Kula and Dina

This story is a scene I wrote almost three years ago as an exercise to get to know my characters for The Ice Star. The scene is set between the ice floes on Greenland’s east coast. The Ice Star is a Scandinavian Thriller and not written in the same style as this scene. (Note: the photo is from Qaanaaq – in the far north of Greenland.)

Kula and Dina

Originally published on The Author Lab.

by Christoffer Petersen

The pack ice pressed the hunter’s dinghy from all sides. Dina heard the creaking of the fibreglass hull; she felt the dinghy twist in the grasp of the ice.

“Ata,” she said, “how are we going to get home?”

The hunter, Kula Maqi, fiddled with a knot in the cord sling attached to his rifle. A small calibre .222 Sako rifle – old and rusted. He finished the knot and rested the rifle across his knees. The dinghy twisted in the ice. Kula smiled at Dina.

“We will wait,” he said.

“For what, Ata? I want to go home.”

“Look,” said Kula, he pointed at the ice to the left and right of the boat. The hunter twisted on his seat and pointed behind them. “The ice is all around, Dina. We must wait until the tide turns. When the tide takes away the ice, we can go home.”

“Ata, I am scared.”

“Dina, favourite granddaughter, we are in my dinghy, we have food, we have my rifle, we have water. You need not be scared.”

“But Ata, what about bears?”

Kula lifted the rifle from his knees and leaned it against the wooden seat. The sea water in the bottom of the dinghy lapped at the rifle butt as the boat twisted left and right in the pack ice. He pointed towards the ice. The three and a half fingers of his right hand, weathered and wrinkled, steady in the cool air slipping off the ice. “He comes that way,” Kula jabbed in the air towards the bow of the dinghy, “I will shout go away, Dina is here.” The hunter squeezed Dina’s arm with his left hand. “And he will go away.” Kula looked to the right and left of the boat, jabbing his fingers he said “go away. Go away.” He nodded at Dina, the wrinkles creasing around his eyes; he hissed a laugh between the gaps in his teeth. “Go away, eh?” Kula said and raised his eyebrows.

“What if he comes that way?” Dina pointed behind them, towards the stern of the boat, past the small outboard motor tilted upwards away from the ice.

Kula turned, twisting his body within his sealskin smock. “That way?”

Dina nodded.

“He won’t come that way.”

“Why not, Ata?”

Kula hunched his shoulders. “I told him not to come that way. I asked Imap Ukûa.”

Imap Ukûa?”

“Yes. The Mother of the Sea. She said nanoq will not come that way, only this way, this way,” Kula jabbed with his fingers, “this way.” The hunter turned to Dina. “He will not come that way.” He patted Dina’s knee. “Find the binoculars. Look for seal,” he said.

Dina stood on the plank seat in the bow of the dinghy. Her knees bent, Dina rocked with the movement of the ice, scanning the horizon with the binoculars, seeking seals between the floes, the strap of the binoculars hidden within her ink-black hair. Kula lit a cigarette and placed it between his lips. He pulled a wooden box from beneath his seat. The cigarette in the corner of his mouth, Kula opened the box and pulled out a primus stove. He closed the box and set the stove on top of the lid, primed and lit it. With a metal bowl Kula scooped chunks of ice from the sea, draining the sea water. He set the bowl of ice on the stove to boil. Dina peered at shadows between the bergs. Kula made the tea.

“Ata?” Dina said. “I think I can see something.”

Kula moved the cigarette between his lips with his tongue.

“I think it is a seal on the ice. Look there,” Dina said. She held the binoculars with one hand, pointed with the other. The binoculars shook in her grasp and she let them fall to her chest. “Do you see it, Ata?”

Kula stood in the boat, shading his eyes for the sun, he stared in the direction Dina pointed. “Yes. It is a seal. Do you want to shoot it?”

Dina whirled around to face the hunter. “Can I, Ata?”

Kula puffed a cloud of smoke through his smile. He stretched out his hand and took the binoculars from Dina as she tugged the strap out of her hair. Kula swapped the binoculars for the rifle. He turned the stove off and joined Dina in the bow of the dinghy as she pulled the rifle butt into her shoulder.

“Steady,” said Kula. “Put a bullet into the chamber.”

Dina lowered the rifle and tugged hard at the rusted handle. She forced a bullet into the chamber and pulled the firing bolt back into place.

“Check the safety, Dina.”

Dina held onto the forestock, pushed the rifle into her shoulder and pinched the safety switch between the finger and thumb of her right hand. She pushed the safety off.

“Good, Dina,” Kula said and moved behind his granddaughter. The cigarette burned between his lips as he placed his hands on Dina’s shoulders. “Steady now. Aim for the head. Aim a little lower, Dina. That’s it. Breathe in. Breathe out.”

The rifle wobbled in Dina’s grasp. She lowered it, lifted it again, and moved so her right eye was closer to the scope.

“Breathe in,” whispered Kula. “Breathe out.”

Dina rocked backwards with the shot, the small report of the rifle echoed around the icebergs. She leaned forwards. Kula puffed smoke with a chuckle.

“Good girl,” he said.

Dina lowered the rifle and turned to hug the hunter. She pressed her nose into the fur of Kula’s smock, soft; the hairs of the seal tickled her nose. Dina grinned up at him and then stopped.

“Dina?”

Dina trembled, almost stumbled as she took a step back from the hunter. Kula turned around and saw the tiny black eyes and tip of a black nose in a large white head moving towards the back of the dinghy. Kula pressed Dina into the bow of the dinghy, behind the seat. He took the rifle from her grasp, ejected the spent round and loaded another bullet into the chamber.

“Go away,” he said. Kula took a step towards the stern of the dinghy. “Go away,” he jabbed the three and a half fingers of his right hand at the polar bear, the rifle held loosely at his side in his left. The polar bear swam to within a metre of the dinghy. Kula raised the rifle and aimed at the head of the bear.

“Ata?”

Kula breathed in. The stub of cigarette in the corner of his mouth glowed. “Go away,” he breathed out. The dinghy rocked as Dina wriggled further into the bow. Kula tracked the bear as it swam past the dinghy and between the floes. It heaved itself up onto the ice and shook at the water tugging its creamy fur tight against its body. Kula twisted his body to follow the bear’s path along the floe, past the dinghy, towards the seal. Dina lifted her head and peered over the gunwale at the bear.

“You said ‘go away’, Ata.”

Kula lowered the rifle as the bear splashed into the sea to swim the gap between the floes. The hunter slung the rifle on his right shoulder and lifted Dina out of the bow of the dinghy. He set his granddaughter on the seat, turning her body in the direction of the bear.

“Look how hungry he is, Dina.”

Dina looked. “That’s my seal,” she said.

“Yes, but he needs it today.”

“What is the black stripe on his front, Ata?”

Kula flicked the butt of his cigarette onto the floe of ice pushing at the dinghy. “Oil, maybe. See how thin he is, Dina.”

“Why did he come? Did Imap Ukûa not hear you, Ata?”

Kula laughed and hugged his granddaughter. “Imap Ukûa hears everything, Dina. She knew today was your big day. Did you forget to speak to Imap Ukûa?”

“Ata?”

Kula pointed at the bear. “Big hunters must be nice to Imap Ukûa. They have to make her happy. I think you just made Imap Ukûa very happy, Dina.”

“But what about my seal?”

Kula smiled, let go of his granddaughter and picked up the binoculars from the lid of the wooden box. He pushed the binoculars into Dina’s hands, moved to his seat at the stern of the dinghy and lit the stove. Dina watched the bear through the binoculars while her grandfather made tea. The ice floes bumped and twisted the dinghy while the bear ate and Dina and Kula waited on the tide.

(1,430 words)

Denmark
January 12th, 2014
(revised January 3rd, 2017)

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Arctic Noir – it’s a thing!

It has been an interesting week with lots of things going on in the world of Greenlandic crime and thrillers. I was thrilled to see The Arctic Journal’s article about The Ice Star be tweeted on the Danish Embassy in Canada’s Twitter account. Of course, knowing what I do about the plot of The Ice Star (no spoilers here), there’s a few butterflies fluttering inside my stomach.

But the really exciting news has absolutely nothing to do with my book at all.

Mads Peder Nordbo, a Danish author living in Nuuk, Greenland, has just sold his crime book set in Greenland: The Girl without Skin, to 14 countries, for a 7 figure number (Danish kroner, I imagine). You can read about that in Politiken’s article (Danish). The gist of the article suggests that Greenland is hot right now, and it has nothing to do with Global Warming. While some in the literary world might believe that interest in Nordic Noir is waning, Arctic Noir might just be the next big thing.

Yep, you read it right, that’s Arctic Noir.

So, this is exciting in the sense that The Ice Star has come out at just the right time. The question now is how to make the most of it.

Keeping It Real

I want things to be right, or as close to right as possible in a fictitious story. I had the chance to talk about that with a journalist from The Arctic Journal. This is the result – an article entitled “Seven Years in Greenland”.

As I get more and more embroiled in right and wrong in the second book of the Greenland trilogy, what’s right takes on a whole new meaning. Getting the facts right is tricky when the characters – some of them at least – are devious by design.

If the lines are blurred in The Ice Star, those same lines in In the Shadow of the Mountain are buried in lies, deceit and a hefty dose of geopolitical subterfuge. I still want things to be right, with a suggestion of today’s truth, and a hint of tomorrow’s, but boy is it fun to mix it all up a little for the sake of a good story.

Hurting

I stepped out of the Huey and onto the Uummannaq helipad in August 2006. A newly-baked teacher, fresh out of a Danish Teaching College, and desperate to begin my new life, together with my wife, in the Arctic. At last, after so many years of dreaming of snow, ice, dogs, and whales, I had arrived. I was on “the frontier”, at the very edge of my known world, and ready to tip off and into the unknown. I had lived, dreamed and fed on years of romantic claptrap, and it had brought me to that very moment. Sure, I had dipped my toes in the Arctic as a kennel helper at a sled dog kennel in Alta, Norway. Jane and I had paddled our canoe for a week or so above the Arctic Circle in Sweden. But this was it. The real Arctic.

It was also the first time I had ever really listened to Johnny Cash.

I discovered that the so-called frontier was a real place, with real people going about their lives, not in a time bubble, but in a connected world that was, at times, speeding them too damned fast towards the future, when one foot was lingering in the past.

My pupils were avid music enthusiasts with a greater and more varied vocabulary than my own. In fact, during my time in Greenland, I began to wonder if there were any Greenlanders that couldn’t play the guitar, or aspire to it at the very least. The time-bubble idea burst right along with the idea that we were living on the frontier. Sure, I heard whales swimming beneath the Northern Lights as I fed my sledge dogs on the rocks outside our house, but that was the norm. That and Johnny Cash, Roger Waters and every pop idol you can shake a stick at.

I remember seeing the first cruise ship passengers arrive in Uummannaq. Grey-haired adventurers, many of whom were rich enough to make the journey of a lifetime, but often too frail to wander more than a few hundred metres away from the boat. I watched as a particular group gave out crayons and balloons to the local, younger, kids. One of the kids sent a text on his mobile to tell his friends to hurry up, the tourists had arrived.

Scenes like that woke me up to the reality that was Greenland. The tour companies need the small towns and villages to remain museum pieces, but the kids, their parents, and grandparents, need to keep up with the times, get better and faster Internet services and rates, while still preserving the traditions and passing on the knowledge of their culture.

Which brings me back to Johnny Cash, and to the film Logan. The blend of Cash’s voice (a cover of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails) and a real human interest story wrapped up in a superhero movie, well, I was sold. In a way, there are comparisons to be made. Life is tough in Greenland, the environment, the distances, the challenges in providing services to remote communities, all contribute to a life that requires grit and determination. Not everyone has it. For some, the challenge is far greater than for others, but that determination, across the generations, in spite of everything and because of everything, well, you can see it in the eyes of the kids, their parents, and their grandparents.

It’s Greenland.

Sometimes it hurts.

But when did a little hurt stop anybody?

My character of Konstabel Fenna Brongaard hurts in The Ice Star. So do other characters around her, and some more than others. But wrapped up inside the character of Maratse, the policeman, you’ll find the spirit of Greenland, and I look forward to letting him show just how strong that spirit is in future books.

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Nuuk Noir

It’s a whole new genre: Nuuk Noir! As the world becomes increasingly interested in the Arctic, and Greenland, a new noir has been recognised, and it makes great use of  the name of Greenland’s capital: Nuuk. While my characters do not travel to Nuuk in The Ice Star, it will feature in book two: In the Shadow of the Mountain, and I can’t wait to explore the town I lived in for a year, my seventh and last year in Greenland.

KNR have published an article today about the growing interest in this niche genre of noir – in Greenlandic and Danish, only. The gist of the article traces the genre back to Peter Høeg’s “Smilla’s Sense of Snow”, and brings it up to date with Nina Von Staffeldt’s “Frozen Evidence”, released in January this year.

While Fenna’s story is set predominantly in the east of Greenland, with a number of chapters set in Uummannaq, she does not visit the capital. Not this time. But with a growing interest in the country, the genre and not the least the people of Greenland, it makes sense that the next book spends some time in Nuuk.

I am excited about this new genre, and very interested to see how it develops.

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First, but not Last

16939009_1460324643991483_1025663334128853541_nThe Ice Star has been listed for the first time in a magazine: Greenland Today – page 10 to be exact. Feel free to click on the link to explore the magazine online – it’s free.

Greenland Today is packed with great content about Greenland, and I am really happy to have The Ice Star among its pages, especially as 2017 marks the 1oth anniversary of the magazine.

Meanwhile, it’s back to the keyboard for me, there’s a sequel to write.

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1,000s of things!

dsc_7874I’ve just done the math… including eBooks, paperbacks and “pages read” via the Kindle Unlimited programme, The Ice Star has just topped the 1,000 books sold mark!

I am overwhelmed by the sales. Perhaps small in comparison, but 1,000 sales in the first month feels so good. The Ice Star was never meant to be. In December 2014, when I finally submitted my first 15,000 words to my supervisor at Falmouth University, I was so done with the project. I had rewritten the entire novel twice, polished the first five chapters at least eight times, changed POV twice, I even changed the sex of the main character – yes, Fenna started out as Ravn. (Thanks, Sarah Acton!) In short, I never wanted to see The Ice Star again, and I never thought it would amount to much.

I was done.

But, Sarah wouldn’t let it lie.

Neither would my supervisor, Tom. He mentioned it was a shame not to finish it. He thought it had promise, not least for the setting.

I did pick up the manuscript – a mess of rewritten chapters, notes, and a hundred different copies of different versions – several times, but I never did anything with it. I chose to write fantasy novels instead. Then Alaska happened. I quit my job, and Jane and I joined our friends on the Yukon River. The last thing I did was load the latest mess of chapters onto my tablet computer, and imagined that one day I might look at it, just out of interest – for old time’s sake.

After two months on the Yukon River, and a lifetime’s worth of unique experiences, Jane and I got off the river and spent a week in Fairbanks, AK. The Ice Star was silent, it didn’t so much as creak as we explored the town and made plans to visit Denali National Park. But, in the park we saw a wolf, and there was a murmur and a hint of something that I remembered from a long lost passage in a fragmented chapter. I ignored it, choosing instead to squint at the fuzzy, grainy, bleary photos of a wolf’s behind.

We took the train to Anchorage, and I took a few hundred photos of Denali as it finally broke through the clouds. Jane got sick, and I celebrated my birthday, alone, at the movies. I spent $10 on a movie ticket and a cup of coffee, and indulged in a brain-dead couple of hours with Jason Bourne. Predictable? Yes. Familiar? Very. Enjoyable? You bet.

And The Ice Star was forgotten once more.

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Until, that is, we boarded the ferry in Whittier. A pod of orca swam around the bow of the MV Kennicott before the ferry slipped anchor and we began our journey to Juneau. I found a table in the lounge as Jane slept and I opened the folder on my computer, and started reading, editing, shaping and listening to the characters of The Ice Star, and the story they wanted to tell.

And that was that.

The Ice Star would never have happened without the support of great friends and colleagues. No matter what happens next, and whatever the future holds for The Ice Star and its sequels, I will forever be grateful for the help and support of friends like Sarah Acton and Isabel Dennis-Muir, and the people and nature of Greenland.

Qujanaq!

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