Sunday, April 25, 2010

Guest Blogger R.J. Harlick

Today's guest blogger is Canadian writer R.J. Harlick. R.J. newest's novel, Arctic Blue Death is a finalist for the Arthur Ellis Award for best novel.

A Different Kind of Research Trip

When it came time to write the latest Meg Harris mystery, I felt that it was time for Meg to go beyond the boundaries of her Quebec wilderness. Because I’d always wanted to go to Canada’s far north myself, I decided that Meg would go to the Arctic. That way I get to go too. And thus Arctic Blue Death was born.

A few years ago, during the longest days of the year, I found myself flying over the barren lands of northern Quebec on my way to Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, Canada’s newest territory. During my seven day trip on Baffin Island I also visited Pangnirtung, a much smaller, mostly Inuit community, known for its world famous Uqqurmiut Art Centre.

Uqqurmiut means ‘people of the lee side’ because Pangnirtung lies on the lee side of a spectacular mountain lined fjord. Pangnirtung on the other hand means ‘meeting place of the bull caribou’, which conjures up all sorts of images, while Iqaluit means ‘place of many fish’. Before Iqaluit became a booming metropolis of close to 8,000, the inlet on which it lies was probably once filled with arctic char. I don’t think that is the case today.

I spent a fascinating week roaming the streets of Iqaluit and Pangnirtung seeing as much as I could and meeting as many people as I could, from a young Inuk RCMP constable to a former teacher, who’d spent more than 30 years in the north. I came away with more than enough material, impressions and plot ideas to keep Meg busy.

My first impression was of a harsh and brutal land. It took me awhile to appreciate its underlying beauty. As Meg keeps telling herself, I had to put aside my southern sensibilities and see beyond the dirt and barren rock to what the land had to offer. And for me, that was the people, from the shy smiles of those I passed on the street to the warm welcomes I received in their homes. Everyone bent over backwards to help me gain insight into what it is like to live in one of the most inhospitable environments on the planet.

On the longest day of the year I was in Pangnirtung where the sun doesn’t set, but runs just below the mountain ridge on the opposite shore for an hour or so before popping back up again. No one seemed to sleep, including me. In fact at any hour of the ‘white night’ people, including kids, would be seen out walking or playing. There was even a group of teenagers playing golf along the rock strewn sandy shore. It was a 2 hole golf course with carpet for the golf green, for of course golf grasses don’t grow that far north.

When I’d flown to Iqaluit, I’d had a vague idea for a plot. I knew it would be about Meg’s father, who’d died while traveling in the Arctic when she was a child, but I wasn’t sure how he had died. I just knew that something related to his death would prompt her to go to Baffin Island. While I was being shown the Iqaluit RCMP detachment, the constable happened to mention one of her cold case files. It had to do with a plane that had gone missing over 20 years ago and was never seen again. The minute she said the words “missing plane” the light bulb went on. I knew I could do a lot with a missing plane and I have in Arctic Blue Death.

Needless to say much of what I experienced in Canada’s far north, Meg experiences when she flies to Iqaluit to finally learn the truth of what happened to her father.

To see some of my photos from the trip, go to my album.


Jill said...

This sounds great! What a cool trip; the long days are awesome (although they do tend to wreak havoc on your system).

Congrats on the AE nomination!

Mary Jane Maffini said...

What a trip, Robin! And what a terrific book it inspired. I am glad (but not surprised) that Arctic Blue Death is an Ellis nominee.


RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, ladies, for you well wishes.