The darkness and light of Birdie reflects author Tracey Lindberg's own life story

Tracey Lindberg's first novel, Birdie, draws on the humour of her own family and the darkness of being a sexual abuse survivor.
Birdie is Tracey Lindberg's first novel, and it has landed on Canada Reads. (Fabiola Carletti/CBC)

Birdie is a novel about a woman on a quest.

She travels from her home in northern Alberta to Gibsons, B.C. The goal — to meet Pat John, who played Jesse on the long running CBC TV series The Beachcombers.

Grounded in Cree poetics and threaded together with the hard love and laughter of women, Birdie is also about finding family, home and healing from a dark and violent past.

It was a journey that author Tracey Lindberg began in law school. She found herself writing pieces and scraps of a story while she should have been studying Canadian law.

Lindberg said she has always written fiction, but was driven to capture this particular story because the character, Birdie, wouldn't leave her alone. 

"I was gathering [her story] along the way like snippets of a quilt and piecing them together," she said.

"I just kept telling myself, if you can just get this story out then you'll be a good lawyer. If you can just finish this and get it out of the way... and it just never got out of the way."
A Cree woman graces the cover of Tracey Lindberg's debut novel, Birdie. (Harper Collins )

Lindberg is from the Kelly Lake Cree Nation in B.C., and is already an award-winning academic writer and teacher. She said that for every dark part of the story there is light, humour and the strength of women — and that those things are drawn from her own life.

"I have the gift of being rich with women; rich with women's laughter," she said, admitting that she copied entire sections of dialogue in the book from conversations with her own family.

"It's quite reflective of a day in the life of my sisters," she added.

But this is also story about violence, sexual abuse and the difficult journey of shattering, finding and piecing yourself back together. For Lindberg, who is an abuse survivor herself, that was the most challenging part of the book to write.

"Somebody said to me this is the first time where I've ever read about sexual abuse and not been triggered, and I think that's beautiful and that's an accomplishment. But I was triggered every time I wrote about it."

She says she would get close to it and have to stop, take a walk, and do some self-care before trying again. When she finally did write it, Lindberg says there were a lot of tears, and to this day she cannot read the two scenes of violence in Birdie.

"You think that you would have this release because you have detailed fragments of somebody's painful and awful past or... your painful and awful past. But you don't feel release. You don't feel relief."

After a pause, Lindberg continued.

"The writing of the book didn't free me. I don't know that it frees anyone who reads it, but it starts the process and little tiny healings."

Still, Lindberg says writing about it was the start of something.

"I can say that since then I haven't taken a step back. And that will have to be enough for a lifetime."

Birdie is on the shortlist for Canada Reads, and will be defended by Bruce Poon Tip.