and friendships.

I’m also working on a new collection of short stories. I just finished writing a story called “Sometimes I Like to Shoot Kids,” about a photographer. It’s funnier so far than what I usually write. I’m having a lot of fun. 

 

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Danila Botha is an author based in Toronto. She has written two collections of short stories For All the Men, (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known (Tightrope Books, 2016) and Got No Secrets (Tightrope Books, 2010), and a novel, Too Much on the Inside (Quattro Books, 2015) which recently won the Book Excellence Award for Contemporary Novel. She loves spending all of her free time with her family, wearing glitter eyeliner, painting and running.  She’s inspired by the ocean, graffiti, and warm weather of Miami and Tel Aviv, and by absolutely everything in Toronto. You can find her at danilabotha.com, at @DanilaBotha on Twitter, at facebook.com/danilabothawriter, and on Instagram at instagram.com/danilabotha.

 

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Many thanks to Danila for sharing the authors and influences that make her fantastic writing tick – we loved reading her responses in preparation for putting them on the blog today. For our first Women's Writers' Block with Mary Frances Coady, click here. Keep an eye out next Wednesday for our next featured writer!


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