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Novel shines spotlight on a public health nurse's care for a small rural community

Novel shines spotlight on a public health nurse's care for a small rural community

Everything is connected…’ That’s the message author Cheryl Van Daalen-Smith, Associate Dean Academic in the Faculty of Graduate Studies brought to the Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario Nursing Week celebration at the annual Mississauga Chapter and Brampton Chapter Nursing Week dinner May 9, in Brampton.

Van Daalen-Smith’s message is highlighted in her novel The Chronicles of Paisley • Corners, which draws from her expertise as a public health nurse. It’s a role she compares to the wind: rarely seen, yet a presence that’s felt.

With gentle nods to social issues and research around real historical events, Chronicles is a collection of stories that focus on the wants, wounds, and secrets of the village residents that will have readers rooting out loud for their favourite character.

“Health is a matter of who matters,” she says about her inspiration for writing her first novel, “people just want to be seen and matter.”

A first-time novelist, Van Daalen-Smith has written books and articles in her academic life, but she says she found creative writing an entirely different process.

The novel centres around Canadian nurse Kick Cavendish who has always wanted to make a difference, and she's hoping her new post as Paisley • Corners’ new public health nurse will help her do just that. The rural Ontario hamlet instantly enamored Kick, who had also dreamed of living on an animal rescue farm. The comings and goings of this friendly and compassionate public health nurse provide a window into endearing rural characters who just want to matter.

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Kick soon discovers Paisley • Corners is as curious of a place as it is special. A community where the dot in its name is explicitly intentional, and its citizens are meddlesome and sometimes misunderstood but deeply caring despite their quirks and foibles.

Much of the novel is seen through Kick’s observant eyes, from witnessing the trauma associated with being an outcast to discovering the lengths people will go to shroud a secret. The links she sees between her rescue barn and her nursing practice – like beauty from ugliness or hope from neglect – gives us pause to contemplate the true meaning of belonging.

With a career background as a public health nurse and nurse educator, grounded in a notion of "One Health"—the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working together on our planet’s most complex animal, human and environmental health problems—(and the indivisibility of how we treat animals, nature, and humans) inspired this novel.

How Van Daalen-Smith views the world comes from making connections between human suffering and the previous lives of her rescues on her small rescue farm. It comes from the privileged lessons afforded to public health nurses who bear witness to the life circumstances of clients, communities and populations. How we view and subsequently treat the earth, or animals, is related to how we view and treat humans. The ongoing privileging of certain humans above all else is what leads to the wicked problems of the world.

In a review of the novel, Thomas Loebel, English professor at York University said, “Chronicles moves patiently from symptoms to causes, from defence mechanisms to traumatic events buried in personal histories. The results produce poignancy and love through a community of characters that endures.”

Published in September 2023, the book is available in hardcover and paperback as well as Kindle and Kobo eBooks. Learn more about the book and how to purchase: Van Daalen-Smith's novel can also be purchased at our Keele campus' bookstore.

In addition to her decanal role with FGS, van Daalen-Smith is a professor cross-appointed to the Faculty of Health and the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies – specifically with graduate programs in Nursing; Health; Critical Disability Studies; Gender, Sexuality & Women’s Studies; Interdisciplinary Studies; and with the Children, Childhood and Youth undergraduate program.