Dartmouth author releases first novel

Jul 29, 2019

Frederick Thurber’s journey to becoming a published author was both accidental, and the result of an accident.

It was three years ago when the South Dartmouth resident had a mishap with a chainsaw in his backyard. He was not seriously injured, but did have to spend several weeks around the house waiting for his wound to heal. 

“I was confined to my bed for three weeks, and I had nothing else to do except read and write,” Thurber said. 

And that’s how “In the Wake of the Willows” was born.

As a huge fan of “The Wind in the Willows,” he decided to try his hand at writing a novel to serve as a sequel to the famous British children’s novel, with an American twist: He set it along a South Coast river instead, and broke away from the higher-class British society the original children’s book is set in. 

“It’s a fun summer read,” Thurber said. “There’s a ton of nature observations, philosophical observations about man and nature, but it’s all based around summer activity on the water in this area.” 

The novel follows the anthropomorphized children of the original novel’s central characters, focusing on the junior detective daughter of the Mr. Rat and the Tom Sawyer-esque son of Mr. Toad, as they solve the mystery of a sea monster, discover a Native American prophecy, follow a scavenger hunt with rhyming clues, set sail to a secret island, and more. 

Thurber’s favorite part of the novel — and the most difficult and time-consuming to write — is set at nighttime and includes a firefly square dance. It took three months to get the stanzas just right and in the proper beat and rhythm. He even consulted with a professional square dancer. 

Thurber has been writing about nature for years, from travel to birding, for local publications and newspapers. An avid naturalist, he noted the variety of diversity in the local area does not get as much credit as more exotic locales. 

It is why “In the Wake of the Willows” includes many diverse animal species from the area, including the elusive bobolink and its meadowland habitat, fireflies, and more. 

It also covers the history of two species which went extinct in the 1920s setting of the novel, and includes plenty of education on nature subjects.

Each chapter begins with an illustration created by Frederick’s wife, Amy Thurber. Each illustration offers a clue to what will transpire in each chapter, as Amy explained she wanted to introduce a little mystery to each that could be “solved” by reading further into the chapter. 

“I really didn’t want to have any images of animals, because Fred’s premise was that these might really be people, not animals,” Amy said. “It just didn’t seem to fit.” 

After nearly three years of writing, editing, and attempting to get the book published, Thurber celebrated its debut at the end of June. 

After bad experiences with agents, and odds stacked against him to actually get it published, Thurber elected to go the self-published route with Ingram Spark’s print-on-demand. Since launching, Thurber has already blown through several print runs, and is already scheduling more. 

Due to its local appeal, there are several places in and around Dartmouth to pick up the book to read over the dog days of summer. 

It is available at Partners Village Store in Westport, Davoll’s General Store in Dartmouth, Courtyards in Tiverton, RI, Anthi's Drawing Room in New Bedford, Titcombs Books in East Sandwich, Bunch of Grapes in Vineyard Haven, Barnes and Noble, and on Amazon.