Valerie Dunsmore’s debut novel blends magic, nature and ancestral knowledge in tale about family dysfunction, mental illness

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Lily begins to notice an ominous shadow following her mother that only she can see. She also discovers a book of dark spells and an affinity for magic. She soon decides to use it against her father. How dark is Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit? Well, the very first line is “Hating was power.”

As the story unfolds, Lily unearths dark secrets and past tragedies involving her parents.

“Through personal experience, mental health is a really important topic for me,” Dunsmore says. “I also really enjoy writing stories about a heroine’s journey. It’s a passion of mine. I wanted to bring those two topics together. That brought me to Lily. She appeared as a character to me. Lily copes with her mental health by using the tools that are available to her, which are imagination, magic, ancestral knowledge and nature. Throughout the process, I was inspired by the question: How do children with limited family support approach mental-health challenges?”

A mother of three, Dunsmore says her children helped her find the first-person voice of Lily.

She grew up in Vancouver and studied creative writing at Kwantlen College. She also earned a journalism degree at Grant MacEwan College and worked briefly as a reporter in Edmonton before taking a job in communications for Edmonton Police Service. She has lived in Calgary for the past 20 years and is currently working on her sophomore novel, a decades-spanning tale that also deals with mental illness and the now-shuttered Michener Centre in Red Deer.

For Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit, Dunsmore says she drew on her own struggles with depression and anxiety.

“I think it’s something that we have to freely speak about and share what’s working for each of us,” she says. “I think everyone’s path is different with mental health. There are some consistencies like finding a supportive environment and seeing your mental health as a gift, too. Maybe some of those challenges are making you contribute to the world in a way no one else thought of.”

Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit is now available.

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