by Kim Kelly
It’s such a lovely pleasure to welcome author Lisa Walker onto the blog today. Lisa’s latest novel, Melt, will be released in May, a sparkling story of love, climate change and finding out who we truly are, set in glorious Antarctica – and I adored it. Here, Lisa gives us a glimpse of all that inspired her to take us there…
I’ve been lucky enough to travel a lot, but I’ve never made it to Antarctica. It’s exerted a mysterious attraction, but has remained elusive. Sometimes I think that the places we don’t see are more powerful than the ones we do. They maintain an almost mythical status, like Narnia or Hobbiton.
In writing about Antarctica, I think it helped that I’ve spent a lot of time in snowy places. I could visualise the hardships and the beauty of living in that environment. I’ve done many different jobs in my life – bar tender, reef guide, ranger, but the one that always gets people’s attention is the igloo building instructor. Yes, it’s true. And what is more, I did this in Australia. I led snow survival courses in which we built – and slept in – igloos and snow caves. Igloo building is quite a job. A snow cave can be whipped up in a couple of hours, but an igloo takes more commitment and preferably a team of willing builders. Sleeping in one is warmer than you would expect, and rather lovely. At night, a candle will light up the whole igloo and during the day a beautiful blue glow comes through the snow. In Melt I set my protagonist, Summer, the job of building an igloo all by herself, which she finds extremely challenging.
Over the two years or so it took me to write Melt, I immersed myself in Antarctic experiences. I stood in a blizzard at the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch and visited the Antarctic Explorers exhibition at Christchurch Museum, as well as the one in Hobart. I studied up on penguins and seals. And I also listened to scientist Chris Turney talk about the history of Antarctica at the Brisbane Writers Festival.
Chris wrote an account of the 1912 season in Antarctica which saw no less than five expeditions set out on a journey of scientific discovery. Famously, of course, the Norwegian team led by Amundsen won the race to the South Pole, with the British expedition led by Scott getting there one month later and perishing on the return journey. Also on the move were a German team, a Japanese team and an Australian team, led by Mawson.
Antarctica, Chris told us, didn’t even begin to be explored until 1820. Before that, it was just shown as ‘unexplored territory’ on the map. Venturing down there, then, was the equivalent of space travel – a voyage into the complete unknown. The explorers gnawed on huskies, they spent the winter on a ship bound by ice, they were blown off their feet in blizzards… And despite all that, they brought back data which changed the face of science.
Antarctica has inspired some truly great lines. Who can forget these: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time,’ (Oates); ‘Food lies ahead, death stalks us from behind,’ (Shackleton); or ‘Great God! This is an awful place,’ (Scott). And then there is my protagonist Summer, who channels these great explorers on her first broadcast from Antarctica. ‘Notwithstanding the potential for peril, we are launching into an adventure that seems likely to surpass all my former experiences…’ Antarctica brings out the orator in us all.
Writing Melt was an immersive experience. I’ve spent so much time thinking about Antarctica, it almost feels like I’ve been there. That pleasure, however, is still to come.
Copies of Melt will be available at the Millthorpe Pop-Up, 24-27 May.
Find out more about Lisa Walker here.