Too much on the inside: Botha’s book born on public transit
A chance meeting on the Route 80 bus and an emotional story of regret shared between two strangers. That’s all it took to spark the imagination of South African-born author Danila Botha.
Botha was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and moved to Toronto when she was 15. She lived in Halifax for 2 1/2 years while studying education at Mount Saint Vincent University, starting in 2009.
She lived in Bedford and Clayton Park and used transit to get everywhere. She was struck by the open friendliness of her fellow riders, especially by a young man from the Annapolis Valley. On one long bus ride from Bedford, he told her he had a child when he was younger who he couldn’t see because of a crime he committed as a teenager.
A character based on this man took shape in her mind. He became Lukas, one of four characters — all taking turns telling their stories in the first person — in her first novel, Too Much on the Inside.
“He was such a likable person and he was such a nice guy and such a sad story,” Botha said. “So, yes, the whole book started with this guy.”
She returned to Toronto and studied creative writing. For her first novel, she breathed life into characters with painful pasts, and all making a new life in Toronto. Lukas, from the Valley, has to make peace with his bad choices as a teenager.
“He feels a strong sense of shame of things in his past and doesn’t know how to process and how to deal with them. He moves to Toronto to create a new identity and a new life.”
That’s where he meets Nicki.
Nicki is from Israel , the birthplace of Botha’s mother and where Botha spent many summers and a couple of years in her early 20s. Inspired by a friend’s experience, Botha made Nicki a former conscript in the Israeli military.
“She’s an artist, comes from a religious background and doesn’t feel she quite fits into that. She doesn’t know what she wants to do, but she wants the experiences of other places.”
Dez is from Brazil, the only place mentioned in a character’s back story where Botha has never been, but she said she’d love to go one day.
Womanizer Dez owns the Toronto bar where many of the story lines start and weave together.
“He was one of my absolute favourite characters to write because it’s really fun to write about the things he experiences.”
Botha said she had to be very careful with Dez, to write him as a three-dimensional character instead of simply a misogynistic male. But then Dez connects with Marlize, a victim of a home invasion and rape. With her mother and sister murdered, her father sends her from South Africa to a new life in Toronto.
“Unfortunately and sadly, it’s very common in South Africa,” Botha said.
“To me, the part of the story that was really interesting was not the event — I mean that also — but what happened afterward and how people try to go on with their lives after that kind of thing.”
The novel is all about resiliency, starting over, trusting again. Hope. The characters still believe in love, even if they think it’s a bad idea. Botha said it’s immaterial if the relationships work out in the end, it’s about the characters’ willingness to be vulnerable and to try.
“I’m really impressed with how resilient most people are. People go through these terrible things and there’s this very strong and human desire to keep going.
“The question of what it is that motivates us to keep going and how we are able to retain hope in the face of really difficult things and how people are able to go on with their lives is amazing to me.”