As authors, visiting the settings of our books is extremely helpful in writing those settings in a believable way. For this reason, many authors place their stories in locations with which they are already familiar – because readers from those areas will know if the author is making things up! Not only will they know, but they will call the authors out on any mistakes.
So what is an author to do if they want to write someplace in a time far away, or off the beaten path? The best answer is, obviously, to visit that location. Some of us are blessed enough to be able to do exactly that.
I write historical Norwegian characters in stories set in
Norway, England, Scotland,
Spain, and . So
I have been to
Scotland and Spain, and in July of 2011 I was able to spend
nine days in the southern part of Norway,
exploring from Oslo to , with a side trip to Arendal – my
fictional Hansens’ ancestral home. I watched the sun set at 11:30pm, and rise again
at 3:30am. I saw fjords, mountains, waterfalls, glaciers, and rivers. I walked
the old streets of Bergen .
I ate delicious and generic fish soup, made from that day’s catch. Oslo
I discovered that rivers of glacier run-off are a silt-laden opaque turquoise, something I would never have known to describe. I was told that the end of the Viking era was 1070 AD. I stood in the ancient stave churches which were converted from pagan halls to houses of Christian worship at that time. I learned that a secure sod roof requires seven layers of birch bark to keep the building dry and warm. Not six; seven.
All of these tidbits have worked their way into my books, adding authenticity to the narrative. One thing was missing, though: I had not yet experienced a Nordic winter.
This February, I did.
I took a “Northern Lights” tour into the Arctic Circle, sailing on the iconic Hurtigruten line from Tromsø over the top of
to Kirkenes on the Russian
border. This time, the sun rose at 9:30am, and set at 2:30pm. Norway
The arctic coast of
is as scattered with rock
outcroppings and islands as the rest of the country – but up there, they rise
from the sea treeless and covered in snow. Whenever a flat surface extended
from one of these rocky mountains, hardy fishermen had established little villages.
Colorful houses clustered together against a white backdrop, with the spire of
a church as their anchor. The Hurtigruten ships are their connection with the
rest of the world, as these working passenger ships carry mail, packages, and
people from town to town. Norway
And then, there were the lights.
When I saw the Northern Lights for the first time, I stood with my mouth open, stunned by their behavior. They move. They grow. They get brighter. They fade. When seen from the side, they have that “curtain” look to them: a ruffled bottom with shards shooting upward as they literally unfold across the sky.
When they are directly overhead, they flow and swirl, like a broad stream hitting a rock. They surge. They retreat. They are never still. Green is the most common color, but our display shifted to white, and then to the faintest red on the edges. Utterly spectacular.
Most people assumed it would be really cold, but the Gulf Stream flows along
western coast. The ocean does not freeze there, and there are no icebergs. Air
temperatures were in the mid 20s – only six or seven degrees below freezing. When
the winds were calm, it was bracing and refreshing. Norway
Inland, however, the temperatures were lower, and the fjords were frozen solid – providing paths for racing snowmobiles, and ample opportunities for patient ice fishers.
I cannot begin to explain how amazing it has been for me to visit
these two times. The country
is “real” to me now, and I have made some friends there. I will find a way to go
back again someday. There is just too much more to see, too much interesting
history to explore, and too much plot potential in this generally unfamiliar
and unbelievably beautiful setting. Norway