After having her first book published overseas last year, a South Rawdon author with a penchant for history is already well into writing her second novel.
It's been about a year since Forever Shales hit store shelves in the UK, but for Deborah Berkeley, it's been an interesting and rewarding experience.
Her first novel took years to complete as she carefully crafted, researched and honed the Victorian tale set in England.
Berkeley says the idea for the book just came to her one day several years ago.
“I'm going to have to say that was a gift from God. I didn't sit there thinking ‘I'm going to write a book, now what subject?’ I thought, ‘right, I know I'm supposed to write a book,’ and wham... it just came to me,” said Berkeley. “I'm going to write a book about a dog.”
And that book, entitled Forever Shales, is one that both pet lovers and history buffs can enjoy.
The story follows the exploits of Shales, a Border Collie who, after being homeless, finds a family that takes him in.
As the book jacket reads, “After many weeks of adventure and living the life of a homeless dog, Shales is finally adopted by a family who loves him. As he comes to love his new family, there comes the burden of coping with his family's tragedies, scandals, and their eventual decline into old age. His loyalty to those he loves is heart warming, and Shales reminds us that dogs have a deep desire to love and be loved.”
The characters in the story feel real to the reader — and with good reason. Berkeley used her own family tree as inspiration.
“I didn't plan on involving any of my ancestors; that was completely unplanned,” she said. “I got stuck on the names of the places and the names of the farms and everything, and it just kept creeping in.”
Soon, it became second nature to include members of her family that lived during the latter 19th century, as well as incorporate where they lived, worked and died. The rich, English dialect also spills onto the pages.
“It just felt right; that this was the way it was supposed to be written,” she said. “Instead of the characters having fictitious names, just truthfully tell the story with some of the incidents... some of the everyday drama that my ancestors actually did live through, that I know is factual information.”
Shales, the narrator of the story, however, was not based on a real dog, though his image was modelled after Berkeley's pooch, Leo.
“The greatest compliment I've been given, and I've been given this a couple of times from people, is they've actually forgotten half-way through the book that Shales was not a real dog of the past,” she said. “Shales is a fictitious character telling some historical facts.”
Although the novel is told through the eyes of a dog, it's hardly light reading material. It's lengthy with 470-plus pages, and it deals with real life drama.
“It's written for grown-ups just like you and me. I know it's about a dog and it's from a dog's point of view but it's still written for the grown-up in mind,” she said.
However, Berkeley said a well-read youth, about 14 years old, could also enjoy it.
“It's written for grown-ups just like you and me. I know it's about a dog and it's from a dog's point of view but it's still written for the grown-up in mind.” - Deborah Berkeley
The 1978 Hants West Rural High School graduate was born in Yorkshire, England and grew up in Canada from the age of seven. Her family moved to South Rawdon when she was 15.
After graduating and getting married, she spent about two decades living outside Nova Scotia before moving back nearly 10 years ago. She resides on the South Rawdon Road, close to her parents, and runs a home-based boarding kennel for dogs, aptly named Forever Shales Boarding Kennel.
She’s deep into writing her next novel, a story that also involves a dog in a historical context. However, she noted this one won’t have characters modelled after ancestors.
Berkeley said her first book was published overseas for a few reasons, the main ones being the story was about a historical time in England, they wanted to publish it, and they understood the UK spellings. She also noted that she wasn't sure how easy it was to get published in Canada, or how well-marketed Canadian books are overseas.
Forever Shales was first published in February 2011 by Melrose Book Company. Limited copies are available in Canada for the time being but Berkeley hopes to one day see it available at book stores throughout the country. She also anticipates seeing Forever Shales available electronically someday.
In the meantime, copies of the book are available by ordering online at Amazon or purchasing locally at Our Mother's Keepers in Windsor.