Novel-Writing in the Arctic

My title is disingenuous, because I didn’t do any novel-writing in the Arctic. However, I thought and plotted and observed and learned with intensity, such that in the two months since my return, I’ve written an entire third of the new novel that was my primary Arctic project. This writing pace is unheard of for me. It’s partly because I’ve had some clearheadedness lately, unrelated to the Arctic. But it’s also largely because I got so much hands-on experience on the ship!

Since most of my work in the Arctic was happening in my head and my heart, it’s not going to be possible to show the entire process in pictures. But I can share some of the experiences that helped me make progress.

My novel takes place partly on a tall ship, where my main character is learning a lot about the work the sailors are doing.

Therefore, it helped me to learn to haul lines, and to watch others do so. (On a ship, ropes are called lines. It takes 60-ish lines to operate the rigging on the Antigua!)

(The Antigua is a barquentine. That’s a tall ship with three or more masts that has square sails on its foremast and fore-and-aft rigged sails [sails that stretch from front to back] on its other masts. This sail configuration gives it power and maneuverability, but also makes it possible to be operated by a small crew.)

On the occasions when we could turn the engine off and just sail… I was SO HAPPY. These were my favorite moments of the entire trip, which is saying an awful lot. It was silent, and graceful, and our movement felt so good in the water. It taught me a lot about my character and how she feels, too. 

The main character in my novel spends time lying inside a rowboat on deck, watching the sailors raise and lower the sails. So I did the same, curling up in one of the Zodiacs :o).

Photo by Dawn Jackson.

I did a lot of thinking and observing from that position. The masts swung back and forth above me as we moved through the waves and I got a lot of ideas! I also had the best views.

My main character also climbs the mast. So… in the picture below, our captain, Mario, gives me help and support as I make my first attempt.

John Hirsch took this picture, and the further-back one below, because I shoved my iPhone at him before I started :o)

Barbara Liles took this picture. As I climbed, the ship was moving through ice.

I’m on the right in this photo.

 Climbing was a thrill. Each time I tried it, I got up further. I knew it was safe, because I always wore a halter, but the ship was moving a lot and it was very, very cold up there, and sometimes slippery… and the places where your hands and feet went were not always intuitive… I learned a lot about my character’s experience from that experience.

By the way, it’s probably time for me to introduce our sailing crew — our captain, Mario; first mate, Marijn, and second mate, Annet! I’ll have more to say about them in future blog posts. They kept us safe, taught us so much, and were so patient whenever we “helped”!

That’s it for today’s Arctic chapter, but there’s more to come. Hope you’re all having a cozy December. :o)