The darkest months of the year are finally surrendering to the faintest glimmer of a returning light, and I feel like checking in. I’ve scented the distant promise of spring and I’m so ready for it. I’ve had what feels like a deeper and darker winter than ever before, having shipped out to Swedish Lapland for a research trip at the beginning of January. I flew to Stockholm and then journeyed for 16 hours by train (not just any train: the ARCTIC CIRCLE TRAIN, yo) beyond the arctic circle to Kiruna, in the far north of Swedish Lapland. I was very very excited to get there, as illustrated by the dorky photo below.
I experienced temperatures as low as -37 degrees, travelled completely alone for the first time, stayed in a self-catering apartment (a more authentic experience than a hotel) and met some amazing locals and fellow travellers. I was lucky enough (and determined enough) to witness the Aurora Borealis TWICE, which was one of my main hopes for the trip.
The first time I saw the lights was from a husky sled – without my glasses, because they, um, FROZE over – with my eyelids half sealed shut and frost hanging from each eyelash like fairytale jewels. We had to stop the sled to check for frostbite and at that moment the ‘fire-spirits’ (as my characters would call them in the world of The Huntress) began to dance; first as a single, pale white wisp, but soon becoming huge streaks of green and white, with purple jags rising above the tree-line, too.
The second night I saw them from the back of a gorgeous (but mildly obstinate) black Icelandic gelding called Kristal, as we rode through an ancient forest blanketed in thick snow, ducking snow-laden branches – definitely a pinch-myself moment. FYI I only just realised that Kristal was totally photo-bombed in this shot. Cheeky!
I was keen to see the aurora for myself before the launch of the first book of the Huntress trilogy; The Huntress: Sea, as the lights feature as an important cultural phenomenon for Mouse and her Tribe. I also wanted to research other aspects of life in the far north, particularly for the third book of the trilogy. I learned what it feels like to have snotcicles crunching stickily in your nose and how extreme cold makes you slow and confused very, very quickly. How fast you become disorientated and disabled by cold and wind and snow. How easily a glove or hat can be blown away and how high the stakes are if that happens. How necessary it is to reach out to strangers and how survival depends on community spirit.
I was also lucky enough to meet some Sami people (indigenous to Lapland) and learn of their plight to retain their ancestral lands. I rode with them and shared reindeer blood pancakes and hot lingonberry juice and moose-mince soup in a traditional lavvu tent while resting on reindeer skins. I’m usually a vegetarian. But I learned how the Sami are the only ones allowed to keep or slaughter reindeer (they have herded reindeer for thousands of years) and they use every last part of the animal once slaughtered. The animals are treated with respect, and are not subjected to a cruel industry of mass production. To have refused the food would have been wasteful, potentially disrespectful, less culturally aware and self-detrimental in such extremes of cold (we entered the hut from a night of -32 degrees, and felt a need for rich food I’ve never felt before!) We spoke briefly about my vegetarianism and I explained that I don’t agree with the industry in the UK and I feel disconnected from the food-chain at home – it isn’t authentic, and it shows no respect to the animals who give their lives. As Mouse says in Sea:
‘Da leads us in the respect-words; the words we always say in thanks to the creatures that give us their lives so we can survive.’
I now have a ton of notes for book three and a whole heap of respect for people who survive in those conditions all winter, every year.
In other news, I’m excited to be able to reveal the final cover for The Huntress: Sea! Here it is, in all its resplendent, glinty-glory.
I had seen a picture of it in an email, but NOTHING could have prepared me for the moment when I went to the printing press to see the freshly-baked books flying off the press (click the link below to see a video of said flying!)
The cover was even more beautiful in the flesh. When the first book off the press was handed to me, its spine was still deliciously warm to the touch. There may or may not be many pictures of me and my editor, Ali, looking insanely giddy.
I can’t deny reports that tears were shed, and I’m so excited to see the books hit the shelves in early April!