25th Trillium Award

The Trillium Ten, with James FitzGerald

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Open Book is celebrating the 24th Annual Trillium Book Award with The Trillium Ten/Trillium Dix interview series. Find out what this year's Trillium Book Award finalists were doing when they heard the news about their nomination, where in the province they most love to write, who their favourite Ontario authors are and more by following our series. Winners of the Trillium Awards will be announced on Friday, June 17th.

Contest! If you enter by noon on June 9th, you could win tickets to the Trillium Book Award author reading and reception that takes place on Thursday June 16th, 2011 at the Toronto Reference Library. Click here for more details.

Toronto-based author and editor James FitzGerald is nominated for the English-Language Trillium Book Award for What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son’s Quest To Redeem The Past (Random House Canada), a memoir and biography of Dr. John FitzGerald. Anne Collins, FitzGerald's editor, was immediately intrigued by a book described as "a self-murder mystery."

"I still remember our very first conversation about the book," she says. "[James] laid out for me the pattern of suicide in his family that had been hidden in a silence so deep that he really had no idea that his grandfather, Dr. John Fitzgerald, had almost literally created the idea of public health in Canada, and was crucial to the discovery and manufacture of insulin, founded the Connaught laboratories...

"That conversation gave me the shivers, as did the many conversations and drafts and edits that followed. No matter how many times I read the overarching story, it struck me powerfully every time. I knew from the beginning that the book had every chance of revealing a huge chunk of Canadian history, too, which had been swept aside because of the very same stigma that was haunting James: the stigma of his grandfather’s mental breakdown and suicide. And it also would explore the tension between talk therapy and psychoanalysis, and a medicalized psychiatry that relied on shock therapies and drugs, which is fascinating to me and anyone who has ever thought deeply about, or experienced, mental illness. The one fact that can still just haunt me when I think about it is that James’ grandfather, who basically made insulin as a drug possible, was pretty much destroyed in his breakdown by insulin shock therapy."

When asked to share a story about the publishing process for What Disturbs Our Blood, Anne Collins replied, "there are too many stories to pick one: remember this was a project about ten years in the making. All I’ll say is that James needed to explore every avenue, twist and turn in his family story, from Irish history to the jazz scene in Toronto, and that some of the drafts on the way to the final one were extremely long…"


Open Book:

Tell us about your Trillium-Award nominated book.

James FitzGerald:

What Disturbs Our Blood: A Son’s Quest To Redeem The Past is a hybrid of memoir, Canadian medical history, intense psychological drama, a mystery to be solved and a hard-won escape from a family curse. The book won the 2010 Writers’ Trust Non-Fiction Prize and was a finalist for the 2011 B.C. National Award For Canadian Non-Fiction. The B.C. Achievement Foundation Judges' Citation for What Disturbs Our Blood can be found here.


What gave you the idea for the book that received this nomination?


Sheer emotional necessity; if I did not attack this subject, it would have attacked me.


What were you doing when you received the news about your Trillium nomination?




What book would you give to a visitor to give them a sense of Ontario?


Imagining Toronto (Mansfield Press, 2010) by Amy Lavender Harris.


What spot in Ontario most inspires you to write?


Hart House library; the beach at De Grassi Point, Lake Simcoe.


Who is your favourite Ontario-based author?


John Ralston Saul


Do you have a favourite quote about writing?


“Reading an author and then meeting him is rather like enjoying some foie gras and then meeting the goose.” (William Styron)


What distracts you from writing?




What are you reading right now?


Making the Scene: Yorkville and Hip Toronto in the 1960s, by Stuart Henderson.


What can you tell us about your next project?


It's called Dreaming Sally, a true story of love, death and synchronicity set in the summer of 1968.

James FitzGerald is a freelance writer, editor and author based in Toronto, who has spent ten years working in the book publishing field and fifteen years as a journalist with a variety of Canadian newspapers and magazines. His first book, Old Boys: The Powerful Legacy of Upper Canada College, was a controversial inside look at the attitudes and mores of Canada's ruling class. The article that sparked What Disturbs Our Blood won a National Magazine Award.

For more information about What Disturbs Our Blood please visit the Random House website.

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

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