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Travel to the icy Far North in Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge with Lizzie Pook 

  • Submitted: 21st January 2024

Travel to the icy Far North in Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge

Lizzie Pook is your guide in this thrilling adventure!

Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

A pandemic was raging while I began my research for Maude Horton’s Glorious Revenge. I, like so many other people, was stuck inside – having lost most of my work and income, battling poor health and the fear that infiltrated everything during those tumultuous months. And I was dreaming of adventure.

Maude horton

I knew at that point that part of the book was going to be set in Victorian London, against the backdrop of the ‘murder-mania’ that held the country in its grip. It was an obsession with true crime and punishment that saw tens of thousands of people turn out to witness the grisly spectacle of public hangings (special excursion trains were even put on to transport paying guests to the locations of these dramatic events). But I also knew that my thirst for escapism – heightened by my cabin fever – meant that I wanted to write about somewhere far off and otherworldly, too.

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

I had been reading lots of accounts of nineteenth century explorers during lockdown. Particularly those about the quest for the Northwest Passage – the elusive, ice-choked trade route through the archipelago of islands at the top of Canada, linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. I became wrapped up in tales of polar bears, the aurora borealis and ships splintering in the ice in the hubristic pursuit of this dangerous goal. So, I came up with my character of Constance Horton, an ambitious, somewhat reckless young woman, who disguises herself as a cabin boy to board the Makepeace, a ship bound for the icy High Arctic.

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

As well as plenty of reading material – including the actual diaries of real-life Arctic sailor,  George Brown, loaned to me by a family friend – thankfully, I had my own travels to draw on for inspiration when it came to writing about this hostile, icy environment.

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

 

Several years ago, I was lucky enough to travel to the remote, uninhabited east coast of Greenland with Natural World Safaris, a 10-day trip that thrust us deep into the beguiling fjord system of Scoresbysund. Although not much to look at on a map, the area is larger than the whole of Iceland, with many of its tendril-like fjords having never been explored by modern ships.

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

It was a landscape that had to be seen to be believed: inky waters roiling with dolphins, humpback whales and monstrous lion’s mane jellyfish; cathedral-sized ice bergs floating past like giant geodes. Everything around us looked like the opening credits from a nature documentary – a slow-mo, sunburst-smattered panorama that I can still conjure up in my mind’s eye by merely blinking.

BookTrail locations of Maud Horton

We saw no other human beings or boats during our sail – nor did we have contact with any as there was no wi-fi and no satellite radio signal. But we did see plenty of wildlife. Off the ship, we observed skittish muskoxen – an animal resembling something between a highland cow and a George Lucas ewok – navigating terrain littered with arctic fox dung, amethyst-coloured fireweed and bleached oxen skulls in order to photograph them. On deck we were treated to the low swoop of Arctic terns and diving gannets, tiny flocks of little auks bobbing about on pinkish waters like flotsam.

We were warned before we set sail that we might not see any polar bears on our trip. Compared to the density of the predators in nearby Svalbard – where the animals are protected – bears, we were told, are much more elusive in Greenland. You’d be lucky to catch a flash of white on a snow-slicked mountain as one disappears up a ravine.

BookTrail locations of Maude Horton

But we did see bears. We saw a lot of bears indeed.

 

One afternoon, I headed out on the blustery, rain-beaten deck with my binoculars. As soon as I raised them to my eyes, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There, on the icing sugar snow of a nearby beach was a furry, yellowish mound. It couldn’t be, I thought, squinting through rain-splattered lenses. But something told me it was a bear, and I headed up to the bridge to tell the guides my sheepish hunch. Amazingly, it proved correct. I had spotted a bear, before anyone else on the ship! We put the Zodiacs in the water straight away and as we motored slowly towards the bear, picking our way through shearing shards of ice, it became clear that it was a healthy male, wallowing sleepily in a snowdrift. Eventually it awoke and raised its coal-black snout to the air, scouting about the beach and then plunging into the water to swim – somewhat alarmingly – towards our small boat. It veered off just before it reached us and disappeared into the ocean.

But the precedent was set, and the sightings continued. We saw polar bears stalking the fast ice for prey, sleeping bears, bears tobogganing down snowy slopes on their bellies and family groups picking their way slowly across this vast white land. I’ll never forget it.

 

Greenland beguiled me and it’s a place that will always have me in its thrall. As I wrote about Constance and the crew of the Makepeace, forging their way through Greenland’s Baffin Bay and up into the Northwest Passage, I felt so privileged to have visited, even fleetingly, such an astonishing part of the world. And it’s an even greater privilege to share that with readers, too.

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass: Maude Horton

Twitter: @LizziePook

 

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