When I sat down to write PATRIOT, the old advice ‘write what you know’ came to mind and I realised what I knew was wilderness travel, cedar canoes and adventure.
I’ve spent most of my life looking for adventure, figuring out a way to live it and then writing about the experience in true-life adventure travel books and magazine articles. So when, after spending 16 years writing non-fiction, I decided to turn to writing fiction, the choice was obvious. I’d write the kind of book I Iove to read; an action thriller. The added bonus? Not only could I find another way to write about the exciting places I’ve been to and things I’ve experienced, but I could also invent a few more adventures I haven’t got round to yet. And maybe – maybe – get an excuse to do a few more crazy things (all in the interests of ‘research’, you know).
As the first in my new series of ‘Brooke Kinley Adventures’, PATRIOT is, in part, based on my own experience of leading an award-winning canoe expedition in a remote part of Canada. I travelled with just my First Nations guide, Jean Pierre, through some of the harshest country in North America. This real-life adventure became my travel memoir Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories, published by HarperCollins and Eye Books and then, several years later, it also became the inspiration for the ‘action’ in my adventure thriller.
My expedition set out to retrace the first ever journey (by a European) across Labrador, in eastern Canada. With just over 113,000 sq miles of country and a tiny population of around 40,000, Labrador today is not much different to when the explorer Mina Hubbard crossed it by canoe, from south to north, in 1905. Mina herself was completing a journey that had killed her husband Leonidas during his attempt three years earlier and her success – largely due to her team of three local Metis guides -made headlines around the world.
Mina, and those like her are my inspiration and so when I began to plan my action thriller, it was obvious that one of the main characters should be a no-nonsense, go-getting woman. Step forward Brooke Kinley. Before you ask if she is like me, let me say clearly that I wish I was like her. Brooke isn’t fazed by anything, whether it’s running rapids in the wilderness, of asking questions at the Pentagon. Plus, she’s much taller than me! She can also start a fire in a rainstorm and knows how to deal with inquisitive bears.
I saw a few of those on my trip through Labrador and a wolf tracked us for a while, but of course unlike Brooke, I didn’t find bodies in the forest, or uncover a plot against America. What a great canvas Labrador is though! A place that big and that empty; well, it’s ideal for letting a writer’s imagination run wild and I have the advantage of knowing what the place feels like, smells like and tastes like. I know all about the swarms of bugs, the water that feels colder than ice, the scent of pine and spruce in the unpolluted air and a landscape that is so inhospitable, the only realistic way to cross it (except in winter) is by canoe.
The scenes in PATRIOT where Brooke and Dexter (the novel’s lead male character) travel across Labrador by canoe are based directly on my own experiences. Kyle and Max’s work as prospectors is based on fact too; I didn’t meet any, but the evidence of their explorations where there to be seen. The Labrador coast is also famous for its mining and there are several old, abandoned mines lost in the wilderness. There are a few huge, modern ones too, but they are less evocative!
When it comes to action thrillers – and political ones too, as PATRIOT is sort of a crossover there – few authors can say they have actually done the things theirs characters do. I can. Like Brooke, I’ve also worked as a journalist and lived in Washington D.C., but that’s a different story….