It’s been nearly 30 years since Bette Cahill was named Author of the Year by the Canadian Periodical Marketers Association for the bestseller Butterbox Babies.
While the exhaustively-researched exposé about the shocking abuse and illegalities that occurred at an East Chester maternity home in the mid-20th century went on to win over critics, readers and even become an award-winning hit television movie in the mid-90s, Cahill has only just now released her second published novel — A Dangerous Age.
“I wanted to take my time with it and enjoy it,” admits the Halifax author, who notes that she when she tackled Butterbox Babies, she had a fixed nine-month time frame in which to finish the novel. “I had a deadline and a publishing contract so I didn’t have any choice. It was kind of a hard deadline.”
It’s not that Cahill spent the next couple decades twiddling her thumbs. In fact, she did publish an updated version of Butterbox Babies in 2007. Primarily however, Cahill spent 35 years working at the CBC as a journalist until she retired a couple of years ago.
It was during those last few years at the public broadcaster that Cahill got the initial idea for A Dangerous Age after a colleague returned from the field with a tidbit of seemingly trivial information.
“She said, ‘do you know that lobsters don’t die from old age,'” recalls Cahill about the long-debated claim that the crustaceans are biologically immortal. “That just kind of stuck with me and I eventually started looking into it (and) the whole thing peaked my interest in aging which sparked the whole idea of the book.”
A fictional thriller, A Dangerous Age follows a pair of journalists who, after uncovering evidence that medical researchers have discovered a cure for aging, apply to take part in clinical trials. However, after they witness unethical practices that result in the death of a participant, they realize their own lives have become endangered.
“It’s a medical mystery story and a lot of it is based on fact and solid science,” notes Cahill, adding that although the book is a page-turner, it is still well-researched and accurate. “By the time you finish that last page, you’re going to be asking yourself if that’s really true or is that really fiction.”
To accomplish a sense of authenticity, Cahill kept the narrative local as well. In fact, set largely in Nova Scotia, Cahill fills the pages with familiar Halifax settings.
“The first people who have read it, one of the things they liked most about it is that there’s so many local references,” says Cahill. “I write about the Hydrostone and Halifax Harbour, the York Redoubt and Sambro and Quinpool Road (so) when you start reading it, it starts to feel real because there are so many local references.”
While crafting a narrative around local settings may have felt familiar, Cahill admits that after more than three decades of journalism, creating a story of fiction seemed more like reinventing the wheel.
“It was a huge adjustment and I had to learn how to write fiction,” says Cahill. “I had been writing non-fiction my entire life in journalism (and) I learned so much from the editor who, along with giving me some guidance and advice, knew I had a good story and they just wanted to help me tell it in the best way possible.
With the book now available, Cahill is focused on attempting to sell the rights for A Dangerous Age — of which she says there is already at least one potential investor.
It seems that while it has been years since Butterbox Babies was turned into one of the highest-rated two-hour dramas in the history of Canadian television, Cahill hasn’t lost her knack for telling a good story fit for more than just one medium.
“When I was writing this I was thinking visual movie the whole way through,” admits Cahill. “(So) that’s my goal now — have it become a movie.”
For more information on A Dangerous Age, visit the website.