05-26-18 – Blog Queen - Sarah Raplee

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Visiting Norway's Arctic Circle!

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 America. So far.

I have been to England, 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 Bergen, 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 Oslo. I ate delicious and generic fish soup, made from that day’s catch.

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 TromsΓΈ over the top of Norway to Kirkenes on the Russian border. This time, the sun rose at 9:30am, and set at 2:30pm.

The arctic coast of Norway 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.

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 Norway’s 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.

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 Norway 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.


Judith Ashley said...

Interesting post, Kris and certainly supports my fascination with Norway. I've never harbored any dreams to go to Hawaii but Norway (or Sweden and Denmark) - very much so.

A former troubled client of mine was fascinated by the Northern lights. He decided he wanted to go to Alaska to see them and actually changed some of his behavior so that was possible. He was changed by the experience although he couldn't put it into words. In reading your descriptions, I could hear him. Thank you...

Diana McCollum said...

What a memorable trip you had to see the Northern lights!! Not many people get to see them as beautifully as you described. Wonderful descriptive post.

Sarah Raplee said...

I've always wanted to visit Norway. Your beautiful post took me on a virtual tour. Thank you!