Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

NEW SERIES! The Dirty Dozen, with Robert Hough

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Robert Hough

Who doesn't get a kick out of hearing unexpected tidbits of information about the writers they love? From a favourite sandwich to a childhood nickname, from the bizarre to the adorable, we want to know just a little more than we can get from the pages and jacket copy of our favourite books.

So Open Book is excited to launch our newest interview series, The Dirty Dozen, which gives authors a chance to tell us twelve things we would have never guessed.

We're thrilled to welcome Robert Hough, one of Canada's most widely-praised writers — with accolades for his four books appearing in publications around the world — for our inaugural edition of The Dirty Dozen.

Read on for unexpected facts about Robert, and then be sure to check out his brand new novel Dr. Brinkley's Tower (Anansi).

  1. I was fired from my first job — delivering flyers for Sears in suburban Mississauga.
  2. I used to ride a unicycle (and, in fact, once attended a meeting of the Toronto Unicycling Club.)
  3. My gall bladder works improperly. A decent serving of trifle or triple-cream cheese would have me on the floor, clutching my midsection, groaning.
  4. I juggle.
  5. I do volunteer work at CAMH, providing manuscript feedback to clients.
  6. The film rights for my first novel were purchased by Sam Mendes (who, coincidentally, directed one of my favourite movies, American Beauty). Bugger all came of it.
  7. My great-grandfather was a champion ice skater, excelling in an eccentric Swedish event called ‘barrel leaping’.
  8. I am afraid of forests. It’s called hylophobia.
  9. I can bend over and, legs straight, touch my palms to the floor. Yes, flexibility is my middle name!
  10. I still have my favourite childhood plush toy, a portly Dalmation named ‘Spot’.
  11. My dream car is a 1973 Alfa Romeo 2000 GT.
  12. When I was 22 or so, I had a job as a fact-checker at an interior-decor magazine called Ontario Living. (It’s amazing what we’ll do to launch our careers: I once had to phone a story subject to confirm that the wood trim in her kitchen was, indeed, ‘sassy red’.) My office, which I shared with another fact-checker, was on Yonge Street just north of Eglinton, and it looked out over a block of two-storey businesses: a cookware shop, a restaurant or two, a Baskin-Robbins, a book shop, a British pub with the word ‘fox’ in its name.
  13. One snowy night, there was a Christmas party with lots of free booze and food at the publishing company’s headquarters. The twenty-somethings at the office partook freely, and around one-thirty in the morning a bunch of us were still one of the offices, hanging out and gabbing. At a certain point, I went back to my office. I didn’t need to get anything, and I was still having a good time convivializing with my co-workers; it was more that I had a sudden, almost psychic, urge to go back to my office. When I got there, I sat at my desk and looked out over the building tops across the street.

    That’s when it happened. As I gazed out, a slowly-whirling carousel of lights appeared. Though they’d arisen in a second’s time, they also seemed to have come alive gradually: it was as though they’d appeared out of a fog, even though there was no fog present. I remember that virtually every colour you could imagine was represented, and that they were pulsing, as if animated by their own breath. They were also changing colour: the red light becoming orange, and then vermilion, and then claret, and then candy apple. The blue, green and yellow lights did the same, and were sufficiently brilliant that they obscured whatever machine or entity was issuing them.

    My heart started to pound. My legs felt weak. I rubbed my eyes, took a deep breath, and looked again. The carousel was still there. After watching for a minute or so, I ran back toward the office where I’d left my cohorts; that office looked over at Yonge Street as well, and I assumed they’d be all standing at the window, gob-smacked and pointing. Yet when I got there, they were just as I left them: giggling and talking and drinking cheap screwtop wine from 12-ounce white plastic cups. I remember one of them noticed my pallor and asked if I was all right. After muttering some answer, I backed out and ran back to my office. Whatever it was had disappeared.

    So. What did I see that night? A strange refraction of lamplight on the snow? An alien visitation? Some spark of the collective unconscious? A brief ignition of madness? Of course I checked the papers the next morning: nothing. I do know that after it happened I ate better for a period of time, and tried to get more fresh air and exercise. (By ‘more’ I mean ‘some’; unhealthiness was the fashion back then.) Time went by, and my fear that the episode would repeat itself faded. More than twenty-five years later, I still think about that night, and each time I do it’s with a nagging, uncomfortable sense that one day it’ll happen again.

And a bonus #13 for our very first Dirty Dozen:

  1. I've been told, on more than one occasion, that I sneeze like a Pekingnese dog.

Robert Hough is an award-winning novelist. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.

For more information about Dr. Brinkley's Tower please visit the Anansi website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Related item from our archives

JF Robitaille: Minor Dedications


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