The Short Version
Laurie Gough is the author of the newly-released Stolen Child: A Mother’s Journey to Rescue Her Son from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Kiss the Sunset Pig: An American Road Trip with Exotic Detours, and Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey, shortlisted for the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award in the U.K., and silver medal winner of ForeWord Magazine’s Travel Book of the Year in the U.S. Over twenty of her stories have been anthologized in literary travel books; she has been a regular contributor to The Globe and Mail, and has written for The Guardian, Macleans magazine, The Walrus, The L.A. Times, USA Today, salon.com, The National Post, Canadian Geographic, Huffington Post, The Daily Express, Caribbean Travel + Life, among others. Laurie gives memoir and travel writing workshops internationally, and she also speaks to groups about her experience helping her son conquer OCD. She lives in Wakefield, Quebec, with her family.
The Longer Version
Laurie Gough has always had an equal passion for writing and the road. Her first travels were to Madeira on a school trip where she fell in love with a boy who was older and an actor. He was the son of a minister, which probably accounted for his rebellious hair and his passion for punk. He wrote Laurie poetry inspired by T.S. Eliot. After a few months, he ditched her for a girl on the gymnastics team, so, inevitably, Laurie became a poet herself, writing heartsick drivel for hours into the night.
After high school she decided to move from her hometown of Guelph, Ontario, to Boulder, Colorado, possibly because it looked so inviting on the Mork and Mindy intro. Her first job was a pizza-maker at Chuck E. Cheese, where, at the end of her first week, she was forced to dress as a giant mouse—the Chuck E. Cheese mascot—and drive downtown with the Chuck E. Cheese manager to a bar full of college students and ponytailed professors. Once there, she was supposed to solicit money for charity by twirling around the dance floor. It would have been humiliating if she hadn’t been completely disguised as the giant mouse. She stayed in Boulder a year (but only two weeks at Chuck E. Cheese.)
She studied International Development and English at the University of Guelph, stopping in the middle to chambermaid in the Alberta Rockies at a lonely resort. She discovered hitchhiking, thumbing her way to the west coast then down to California where she found a hollowed-out redwood tree which she stayed in for three days. After leaving her tree, she met a retired mad Maritimer who drove her from California to Nova Scotia on the back of his motorcycle, adventures Laurie chronicles in Kite Strings of the Southern Cross. She returned to California later that year and stayed for six days in a cave carved into a sandstone cliff beside the ocean. While on that beach, she kept a journal, which plays a part in Kiss the Sunset Pig.
After graduating, she worked on an asparagus farm, then hitchhiked through the U.K. before flying to Greece where she met a ghostly crone in her wind shelter home on a beach, a story she details in salon.com’s Naxos Nights. The following month, she found herself stranded in the Italian Alps one harrowing night, then later, in Fez, Morocco, where she was drugged with mint tea and hypnotized into buying carpets.
In Jamaica, she tried to teach school in a village, but left after burning her leg on a motorcycle. After working in an old-age home, she hitchhiked to the Yukon with a friend, spent ten days paddling the Yukon River, hitched further north to the Northwest Territories, and was a stowaway on a ship heading south to B.C. Luckily, she was never caught. Her Jamaican and Yukon adventures are also part of Kiss the Sunset Pig.
Laurie attended teachers’ college, specializing in Native Education. Her first teaching job was on the James Bay sub-Arctic reserve of Kashechewan, which resulted in an unraveling of almost everything she’d believed in. Years later, her shocking account of teaching in Kashechewan in a National Post article unleashed a firestorm of response across Canada, with editorials and letters flooding in from all provinces of how something had to be done about the highly dysfunctional reserve system. A longer version of the story is in Kiss the Sunset Pig.
After Kashechewan, she moved to a cabin in the woods in northern Ontario near Bancroft, teaching school to save for a year-long trip to the South Pacific and southeast Asia. She almost stayed in Fiji for good, but discovered she’d never truly belong in Fijian society, and returned home.
Back in the same cabin in the woods the next year, she woke up one snowy night in a panic that her travels were evaporating, starting to feel like a dream. She got up and began writing. She had no intention of writing a book, just a compulsion to recall the characters she’d met and the places she’d seen. Reading over her travel journals the next day, she became engrossed in the details of Fijian life and decided to make Fiji, with its tradition of storytelling, her structural framework for what might someday become a book.
One day, she noticed an ad in the classified section of the New Yorker: “San Francisco publisher seeking women’s travel adventure stories.” She sent two stories away and a month later, got a call from a San Francisco editor saying her stories were wanted for a woman’s travel anthology called A Woman’s World.
That summer, Laurie drove to the American Book Expo in Chicago for the book’s launch, and there (after sleeping in her car overnight) got to meet fellow travellers who’d written for the anthology. It was like finding her tribe. Never before had she met such avid world travelers and writers at the same time. It was a revelation that people were making their lives, careers, through these two passions of hers put together.
After three years, she finished her own book, sent it off to six publishers, then promptly left for another trip, this time to Singapore, Sumatra and South Korea. She had the naive fantasy that all she had to do was send her manuscript off and while she was gone, it could be published. She returned from that trip, found a publisher, and just three weeks before it was set to print in Canada, the editor called to say that everything was fine, except they’d have to change the book’s title. The Canadian publisher felt that her title, Kite Strings of the Southern Cross, would make Canadians think the book involved the Klu Klux Klan. The title was changed in Canada to Island of the Human Heart.
The book was published the following year in the U.S. as Kite Strings of the Southern Cross: A Woman’s Travel Odyssey and the following year with Random House in the U.K. It won ForeWord Magazine’s silver medal for Travel Book of the Year in the U.S. and was shortlisted for the “Booker Prize of Travel Literature,” the Thomas Cook Award in the UK. Of the six finalists, Laurie was the only non-British author and one of two women. She flew to England for the award ceremony, was interviewed on the BBC, and after the ceremony, left with her boyfriend Rob for Ireland. The couple hitchhiked around the country, and, to Laurie’s surprise, got engaged.
They eventually moved to the Gatineau Hills north of Ottawa, to the village of Wakefield, Quebec, and had a son named Quinn. Laurie wrote her second book and then took up travel writing for newspapers and magazines, getting to visit Bhutan, Ecuador and the Galapagos, the Guyana rainforest, and Antarctica, among other places. (See her blog.) She and her family spent some winters in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico—where Laurie was a speaker at the San Miguel International Writers’ Festival—and they travelled extensively in their camper van around North America. Recently, they spent a month in Spain and Morocco.
Laurie used to fantasize about finding the ideal place to live, but she’s come to see Wakefield, the funky, artsy, eccentric little village on the wide Gatineau River, as that home she was always searching for.
Laurie’s latest book, Stolen Child, is due out in the fall of 2016 with Dundurn.