I keep a notebook for each book I write. I thought it might be fun to share some of those pages with readers through a series of posts. Today’s post, the third in the series, will focus on my second verse novel, Blue Birds.
Twenty years before Jamestown, another English settlement tried to take root in Virginia and failed. This colony of 117 men, women, and children, started on Roanoke island, 150 miles southeast of Jamestown. All we know about the colony and its inhabitants took place over a five-week period in the summer of 1587.
The colonists had been promised land in the Chesapeake Bay, perhaps not far from the place that eventually became Jamestown. But throughout the voyage, their leader, Governor John White, fought constantly with ship captain Simon Ferdinando. By the time they arrived in Virginia, Ferdinando was done. He left the colonists at Roanoke, refusing to take them any farther.
This was not the first time the English had visited Roanoke. Explorers had come to the island in 1584, and interactions with the Native population had been positive then. But by the time the colonists arrived in 1587, the English were no longer welcome. Those intervening years included the burning of a Native village because of a missing silver cup, the Roanoke’s growing frustration as English soldiers who’d built a fort on their island insisted the tribe provide for them, and English diseases that decimated many of the Native peoples. Then escalating mistrust between the Roanoke and English led to English leader Ralph Lane’s pre-emptive attack on the tribe, killing Wingina, the Roanoke chief. When, days later, the English left, they knew there was no chance at reconciliation.
The colonists who arrived in 1587 knew nothing of those intervening years. The stage was set for tragedy, and tragic things happened on both sides. I wanted to show this historical truth in Blue Birds, but I also wanted to breathe into the history my own version of hope: Two imaginary girls (Alis, who is English, and Kimi, who is Roanoke) destined to be enemies but choosing friendship instead.
17 English women and 11 boys made the journey to Roanoke. No young girls where on the 1587 manifest. But with both the Dare and Harvie families having babies a few days apart, adding Alis to the Harvie family felt practical. She could serve as a nursemaid to both children.
This was an interesting discovering. Early attempts at a poem in Kimi’s voice…
…and its final form in the book.
The poems in Blue Birds are narrated three ways — poems only in Alis’s point of view, poems only from Kimi’s point of view, and poems told in both girls’ voices. As the book progressed and changed, I made a number of “quilt charts” to help me see how that narration played out. Notice the book’s early name was Secret Sharer, a title I’m still partial to.
A silly aside: Of all my books, none has influenced my office space more than Blue Birds! Below is a piece of fabric I drape over a chair the dog likes to lounge in.