Frozen Ideas

by Hazel Edwards
The Internet Writing Journal, June 2003
Frozen Chosen is my next children's book, which will be published by Lothain Books in 2004. Frozen Chosen, a young adult eco-thriller, has actually taken me over eighteen months to complete, since my actual research took place during an Antarctic expedition to Australia's Casey Station. Few get to Antarctica and fewer write realistically, so, doing justice to the "Big" subject was an underlying concern. That's why I kept putting off the re-writes. 25,000 words is required for the final version but it's getting harder for me to finish a manuscript. My normal output is 1,000 words per day, but this adolescent novel has had many drafts. I don't believe in writer's block, but.

Plot

First was the challenge of getting a scientifically feasible twist to the plot. I needed sufficient reason for the base to be quarantined which would provoke a mutiny. "Bio" Garry Mayo, one of the "boffins", gave me that twist and it related to changes in immunity which is relevant in isolated Antarctica. Expeditioners' resistance to "bugs" lowers when they're isolated for months in pristine Antarctica. So they would be vulnerable to a cross-over from animals to humans.

Age

My protagonist had an age problem. He needed to be young enough to appeal to a 13-16 year old readership, but realistically, expeditioners require broad trade or scientific qualifications which mean most are late thirties and the youngest would be late twenties by the time they're sufficiently skilled to be chosen. So I made Kyle 21 and a last minute substitute.

Writing "male" is also a challenge in terms of attitude and language choice. While physical action such as icy rescues are easy and thrilling to write, revealing inner concerns is not realistic while swearing or repetitive monosyllabic exchanges are boring for the reader. (Not that all males speak in that way!) I gave Kyle a much younger eco-activist girlfriend to email as a device for providing introspection and other viewpoints.

Girlfriend Jade needed to be younger. By making her a Spanish exchange secondary student who'd lived with the Hobart family of Kyle's cousin Mollie, this gave her a reason to be returning to Europe and yet still emailing him.

Dossiers were constructed for each of the major characters. This is like creating a C.V. but with personal and physical details. Made an executive decision to use occupations such as Dieso as names, or nicknames which are an Antarctic tradition because I had a big cast, and giving more than one name to a character is confusing for the reader who has to distinguish personalities quickly.

Antarctic Setting

Setting was also a challenge. To be stuck in the ice or "beset" would add to the isolation and dramatic possibilities. Having been beset on a polar resupply ship near the Shackleton Ice Shelf, I knew more about polar shipboard life firsthand than I did about station life on the Base. So I'd prefer to maximize that setting.

Timeframe

Timeframe also mattered. They needed to have "wintered" together to allow time for grievances to grow, so they needed to be stuck on their way home rather than on their way to the base. Little details make a story realistic and although I'd heard lots of "tall stories" about life Down South, in the bar late at night, I'd rather set it mainly on the polar ship for authenticity.

Real websites like www.isofish.org do have a Rogues Gallery of eco-offender ship owners, but the Red Herring web chat group is fictitious, a device to provide Jade with information to feed Kyle and a way of her having another identity.

Eco-thriller

An eco-thriller must have conflict which is based on dramatic contrasts. Inevitably I'd need to exaggerate, and the "real" expeditioners would be checking facts but also if they were being "fictionalized". Since I'd meet only about three of each occupation, they'd be looking for similarities in the character with their job-role.

Composites

All fictional characters are composites from observation and probability plus imagination. Few "real life" characters are sufficiently interesting for a novelist. While women working in Antarctica are a minority, for my plot it was essential to have a female expeditioner, (or someone capable of becoming pregnant) and preferably a station leader. Limited options. Only seven Australian women have been station leaders and I'd interviewed one extensively for another factual book. Inevitably some "real" expeditioners might suspect that I'd based aspects on them especially when I was using their Antarctic occupations. But I didn't. All are composites.

Anthrax

Timing matters with a novel. By choosing anthrax as the cross-over mutation in January 2001, I thought I'd come up with a fairly unusual twist. Abandoning my anthrax plot was a loss, but after September 11th, no-one would want to read about a hypothetical anthrax cross -- over from animals to humans. The polar Doc had helped me with the anthrax research while we were beset, but now I'd have to change the plot.

Spanish

I'm not anti-Spanish, but some illegal ships are Spanish or registered there, so making my exchange student Spanish was a dramatic juxtaposing for literary, not political reasons.

Terrorist?

Why did I make blond, net-boffin Nic a terrorist? Partly because I wanted to challenge the stereotypical view of a dark, Middle-eastern looking terrorist and explore the tunnel vision of an obsessive personality. To make him believable I created parents in Foreign Affairs who had sent him to international schools. Parallels between the spread of terrorist ideas via the Internet and infection spreading via Antarctic weather were relevant themes. The ethics of responsibility in what science you choose to research were also relevant. But I didn't want to be didactic.

Didacticism is a problem because I'd learnt so much about Antarctica during the expedition interviews, it was risky to assume the general reader would have the knowledge of ele-seals, poaching, climate or glaciology, so the facts had to be fed in, often via the dialogue which was another reason for the slightly naïve Big K, who was my Kyle character.

Tense

First person, present tense was a dramatic decision for immediacy. Including emails for a girlfriend was to provide the equivalent of VR (virtual reality) and to stress the psychological importance of emailing close friends and family from Antarctica.

The Frozen Chosen is a term used for those selected to work in Antarctica. I'm grateful to have been one of them.

Hazel Edwards**Hazel Edwards is the award-winning author of over 100 children's books, including There’s a Hippopotamus on Our Roof Eating Cake (Hodder Headline UK), Stalker, Duty Free (Lothian) and Fake ID (Lothian). A frequent public speaker, Edwards also writes adult non-fiction, teacher educational material, junior and adolescent fiction and scripts. Her work has been translated into Finnish, Braille, Japanese and Chinese. She lives in Australia.

Just in Case...You Visit the Children's Court created with Michael Salmon is a new venture into factual cartoon style books. Hazel Edwards was the recipient of the ANARE (Australian National Antarctic Research Expedition) 2001 humanities berth on the polar resupply ship to Casey Station. You can visit her website at hazeledwards.com.

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