Westport author writes ‘In the Wake of the Willows’

Columnist's first book celebrates this area's great outdoors

Posted 8/17/19

WESTPORT — It took a most painful mishap to get him moving, but Westport’s Frederick Thurber has finally written a book.

He’d done plenty of writing before — for years his Woods & Waters …

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Westport author writes ‘In the Wake of the Willows’

Columnist's first book celebrates this area's great outdoors

Posted

WESTPORT — It took a most painful mishap to get him moving, but Westport’s Frederick Thurber has finally written a book.

He’d done plenty of writing before — for years his Woods & Waters column in Westport Shorelines explored the natural history of his home town — but the pieces never went much beyond 500 or so words.

His recently completed ‘In the Wake of the Willows’ is both fanciful sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s ’The Wind in the Willows,’ and natural next step from those shorter writings celebrating Westport’s outdoor wonders and wild creatures.

Mr. Thurber tells how it came about this way …

“It all started when I chainsaw’ed my foot three years ago.  I am fully recovered now, but I was stuck in bed for three or four weeks with nothing to do.  My wife, Amy, suggested I write a book incorporating my natural history observations from the last few decades.  Amy noted that many of the former readers of Woods and Waters have been clamoring for a book.   With this in mind, I started writing a sequel to The Wind in the Willows.  

“Before I got too far on the book, a friend named Dominique Browning from Little Compton (who used to be the editor of House and Garden magazine) gave me some sage advice.  She said that I should write about the environment that I knew, i.e. the local wildlife and ecology of our area.  Dominique also said that, for the love of god, I needed to include some female characters!  With this guidance and motivation from my readers, I wrote the basic premise of the book in three weeks of intense output.  Every night my wife and son would come into my room, and I would read them a new chapter from my bed.   

“The hardest part of the book was the lyrics to a square dance about dancing by the light of fireflies.  Although the basic book took three weeks to write, the square dance took three months. I had to get the rhyming, lyrics, and theme just right to make it work.  I even consulted some square dance experts to iron out the correct rhythm.  We recently set the dance to music and performed it at the book launch party.

“Once my foot was better, I started to cycle around the area, sometimes at night, with my notebook hoping to flesh out more details for the book.  One night I came up with a new stanza to my ‘Ode to Toad’ poem (a highly conceited ditty written by Mr. Toad about himself) and stopped at the entrance to Demarest Lloyd State Park to jot it down in my notebook.  Just then a huge Visigoth-type guy got out of his car and accosted me, "Youse writing down my license plate, aren’t youse?"  Things got ugly. He demanded to know what I was writing, and I made a big mistake; I told him I was writing poetry.  Oops.  I was saved in the nick of time by his diminutive girlfriend. 

“Anyway, the book is an Americanized version of The Wind in the Willows.  It takes place on The Westport River in about 1920.  There have been about seven sequels to the original, but mine is the only one set in the New World.  Here we find the familiar Toad, Otter, Badger, and Water-Rat clans, but most of the action concerns the children of the original characters.   

“The first chapter starts out with a mysterious creature terrorizing the waterfront.  In the next chapter, Mr. Rat’s clever daughter solves the mystery and unmasks the culprit.  From there it is one summertime adventure after another until the ultimate crisis threatens the waterfront until an unlikely hero saves the day. 

“It features an mysterious Native American prophesy, a suspected sea monster, a scavenger hunt with a surprising twist, some historical fiction, an unusual square dance with fireflies, persnickety weasels, a campfire on the beach at night watching shooting stars, a devious fox, a mysterious clue etched on a piece of birch bark, a devastating hurricane, and endangered species.  There is a lot of humor in the book, some rather snarky, and plenty of natural history observations.  Much of the activity involves wooden boats and the beach including a visit to the Elizabeth Islands.”

The first two admittedly small printings have sold out and he has been receiving great reviews from some of those readers. Among them was Dominique Browning who wrote:

 “Charm, fun, adventure; the sparkle of light on water and wit in words. Thurber layers his own deft imagination onto a beloved classic, and returns us to a world lost to most of us — one that he never left.”

Mr. Thurber was a commercial fisherman in the 1970's and early 80's. After that he earned a BA from Brown University and worked on striped bass conservation during the "Striper Wars" of the late 1980's.  After moving to Westport in 1990 Westport, he wrote a weekly nature/bird watching column for Shorelines called Woods & Waters.  The columns have also appeared in the Providence Journal, and an audio version of his article about fireflies aired on Rhode Island Public Radio.  He has also been published in a technical ornithological journal called the Wilson Bulletin.  “My day job is as a programmer.  I have worked for the Naval Base in Newport and have done payment systems for a firm in East Providence.”

 

Copies of the book can be found at:

Partners Village Store, Westport

Davoll's Store, Dartmouth

Courtyards, Tiverton

Anthi's Drawing Room, New Bedford

Titcombs Books, East Sandwich

Bunch of Grapes, Vineyard Haven

Barnes & Noble booksellers

Amazon

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.