Author of The Lost Swimmer Ann Turner is back with a tense, eerie thriller set in the icy reaches of Antarctica. It’s steeped in decades of research and has strong environmental themes – perfect for book club discussion. Check out our Q&A with Ann to find out more about Out of the Ice, and find Book Club notes down below!
When environmental scientist Laura Alvarado is sent to a remote Antarctic island to report on an abandoned whaling station, she begins to uncover more than she could ever imagine.
Reminders of the bloody, violent past are everywhere, and Laura is disturbed by evidence of recent human interference. Rules have been broken, and the protected wildlife is behaving strangely.
On a diving expedition, Laura emerges into an ice cave where she is shocked to see an anguished figure, crying for help. But in this freezing, lonely landscape there are ghosts everywhere, and Laura wonders if her own eyes can be trusted. Has she been in the ice too long?
Back at base, Laura’s questions about the whaling station go unanswered, blocked by scientists unused to outsiders. And Laura just can’t shake what happened in the cave.
Piecing together a past and present of cruelty and vulnerability that can be traced around the world, from Norway, to Nantucket, Europe and Antarctica, Laura will stop at nothing to unearth the truth. As she comes face to face with the dark side of human progress, she also discovers a legacy of love, hope and the meaning of family. If only Laura can find her way . . .
Out of the ice.
Q&A with ANN TURNER:
It started with a cave – a photo of an ice cave in a beautiful photography book of Antarctica that I saw almost 30 years ago, and fell in love with. And then I saw a photograph of Adélie penguins dancing on the ice, and that was it. I was hooked. At that time, I wrote a screenplay for a film set in Antarctica, an action thriller, but after a while I was worried the piece was too big for me to direct, and so I shelved it. But the concept of Antarctica and the penguins had taken hold.
What kinds of research went into Antarctic whaling stations and their history?
I’ve been researching that for decades. I find it absolutely fascinating that whalers (and sealers) went down to Antarctica sometimes before, and as long as, and after, the explorers we know about. I have to admit, as a filmmaker, something that captured my imagination early on was that the whaling stations on South Georgia Island (which is technically sub-Antarctic, but still very, very far south), had cinemas for the whalers. It just seemed so amazing to me that they’d watch films down there. And then, over the years as I researched, I discovered how domestic the whaling stations became. At first, you’d read there were no women down there; but now there’s increasing research of how the men who ran the whaling stations would bring their wives and children, and the doctors would bring their families, and so on. So over time, a different historic picture emerges. To thoroughly research, I went to an important whaling museum in Sandefjord, Norway. Sandefjord was the whaling capital for Antarctic whaling – ships would set out from there each year, and go down to places like Grytviken on South Georgia Island to carry out their annual whale slaughter in the surrounding waters. It’s an excellent museum, and now tries to show both sides of whaling – what the people believed at the time, and how we view the whaling through modern eyes.
I view it as slaughter of an advanced species – whales’ communication skills are more advanced than humans.”
It also has books you can purchase on the history of Antarctic whaling that you can find nowhere else. I devoured those books as I was researching; and I also had books from decades ago that mentioned the Antarctic whaling stations – and they were fascinating because some of the writers from the sixties and seventies were going into those whaling stations before yachties and others passing through had taken souvenirs and started to damage the history. Now tourist ships stop at places like Grytviken and there’s a small museum there, so it’s different. But there are other whaling stations that people can’t enter because of asbestos – and I suspect they are frozen in time somewhat like the settlement of Fredelighavn in Out of the Ice. Something that continues to fascinate me is that whalers returned year after year to the Antarctic stations – sometimes for fifty years. Often they were farmers, and when the weather was bitterly cold in winter in Norway, they went for the Antarctic summer. Whaling was a living – and a passion for them. It’s such an interesting quandary – they loved whaling. I hate whaling. And in there lies a story. And also the creepiness of an abandoned whaling station, and its bloody history, seemed like a perfect setting for a thriller.
Did someone you know influence Laura’s character?
I think Laura is an amalgam of people. I wanted her to be brave and headstrong, but also someone who has experienced terrible loss that has forged her. I guess there’s a little bit of me in Laura, but also there’s a lot in Laura of people I’ve met who I really admire. Ordinary people who are courageous and passionate on a daily basis. Strong women who are also vulnerable. And going through that intense time of approaching forty, and being lonely, wanting love, having had relationships that haven’t worked, but still wanting to find someone who is really special and to start a family. Laura is smart and educated, but also impulsive and intense. But she’s a good friend, and her strong friendships with women in particular keep her going. I think she’s someone we all know – and who we can love because that person is flawed as well as fantastic.
Do tourists have to see everything, go everywhere? Can some places be left for wildlife alone?”
Is there a particular conservation message that you wanted to convey through Laura’s research?
I’d like to leave that to readers, to take away from the book what they will. But I do hope to set people thinking about wilderness, and tourism, and what it all means. In terms of whaling, I think my views come out very clearly. I view it as slaughter of an advanced species – whales’ communication skills are more advanced than humans. And the whole concept of tourism and wilderness – do tourists have to see everything, go everywhere? Can some places be left for wildlife alone? These can be hard questions. I don’t think there are always easy answers – because tourists can become ambassadors for nature, too. The book does challenge the ethics of human advancement at all costs.
Would you consider writing a screenplay for Out of the Ice, and what would you change if you did?
Well, that’s where it all started! Yes, I would. I think it would make an incredible film – but very expensive. It’s been interesting writing a treatment (which is the first detailed blueprint for a screenplay) of my debut novel The Lost Swimmer. My producer Sue Maslin (The Dressmaker, Japanese Story), has had fabulous input, and the whole process is really about distilling the essence, and adding new material where the novel was more interior. A movie needs to convey the story through action, and that can necessitate change. There is also the thorny question of budget. Locations have to be achievable and rationalised. As an author you can just put in anything you want. In a screenplay you are restricted. So with Out of the Ice – I don’t know exactly, but it would be shorter. Movies have to run around two hours, they have to focus the material. A huge part of the process is to capture everything people loved as readers, but make it come alive in its own right on the big screen.
Who would you choose to play Laura?
Laura is set so deep in my imagination as an author, I haven’t yet stood back and thought of her as any actress. The qualities she’d have to have would be strength, passion, intensity, and humour. And be really fit and smart. I’d love to hear how readers view her, who they’d imagine might play Laura. That would be fascinating – and thrilling. Readers could always send suggestions via my website AnnTurnerAuthor.com.
What books, movies or music influenced the writing of Out of the Ice?
The beautiful photographic books of Antarctica that I read for decades. In terms of movies – I’d have to say black-and-white horror movies like The Thing, with those hollow soundtracks and cold, windy backgrounds. When Laura finds the movies watched in the cinema at Fredelighavn in Out of the Ice, there’s a list of Val Lewton horror films – Cat People, Curse of the Cat People, The Body Snatcher, I Walked With A Zombie – and I think in their own way, their mood and sensibility – they did influence me. The films of Werner Herzog, Kurosawa and Bergman, with their intense landscapes and intense characters, also influenced me, and of course the movie mentioned in the book – Don’t Look Now. It’s one of my very favourite films – with a haunting view of Venice and sense of menace. In terms of books – the female friendships depicted in Lisa Scottoline’s Rosato and Associates series; Sara Paretsky’s strong female mystery-solving protagonist V.I. Warshawksi; Agatha Christie – always. And music – I mention Beethoven’s piano sonata Moonlight when Laura first arrives at the British base of Alliance; I’d say all Beethoven’s piano sonatas fit the mood; as does Dvorak’s New World. I think classical rather than pop, folk, blues or rock and roll. But then I listen to Adele all the time – and her beautiful, lyrical, soulful singing probably influences everything I write.
What do you hope lingers in your reader’s head after they finish this novel?
The wildlife and pristine beauty of Antarctica and its importance. Female friendships, and the meaning of family. How hard it can be to view – and judge – the past through the prism of the present. Lev the whale, who’s almost like a protector to Laura, and the migration of wildlife and humans in a shifting world. The terrible things people can do when they think no one is watching. And fittingly – the story ends with an ice cave. I think of that cave often – I always will.
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS:
- Antarctica is a unique setting for the novel. How does the location add to the suspense, and how crucial is this setting to the story? What place does Antarctica hold in our collective imagination?
- Laura Alvarado has a troubled past. Do you think that this has played a part in her strong feelings towards Antarctica and its wildlife? How has it affected her view of the world? Is Laura an unreliable narrator?
- How would you interpret the title Out of the Ice? Does it have more than one meaning?
- Migration, of both wildlife and humans, is a theme in Out of the Ice. How is the long history of migration depicted?
- The destruction, but also the survival of family is a continuing theme in the story. Does the book explore more than one type of family? Ultimately, does it raise questions regarding the notion of family and what it – and home – can mean?
- The story looks at how the whalers’ actions in the past are judged in the present. It links this with global warming and how the potential destruction of the environment is perhaps not understood by some in the same way that the whalers didn’t comprehend the level of emotion that whales feel, and their evolved communication skills. Do you agree, or disagree, with these ideas? How do you view the past through the prism of the present?
- Scientists conducting experiments are depicted in Out of the Ice. Can science ever be justified as being above ethics and morality if it is for the greater good of humanity?
- Discuss how the book looks at human progress – from the whalers, to the scientists, to the migrants and refugees in search of a better life. How vulnerable are children in this?
- Friendship between women is a fundamental aspect of this story. How is the friendship depicted between Laura, Kate and Georgia? And between Helen and Nancy? How does friendship help these women? And how do women fare in isolated, male-oriented environments?
- Fredelighavn Whaling Station is a haunted place, and Laura feels a presence there, although she believes in ghosts of memory, not the supernatural. But in sites of bloody violence, can ghosts visit?