Danila Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to Canada as a teen. She studied Creative Writing at York, and at Humber College for Writers. Her first book, a collection of short stories called Got No Secrets, was published in May 2010 by Tightrope Books. Her next book, a novel called Too Much on the Inside, will be published by Tightrope in September 2012. She currently lives in Halifax.
Got No Secrets, your debut collection of short stories, is set in various places including New York, Toronto, Africa. Have you been to these places? How do you think your background has affected your creative writing?
I have been to these places. I was born in Johannesburg ,South Africa, and lived there until I was a teenager. I moved to Toronto after that. Toronto is only a one hour flight to New York, so I was lucky enough to get to go a few times. I love all three.
I suppose it’s affected my outlook and understanding of the world. South Africa has a very complex political reality- poverty, lack of formal education and literacy, AIDS and violence, are unfortunately a large part of people’s daily lives. But it’s also very geographically beautiful, culturally diverse, and is an amazing center for art, writing and music. I try to convey as many angles of it as I can. The primary emotion that I wanted people to feel when they read the book was empathy. I wanted people to feel like the characters were real people they know, even if not every situation was personally familiar. I’m sure this did come from where I grew up- when you live in a country it’s hard not to feel compassion, and to want to understand how things happen. Most people I know who live there today feel the same way- they want to continue to be able to live there- so they want to understand how they got to where they are today.
Living in Toronto affected me for sure- there is so much pride in one’s cultural background. It made me feel more confident that there might be an audience here in Canada who might want to read about these things- that every culture, no matter how many layers it has, has the potential to be interesting to people.
Is Got No Secrets partially or wholly autobiographical, did you collect these stories from others or is it fiction?
This question always makes me squirm. Of course, given my writing style and content, I understand why people ask this, and why they want to know. At the same time, it’s hard to answer this question in a way that’s both comfortable for me, but not evasive. That being said: the stories are biographical, with some liberties taken for sake of the reader. There’s a bit of myself in every story, but because some things exist very far in my past — what might have been therapeutic at one time to write about, feels dated (and still difficult) to talk about now. My intent, most of all, is that they feel genuine to readers.
I particularly like the stories that are set in Africa. Do you have any plans to continue writing about Africa?
Thank you! 🙂 My next book is a novel called Too Much on the Inside. There are four main characters, and one is South African. Her experiences there have greatly affected who she is and where she is emotionally at the start of the novel. I’m working on a collection of short stories and poetry combined right now. There are some poems in Afrikaans (that will appear with English translation) and at least one story (so far) set in South Africa. Thanks. That’s really heartening to hear. I’m so glad to hear that people here like them!
There is a journal entry feel to your stories–hardly any dialogue, first person past tense, lots of emotive language–how important, if at all, do you think journal writing is to creative writing?
I’ve actually never heard that before–cool. I try to journal. It definitely helps me to get my thoughts out, and at times to organize them. I think it’s important to write everyday and sometimes it comes out in journal form first. I have tons of notebooks lying around the apartment- possibly ten right now. I often write down point form notes, rough ideas, just empty my brain of anything, any detail, conversation snippet, recollection, imaginary thought- that could be useful to a story. I really think it does help a lot especially for me because I often have too many thoughts in my head at a given time and journaling really helps me to sort them out.
What kind of work can we expect from you in the future?
The new novel, Too Much on the Inside, comes out with Tightrope in Canada in Sept 2012. It’s told from the point of view of four characters–Dez, Anika, Nicki, and Lukas–who are respectively, Brazilian, South African, Israeli, and from the Annapolis Valley in Nova Scotia. They all meet in Toronto, and all have aspects of their past that they are running from. Toronto is almost a fifth character. They try to figure out who they are, what they want, who they want to be as they fall in love, hurt each other, and realize that they need each other.
The next book is a collection of short stories called For All the Men (and some of the Women) I’ve Known. It will also have a bit of poetry in it. It’s about relationships: romantic and human.
I’m also working on a graphic novel about the Israeli/Palestinian situation (Israel is another place I’ve lived). It’s about two girls in their early twenties, one is Israeli, and one is Palestinian. The title for it is The World Is Dead and I’m Full of Joy. It comes from a great line in a novel by an amazing Israeli author, Zeruya Shalev.
I hope to do another novel after that, and I have it planned out a little, but nothing completely concrete yet, so I probably shouldn’t say too much more. It’s about family, family relationships, and mental illness (the research process is fascinating so far!) and will be set in Canada and the U.S.
Have any book suggestions for Book Fridge readers?
Yeah, I love talking about books. I’m reading Ghosted by Shaughessy Bishop-Stall, and it’s great, I think the concept is amazing. I just finished Neil Smith’s Bang Crunch, and I loved it. He has such a fresh and original writing style. The stories are so funny and heartbreaking in so many ways. If you’re interested in stories about South Africa, I highly recommend Dawn Promislow’s Jewels and other Stories. It’s incredibly succinct and in command, style wise, but also full of heart. Lynn Crosbie’s Liar is wonderful–so literary, beautifully precise in its images and self -reflection, so honest. I was incredibly inspired by it. I just re-read it recently. Zoe Whittall’s Precordial Thump is wonderful. I loved Lisa Foad’s collection of stories, The Night is A Mouth. Her images are so unique, so sharp and visual. She’s so talented. I just read Nikki Sixx’s the Heroin Diaries, and I was impressed with his candour. My boyfriend got me a book called the Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. It has incredible imagery–really thick, ropy language. I really loved it.