This time I am talking to author Jamie Bastedo who is an Arctic naturalist and award winning author living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada. He has written 12 books celebrating the natural world, including two climate change thrillers, On Thin Ice, and its sequel, Sila’s Revenge. His latest work of non-fiction is the Trans Canada Trail Guide to the Northwest Territories. Jamie’s passion for popularizing natural science brought him national honour in 2002 when he won Canada’s Michael Smith Award for Science Promotion and Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Jubilee Medal.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Jamie Bastedo: My first kids book was hatched in the back of a helicopter while I worked as a biologist for Canada’s first diamond mine. We were looking for a satellite-collared grizzly bear on the Arctic tundra. All our fancy instruments told us the bear was somewhere below us but nobody could actually spot it. Finally, after a lot of zooming around, we saw a huge grizzly bear come out from behind a big boulder, stand up on its hind legs, and wave its front claws at us like it was shaking its fist! In that split second I was hit with the inspiration to write Tracking Triple Seven, a novel about a city slicker boy who becomes a defender of the grizzly and its wild tundra world.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Jamie Bastedo: As a graduate biology student I had a professor, John Theberge, who was very passionate about both good science and good writing. He did all he could to communicate his discoveries and concerns about wolves to the public through newspaper articles, books, interviews, etc. I adopted his approach, using every fun kind of media I can get my hands on to “take science to the streets.”
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
Jamie Bastedo: My writing career began with several adult non-fiction books about geology, snow, birds, forest fires, even mosquitos. My favorite parts of these books explored more than just nature’s wonders but the story of people’s relationships with it. This led me to writing what I call “lyrical non-fiction”, and ultimately to fiction. It was my daughters who, at 10 and 12, said, “No more books, Daddy, until you write a kids book!” Little did I know how much fun that would be!
Books & Writing: I understand you have written several young adult and children’s books.
Jamie Bastedo: Yes. They are as follows.
• Tracking Triple Seven – An adventure story about grizzly bears and diamond mines in the arctic tundra (middle school).
• On Thin Ice - Climate change thriller set in the high Arctic (teens and adults)
• Sila’s Revenge - Sequel to On Thin Ice takes an arctic teen climate change crusader into the wider world (teens and adults).
• Free as the Wind – Picture book about how one kid saves hundreds of wild horses on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. Based on a true story (pre & primary school)
Books & Writing: What attracts you in writing those kinds of books?
Jamie Bastedo: What amazes me about writing fiction is that you can be anyone, doing anything, anywhere, at anytime. A city boy seeing the tundra for the first time. A girl looking down the mouth of a volcano. A grizzly bear nursing her cubs. A wallaby dancing in the desert. Nature provides an infinite palette of colors for a writer to draw on. I love to use that inspiration to create fun adventures for readers while giving them an extremely intimate connection with the natural world.
Books & Writing: The last book, you have written, as far as I know, is “Free as the Wind: Saving the Horses of Sable Island”. Can you tell us a bit about the book and main characters?
Jamie Bastedo: This is the story of how one boy, moved by the impending removal and slaughter of wild horses on Sable Island, started a letter-writing campaign that saved them all. These horses have since become a national treasure, not only because their history dates back to the settlement of Canada, but also because their continued survival shows the world that children can indeed make a big difference.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for the book?
Jamie Bastedo: History provided the wonderful premise on which my story is based. I sign each book, “Believe in the Power of One!” because that’s what it’s really all about.
Books & Writing: Could you also tell us something about “Trans Canada Trail: Northwest Territories”. What made you decide to write this guide?
Jamie Bastedo: As much as I love writing fiction, I knew I could not turn down this non-fiction writing gig when it came knocking at my door. I was offered the “job” of paddling, biking, and hiking almost 3,000 kilometers of traditional water and land routes through the wilds of the Northwest Territories, taking photographs, collecting nuts and bolts information about each community, and gathering local stories along the way. As I say in the book, a job like this comes along about once every 50 years!
Books & Writing: Are you working on something new?
Jamie Bastedo: I’m writing a novel about a bird that migrates from the Amazon to the Arctic. The whole narrative is told through the first person experience of the bird itself. To be released in Fall 2012. I can’t wait for it!
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Jamie Bastedo: Some wise editor once declared that creative writing is as challenging a job as engineering. After writing a dozen or so books I have to agree. Writing is serious business and can’t be taken frivolously if you want to get it right. On the other hand I can’t think of a more magical process than creating entire worlds with the sweep of a pen. Stephen King says that “a story is a found thing.” I agree with him too. Our stories exist in some form already. All we have to do is carefully dig them out. Now that’s magic!
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Jamie Bastedo: Besides scores of field guides on rocks, birds, plants, bugs, weather, stars, bears, etc., I reserve a special corner of my shelves for biographies about fellow naturalists or nature writers who have inspired me deeply: Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Edward Abbey. I have another bookshelf reserved for kids books, my favorite kind of fiction, which includes titles by Kenneth Oppel, Alexander McCall Smith and Philip Pullman to name a few.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Jamie Bastedo: My books are available in major bookstores in North America and around the world through online book sellers.
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on internet?
Jamie Bastedo: You can find my books at: http://www.fitzhenry.ca/SearchResult.aspx?KeyWords=bastedo
You can find me on Twitter: @JamieBastedo.
Below is an excerpt from ‘On Thin Ice’!
…When I’d woken up I could still feel that burning ache in my chest ignited by the bear-man’s song. I knew right away it wasn’t my asthma. This ache went deeper, like a stab wound that turned my insides out. I lay with my eyes closed, rubbing my chest, but the ache wouldn’t go away. Floating in that limbo-land between sleeping and waking, I sensed that the only way to heal this wound was to get back into my dream girl’s head and find whatever she was looking for.
After two hours of white-knuckle sketching, I had a sudden urge to look up from my drafting table to the full-length mirror on my door. I studied my reflection. I held my chin at different angles. I raised my arm above my head as if to spear something. I wanted to see past my red hair and pale complexion to the black-haired, harpoon-slinging girl who seemed to hide just under my skin. I tried to sketch her face from the dim memory of my dream-fingers touching her cheeks, her nose, her brow. But it was all a blur and my pencil froze on the page…