Title- Mad Dog
Publisher: Hamilton Stone
Editions Release Date: September 2
My Rating -4/5
ABOUT THE BOOK:
It’s the summer of 1964 and the Supremes are the reigning queens of radio. Sheryl-Anne MacRae dreams of running away from her home on an apple orchard in southwestern Ontario to find her missing mother. But the teenager’s plans are put on hold when her uncle and guardian, Fergus, the local pharmacist and an amateur photographer, brings home a handsome young hitchhiker.
When Sheryl-Anne meets the guitar-toting Peter Lucas Angelo, she falls in love. But life in Eden Valley is not as idyllic as it seems. As the summer progresses, Peter is pulled deeper into Fergus’ dangerous underworld – a world of sex, drugs, pornography and apocalyptic visions.
Through the naïve eyes of the ethereal 14-year old Sheryl-Anne, Kelly Watt explores themes of child abuse and sexual deviance, and the secrets, dissociation and denial that allow it to flourish.
A gothic tale told in vivid, often hallucinogenic prose, Mad Dog was a 2001 Globe and Mail notable book and Watt’s first novel. The book has been republished with a U.S. publisher (an updated edition).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Kelly Watt’s award-winning short stories have been anthologized, published internationally and longlisted for the prestigious CBC Radio’s Short Fiction Contest twice (2017/2015). She is the author of two books—the travel companion Camino Meditations (2014), and the gothic novel Mad Dog (2019). Watt lives in the Ontario countryside with her husband, a miniature schnauzer and three diligent chickens.
By Kelly Watt
1 . Mad Dog tells the story of a young girl experiencing very traumatic events. What inspired you to write this story?
In my late-twenties and early thirties, I went into therapy after years of struggling with insomnia, depression, and anxiety. I ended up spending six years experiencing terrible flashbacks of abuse I’d suffered as a child while living in various boarding and foster homes. One of the ways I kept sane was to journal. I felt that if I could write one sentence a day then I would be okay. I began journaling, and the writing started spiralling off into stories. Mad Dog started as a story, but it just kept getting longer and longer until I had to admit I was writing a novel.
While in therapy, I had a flashback that really haunted me about a troubled young man. I was trying to figure out why this teenager voluntarily hung around this abusive group of men. He was being sexually abused by one of the men and they were taking pornographic photographs of him.
I posed myself a question: why would a boy be lured by these men? What would be the appeal? What would he be fleeing, what were his vulnerabilities and how would the perpetrator convince him to stay? I wrote the book to answer those questions for myself.
There wasn’t much known about grooming or the tactics of predators or pedophiles in those days, so I just posed the question, “why?” And wrote a book about it. I was trying to come to terms with my own violent childhood, much of which remained opaque and inexplicable to me at first. I was trying to understand what kind of people would behave in such a predatory way and why.
2. Are any of the experiences of the main character pulled from your own life?
Yes, some of the experiences in the book have been pulled from my own life. Others are fictionalized. A book becomes its own creature after a while.
Sheryl-Anne’s whole desire in life is to reunite with her mother, and that was mine too. I lived apart from my mother off and on from age 2-11. I spent my early days feeling abandoned and longing to be united with her. I was also abused and manipulated in some of the ways Sheryl is in the book and had total amnesia about it for many years, as Sheryl does.
3. What other personal experiences did you want to explore in this novel?
I wanted to write about dissociation, denial and amnesia – that process of burying what’s painful. Of being half alive or sleepwalking through life, because of trauma and fear. Due to my own trauma, I felt that I was awakening from a deep drug-induced sleep or hypnosis.
All my life I had felt tormented, and I hadn’t known why. I would say to my therapist over and over that there was something I wasn’t remembering…but I couldn’t finish the sentence. Then the truth of my childhood came to the surface. And it was horrific. It was a huge shock that led me to question everything. Suddenly I was aware of the unfairness in the world, the way certain powerful men got away with abusing their power, how secrets are held and enforced.
My awakening was at a much later age, but I wanted my character, Sheryl-Anne, to have her awakening as a young woman, so that she could know and escape.
4. This novel was originally published in 2001. Why release a revised edition now?
Mad Dog was originally launched on September 13, 2001. My beloved stepfather died on September 4, and of course then there was 9/11. So, what I anticipated as being one of the greatest times of my life, became the worst.
I also felt that it was too soon. People were still uncomfortable with the subject matter at that time. I had people say to me that child pornography was just a rumour and grossly exaggerated. The internet wasn’t flourishing yet, so people were still very naïve about child sexual abuse and human trafficking, etc. I got involved with an independent press in the U.S., Hamilton Stone Editions, and they asked me to publish the book with them. I kept saying no, there were just too many painful memories around it. But as the #MeToo movement began and I realized people were more open to this topic now than 20 years ago, I relented.
5. How does this story resonate in the current #MeToo era?
Society is finally accepting that sexual harassment and assault takes place, and in unprecedented numbers, and the public is finally supporting women who come forward. So, I think now people will finally understand that these same things happen to young girls and children, as in my novel.
6. Mad Dog takes place in 1964. How different was that era for women and children who experienced sexual assault compared to today?
I picked that year because it was the pivotal year before the 50s became the 60s. When we talk of the 1960s, we are usually referring to that groovy time from 1965 onwards. Before that the staid, post-war 1950s were still the status quo. I wanted that conservatism, and the old boys club atmosphere that was rife in small towns at that time, as a backdrop to Sheryl’s discoveries.
When it came to my own research into the justice system, I found out that crimes committed are tried by the law of the time, no matter when you come forward. And in the 1960s there were no trafficking laws in Canada, no child pornography laws, only an obscenity law, and even that required a witness. I was told someone would have had to witness my rape for me to win in court. So you can imagine the likelihood of that. In most cases of rape the only other person present is the perpetrator, so you can surmise how many of those cases were ever solved in favour of the victim.
Basically, women and children were not protected under the law when it came to sexual violence. It didn’t exist in Canada. And still doesn’t in many places around the world.
Fortunately, #MeToo has kicked the door open. Whether the door stays open and women get to pass through it and receive justice and healing is another thing. Public opinion tends to swing like a pendulum and there can be a backlash.
7. What kind of research did you do for this book?
I did quite a bit of research for the book. I didn’t grow up on an apple farm, for instance. I was a city kid who had spent time in a small town in the country, so I had to do a lot of research when it came to rural farming life. I liked the allegorical nature of apples, and so set the book on an apple orchard. I asked some very nice fruit farmers outside a northern town for their help, and I interviewed them and hung out and worked with them for a while during harvest season so that I could get a sense of rural life. I always felt a bit badly that the farmer characters in the book are such bad actors, because the people who let me hang out and learn about apples from them were truly wonderful people.
I also spoke with many other survivors of what we call ritualized abuse and torture, or intergenerational sex rings, and so I had a sense of the dynamics that occur in these sick pedophilic family groups, and their gang-like behaviour.
8. Ultimately, what do you hope readers take away from your novel?
I want to raise awareness about these issues – about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and its long-term effects, and particularly the tactics that predators use to lure their victims. Although the book takes place many years ago, the techniques pedophiles and traffickers use then and now are essentially the same – the flattery, the stringing along, the promises, the offers of gifts, free drugs and alcohol and sex, all that is typical grooming behaviour. As parents we need to be aware of them.
One of the things that the recent case around Jeffrey Epstein has highlighted is how a predator can use other victims to lure new victims. Sadly, predators take advantage of our innocent assumptions, including that a woman wouldn’t help a predator, and yet there are many instances where that is not true. Predators often work in pairs. Even Weinstein had helpers. So did Epstein. That other woman in the car or the woman who invites you to the party, may also be a victim, may be programmed and manipulated, or just plain innocent of what’s about to take place. It’s so tragic.
So, the first step is to share and discuss these issues to get the information out there. I’ve added a reader’s discussion page at the back of my book, and I’ve been offering to do book clubs so that people can get together and discuss these issues, in a safe setting, either in person or by webinar, so that they have a forum to share their experiences.
I’ve also created a resource page with places to get help in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a list of social justice organizations like the one I used to volunteer for so people can access them. There are a lot of amazing resources out there now, but people need to be aware of them. I’ve started a weekly blog on some of these issues for the purposes of sharing info and related news events. You can find all this information on
It’s secrecy that allows these crimes to flourish. If we want to keep our children safe from pedophiles and traffickers, then we need to be open and get the information out there.
9. How where can readers purchase Mad Dog?
The new book is available on Amazon.com, both in paperback and Kindle and Smashwords.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your journey?
First, I think that it’s important to be kind when people divulge their experiences of trauma and violence to you. It takes a lot of courage to come forward and it’s important that we allow people to speak their truth.
The second thing is that it takes years to heal, sometimes many, many years. I look like a normal person, but the truth is I have spent almost 30 years in therapy. I consider myself a fully recovered survivor, not a victim.
Lastly, no matter what has happened to you, you can heal. What the people of my generation did was learn and develop new modalities of healing, and they are available now. No matter how dark the present, there is hope for the future. The world is changing.