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Alex Smith

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Diane & Proust: Diane Awerbuck Responds to the Infamous Questionnaire

Split zips, low grade anxiety and work avoidance. Diane Awerbuck’s writing has been called astounding, beautifully poetic, brutal and haunting. Her debut novel Gardening at Night won the Commonwealth Writers Prize and was listed for the IMPAC Dublin Award. Much anticipated, Cabin Fever, her latest work, is an exceptional anthology of short stories.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
An unbroken night’s sleep
What is your greatest fear?
Fear is so twentieth-century. I’m over it. Bring on the rapist, the bomb, the split zip at the book launch. I’m ready. Come and get me.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Daisy de Melker
Which living person do you most admire?
Michael Stipe
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Work avoidance
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Bad driving. Because the way you drive is the way you are.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Decent coffee
What is your favourite Deksurney?
I am unfamiliar with this word. So, apparently, is Google. I have not read enough Proust. He’s one of those writers best summarised, I’ve found. I always knew it would come back to haunt me.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
On what occasion do you lie?
Nearly all of them. Interviews and questionnaires I particularly enjoy.
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
That it’s all downhill from here, and that I give a fuck about that
Which living person do you most despise?
Oh, it’s a rich and complex list – and an ever-evolving one. There’s a lot of hate to go round. Yesterday it was the person who rejected my latest short story at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; today it might be my educational publishing overlords with the seventh curriculum-and-unpaid-rewrite changes.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Suddenly”. But it makes a nice tune if you sing it to Billy Joel’s “Honesty”.
What is your greatest regret?
That three-way at varsity. And that other three-way, after varsity. I never learn.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
I always thought it would be the person I would breed with, but then I had the children, and it’s them, them, them. No competition.
Which talent would you most like to have?
What is your current state of mind?
Low-grade anxiety and sleep deprivation
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
That they would still be alive
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Having survived my family
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?
A big, thick, red koki on the desk of Helen Moffett
If you could choose what to come back as, what would it be?
I’m against reincarnation. It’s pointless. I’ll be a dithering ancestor, like everyone else, and I don’t care what Rudolf Steiner says.
What is your most treasured possession?
My tea cup with the birds on it
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
I haven’t been there yet. I thought I had when my mother died, slowly and horribly, of cancer. But my misery tends to be the safe, bourgeois, labelled kind. I always have a choice about whether I want to be miserable or not. Lots of people don’t. I know that my time is coming: there will be a sickness or an accident or the death of someone I love that will send me over the edge. But it’s not here yet, and goddammit, I’m not going to worry about it until it is.
Where would you like to live?
Under the sea
What is your favourite occupation?
I quite like drinking tea and reading the paper. I think I’m going to do that right after this.
What is your most marked characteristic?
The urge to correct spelling
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What do you most value in your friends?
Their interestedness in the world outside themselves. That quality makes up for my enormous lack of interest in it, and provides an excellent source of material.
Who are your favourite writers?
Stephen King, pre-2001.
Ivan Vladislavic and Damon Galgut, anytime.
Ben Williams, for always being kind and smart at short notice.
The people who provide most of the content on Texts From Last Night.
Who is your favourite hero of fiction?
Half-Cocked Jack Shaftoe, in Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle trilogy. I like a literal appellation.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Oh, jeez. The people who just get up every day and work their arses off for very little return, but have some kind of belief of their place in the system, some sense that the world is a fundamentally good and happy place: the ones who are singing while they make your bed.
What are your favourite names?
Naomi. Australopithecus africanus. Madam Zingara.
What is it that you most dislike?
I avoid things I dislike. It’s the only joy of the overtaxed and undersexed middle classes.
How would you like to die?
I would not like to, Sam I Am. No one does. And everyone wants to die in their sleep, or having sex. Often these two things can be combined.
What is your motto?
Pants before shoes

The girl and the boy stood semi-nude in the gardens and listened for other footsteps on the sandstone, for cracks to come between door frames, for walls to widen and spill light and noise in a flood.
But nobody came back into the gardens where they stood, dizzy with the African lavender drifting up from the terrace below, its holiday feel and narcotic stink. She stretched the cotton down over her body and waited.
He was gracious. He paused only briefly so that his long brown hands were caught in the fabric, surprised. The Saturday feeling rose up in her again and she saw all of him in that instant – the hairs on his chest, defiant; the solid astronomical meat of his sides.

From Astronomy Domine, in “Cabin Fever


Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    February 20th, 2012 @09:42 #

    Aw, shucks, Diane :)

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Diane</a>
    February 20th, 2012 @19:20 #

    Is it disingenuous to say that I hadn't connected the questionnaire with Books Live..?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 21st, 2012 @00:20 #

    Oh you sweet thing. In your koki incarnation, I'll hold you often and keep you very busy. And you'll be the first to see so much lovely writing.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Lauren Beukes</a>
    Lauren Beukes
    February 21st, 2012 @01:31 #

    Love this. Not sure about your choice of reincarnation though. I suspect Helen's red koki pens get terribly abused.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    February 21st, 2012 @16:53 #

    I love the "it's them, them."

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    February 22nd, 2012 @09:55 #

    Pants before shoes! much more real than Mailer's 'Excelsior!' I suspect I may be adopting Diane's motto in the not too distant future.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Richard de Nooy</a>
    Richard de Nooy
    February 22nd, 2012 @10:30 #

    "Checklist!" - that will be your motto, Alex.

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    February 23rd, 2012 @08:23 #

    Checklist! indeed, Richard, I already have two arm-length checklists: the extensive childproofing the home one and the ultra extensive baby essentials checklist. I'm suspicious of that essentials list though, think perhaps Baby City has a different definition of 'essential'. [Essentials for the offspring of millionnaires]


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