Where in Canada: Danila Botha's Queen West

September 3, 2015 by Danila Botha

Too Much on the Inside is a novel told from the rotating points of view of four newcomers to downtown Toronto. They all live on Queen St W—Dez at Brookfield, Nicki and Lukas in Parkdale, and Marlize at John. To me, Queen St W is the fifth character in the novel. My characters are all trying to escape serious aspects of their pasts and I wanted to place them in an area that was stimulating enough to be inspiring and distracting yet still provide opportunities for genuine introspection.

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TooMuchontheInside

What:

Too Much on the Inside (Quattro Books, 2015)

Who:

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Danila Botha has lived in Toronto, Halifax, and Israel. Her first book, a collection of short stories called Got No Secrets was published by Tightrope Books in 2010. It was also published by Modjaji Books in South Africa. Her articles and fiction have appeared in the National Post, Broken Pencil, Numero Cinq, Huffington Post, and more.

Where in Canada:

Too Much on the Inside is a novel told from the rotating points of view of four newcomers to downtown Toronto. Dez is originally from Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and owns a bar at Queen and Dufferin called CDRR (Casa de Rocha y Rolo). Marlize, a former dancer, and current university student is originally from Cape Town, South Africa, works there part time. Nicki, a photographer and traveller who is originally from Israel, works there part time too. Lukas, a hospital janitor from the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, is Nicki’s boyfriend.

They all live on Queen St W—Dez at Brookfield, Nicki and Lukas in Parkdale, and Marlize at John. To me, Queen St W is the fifth character in the novel.

I really love Queen Street because it exemplifies some of the best things about Toronto—multiculturalism, creativity, a socioeconomic mix that coexists happily, and a genuine, fiercely loyal community.

When I first encountered Queen St as a teenager, I remember feeling like it reverberated with possibility—from its incredible selection of art and photography galleries to its vibrant graffiti murals, bookstores, vintage clothing stores, intimate punk and indie rock venues, farmer’s market, and parks. It was such an intriguing blend of artistic and commercial. It seemed poetic to me that halfway houses, artist studios and expensive condos existed side by side, that Mohawks and Manolo Blahniks passed each other on the street and were both considered fashionable. I was also intrigued by all the international food, from Korean barbeque to Tibetan dumplings, from Caribbean rotis to Vietnamese pho.

My characters are all trying to escape serious aspects of their pasts (from a violent home invasion in Marlize’s case, to a crime accidentally committed by Lukas as a teenager) and I wanted to place them in an area that was stimulating enough to be inspiring and distracting yet still provide opportunities for genuine introspection.

When I imagined CDRR, I envisioned the kind of place I would have loved in my early twenties. I pictured a cross between the delightfully cool and debaucherous—drinks and the punk music scene of the Bovine on Queen St—with the warm—eating nachos around the bar while arty local bands play atmosphere of Sneaky Dee’s on College St. I imagined bathroom walls covered in sharpie poetry and thoughts, and walls covered in local art.

I imagined Dez, wearing band t-shirts, talking excitedly about music and his business, hitting on women from behind the bar, while being equally comfortable talking about feminism or philosophy. I imagined Dez and Marlize, falling in love slowly and anxiously, going on dates in Chinatown, at the movie theatre on Richmond, and walking through their neighborhoods. I imagined Lukas and Nicki meeting for the first time in a record store on Queen St that was based on Rotate This. I imagined Nicki, listening with fascination to every customer’s story, taking photos in Graffiti Alley and on Sunnyside Beach. I imagined Lukas falling in love with the local character and relative anonymity of his life in Parkdale. I knew there was nowhere else that they could live.

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Thank you to Danila for sharing her Queen St W with and to Quattro Books, especially Kristen, for connecting us.


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