On publication of Before I Let Go (Sourcebooks), bestseller Marieke Nijkamp talks exclusively to SciFiNow about a central character often sidelined: winter.
Lost Creek, the setting in my new novel, is an eerie, strange community, that’s cut off from the rest of the world. A place where truth matters little and secrets are the preferred currency. A hint of Twin Peaks – set in a cruel and harsh Alaskan winter.
Perhaps winter is an even more important character at that. It’s winter that isolates Lost Creek. It’s the snow that makes the town looks… ethereal. Or, more likely, dangerous. It makes it easier for the people of Lost to lose themselves and during the long nights, the rules of the outside world don’t apply anymore.
That sense of otherworldliness (whether combined with a murder mystery or no) is one of the reasons why I love writing about winter. Under a blanket of snow, everything looks magical. It’s no surprise then, that many of my favorite settings are wintry ones. So in the spirit of winter, I’ve compiled a list of my eight favourite ice cold settings.
It’s the obvious choice. It’s always winter, never Christmas. But I fell in love with Narnia the first time I read about the Pevensies wandering through a wardrobe and finding themselves in a snow-covered landscape. Sure, the whole kings and queens part sounds fun. As an archer, I also really covet that bow and arrow. But the snow. You can keep the kingdom. I’ll settle for a wardrobe entrance to a snowy pine forest.
On the other side of the spectrum of literary winters, is Winter itself. Gethen. The cold planet of Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand Of Darkness. There’s a reason this book is such an essential read, and it’s certainly not just the cold temperatures of Gethen. But as someone who has a complex relationship with gender, I appreciated that aspect of a home planet.
Planet of the Ood
I considered for a long time this list couldn’t be complete without the wintry settings of a Doctor Who Christmas Special. Or that one scene in The Waters Of Mars, on a residential Earth street, outside in the snow. But honestly, for sheer magnificence and musical beauty, there is a lot to be said for the Planet of the Ood, with its glorious icy panoramas.
Speaking of alien planets…
Hoth (both of them)
No winter list would be complete without at least one Hoth. Take your pick whether you prefer the Stargate Universe one or the one with wampas, but I certainly understand hiding a secret Rebel base amidst the cold.
Delta Vega (one of them)
Or what about a Starfleet Outpost, surrounded by drakoulias and hengrauggi? I’ll admit, what made me fall in love with the alternate Delta Vega wasn’t so much the harsh winter as the presence of one Ambassador Spock, but I certainly appreciated the arctic like conditions too.
Winter isn’t just the purview of science fiction – or the real world, for that matter. I first got my hands on a copy of Elizabeth A Lynn’s Dragon’s Winter when I got it as a birthday present from someone who probably didn’t know anything about it. So much of what happens in this book, up to and including the characterization of Karadur and his brother, is a reflection of the harsh cold. But there’s a tender beauty to it too, that had me reaching for that coldness again and again.
But sometimes, you want to escape winter—especially when it traps you in oppressive and claustrophobic towns. That isn’t just the case in Before I Let Go, it’s also true for Emmeline, the main character of Kate Boorman’s Winterkill. She’s stuck behind a wall in a land of merciless winter, but she hears the call of other lands. She wants to get away.
Still, personally I’ll always be in love with the magic of winter. And so too with the dark dance that changes the seasons. I’m a wordsmith, not a wintersmith. But this I understand. Four words:
Tiffany. Aching. Shaped. Snowflakes.
Not even Lost Creek can top that.
Before I Go by Marieke Nijkamp is available now from Sourcebooks.