Researching Wolf Brother

The world of Wolf Brother is strange, unfamiliar, beautiful, exciting – but above all, it’s real

Taking a breather with the huskies in an Arctic gale Kulusuk, East Greenland

I want the reader to feel that they’re right there with Torak and Wolf.

And that means research.

However, it’s vital not to include too much in the stories, so I’m careful only to put in a tiny part of what I’ve learned: maybe as little as 1%.  The challenge is to put in just enough to make the reader feel they’re there, without clogging up the story.

finland_01For Wolf Brother, I rode a total of 300 miles in the forests of north-eastern Finland and northern Lapland. Among other things:-

  • I slept on reindeer skins in a traditional open-fronted Finnish shelter called a laavu (surprisingly warm, despite a ground-frost!).
  • I ate elk heart, reindeer, forest berries and spruce resin (which in the Stone Age was used as a kind of antiseptic chewing-gum; I can confirm that it tastes like cough medicine).
  • I studied traditional Sami (Lapp) methods for preparing reindeer hides, including learning which parts of the hide are best for making different kinds of clothing (eg shin-hide for boots).
  • I picked up forest beliefs and customs from people who’ve lived there for generations, such as how to carry fire in a roll of bark.
  • I tried out a traditional birchbark horn (and was told that my attempt sounded like an angry elk).
  • I peered into the mouth of a very large brown bear to find out what colour it was (a dark greyish purple – and that wasn’t because he’d been eating blueberries!). But I admit, the bear was behind a fence when I did this.
  • I had my first sight of the Aurora borealis, which I found every bit as awe-inspiring as Torak and Renn.

At times, some of this research was very far from comfortable, but even the uncomfortable bits – for example, getting freezing hands and feet on one dismal, sleety ride in Lapland – were crucial, because they impressed on me the importance of keeping my hero warm and dry!