By Steve Hubrecht
Radium Hot Springs author Brent Lea is about to launch his second book, and first work of fiction: a thriller set in the great outdoors of southeastern B.C.
The book, Edge of the Abyss, which features locations familiar to many Columbia Valley residents, including the village of Radium, is something Lea began working on more than 15 years ago, if you count the physical act of putting words on paper, and for decades, if you count the mental exercise of forming plot lines and story arcs and developing characters.
Lea worked for Greyhound Canada for more than 40 years, 30 of them spend driving buses. On long hauls driving through the Rockies and other mountainous parts of B.C., he found himself with a bit of mental time on his hands. By his own telling, Lea has a “super active imagination” and, drawing inspiration from the peaks surrounding him, he would often compose poems and fictional storylines in his head while he drove. By the time he was set to retire, he had a veritable treasure trove of short stories, many with mountain themes, packed in his brain.
But before these could percolate into something written down, Lea took a detour into nonfiction. In 2001, he fulfilled a lifelong desire to explore virtually each and every corner of the Rockies and nearby areas. This resulted in the nonfictional Mountain Odyssey: One Man’s Summer in the Canadian Rockies, published by Rocky Mountain Books in 2002.
When Lea and his wife retired to B.C. he began to follow through on his idea of writing a fiction book by weaving many of the separate short stories into a single narrative. He finished the manuscript in 2004, but was troubled by some of the fictional characters he’d created.
“I delved into some of the shadier sides of life with these characters. They are pretty awful,” he said. “I struggled with that, because that’s not me. It’s very unlike my personality. I am a very quiet mannered, non-confrontational person.” So he put the manuscript in drawer, letting it sit for more than decade.
Eventually his daughter, Heather, who is an editor and journalist, helped coached him back into finishing the book, pointing out that the unsavoury traits and things in his books are written about through character, and are not a direct reflection of the author.
“She helped me a ton. As an editor, she made me realize I was going to have to toughen (the story) up, and do things such as use salty language to develop the character, if that’s what was called for,” said Lea.
And Columbia Valley readers are now the richer for it, with the book finished.
Lea self-published Edge of the Abyss this spring, and it promised to gripping read. The tale follows the story of four characters — a young married couple living for a time off-grid in an isolated mountain valley and two brothers desperately trying to elude law enforcement officials and the nefarious Vancouver drug underworld — as their fates collide in the remote and rugged backcountry.
Lea made a point of using a Columbia Valley company — Palliser Printing — to print Edge of the Abyss. “It’s a book set in southeastern B.C., so I really wanted to have it printed here,” he said, adding that he’s delighted with the results and that Palliser deserves due credit and more for its high level of professional service to producing the book. When Lea spoke to the Pioneer, 100 copies of the book had been printed and were being distributed. “It’s such a great feeling to actually see and hold the finished product. As you are writing, you look at the bookshelf, wondering if your book will ever get there, then all of a sudden, you’re placing a copy on the mantle, beside other treasured books. It really is an amazing thrill. Anybody interested in purchasing a copy should contact Lea at email@example.com.