Researching Outcast

In Outcast, much of the story takes place in or around Lake Axehead, so I needed a large lake.  Where better than Sweden, which has about a hundred thousand lakes to choose from?

To get ideas for Lake Axehead, I went to Lake Storsjon in northern Sweden, where I got inspiration for the eerie reedbeds and the vast, shimmering expanses of the Lake.

While there, I also needed to get close to some elk (or moose, if you’re American).  I met mine at a sanctuary for injured elk (they have a habit of colliding with cars).  There I encountered some delightful five-day-old calves, and an enormous but very gawky yearling, who’d just been abandoned by its mother.  This gave me the idea for the abandoned adolescent elk in the story.

Also in Sweden, I found some wonderful rock carvings at Glosa, made by the people in Torak’s time.  The setting of the carvings was so atmospheric that it helped inspire the sacred spring in the story.

I also needed to get close to some snakes – which I did back in England, with the kind help of the handlers at Longleat.  First, I was introduced to a corn snake; then a royal python.  Research is never what you expect, and I discovered that I wasn’t scared at all; I was in awe.  Snakes are so utterly different from any creature I’ve ever met.  I think it’s the silence.  And that little tongue flickering over my face.  And those incredible, unblinking eyes.  What on earth was going on behind them?  This encounter proved incredibly useful for the episode when Torak spirit walks inside a snake.

The best research of all was also the most unexpected.  I’d known for years that there would be wolf cubs in the story, and right on cue, as I was writing it, I got a message from the UK Wolf Conservation Trust: they had cubs!  Getting to know them was a fantastic privilege: bottle-feeding (and burping) a small, fluffy, adorable cub.  And then when they were bigger, playing a game of tag with the three of them, and feeding them a rabbit.  (Well – it wasn’t so much feeding, it was me standing on tip-toe with a dead rabbit held as high as I could get it, and three very large cubs leaping straight up and making off with it.)  What made it even more special was that the Trust named one of the cubs Torak.