And now it’s gone

Jane and I visited Nuugaatsiaq (photo: 2008) in July and August 2008, while living and working in Uummannaq, Greenland. Now, almost nine years later, much of what we saw, and even some of the people we met, is gone. A tsunami crashed into the settlement on the 18th June, bringing tragedy to one of Greenland’s prettiest and most exciting areas. It’s hard to imagine how people are coping, and suddenly, a place that is very dear to me, is very far away indeed.

My thoughts go out to the people of Nuugaatsiaq, and Uummannaq fjord.

It is possible to help through donations coordinated via the Bank of Greenland (follow link for the Danish page.)

Beg leave to inform, proceeding South

Chris and Ninja on the mountain, Uummannaq

One of my favourite and most battered books is Roland Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth. When I inherited my team of dogs in Uummannaq, Greenland, I experienced a sharp learning curve, and even sharper canine teeth. Along with the seven dogs, the hunter threw a frozen seal into the bargain. The deal was I would look after his dogs for the winter, learn to drive a team, and he would pick them up again in the summer.

He never came back.

That seal though… the idea was I could cut chunks out of it, and feed the blubber to the dogs when the temperature dipped below minus 17 celsius. This happened a lot, but not before the seal knocked me off my feet every time I opened the shed door. Seals are very streamlined, and, with its flippers frozen to its sides, my seal shot out of the shed like a torpedo every time I braved the weather to feed the dogs. Something had to be done.

I found the answer in Huntford’s book. Amundsen and his men shot seals in Antarctica when preparing food caches for their race to the pole. The trick was waiting until the seal was frozen and sawing off the flippers to make a flat base. The Norwegians made a food depot, using the seals – noses up, flippers at their sides – as the walls of the cache. I read this passage three times before I put down the book and grabbed my saw.

The dogs howled as I went about my work, turning my torpedo into a four foot high popsicle with long, leathery whiskers. I rolled the seal into the shed and slid it into the corner. The dogs chewed on the flippers and blubbery chunks after dinner.

Life in the Arctic is all about firsts. This was the first time I had owned a team, the first time I sawed through a seal, and the first time I truly felt I was following in the famous Norwegian’s footsteps.

Curious or horrified? You can get a flavour of Greenland by reading The Ice Star, available for Kindle eReaders, Kindle apps, and in paperback from Amazon:

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The Dog Star(s)

img_9042_2The Ice Star isn’t the first thriller to feature sledge dogs, but it might just be the first thriller to build a plot around sledge dogs and the men (and women – spoiler) that work with them.

Konstabel Fenna Brongaard is the first of her kind – the first female member of the Sirius Sledge Patrol. She’s also the first patrol member to be accused of killing her partner. The sledge dogs in the story play an integral part in letting the reader discover just who Fenna is, what makes her tick, and literally driving the plot forwards, from scene to scene.

Without dogs The Ice Star would be mostly ice. The dogs then are the real stars!

They shine brighter than life, much like the Sirius star itself.

The Ice Star is available for pre-order from Amazon at a reduced price. Spoiler(ish) alert – no real dogs were harmed in the writing of The Ice Star.

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On Killing

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I killed someone the other night. Never thought I would write those words. But, it needed to be done, and, if I can find any redeeming aspect of the killing, then I can say it was important to the plot. Still, it didn’t sit all that well with me. It even kept me awake at night.

I have killed before – and just where am I going with this? But this time it was personal. I realised I have known the victim for about four years. I have always known the person was going to die, I even knew how. But when it happened, when I realised that the time had come to do it, to kill them, well, to say it mildly, I wasn’t quite prepared. I take no satisfaction from the killing – perhaps just a little, I think it is a beautiful scene, in its own way – but it is done, and I am coming to terms with it.

Life is hard in the Arctic, and Greenland is no exception. During the 7 years my wife and I lived there, we lost track of the suicides, sadly, and often came to terms with deaths – through accidents on the ice, in the black Arctic waters, from glaciers calving, ice dams bursting, helicopters crashing, and from murder, occasionally.

Death, then, is synonymous with the Arctic, with Greenland, and with my story. The Ice Star reflects that, death is a theme, but so, I hope, is life and the strength needed to live it in harsh environments.

The Ice Star is available for pre-order from Amazon at a reduced price. Spoiler alert – Canadians might be interested in the plot!

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The Endgame

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The endgame of The Ice Star is set in one of my favourite places in the world: Uummannatsiaq, at the end of Ikerasak Island in Uummannaq fjord, Greenland. I have spent several nights there, over a number of years, listening to the yip of Arctic Foxes, the barrage of iceberg artillery as great chunks of ice calve into the fjord, and the howl of the polar wind.

Since the first few drafts of the story, I have been working my way towards The Schoolhouse. Now that I have arrived – several years and many drafts later – I am hesitant to set foot in that house – I know what happens. Fortunately, The Ice Star is pure fiction, and I can live with what happens at the end of the island, after a long journey on the ice, at sea, and in the dark hold of a rather unique cruise ship.

I look forward to visiting the real Uummannatsiaq again sometime in the future, but I need to let the last few chapters sit for a while before I return.

It’s a beautiful place. A peaceful place, until, that is, The Ice Star anchors in the fjord and all hell breaks loose.

The Ice Star is available at a special pre-order price for kindle readers and apps from Amazon USA, UK, Canada and Australia. It is released on January 26th, 2017.