Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

The Dirty Dozen, with Tony Burgess

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Tony Burgess

Author Tony Burgess has been described as "H.P. Lovecraft meets Stephen Leacock". If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, then you definitely need to pick up Tony's work and see how absurdly, delightfully and fiendishly possible such a combination is in his hands. One of our most creative and brilliantly bizarre writers, Tony has a cult following that increased exponentially after his acclaimed novel Pontypool Changes Everything was adapted into an equally acclaimed film (for which the title was shortened to simply Pontypool).

There's never been an easier time to get into the work of Tony Burgess, thanks to ECW Press' new collection of fan favourites, The Bewdley Mayhem: Hellmouths of Bewdley, Pontypool Changes Everything, Caesarea. Containing three of Tony's best loved books, The Bewdley Mayhem might be the perfect holiday gift for that hard-to-shop-for reader in your life.

We speak to Tony today as part of our Dirty Dozen series, where writers spill twelve unexpected facts about themselves. Tony doesn't disappoint — this is one of our favourite editions of the series yet! Read on to hear Tony tell Open Book about why you shouldn't trust him with a saw, his brief stint in ballet and a secret ex-husband.

  1. I once tried to saw my brother's arm off. He was about three and I was six. We were in a small concrete pool in the backyard and there was a saw at the edge. I just lifted it up and rested it on his shoulder and we looked each other in the eye. I recall thinking we were talking in each others minds, saying something like “It's ok. Let's see what we are, after all.” I drew the saw back and forth a few times, enough to sink about a half inch in, and three inches across. My dad saw all the blood poruing down my brother and stopped me. No one was angry. I think they all felt guilty. Not me and Tim though. He still his a three inch arc of scar tissue on his shoulder.

  2. My first attempt at post secondary education was an arts program at Sheridan College. I took ballet and, as the only male, I received a ridiculous amount of attention. Even in heavy make up and a bright orange mohawk. I still have those moves — grand battement! C'mon!

  3. When I was about 13, living in Mississauga, I used to ride my minibike through the park systems, with a cartridge rifle over my shoulder. I'd follow the creek out to a subdivision under construction and go duck hunting. Large pools filled the depressions in mud left by heavy machinery and migrating ducks would drop down into them.

  4. I am lazy. I mean inert, shallow breathing, eyes unfocussed on the floor lazy. If I didn't have to do anything I would do nothing. And I think I would be happy. At my lowest rev there's a sweet spot where nothing is happening and I am living there. When I do work it's such a frenzy of uncomfortable things. Hypomania. Expenditure. Decline. So much less than doing nothing which always increases me. In fact, I have recognized that all my books are really about, for me, finding a way to rest, to end the story and the world, somewhere short so we can get some damn sleep. Books shouldnt go on forever.

  5. I used to work in a lab preparing specimens for universities. Every morning I had to drain hundreds of dead cats and dogs then fill their various systems with coloured latex. The ethylene glycol and formaldehyde often burst them. We also did fetal pigs, which exploded easily and the odd rabit. Every Wednesday, I had to euthanize dozens of 16 inch long mud puppies in a bucket. Our supervisor had tunnel vision because his mucous membranes were dissolving. One of my collegues was hiding the fact that she was pregnant so she could keep working. In fact, there was an illegal fetus in a jar hidden high on a shelf at the back. And some horse heads. A part of a whale. I would go home with my pockets full of loose claws.

  6. I learned, when I was 43, that my mother had been married before she met my father. This mysterious first husband got her thrown out of art college for spending a semester on the back of his motorcycle. He was, by all accounts, a dick.

  7. When I was around 18, my high school English teacher and I devised a prank to pull on one of his friends, a history teacher. This history teacher, who I didn't know, was apaprently frightened of me by reputation, so my buddy wanted me to exploit this. I was bald and wearing a black turtleneck, armed with a loaded starter pistol as I appraoched his class in progress. The plan was for me to burst into the class, scream some gibberish then fire the gun. It was to be a great joke. Unfortunatly, he strolled out into the hall, greeting my friend, preempting the prank. He told us he had just been diagnosed with a heart condition. My friend and I now recognize this was conspiracy to commit murder.

  8. When I was 15, I was tested by the Church of Scientology on Yonge Street. I was told that I was misunderstood. I bought a copy of Dianetics which I devoured on the bus ride home. At dinner I announced this to my family and my father said that he thought it sounded like a good fit for me. He wrote out a cheque at the table so I could enroll in intensive training. I never went back and lost the cheque. This was, to him, another sign of my inability to follow through on things.

  9. I was evicted from an apartment on Queen Street for blaring Suicide and fencing with my friend, while teetering on chairs, in our undewear, with long plastic flowers. People saw us from the street and complained to the landlady. She and I had been good friends up until this point, but after that she couldn't look me in the eye.

  10. Me and some friends once started a band called The Prono. I know, worst name ever. We never rehearsed but printed and sold tickets to a venue we rented. We posted all over town. Many came. We didn't. The Prono stood for Promote No show. Terrible idea. Shitty thing to do.

  11. I honestly believe that if I cross my eyes, in the fullness of time, etc., a world will exist that is doubled by this and that its mother will say “Stop doing that.”

  12. I struggle with reading most fiction and watching popular films. I have used my imagination recklessly and now it is broken. I prefer poorly realized things and news.


Tony Burgess lives in Stayner, Ontario, with his wife Rachel and their two children. He is the author of The Hellmouths of Bewdley, Pontypool Changes Everything, Caesarea and Fiction for Lovers, which won the ReLit Award.

In 2008, acclaimed director Bruce McDonald adapted Pontypool into film and Tony was nominated for a Genie Award, and won a Chlotrudis Award, for best adapted screenplay.

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