Submitted by Karna Small Bodman
I am delighted to welcome BBC reporter and thriller writer, Humphrey Hawksley, as a guest blogger to our Rogue page. I got to know him at our International Thriller Writers conference in NY – “Thrillerfest” — where he told me tales of traveling to remote and often dangerous locations in search of stories for the BBC and also for locations and characters in his great novels. Check out this adventure — and keep in mind the question: Would you go there too?
|Author Humphrey Hawksley
Back in 2014, when Russia was enmeshing Ukraine in a new civil war, I opened an old Times Atlas that I keep in my study to find an interesting place to go, one that could tell the story of rising U.S.-Russian tension, but not where everyone else was traveling.
My eyes drifted over dog-eared pages of the Atlas until they settled far away on the Bering Strait where Russia and America actually shared a border, where former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was mocked when she said Americans could see Russia from Alaska.
In the middle of the Bering Strait are two islands, barely two miles apart. One, Big Diomede, hosts a Russian military base. The other, Little Diomede, is a settlement of less than hundred Eskimo villagers, living in one of the most remote and hostile environments of the world.
Without doubt, this had to be my destination.
From the air, as the helicopter descended through fog, these rival islands appeared like sentinels keeping vigil over a vast, empty expanse. On the ground, stilted buildings clung to a steep hillside washed with a blue-gray hue contrasted by the helipad’s orange windsock, stretched horizontal in a fierce wind.
I worked with a talented Indian video photographer www.poulomibasu.com and because of bad weather we stayed more than a week, every morning getting up and, just like Sarah Palin had described, seeing Russia from Alaska.
Astonishingly, this frontier between two superpowers was unmarked, no border posts, no buoys in the water, no national flags on either island; on Little Diomede, no state troopers, no police, no government presence and, when the helicopter flew off, no way of leaving.
Across the water on the ridges of Big Diomede we could see Russian military watch towers.
This was far too special to leave to a single BBC report. It begged for a thriller because the only one I knew that touched on this border was Lionel Davidson’s brilliant Kolymsky Heights published in 1994.
What would happen, I asked myself, if the Russians crossed over and put up their flag. From that I created Rake Ozenna of the Alaska National Guard, a tough native of Little Diomede and his kick-ass fiancé, trauma surgeon Dr Carrie Walker, raising another question as to whether things would ever quiet down enough, both around and between them, to make the relationship work.
The book is Man on Ice — first out in hardback, released next week in paperback here
The sequel, Man on Edge will be published on March 1, 2020:
I put the Russian ‘what if’ question to defense and intelligence contacts getting a variety of answers. The best came from an elderly member of the Little Diomede tribal council. “The Russians? I don’t think so,” he said. “They sold us 1867 in the Alaska purchase, That’s why these two Diomedes islands are in different countries. We could be sold again, I guess, and someone will come here telling us we’re Chinese or Japanese.”
“What are you now, then?” I asked.
“I’m an Eskimo from the islands of the Diomedes,” he answered proudly. “We all know who we are.”
…..And we now know who Humphrey Hawksley is — an intrepid foreign correspondent and author who transports his readers to remote locations and tells fascinating stories. Leave a comment below about how your own travels compare to his….and visit our Facebook and Twitter pages (icons at the top left of this page).
Thank you for visiting us here on Rogue Women Writers….Karna Small Bodman