A Q&A with John Kåre Raake, author of The Ice
Posted 5th February 2021
John Kåre Raake is one of Norway’s most famous screenwriters, but The Ice is his debut novel. The tense geopolitical thriller was a bestseller in Norway, and is now being translated into 7 languages and adapted for a television series. Pushkin Vertigo recently published in the UK, and so far the reception has been fantastic here too. We asked John Kåre a few questions about his hit thriller…
The Ice could be called a ‘climate change thriller’, dealing as it does with the geopolitical fallout of the melting ice caps. Was that the kind of book you set out to write, and do you think we’ll be seeing a lot more books in this vein over the coming years?
John Kåre: I got the inspiration to use the North Pole as the setting of the book when I read an article about a Norwegian professor who spent almost a year on the ice cap in a hovercraft (I borrowed his ‘Sabvabaa’ for The Ice actually) doing research on climate change. Since I’d never written a novel before, starting with only two characters isolated in this small hovercraft felt ‘doable’. When I started doing my own research, I soon discovered that the melting of the polar cap was changing the geopolitical landscape in a big way. So, yes The Ice then became a thriller born out of climate change, a story about two Norwegians getting dragged into the fight between superpowers who want to control the resources hidden under the melting polar cap. And yes, I think all the things that are happening at the top of the world, will inspire other writers, because the changes are affecting the countries surrounding the North Pole in a fundamental way. In Norway, we’re already seeing a lot more military activity, including NATO exercises in the Arctic region, as a response to Russia re-building their Arctic forces.
Where did the character of Anna Aune come from?
John Kåre: Anna had been ‘hibernating’ in the drawer where I stuff different ideas – something which has a tendency to happen while I’m writing something else – for some years. When you write movies, a good exercise is to ask yourself, what if ‘HE’ is a ‘SHE’, or the other way around. Often this can make for a more interesting character and story. So Anna was born when I was trying to write a thriller movie about corruption years ago with a soldier as the main character. After writing a couple of drafts of the script, I decided to make HIM into HER and found out that the female solider became much more interesting. In Norway, about 30% of the soldiers in the armed forces are women, so I felt the time was ripe for a tough, female hero. As is often the sad fact with movie scripts, the movie never got made, but now Anna was born. I tried to put her into another story about terrorism which also didn’t pan out. Finally, when I decided to write at thriller set at the North Pole, Anna was the perfect character.
Did you travel to the Arctic to research The Ice?
John Kåre: The North Pole itself is difficult to reach, takes a lot of time and planning, and is also a very expensive place to travel to. Instead, I went on two research trips to the part of Norway which is closest to the North Pole: Svalbard. In the fjords and mountains around Longyearbyen I got to live in Anna’s world. Experiencing extreme cold, traveling over ice, both on foot, by dog sledge, and on snowmobile. I also got to see the northern lights up close.
What is the most surprising fact you found out about The North Pole during your research?
John Kåre: That the North Pole does not exist on Google Maps! The ocean the ice floats on is very deep, 3000 meters and more. I also discovered that the North Pole it is the last place on earth where the ownership of the land has yet not been decided.
Were there any other thriller writers who inspired you in your writing?
John Kåre: Well, when I was young, I read Alistar MacLean thrillers, so his Ice Station Zebra was probably an inspiration for the setting: a superpower ‘drift base’ on the ice. But a more recent inspiration is a story which is a lot older, H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness. Written in 1931, it’s a very creepy story set in what was, at that time, the unexplored interior of Antarctica. Lovecraft was a genius when it came to creating an atmosphere of dread and horror, and I tried to learn from him.
You’re a very successful screenwriter and The Ice has a tense atmosphere that reminds me of claustrophobic film classics such as Alien and The Thing. Were you influenced by film in your writing?
John Kåre: Yes! I’ve always been a big film nerd, and especially Alien is a huge favorite of mine. I remember going to see Alien for the first time in my local cinema, and the enormous surprise I got when I discovered that Ellen Ripley was the hero of the movie. This was before internet and spoilers, so when the film started, and I saw Tom Skerritt playing the captain ‘Dallas’, I of course thought he was the hero. So, Ripley is definitely an inspiration for Anna Aune. Alien also succeeds in making the setting and the story believable by being very ‘grounded’. Their spaceship is like one of the big oil tankers that sailed past my small hometown near Norway’s ‘oil capital’ Stavanger when I was young. The crew consists of normal people, not superheros, and I’ve tried to make The Ice just as realistic in that way.
What does the future hold for Anna Aune?
John Kåre: I’m sending Anna on a new mission to a place which is exotic, difficult to reach for ‘normal’ people and a very, very tough habitat to survive in, with a lot of unknown dangers lurking in the shadows. But it’s also a setting which is very different from The North Pole, that’s what I can say right now.