But how many words for ice?

I was a teacher in Greenland. There were lots of highlights. Second to the amazing, and, at times, exasperating kids, was the role of external invigilator for the spoken English exams. Greenland must be one of the few places where the invigilator is flown by helicopter to schools in the remote settlements. Greenland is vast – something you understand when trying to get your head around distances – but from the air… well, Greenland can be a humbling experience. As it should be – something every invigilator should be exposed to before an exam. “You live here?” is a common thought to have when approaching the gravel landing square, marked with a rusty oil drum in each corner. Exams are one thing, but almost everything can have the flavour of a test in Greenland, and the results are not measured in grades, and they can rarely be captured in words.

You may have heard that the Inuit have a lot of words for snow. Honestly, I don’t know how many, and it is difficult to know when pop culture ends and the practicality of describing snow and ice begins. Until, that is, you’re standing on thin ice, with a kilometre or more of black sea beneath you. Then, as you begin to imagine sinking down in the black depths, I guarantee you will begin to imagine all kinds of words for ice, as if your life depends upon it, which it does, actually.

Once, when accompanying a hunter to check his long fishing line, my Western feet broke through the ice.

Despite weighing a good twenty kilos more than the hunter I was with, it wasn’t my weight that was a problem, it was my attitude, my angle of attack. Admittedly, the ice was only a centimetre or so thick – we had left the dogs behind. Apparently their attitude was similar to mine, although they were safe. No, the problem was that I didn’t glide or shush across the ice with flat feet, I walked, putting weight on my toes and breaking the ice. The hunter noticed, gave me a few words of advice, and shushed on ahead of me. I followed, pushing the sledge, skirting the bad ice, the really thin stuff, and taking a torturous route back to the village.

Rarely have I been more scared.

Rarely have I felt more alive.

If you spend time in Greenland, if you spend time on the ice, you’ll experience that feeling – that moment when you struggle to understand how you can have a cheesy grin on your face, while fighting the urge to pee, wondering if your heart is going to explode out of your chest, amazed that is hasn’t already.

Greenland, like Alaska, does that to you. Something I hope to have captured in my first Greenland thriller, and now as I edit the second.

If you’d like to know more you could try out The Ice Star – available in paperback and on Kindle or for Kindle apps from Amazon, or pre-order book two: In the Shadow of the Mountain, here:

Amazon USA

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Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

A Kick in the Pants

I write all year round, but I write more each November. It’s NANOWRIMO and it’s a serious kick- in-the-pants motivator.

It’s also a lot of fun. Writing 50,000 words in a month is a challenge, to be sure, but the end result is never the end result. There’s beta-reading, editing, proofing, etc. But Nanowrimo works for me, and for many other writers, as a motivator. It doesn’t mean that the finished drafts each November are published, but it feels great having a project on the shelf, one that can be dusted off each April and July at Camp Nanowrimo.

Are you an emerging writer with the ambition of getting published, or just writing for fun? Then Nanowrimo and Camp Nanowrimo are definitely worth checking out.

Alaska does that

Alaska happened, almost a year ago, and a lot has happened since. I thought it was time, for me anyway, to reflect. You, on the other hand, might want to go get a coffee… or stick around for a moment. It won’t take too long. I promise.

The Yukon River family expedition that Jane and I were a part of was an amazing experience, but, from a much more personal perspective, it was just the beginning of a deeper experience, the stimulus for change and a change of purpose.

I suppose and hope there are a lot of people out there, young teens like I once was, that dream of Alaska. I really hope there are. I hope they read Jack London stories, and stay up late at night trying to breathe the pine sap, imagining the heat of the fire warming their hands around a small campfire in the snow, smiling at the pop and snap of twigs burning. That’s what I did most school nights when I should have been sleeping.

Some twenty-eight years or so later I finally made it north, to Alaska.

I wasn’t alone.

Jane and I went together.

We shared the adventure, in the wind, the rain, in a canoe drifting down the river, on a train clacking through the wilds, on ships lurching and rolling through Prince William Sound, and on foot in the shadow of Denali.

And now I miss Alaska.

I miss the campfires, the wolf prints on the riverbanks, the fireweed bringing colour and life to the burnt-black stumps of the fire-swept swathes of wilderness along the banks of the Yukon River. And I miss those coffees with Jane in quirky Alaskan cafés, book stores and National Parks. I miss the wash houses in the Yukon villages – strangely, I do. And I miss the vibrant cultural motifs painted on the walls, and the people – perhaps the friendliest we have ever met on all our travels.

I was surprised at that. The Alaskans we met, for all their stereotypical toughness, are incredibly kind, generous people, making their living in a wild and awe-inspiring part of the world.

Food for thought.

Alaska was the real impetus for getting The Ice Star finished and out there – the litmus test for my emerging career as an author. It was also the inspiration for The Starlighter – working title – a book for younger readers about love, loss, and the end of the world. The Starlighter is gathering mental dust for the moment, but thoughts of Alaska blow that dust into clouds of creativity, tinged with a sense of guilt and the need to revisit and revise.

My Alaskan journey started with a book. Our Alaskan adventure ended with two more – and, more recently, a third, a secret project that is gathering snow, moss, and twigs as it hurtles downhill to crash into our house, to shake the foundations, and yes, give me the necessary kick to get it written.

Alaska does that.

Perhaps it is time to go back?

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)

The Ice Star is available on Amazon.

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A Writing Nook and Nuuk

It’s been quiet around here for a little while now, and with good reason. After many years of rented accommodation, Jane and I finally bought a house. We’re moved in, but we’re still moving in, if you know what I mean. This whole settling process is going to take time, and yet, for once, time is what we have, heaps of it. So the cellar can wait, we can navigate around the kitchen, the floors have been sanded and soaped, and the writing room – the writing nook – does not need to be ready today, tomorrow, or even three months from now, just so long as it exists, that’s enough.

During the course of my studies, I researched writing, lived on anecdotes and sage advice from authors. I rejected the concept of choosing a specific time of day and place to write, choosing instead to follow the idea of getting words on the page, whenever and wherever you can. It worked for me, and it still does, which begs the question: why do I even need a writing nook?

I can’t answer that.

But I think it has something to do with knowing that there is a space that I can retreat to, if need be. I have written a lot of words in libraries, hiding in plain sight in the afternoons, at kitchen tables, early in the morning when everyone else is sleeping, and in the armchair, late at night, when the house is still and the dust settling. I don’t need the writing space, but for the first time ever I have one.

It is a space, hardly a nook, but thoughts of Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, invade it as I follow Fenna through part 2 of book 2: In the Shadow of the Mountain. It’s going well, she is surprising – ad-libbing and deviating from the storybeats. After the events in the first half of the book, I need to give her some leeway, and I figure that, by now, she knows what she is doing. I just need to relax, and let her get on with the story, telling it her way, with a few descriptions and comments from me once in a while.

As for now. It’s back to my nook.

Arctic Agents & Aircraft

Without spoiling anything, I feel obliged to report that Fenna’s training is over, and the next part of In the Shadow of the Mountain (Book II in the Greenland Trilogy) is set to begin. It didn’t go as planned for Fenna, but then that is the kind of luck that she has. But this Arctic Agent is set to return to the north and she will be flying in small helicopters again piloted this time by a new character – a female pilot from Greenland.

There are a lot of foreign pilots flying for Air Greenland and for the logistical support companies operating in Greenland. Fenna will be flying with them during her next mission  several times according to the plot.

There is a mine in the Uummannaq region of Greenland, and helicopters flying to and from the mine would often land at the heliport just below our house. Avgas or jet fuel, or whatever it is these things guzzle, has a certain tang, one that instantly reminds you that the windows are open – as if the rotor noise wasn’t a good indication. Smells are just one part of life in Greenland – the more remote the location, the stronger the smell.

As for agents in the Arctic – it turns out that PET (the Danish Police Intelligence Service) have been recruiting. So Fenna’s character is not so far-fetched after all.

Now I have to get back to Fenna and arrange her return to Greenland. I’ll leave you with the photo of a foggy day in Uummannaq, March 2010.

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.