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

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

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.

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.

Curious? The Ice Star is available in paperback and on Kindle or for Kindle apps from Amazon:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Write … Keep Writing!

I saw a picture of Neil Gaiman today, posted by Tor.com. On Neil’s palm, facing the camera, are the words: “Write. Finish things. Keep writing”.

This would be my writing mantra if I didn’t have one already: “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”. I think those words came from Hugh Howey, and probably other writers before him. But no matter who says what, there is no greater truth to getting books finished – without the writing, they will never be written.

So, in the course of my marathon, I have set goals. August is the next one. By August, the second book of The Greenland Trilogy will be done, finished, and available. By December, book three will also be done, finished, available. It’s that write, edit, redraft, write some more, edit even more, and repeat that is the recipe for running this particular marathon, and I can see the finish line. It’s just there, a few hundred sleepless nights – and a lot of battered keys – away, in the distance.

Just there.

Beyond the ice.

And I’ll get there too. Fenna’s journey through book two: In the Shadow of the Mountain, is shaping up with threads being pulled and teased in all directions. The side plot(s) are developing along with the main storyline, and some interesting new characters are showing up, while familiar ones are developing – in more than one direction. All in all book two is rocking along, and the deadline is looming.

So, if you’ve got a book inside you, follow Neil’s advice:

Write

Finish things

Keep writing

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.

Curious? The Ice Star is available in paperback and on Kindle or for Kindle apps from Amazon:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Amazon Australia

Amazon Canada

Breaking Bones or Busting Noses?

dscf0888It’s no spoiler – I am building up to a fight scene in book two, and Fenna has to break something. Rather, someone has to break something of Fenna’s and I can’t decide what it should be.

Plot devices can be cruel, but she must break something in order to drive the story and her motivation through to the next set piece scheduled later in the story. A couple of black eyes will also do the trick. Which reminds me of my own, self-inflicted, black eye, gained on the ice.

Greenlandic dogs are taught to react to a sealskin whip; with a crack of the whip on the ice to the left or right of the dogs, a skilled hunter can turn the sledge in the direction he or she wishes the dogs to take. I am not a skilled driver of dogs, but my dogs were wary of the whip even if they only ever saw me use it on myself.

When sledging one day in March I wanted to turn the dogs to the right, so I cracked the whip on the ice to the left of the dogs. In my head I had imagined a smooth Indiana Jones-like action, what I achieved was a satisfying crack and a flash of searing pain as the tip struck my cheek beneath my eye. I was millimetres from removing it.

The dogs pulled to the right out of sympathy, the kids at school were less forgiving.

“What have you done this time?” they asked, and, “Maybe you should stop?”

I couldn’t stop, I had a team of dogs to train. But while the lessons learned on the ice were painful and embarrassing, the environment was unforgiving.