Thursday, April 05, 2007

How Whale Song has inspired me...

Usually people ask me what inspired me to write each novel. Where did I get the idea, the characters, the plot, the setting? How did it all come together? Well, with Whale Song, I can easily answer those questions. And I will. But I must also confess that Whale Song has also inspired ME.

The idea for Whale Song came to me years ago now, from flashes of childhood memories--some good, some bad. Having lived on the Queen Charlotte Islands, north of Vancouver Island, BC, as a child for a number of years, I was surrounded by nature, animals, sea creatures and native folklore that set a young writer's mind spinning. Even now, the sound of native drums haunts me and ties me to the land beneath my feet far more than gravity ever will. The Charlottes have a mystery about them.

I heard as a child that if a killer whale came close to shore that it was a reincarnated soul coming to say hello (or goodbye) to his/her family. That legend stayed with me. I used to go to the Vancouver Aquarium and watch Skana, probably Canada's most famous killer whale, and wait anxiously for the magnificent mammal to splash me. A part of me wanted to dive right in with her, swim with her, ride her...and that was way before I'd heard of Whale Rider, the book and movie. Years later, the Free Willy movies caught my eye and engaged my attention.

Years later, I had glimmers of a story, flashes of light that began to develop, flowing from one thought to the next. Scenes of killer whales cresting the ocean, swimming close to shore...and a young girl emerged as the protagonist Sarah. So many people have asked if Sarah is me. I have to say 'No'; I write fiction. But then, in all honesty, there IS a lot of me in Sarah.

Whale Song opens with an adult Sarah reflecting on her life. Then she flashes back to a time where everything changed. She had to move because of her father's job. I had to move because my father was in the Canadian Armed Forces. Sarah moved to an isolated island where racism was ripe. I lived in Masset on the Charlottes, where being white was bad enough; being military was even worse. Sarah was bullied, yet had a best friend. I too was bullied, yet still maintained friendships with the locals and the other 'army brats'. But that is pretty much where the similarities end.

Sarah faces a terrible tragedy in her young life, one that affects her many years later. Her mother, who is suffering from primary pulmonary hypertension (PPH), is nearing death and assisted suicide is the one thing she wants. Sarah's father must make an agonizing decision.
It is this decision to end a life that haunted me and had me thinking. And I pose the question I asked myself many times to you: If someone you loved was nearing death and begged you to release them, to assist in their death, could you do it? Would you do it? It is a question that no one wants to ask...and no one wants to answer.

And THAT is why I wrote Whale Song.

Since writing this novel, Whale Song has inspired me to dig deep as a writer, to find my characters' emotions and bare them to the world. With a percentage of my royalties now going to help 3 Edmonton charities, Whale Song has become a meaningful and important piece of work.

To me, Whale Song is a beautiful, haunting, lyrical novel that takes you back to innocence and wonder, back to youthful oblivion, until LIFE pulls you back to reality. I invite you to take that journey with Sarah, to cry with her, to swim with the killer whales and to hear the most haunting of all melodies...a Whale Song.

~Cheryl Kaye Tardif


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