Weaving a Story
by Katherine Kirkpatrick,
Author of 'Between Two Worlds' (novel, ages 14 and up)
|Between Two Worlds, copyright © 2014 by Sam Weber|
Like Paterson, I love those aha moments when the fact gathering gives way to something larger, when the story takes on a life of its own. This experience happened to me as I was writing my young adult novel Between Two Worlds, set in the Greenland Arctic in 1900-1901. The novel tells of a real-life 16-year-old Inuk woman, Eqariusaq, also known as Billy Bah, on board explorer Robert E. Peary’s ice-locked ship Windward.
|Caption: Billy Bah, age 16, by Clarence Wyckoff, 1901. Sam Weber, the jacket artist for Between Two Worlds, used this photo to help him depict the main character’s face. Copyright © Kim Fairley and Silas Hibbard Ayer III|
In writing this scene, I imagined sensory details: the luxurious feeling of the furs, their pungent smell, and how tired the women’s jaws must have been after softening hides with their teeth. I asked myself questions to compose my scenes. How did Inuit women resolve who gets what in terms of choice supplies? How did mothers occupy young children when they worked? How long did it take to sew together two pelts? Research involves thinking through logistics, as much as it is about gathering facts.
To my delight I found most of my characters within this treasure trove of images. Impish eight-year-old Marie Peary, obviously the little darling of the Windward’s crew, prances about on deck, clad in furs from head to toe. One photograph shows her at the ship’s wheel pretending to steer. Another shot depicts a group of Inuit girls and women teaching her to sew. Another image shows Marie and an Inuk who I feel sure is Billy Bah posed in front of a tupik (leather tent), having their photograph taken.
Only one photo is tagged with her name, a stunning portrait, “Billy Bah, girl of 16.” She looks straight at the viewer, half smiling, seemingly pleased. The photo helped many other images in my mind to coalesce with known historical facts. No author can reach into history with 100 percent accuracy. But through fact gathering, questioning, guesswork, and intuitively weaving imaginative scenarios into the rich fabric of actual events, I came to tell a story, my story of Billy Bah. I hope you enjoy Between Two Worlds.