During the year prior to our move back to the States from Europe, we crossed the Atlantic 12 times: my mother was ill; my husband was looking for a job; my mother died. Back and forth we went, and during one of these crossings, I felt like such a wanderer, endlessly roaming, yearning for home. The title for a book — The Wanderer — came to mind.
Simultaneously, I had the frame of a story in mind, which would match that title. When my daughter Karin graduated from college, she and six friends (all male) sailed across the ocean from Connecticut to Ireland. Along the way, Karin kept a journal, recording the journey in writing and in drawings. I was reluctant to see her go — worried about her safety — but she reassured me as to all the safety provisions aboard. Midway through their trip, they were able to relay a message via a ham radio operator that all was well. I relaxed a bit. Then, two weeks later, when they did finally arrive in Ireland, Karin phoned. "Mom!" she said. "We almost died!" Shortly after they'd relayed the "all-safe" message, they encountered a gale, much like the one in the book: it broke their booms, ripped their sails, and knocked out all their communications equipment. So: out of all that came The Wanderer.
I started with the idea of a gutsy girl on board a sailboat with all men. They would follow the same route my daughter had taken; and they would encounter a storm. But the girl in the book, Sophie, is not my daughter. Sophie had no sooner started talking when I realized she had her own secrets, her own worries. Using a second narrator, a boy (Cody), evolved because it seemed he would make a good contrast to Sophie, and it would be interesting to see two different reactions to life on board the boat. I think I also had in mind the question so many boy readers often ask me: When are you going to use a boy as a main character?
Some Other Tidbits
The first two Bompie stories in The Wanderer (Bompie and the car; Bompie and the train) are my own father's stories. The rest are imagined. Sophie is named after a young girl we know in England, and Cody is named after a student who came to one of my talks (I think it was in Nashville). Bompie's name came from my sister-in-law (that's what she called her grandfather) — but one of the strangest ironies is that after the book was published and my sister-in-law read it, she told me that, like Bompie in the book, her Bompie's wife's name was Margaret and his son's name was Mo. (I hadn't known that before!)
Although Bybanks is not mentioned by name in this book, in my mind Bybanks is the town in which Sophie lives, and her friends (also not mentioned by name) are Zinny (from Chasing Redbird) and Salamanca (from Walk Two Moons) and Domenica (from Bloomability.) Maybe some day they'll all reunite!
The village of Thorpe, where Bompie lives in England, is the name of the village we lived in for 17 years, and the name of his cottage — Walnut Tree Cottage — is the name of the house we lived in for 14 of those years. Like Bompie's cottage, ours had roses growing up the side of it, and lavender and delphiniums growing wildly, and an apple tree in the backyard.
Reprinted by permission