When I began to think about settings for Patriot, I remembered the old advice “write what you know”. Therefore all the key settings of Patriot – Labrador, Washington D.C. and London – are familiar to me. The only exception is Afghanistan, which features in the prologue only. For that, I spoke to ex-military personnel who have fought in desert situations and I also watched a lot of YouTube footage. As a journalist myself, research is second nature!
Yet I needed to do very little of that when it came to the North American settings. I used to live in Washington D.C., so I know its pace, the people, the locations. Perhaps however, the stand-out setting for Patriot is that of Labrador, where a large part of the novel – and the action scenes in particular – takes place.
Labrador is that huge chunk of Canada on the eastern seaboard that’s the size of much of Western Europe, but which has the population of a small town. It’s a place I know pretty well, as I led a canoe expedition across part of it a few years ago. Travelling with just my Innu guide, Jean Pierre Ashini, we paddled through some of the harshest country in North America, following the pioneering route of Edwardian explorer Mina Hubbard. That’s another story however, but it is one I tell in my travel memoir, Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories, published by HarperCollins in 2002.
I chose Labrador as a key setting in Patriot for several reasons. Primarily of course, because it is beautiful, remote and intriguing. Intrigue is always good in a thriller! Its remoteness also means that it is ‘believable’ (in thriller world) that the events depicted could really go unnoticed there, thanks to the lack of people.
Also useful from a thriller writer’s point of view, is the fact not many people outside of Canada (and not that many inside, either!) know Labrador very well. This really gave me a ‘blank page’ on which to project my story, as many readers will have no real preconception of the place. As it happens, my own familiarity with Labrador means that I was able to describe it authentically; how it feels, smells, sounds. The bugs really are huge and plentiful and the backcountry really is mainly frequented by fishermen, hunters and prospectors.
For many people in the 21st century, life is very technology dominated. Most live in big cities and the wilderness is – and to some extent always has been – a threatening, frightening place. This also is very useful in a thriller! As Brooke travels through this unknown land, she faces many kinds of threats, both known and unknown. The reader’s unfamiliarity with it and that unspoken menace all add to the suspense.
The story of Patriot is also orientated around technology, in everything from modern communications via satphone to the nature of the threat against America. This is another reason why I chose to place so much of the action n Labrador. This wilderness, where the weather, the landscape and the animals are dominant, is a huge contrast – and counterbalance – to these technology based themes.
Although I impose a fictional story on a very real landscape, anyone familiar with Labrador would recognize places referred to in the book. The cliff over which Kyle finally throws off the assassin sent to kill him is a figment of my imagination (although there would be countless that would pass for it in a movie – take note, Hollywood!). Yet Goose Bay and its huge airport do exist, as do the pretty painted wooden houses of Happy Valley. Even Okak is a real place, although it is little more than a name on a map, marking a deserted cove in the far north.
It is really that sense of an ‘empty’ map that inspired my own original expedition there and therefore the setting of this, my first novel. Originality is vital for any literary work and I think – I may be wrong – that Patriot is the first thriller to be set in this vast corner of the continent. I hope readers find it as intriguing and enthralling as I do!