Sixty Questions With “Stanley Park” Author Timothy Taylor…

November 15, 2010 

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Pecha Kucha #14 is coming up quick on November 25th (tickets and lowdown here). Among the many presenters will be Timothy Taylor, the bestselling, prize-winning author and journalist. He’s the author of the novel Stanley Park, which was shortlisted for numerous prizes including the Giller Prize, the Writers Trust Fiction Prize, and both the Vancouver and BC Book Awards. His new novel, The Blue Light Project, will be published in March 2011. In advance of checking him out on stage, we posed sixty questions to him…

The three things about your neighbourhood that make you want to live there: I live in Point Grey, which I enjoy for its leafy streets, the sprawling forest right in our backyard, and the 10th Ave village (as we call it) which still has a real small town feel.

Three words to describe Vancouver’s literary scene: Collegial, accomplished, often-lubricated. I’m continually surprised and pleased by how friendly and social the local scene remains. There’s very little factional warfare and rivalry that I’m aware of. I like that.

Book you’re currently reading: Douglas Coupland’s Player One.

The thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating: Peanut Butter Cups, but I have it under control.

Default drink of choice: Jamesons, neat.

Best bookstore in the city: The new Sitka Books is wonderful, but there’s Kidsbooks too, 32 Books and many others. I also buy a lot of books online through Amazon, Chapters/Indigo and Abebooks.

Best bookstore in the world:
I’m happy in virtually any of them but what’s not to love about browsing the Bouquanistes de Paris?

Drink you’ll never have again:
One Southern Comfort experience as a teenager was plenty, thanks. I believe we mixed it with Coke. What happened after that is hazy.

The one place you’d move to: I have to mention two: Dublin and Chicago. I love both those cities.

Three things that you’d like to change about Vancouver: Easy: direct flights to more places, a working train system linking the whole city, and dog friendly restaurants which would have the effect of turning us all into better human beings.

Cheap place for dinner: Olympia Steak and Pizza on Broadway for baked lasagna. Unpretentious, all about family and eating, having a glass of wine and enjoying yourself. Even the odd grumpy waitress won’t spoil this place for me.

Last place travelled: Toronto, but before that Munich. I preferred the latter by a large margin.

Biggest fear:
Fear itself, but also complacency and mimetic contagion.

Cliche that you use too often: I say “brilliant” a lot. I don’t even particularly like the word, it’s just stuck in there somehow.

View from your favourite window:
From my office I look north and east over Gastown, Centerm, the inner harbor and the north shore mountains. Beautiful in any weather.

Most amazing water you have taken a swim in: Pacific Ocean, West Bamfield. Redefined the concept of cold for me.

Dead film actor you wish was still making pictures:
Hard one. Richard Harris was pretty brilliant. (See? “Brilliant”)

Best sneaker in the world: Adidas Rod Laver, hands down. If they could make one that stayed white longer than 2 months, it would be a bonus. But I still make trips to the States to get these shoes, which are inexplicably hard to find in Canada.

Place in BC that you love escaping to:
The Penders, Saltspring, Hornby, Galiano

Under what circumstances would you join the army:
I’m ex-Navy, the “senior service”. So never.

Best green space in Vancouver:
The Endowment Lands for me.

Dumbest purchase ever: A garishly painted wooden possum from the Country Furniture store on South Granville. It somehow made sense at the time, see Jamesons above

What are you proud of:
My family. My wife and son. My brothers and sisters. And most certainly my mother and father. My mother for her faith and wisdom, and my father for being fearless, adventurous and unswerving in his commitments.

The thing that makes you the angriest: I make myself angry more than anything else makes me angry. When I fail against my standards, I become impatient with myself. This doesn’t always help, but there it is.

The thing you love most about your work:
I’m fortunate to work in both fiction and non-fiction. This gives me a footing in real and imagined worlds. In both those areas, I’m doing the same thing. I’m considering people, how they work and think, how they live together, and what it means that we’re all here. I’m still old fashioned that way. I believe in meaning. And it is in considering people that meaning is most readily discerned.

Best Vancouver place for coffee or tea: When I take a break from work and go for a coffee, I generally walk around the corner to The Bambo Café at 301 West Cordova.

Vancouver festival or community event that you most look forward to:
Point Grey Fiesta Days!

Your nickname(s) growing up: Timo, pronounced “Tee-mo”, given me by a nanny in Venezuela, where I was born. Most friends and all family members still call me that to this day. I know, it makes me sound about seven years old. But that’s the way it is with nicknames. They stick.

Talent you wish you possessed: Oscar Peterson-grade jazz piano skills

The trend you wish you never followed, but did:
Gordon Gekko slicked back hair and recreational cigar use, circa mid-90s. Although in my own defense, I came to cigars honestly as a young naval officer, in which circles it was more or less mandatory. The hair, meanwhile, I blame on a having had a hostile reaction to the grungy Kurt Cobain years.

Musical instrument you long to play: I trained at piano but have a life long admiration for the euphonium. Recently a kid performed on one at a TED conference, and I felt fully vindicated.

Sport you gave up: Golf, not because I didn’t admire it played well. But because it became glaringly obvious I never would play it well given six consecutive live times. I still enjoy hacking around a course once in a while. But I don’t “play” it anymore.

International figure you most admire: Rene Girard, retired Stanford professor, member of the French Academie, and one of the world’s greatest living thinkers.

The game you’re best at: If I can claim any sporting skill at all, it’s auto circuit racing. I love this sport which I regrettably can’t afford to do often. But I have a generous brother with a Porsche GT3, so I manage to get out occasionally. It’s thrilling, obviously. But it’s also a strangely meditative sport. Racing line and the 3D puzzle of going fast remain endlessly fascinating to me.

Somewhere within an hour of Vancouver that is worth checking out: As a kid, we used to go to Mission on occasion and climb the bell tower. One day I’d like to do that again.

The number of fist fights you’ve been in: Call it a dozen including childhood and not including 10 years of boxing.

The scariest situation you’ve ever been in: I lead a sheltered life, clearly, because this was hard to answer. And I’m not fearless either. But if I had to pick one true fear-of-death experience, I’d have to say helijet night flight enroute Victoria to Vancouver. We hit a bird and had to land. After inspecting the rotors for damage with what looked like a toy flashlight, the pilot took us up again (which seemed unwise to me) and directly into the teeth of a thunderstorm. With the thunder rolling and the lightening striking the earth in great shafts of electricity all around us, we pitched through the blackest set of clouds I’d ever seen. With every spot of turbulence, the helicopter seemed to plummet, drop-of-doom style, hundreds of feet towards the invisible ground below. I was terrified. I won’t lie. And then I looked at the guy sitting next to me and he was sleeping.

One thing of no monetary value that you will keep until you die:
Spools of film my mother carried with her from Germany when exiting as a refugee. The spools are photographs of organ music she used to play before the war in Germany.

Local person that you admire most: Too many to mention. In my work, I’m lucky to meet people that I admire all the time. And many of them are local.

Best local venue for live music: The Orpheum is wonderful.

Best concert experience ever:
I saw The Pogues live many times. But at Fleadh ’91 in Finsbury Park, London, they headlined a brilliant show including Van Morrison, Cristy Moore and Mary Coughlan, during which Shane MacGowan sang Fairytale of New York with the late Kirsty MacColl. It was quite magical to be young in that place at precisely that time.

The dish you’re most proud of: I make very fine rouladen with spatzle, a family dish of my mother’s. But, without meaning to boast, I do all the cooking in my house and it is one of my few talents.

The thing that makes you the most nervous: Like many people, I get butterflies before going on stage. Every time.

Town you were born in:
San Tome, in the Anzoategui province of Venezuela.

Old television shows you can tolerate re-runs of: Thunderbirds.

First memory: Riding my tricycle around the patio behind our house in West Vancouver, looking at the clouds.

Quality you admire most in yourself: Oh, I don’t know. Maybe it’s not what I admire most, but I do have a hard-work ethic inherited from my parents, and I’m grateful for that. Staying afloat as a writer is 90% perspiration.

Album that first made you love music: Peter and the Wolf, narrated by Leonard Bernstein

The career path you considered but never followed:
I used to talk about being a doctor when I was a kid. Incredibly, on the cusp of university, this vanished and I decided I wanted to be an economist. After four years of economics, I decided on finance and banking. So clearly, I’ve considered a lot of career paths and not followed them in my life.

Your top 3 films of all time: Way too hard. Here are three recent films watched and enjoyed: Thin Red Line, Manhattan, Three Amigos.

The thing you’re addicted to: A taste of success is addicting to most people. So like the rest of the human race, I chase after a bit more success in my work and in life generally. I think this is a good addiction in the sense that while revealing a certain ongoing dissatisfaction, it is the motive for innovation and improvement. So, here’s to it.

Biggest hope: That my son will grow up happy in a peaceful world, and that I might in some small way contribute to that outcome.

Luckiest moment of your life: I’ve been fortunate in life, too many times to mention. But meeting my wife ranks very high. And so does the day our son was born.

Favourite book as a child: A Hole is to Dig by Ruth Krauss with pictures by Maurice Sendak

An under-appreciated Canadian author that everyone should read: Well, I want to say “me”, but I guess that contravenes the spirit of this thing. I’ve come across many writers to admire in Canada, but a young writer from Vancouver who is endlessly talented, who will probably be famous one day, but who as yet hasn’t sold a ton of books is Lee Henderson. The Man Game is one of the best books ever written about Vancouver.

Deceased author you wish you could have met: Mordechai Richler, although it’s sometimes best not to meet your heroes.

Favourite quote: Writing The Blue Light Project, I thought about this one a lot, from Werner Herzog: “I have said this before and will repeat it again as long as I am able to talk: if we do not develop adequate images we will die out like dinosaurs.” I think Herzog is on to something here, and one of the characters in the novel is fixated on this quote and its application to his own art.

What is beauty? Deep question! But here goes. I tend to think that beauty is neither wholly an attribute nor is it wholly a perception. Instead, beauty is a connection shaped between a perceiving person and some other person or object. That connection is breathtaking, when it occurs, because it defies objective and subjective explanations. We can’t measure it. But we can’t even predict what we ourselves will find beautiful. Having said both those things (1) that beauty is a connection, and that (2) it is something other than objective or subjective, I think the important third point is that our experience of beauty bears similarity to our experience of love. That is, beauty as we experience it enters our world without cause. Why did I smile at my date over dinner? Because my cheek muscles contracted in response to dopamine flows? Because my genes are coded up with preferences that she was proving to satisfy? Well… maybe. But more because I was falling in love with her. And that love, as it arrived in my chest, or my brain, or wherever it arrived, did so with no upstream cause that I can trace. It came to me, as with my perception of her beauty, as if from outside the physical realm. As such, beauty – in art, in nature and in human relationships – achieves a kind of sublimity, a conclusion leading Keats to observe, further, that “…it will never pass into nothingness.”

The moment you knew you were a writer: I thought I had a chance when Ursula K. LeGuin wrote of one of my stories: “This is the real stuff”. That was long before I ever published anything, but those five words gave me energy for several years worth of rejection. Many years later, speaking about my collection of short stories, Mavis Gallant told me: “Silent Cruise is wonderful.” And those four words have been a source of energy ever since.

A work of art you would love to own: A Doug Coupland Talking Sticks (Enter Hyperspace, personal favorite) or a piece from his Lost and Gained in Translation series. Love Greg Girard’s Phantom Shanghai photographs as well. Anything by Byron Dauncey.

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One Response to “Sixty Questions With “Stanley Park” Author Timothy Taylor…”

  1. Nancy on November 15th, 2010 9:38 pm

    Beauty on, Timothy.