What seems like a million years ago, but was probably only half a million at most, I started writing my second novel, Kirkenes Blue. As happens so often, the stuff of life that makes up life and occasionally stuffs it up came along and more than eighteen months have passed.
In a way this turned out to be a good thing, because this hiatus allowed me, through no actual planning, to revisit the Arctic town of Kirkenes in Spring to see what it looked like in full daylight. When I was last here, it was polar night so I never quite had a feel for the place.
What a difference a season makes! Well, it’s light for starters and the air is crystal clear. And the grassy park in front of the library turns out to be, well, a concrete park in front of the library. At least I remembered what the statue was of.
Here’s an excerpt of a bit I have actually written, from the first chapter:
There are many unusual people who live in Kirkenes. Most are not born there but are carried by car, ferry, train or aircraft to a Norwegian town that nestles between Finland and Russia, on one edge of the mighty Varangerfjorden. In winter, the darkness arrives and stays, digging its heels in and resisting the sun until spring when it is kicked out and replaced by, according to some, an unwelcome light that too insists on outstaying its welcome. It is maybe because of this phenomenon that so little in the town is done by halves or half-heartedly. It is, for the most part, all or nothing in Kirkenes.
Time has no real meaning here. Given the stubbornness of the sun to stay or go most of the year, there is already a precedence by which to ignore “natural” time. The problem is that the artificial, man-measured time is also a miscreant.
If you walk westwards, you should move the clocks backwards. Except that west of Kirkenes is Finland, a country with a different time zone to that of Norway, one hour ahead in fact. So move west from Kirkenes and the clocks go forward an hour. Move east and cross the Russian border, just five miles from the centre of town, and the clocks move forward two or three hours. It is as if Kirkenes is trapped between time zone layers, like a temperature inversion but with time. A temporal inversion, if you like.
The average warmth of the local people is, however, far higher than the average warmth of the climate. The mean temperature in January is −11.5 °C and +12.6 °C in July. It once reached +16.9 °C and the first case of heat stroke was recorded in a hundred years although it later turned out that, in fact, the patient was suffering from a combination of insufficient fluid intake and more than sufficient stupidity rather than the effects of sun in isolation.
Unless you are born with the Arctic Circle gene, how you react to the cycle of cold and the dark followed by not-so-cold and ridiculously light is unpredictable. Many who come to stay, don’t. Every now and again, there are those who stay who really shouldn’t.
I find trying to pick up the story after such a break challenging. For one thing, I have had to read everything I have written from start to finish, in order to remind myself of details that I may have either not remembered or, worse still, remembered completely wrongly. Then, the next task is to fit in new material and that is tricky without disturbing the cadence of the existing writing. My next novel, I am just going to write from beginning to end without stopping, honest!*
I’m aiming to complete the writing by the end of this month and publish October-time. That’s if life lets me!
* Never gonna happen…