Greenland is the world’s largest island. Three-quarters of it are covered in a permanent ice sheet and with only 56,000 people, it’s the least densely populated country in the world.
It is considered a region of Denmark, but Greenland has recently been in the news as President Donald Trump talked about buying the island for its rich natural resources and strategic position in the Arctic.
Christoffer Petersen writes Arctic noir crime thrillers based on the seven years he spent living in Greenland, including Seven Graves, One Winter, the first book in the Greenland Crime series and The Ice Star, an action-adventure thriller. In this interview, we talk about what makes Greenland so special, what you might want to visit there, the local delicacies, and why respect for local culture is paramount when we travel.
- On Greenland’s history, location and population
- Modes of travel in a country with few roads
- Recommendations for places to visit in Greenland
- Local food and cultural experiences
- On seeing the Northern Lights and how to do that
- Recommended books about Greenland and the Arctic
You can find Christoffer at Christoffer-Petersen.com
Transcript of the interview
Joanna: Christoffer Petersen writes Arctic noir crime thrillers based on the seven years he spent living in Greenland, including Seven Graves One Winter, the first book in the Greenland Crime series and The Ice Star, an action-adventure thriller for fans of Matthew Reilly, which I just went out and got immediately. I love Matthew Reilly.
Christoffer: Thank you, Joanna, it’s great to be here.
Joanna: It’s great to have you on the show. And just such a fascinating area of the world.
Tell us a bit more about how you came to live and work in Greenland and write about the Arctic.
Christoffer: It really started with Jack London’s stories. Reading under the duvet at night with the torch when mum told me I’ve got to go to sleep but I just couldn’t drop the whole Arctic and Alaska and Canada and the mountains. Reading about the mountains is wonderful.
But that progressed over time and I actually went to the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow where I studied outdoor education and there was one night in the library when I was actually flipping through National Geographic and there was one of those one page adverts for high-end watches and there’s this guy and his beard is just completely covered with ice and he’s wearing a parka, he’s in a snowstorm and there’s a couple of huskies around him. And it talked about the Danish Sirius Sled Patrol and I just thought, “Yes I’ve got to do that. That’s what I’m going to do with my life.”
I started doing a lot of different work with huskies and I went to Alta in Norway and I went to Maine in the States and I also went to Thetford in Norfolk; they do have Huskies down there.
But the interesting thing was when I met my wife in the Highlands of Scotland, she’s Danish, and we got to know each other, we fell in love and we got married and I just thought this is it, we’re going to Denmark, I can join the Sirius Sled Patrol and I can go to Greenland and live out my dream until I realized the only thing you can’t be in the Sirius Sled Patrol is married.
So it’s one of those. Right. Well OK. Good job I love my wife because I’m stuck here now.
That was really the start of it. I’m not one of those people who wants to travel the world. I’d rather get to know one place really, really well. It just so happens I’ve chosen the whole Arctic, as it were, and I’m steadily getting to know different places.
Greenland was where I ended up. I trained to be a teacher in Denmark and took my first teaching job in Greenland and that was the start of it really. And of course, I know the north of Greenland better than the South. I haven’t really been to the south and when I say south I mean south of the Arctic Circle.
My first job was 600 kilometers north of the Arctic Circle on an island called Uummannaq, which means heart-shaped and it’s basically a heart-shaped island in the middle of nowhere. But I didn’t know it was an island. And when I got the job I turned to my wife and I said, well, we’d better look this place up. So, of course, we turned to Google and I turned to her and I said we’re going to an island and we were going there for an unlimited period of time and it was quite a commitment! And just the whole thing, it’s very difficult, of course, within a short space of an interview to get a flavor for Greenland but it’s one of those things you really have to experience because everything that you think you know about the world is different.
It’s a very different culture and a very different mode and transport and a mode of living or a lifestyle because you’re very close to the edge. And that’s what appeals to me in my writing as well. The environment really is a character.
Joanna: It’s interesting because you say ‘close to the edge’. I’ve dipped into a few of your books and I think you’ve really captured that ‘close to the edge’ sensation in your books.
Let’s just be clear about the country at the beginning, because I think I get mixed up with Iceland and I think a lot of other people do, too.
Can you explain where Greenland is?
Christoffer: If you imagine that Iceland is to say it’s to the north and west (from the UK). Then go even further west from Iceland you will hit the tip of Greenland or you’ll hit the East Coast and there are actually day trips from Iceland to the east coast of Greenland.
But Greenland is just massive. It’s huge. And the populated areas are predominantly around the West Coast. And again on the east up to the again up to the Arctic Circle but only localized into larger areas.
Greenland is basically an ice mass. It’s obviously an ice sheet. It’s melting as we know and it’s melting quite rapidly compared to how it has been before. So really it’s the place on the map where they usually put the legend because there’s a big open space if you look at an atlas.
Joanna: I think what was so interesting reading your work is I didn’t know that Greenland was Danish but this also seems to be a point of contention.
What is this thing between Canada and Denmark and Greenland?
Christoffer: This is quite interesting in the sense that the Danish Sirius Sled Patrol there’s these teams of two guys and eleven dogs. They’re four teams and they patrol Northeast Greenland to maintain sovereignty for the Danish crown because Greenland belongs to Denmark. And that sounds awful but it’s basically a colony.
However, when you look at what we Brits have done over time they’ve actually really looked after the Greenlanders. There are lots of things that are issues that need to be worked out. But Greenland would really like to be independent. But when people ask me about that we don’t go into politics, but ultimately if Scotland struggles to be independent and Scotland has resources and an infrastructure Greenland will really struggle to be independent because it only has 56,000 people.
Joanna: Wow. That’s nothing.
Christoffer: That’s a small town in Britain. And there are no roads or rather there are roads in the towns but there are no roads connecting towns. So if you want to travel in Greenland you have to travel by plane or by helicopter. Sometimes both. You can take a boat but of course, in the winter you’re restricted to the conditions of the water or maybe even the sea ice.
So that’s what I try and work into my stories as well that there’s a lot of sledding with dogs. There’s a lot of Skidoos. But this is also a culture that’s dying because the more that the climate affects the temperature in Greenland then tragically the way of life of the hunter is under threat and they can’t sustain the number of dogs they’ve had before because they simply can’t get out on the ice. That’s kind of a segue, but it’s more to say that this is not an easy place to get around and it’s certainly not cheap for travelers either.
Joanna: I’m just trying to get a sense of the character of people because there is some serious space. What is the culture of the people like? Are they very independent?
Those 56,000 people, are they all spread out? Do they live in smaller communities?
Christoffer: They are spread out. The capital of Nuuk has about 15,000 people and that’s one of the biggest conglomerations of people you could say further north.
You’ve got smaller towns, a couple of thousand people or maybe up to you know three or four thousand people, but then you’ve got villages and surrounding settlements. So we’re really talking about places that could have maybe 60 people or maybe they’ve got a hundred people.
And then Qaanaaq, where I was in the very north, is about 800 miles south of the Arctic Circle there were just about 600 people there. And that’s one of the largest settlements. So really, you’ve got people spread out all over the place. But they know each other because there’s a lot of traveling going on for those people. Certainly, they are in a position to travel between the towns and the settlements.
You talked about the culture of Greenland. Family and people, there’s a strong bond. They’re also very affected by the weather. This is one of the things about Greenland is it’s very spontaneous. So you and I with our Western background might say, ‘well, shall we meet on Tuesday at four o’clock?’ That sounds like a really good idea. But Greenlanders will say yes, but they’ll probably come the previous day or they’ll come on Sunday at 1 o’clock because that’s when the weather was good.
You cannot know that Tuesday is going to be good for traveling and that spontaneity based on the weather really defines who they are as a people.
Also as you say, living on the edge, you really want to make the most of everything in your life. So you don’t live for tomorrow, you live for right now because you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.
Joanna: I got that sense. Let’s come back to that Sirius Sledge Patrol because you said you can’t be married and that implies that there is a danger of death and they don’t want family people there because of the danger. You give the sense of that in your writing.
What is that sledding like and working with the dogs? You’ve done that because people if they come to Greenland that is going to be a mode of transport, isn’t it?
Christoffer: It’s very accessible for tourists if they come to the east coast for example. So a typical tourist or traveler might come from Iceland to fly to the east coast of Greenland. And if it’s in the right period of time of the year, they can book a trip and travel by dog sled.
Also in east Greenland, they can travel on the land as well as on the sea ice. Whereas when I had my dogs, I had a team of 13 dogs, in the end, it’s a lot of work. It’s fabulous work but it’s also one of those things wherein my third year of sledding I got it. It finally started to click. Whereas the first two years I could see the Greenlanders my neighbors nudging each other and saying, “Right, let’s get the camera because Chris is going out with the dogs again and it could be entertaining.”
But the Sirius Patrol, of course, it’s very different. One of the reasons I believe that they don’t want people to be married is because you can’t have any distraction because you are very reliant on your partner and the dogs to survive because they have their rations and they are traveling for a couple of months at a time. They have resupply areas but they need to be able to function.
It’s not a place for prima donnas. They really need to know that they can do what they say they can do. NASA has actually used psychological profiles and what they called research from the Sirius Sledge Patrol to see how they could do devise similar training programs for astronauts. So if you imagine being in the middle of the top of Greenland alone is a bit like going to Mars then we’re starting to get somewhere where you can realize the environment really does define you and how you function.
Joanna: Wow. It does seem pretty hardcore. Iceland has quite a reputation for travelers, for some parties, for some nice waterfalls but not as extreme. Whereas Greenland seems much more extreme if people want to visit because obviously, it’s going to attract a certain type of adventurer like yourself.
What are the places in Greenland that a traveler might visit? Because most people are not going to spend a couple of years doing dog sledding and teaching like you.
What are some of the places that you would recommend visiting?
Christoffer: A lot of travelers actually come on cruise ships and there’s the high-end adventure cruise ship option, which costs a lot of money. It cost tens of thousands of pounds to go on one of these high-end cruises and they usually the Russian icebreakers and they will come to the places where I lived.
But there are cheaper options where you can actually come on a cheaper cruise ship and that will typically visit places like Nuuk the capital, which is basically a modern city. It’s very reminiscent of like cities in Canada and northern Canada with all the mod cons, everything’s good. It’s very accessible. Everything works.
And then you would go further to a town called Ilulissat and that is where they have one of the fastest or the fastest calving glaciers in Greenland. It’s actually not the fastest but it’s the biggest and it’s calving icebergs the size of small city blocks or even large city blocks.
Joanna: You mean they’re falling off?
Christoff: Yes, they’re simply breaking off. When you see an iceberg that’s slowly moving past the town very slowly. But it’s bigger than the buildings on the town and it’s reaching up higher. And that’s one part of nine that you can see. These things are huge.
A little aside is the place where a lot of travelers would go and they would get a fabulous experience. They would be able to see modern Greenland and they would also be able to explore the older cultural Greenland and where you get a lot of influence of the hunting community and the fishing community. And that is basically the hunting area. So it’s the area I know best and I live north of that.
You could also go to the east, which is far more accessible in terms of traveling from Iceland and you could go to a place called Tasiilaq. There are two main towns on the East Coast and Tasiilaq is the town south of Ittoqqortoormiit, which is the place where I set The Ice Star.
Tasiilaq is set up for tourists so you can easily get on to different opportunities to travel and experience a Greenlandic way of life. The south of Greenland, which sadly I don’t know very well at all, is far more accessible. And you can actually fly to an airport further south so you don’t have to go to Nuuk.
But whatever you do, any traveler has to be aware that they have to fly one way or another and that travel will be affected by the weather. And typically fog. Fog is horrible. It just stops everything. What people could do when they went to these different places is again opportunities where you get the chance to taste the local food to meet with Greenlanders.
There are fantastic opportunities for young Greenlanders especially to train to be tourist guides. And a lot of my old students are actually leading tourist groups now, which is fabulous because they speak Greenlandic, they speak Danish, they speak English, sometimes they speak a bit of German and then you get a really young, excited and very competent guide who knows everything, instead of a European guide who’s learned a bit from Wikipedia.
Joanna: Are Greenlanders an indigenous people or are they descended from the colonies?
Christoff: They are Greenlanders and they were there before the Danes came and then the Danish missionaries came long after the Vikings came.
You’ve got Erik the Red and he came to the south and he called Greenland ‘green.’ And then you’ve got the missionaries that came later. They decided to help out the local population, the indigenous population, and everything changed from there.
Joanna: Let’s say ‘help out’ in inverted commas.
Christoffer: We will do that! But what you have to remember as well is that the things I do know is Greenlanders only had television 30 or 40 odd years ago but now they’ve got mobile phones, smartphones, they’ve got Internet.
The Internet is incredibly expensive in Greenland. We had Internet via a satellite dish in Qaanaaq. We paid 100 pounds a month and I think we had four megabytes of traffic before we had to pay per megabyte.
Joanna: Oh goodness.
Christoffer: I watched a trailer for a new film that I’d love to see but couldn’t because there was no cinema. And that would be my monthly megabyte use gone. And then we pay a lot of money per megabyte.
But the reason I mention that is a wonderful image I have in my mind is a cruise ship arriving in Uummannaq and disgorging a huge amount of tourists and they’re all wearing life jackets. I think they’re told don’t take the life jacket off even when you’re on land. And they give out balloons and crayons and sweets to the Greenlanders the kids. I remember seeing this kid with his mobile behind his back texting his friends saying something like ‘hey they’re here again. Come on get crayons.’
Joanna: Thinking that they were people who had never seen a cruise ship before and didn’t have the Internet. Things have definitely changed but let’s get to the food. You said people could sample what the food is like and the hunting area.
What type of food might people try in Greenland?
Christoff: One of the things that they would probably get the opportunity to experience is called a kaffemik and this is a wonderful concept of a birthday party or a celebration party of some kind. It could be a confirmation because the Greenlanders all get confirmed around age 14, 15. So there’s a deep belief in the Lutheran Christian religion.
A kaffemik would be where you and I would turn up and we would work our way through three tables. The first table would be savory goods that they’ve caught. The second table would be coffee and cakes. And then the third table would be perhaps a liqueur and some chocolates and then you go out again.
Now you can spend 15 minutes or you can spend two hours depending on the flow of traffic, of people, but you don’t come for four hours. The kind of foods that they would have. My wife loves something called raeklinger that’s a Danish word for strips of halibut that have been hung up to dry. And you just tease it off the strip of skin and it just melts in your mouth. So it’s fish, of course. You can eat anything that moves.
The Greenlandic chicken is what you and I would call a seagull.
Joanna: So they say this is chicken and we would say that it’s a seagull.
Christoff: They say chicken, but they’ve got a smile and in their eyes. They know what they’re doing.
You can also eat reindeer. And this is where it gets controversial. All kinds of whales. I mean literally. And then seal and I’ve eaten polar bear. I’ve eaten walrus. That’s a bit tough at times.
But one of the special things that I should mention is really far north you get what’s called kiviak and kiviak is when you take a small bird, an auk, and they catch them in nets and they put them inside a seal skin. So inside an actual seal and they bury it for three months with rocks. And what happens is that the auk, with all its feathers, ferments. So when you pull open the seal or pull it out of the rocks after three months you can take one of these auks and you can tease the meat off. And it’s like incredibly ripe cheese.
Joanna: You are not selling this at all!
Christoffer: I’m not selling it! And you know what, the fun thing is that if you imagine the Catholic confirmation, there might be several confirmations in one. So the idea is that you move around these birthday celebrations or confirmation celebrations. And typically they will have kiviak at each one. And that’s the savory table. And in the far north, in the hunting communities, that table is actually cardboard boxes opened up on the floor of the kitchen and that’s where you sit. You simply sit on the floor and eat it.
Now that fermented meat has become alcohol. So the kids, especially the small ones, by the time they’ve been to one or two kaffemik they are absolutely high because they’re drunk on meat. I know I’m not selling it but that’s just the way.
Joanna: Wait, tell me again, what’s the name of this fermented seagull thing.
Joanna: Something to avoid.
Christoffer: Yes, I have eaten it. My wife didn’t eat it.
Joanna: Coming back on the foods, you mentioned eating whale and seal, which I know in people’s minds, for Western people, those are emotional creatures, let’s say. And in terms of Western judgments around what is appropriate, it might not be. Presumably, also it’s legal to hunt whale and seals.
How should we behave in a situation like that when it’s acceptable in one culture and not another?
Christoffer: I think this is a really good question because I decided from day one when I came to Greenland I had to take two enormous steps back from everything that I believed and thought because I was in their country. It’s their culture and I had to learn and accept their ways if I was going to fit in and it was very important for me to fit in.
Prior to coming to Greenland, I supported Greenpeace. I now have different views on Greenpeace and I must say they are not welcome in Greenland because many years ago when seals were being clubbed, that was a different country. That was actually happening in Canada, but Greenland got tarred with the same brush.
Now what I do know is that kids from a very young age and hunters and everyone that they know they are so close to nature they can tell you about a seal and everything about it they can describe it in different ways that you and I can never begin to. They know what the skeleton looks like. They know what the best parts are to eat and what parts you can make tools and jewelry out of it.
So when we say you mustn’t do that because that’s wrong and that’s a wonderful animal. It is a wonderful animal or a sea mammal but we don’t know anything more than that. We don’t know how they smell, how they move, how they breathe. We don’t see that the spout or the plume of air from their bodies. We don’t see that or we’ve seen it on TV.
But the other thing is the people I would meet on the helipad or in a remote airport, they were the BBC crews for Frozen Planet. I met people where the BBC would come to film. That’s the kind of place I lived. That’s the kind of place they live in. So we’re talking about a very different connection to nature.
So if we respect that and begin to say I know nothing. If we start from nothing we can only learn more. So I chose to keep my opinions to myself. I ate whale when it was offered to me. And I took part in the things that I was invited to take part in.
But you cannot judge if you’re going to judge as a traveler. I think this is the same wherever you travel. If you travel to a place and you take your judgemental ideas with you, you’re never going to appreciate that place for who lives there and what it is.
So my best advice for people to traveling to Greenland is leave everything behind. Take the baggage that you need and an open mind.
Then come home. Think about it and re-evaluate and maybe you’ll continue to think that whaling is wrong. I don’t advocate whaling at all but I’m going to write about it because it’s a huge part of the Greenlandic culture.
Joanna: And also with a country of 58,000 people, as you said, the impact of any practice by a population so small in a country so large is nothing compared to say the population of Great Britain at 65 million people in a country a lot smaller.
I totally agree with you. We can’t bring our judgments that way. If we’re going to travel somewhere that is someone else’s country. So I think it’s just boiling down to respect of their knowledge and their culture and the way they live.
And if you don’t want to eat something then politely say no without ‘that’ look on your face.
Christoffer: Nothing is forced on you. I’ll just say one lovely thing about Greenlanders, they have a wonderful sense of humor. It’s a very sweeping generalization but I went to one kaffemik where a hunter suggests that I try something and he pointed at this bit of blubber. Basically, it’s from the breast of a Narwhal and he said, ‘oh, you should try that.’ So I cut a square of it and popped it in my mouth and I could just feel this oil dripping in. It’s horrible. And then with a little smile on his lips, he said ‘not so much.’ He could have told me that but no. He wanted me to get the whole experience.
Joanna: It really sounds like you need a sense of humor! Obviously, we need to talk about the weather.
When should people consider traveling and any other recommendations around packing?
Christoffer: The challenge is that in the winter it’s very difficult to get around, of course, because there will be either treacherous seas or ice or you just can’t get around. Again you’re flying
But I would say April, Easter time, is absolutely fantastic in the North because if you’re lucky then the sea ice is set and it’s hard and it’s good. And then you’ve got sun in the sky because it’s returned after the period of darkness and you can basically walk on the ice if you’re wearing sailor pants and a t-shirt you will be warm because the sun beats down reflects back off the ice and it’s fabulous.
Typically, people will travel to the Arctic in July and August. There are lots of mosquitoes. That’s something you don’t really think about in Greenland but there are lots. Not so much in the towns and cities but they are around in the off the beaten track area.
Joanna: They don’t have malaria, though.
Christoffer: No. No biting diseases.
And then I did meet a British guy from Oxford University. He and I were in Qaanaaq at the same time. And his doctor had advised him prior to going you need to have all kinds of rabies jabs. You do not necessarily need rabies jabs. The dogs don’t have rabies. They might be a bit mad sometimes but that’s another matter.
But in terms of traveling, I think the south of Greenland, of course, you can go later because it’s in the north really that the weather really hits. You’ve got really two seasons: you’ve got summer and you’ve got winter. But further south, you’ve got more of a change in seasons. I would say if you go later in the summer period August, September and you go to the capital of Nuuk, you will see wonderful Northern Lights. So the temperature will be good.
There’s a lot of rain in Nuuk. But the northern lights are there. And then if you fly to the main airport, which is an old American airbase called Kangerlussuaq, which is in the middle of Greenland further down below the Arctic Circle. Again, it’s a place where, in winter, you can get temperatures of minus 50 degrees C, but you will again have incredible Northern Lights.
So it’s possible to not have to travel within the country so much and get the Greenlandic experience and Kangerlussuaq is a place where people often go and they will get everything they want to experience about nature but they won’t necessarily meet so many people. So, it’s more of a nature experience.
But the weather. When I lived in Qaanaaq it could get down to minus 40 in the winter and of course the winter’s pitch black. The sun disappears late October and comes back mid-February. It’s just black. You get used to it.
Joanna: You get used to it or you don’t.
Christoffer: You don’t have an option actually.
Joanna: You mentioned northern lights and I think for many people, like me particularly, I would say that is one thing that I’m really interested in. I don’t particularly like cold travel as such but the northern lights have such a romantic thing about them, don’t they? People dream of seeing them from everywhere. And what I’ve heard is that you can’t just book your trip for three days and expect to see them.
If we want to see the Northern Lights, you mentioned the place, but should we make sure we’ve got enough time because they don’t just appear every night?
Christoffer: You do need time. I was about to say you can’t predict it like you can predict the weather but there are web sites where you can look at the potential for northern lights in that area at that time.
I will say the Northern Lights in Greenland because it’s higher up, you don’t necessarily get the mix of colors, the purples, and the blues. It’s mostly green. And then the further north you go the weaker the Northern Lights gets, which doesn’t sound right. In Qaanaaq, we rarely saw the northern lights because we’re so far north.
But an Uummannaq I had this amazing experience where I was on the rocks, feeding my dogs in the dark, in the winter. The Northern Lights were in the sky. It was pitch black and then I actually heard a shooting star and saw it. It was like a firework. It was amazing. And then there were whales in the sea and I could hear and see them as well.
If there’s one thing that people take away from this podcast is that how close you are to nature in Greenland, all kinds of nature, and that’s not even talking about ravens and foxes and all kinds of things, but you’re so close to nature. So I would say yes, don’t plan on seeing Northern Lights in three days. You’ll be disappointed. Give it at least a week.
But again everything in Greenland is very expensive. So I think that’s why it’s not the most visited place yet and the difficulty as well the more people come there the bigger the cruise ships. Sometimes those cruise ships can have far more people than actually live in the town. I remember in Uummannaq we were just over 2000 people. The hospital was set up for 2000 people and there was only like two small rooms the wards when a cruise ship came. We were in serious danger of being able to cope. My wife worked in the hospital. And the other thing is at that time if someone has a heart attack there were only two doses of adrenaline.
But the problem is the people on the cruise ships tend to be older because they’re retired and they have the money. Greenlanders aren’t so prone to heart attack and you could say that’s a lot to do with their diet, unfortunately. Junk food is coming your way. It’s very much there but they only have enough adrenaline to cope with perhaps one or two cases a year. Soon as the cruise ship turns out with lots of people in their 80s we’ve got problems.
Joanna: I think it’s interesting because there is a rise in eco-tourism and I hope that there are more companies in Greenland that are doing that type of travel now. The cruise ship travel is one thing but I think this type of eco-travel would be a better way to see it.
Christoffer: Again it’s difficult. With the best intention in the world, you’re still going to be restricted to how you actually get from one place to the other. My brother-in-law was a guide on the East Coast once and the Americans tourists he had with him were quite disappointed that they couldn’t fly on because of the fog. And that’s when one of them said can’t we just get a taxi? And my brother in law said there are no taxis. Well, we’ll just go hire a car. Then they said that there are no roads. So you are stranded.
Joanna: It sounds like an amazing place. I want to direct people to your books because you really do evoke Greenland incredibly well. I mentioned Seven Graves One Winter and The Ice Star particularly, which are the beginnings of series.
What are some other books that you would recommend to people about Greenland or the Arctic?
Christoffer: Barry Lopez. Arctic Dreams.
Joanna: I love Barry Lopez. He’s actually one of my dream guests for the podcast.
Christoffer: You have to get him one day. I also love his Of Wolves and Men. Fantastic book. So Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams. It’s a classic. It explores the entire Arctic. And it’s quite a weighty book but if I was traveling to Greenland I would take it with me.
Marie Herbert is the wife of Wally Herbert, British explorer. They lived on Herbert Island and Herbert Island, you can see it from where I lived in. I looked at it from my kitchen window. Marie Herbert’s book is called Snow People and it talks about the year that she spent on Herbert island while Wally Herbert was working or traveling with the hunters and her daughter Carrie Herbert was there at the time. And she has written a book about her experiences there.
And then Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow.
Joanna: Yes, I actually had that down to ask about.
Christoffer: Yes. Some people don’t like it. I think the difficulties when the film came it’s like everyone suddenly thought that the book was the same as the film and it’s a classic case of it’s not. I mean Smilla Jesperson as the main character, she’s incredible. She actually represents a lot of the issues I’ve tried to identify. Things that Greenlanders are struggling with. She encapsulates that.
Peter who did a really good job of finding a lot of things to talk about, issues with the Danish government and things.
Have you read The Terror by Dan Simmons?
Joanna: Oh yes. Another brilliant book.
Christoffer: Yeah, it’s fabulous. There’s a lot of shamanism creeping into my books of late when I’m writing them and of course, that magical element which does fit into real life too is wonderful and he just does that brilliantly. So I definitely recommend that.
Joanna: Well those are some fantastic recommendations and I do think you’re right that that sense of being isolated and some element of magic has to be that because what else do you do? You’re this tiny little person on the edge of this world.
So before we finish up; you’re British and you live in Denmark now. What does travel mean to you?
You’ve talked about some of your trips, but what is travel and what is home?
Christoffer: I guess as someone who’s lived all over the place I think as I mentioned earlier, for me, traveling is about getting to know one place really, really well. So even though you could say well you’re not a traveler then I’m still foreign, I’m a stranger in a strange land as it were. And the longer you spend in that country the less strange that land becomes.
So I think for me traveling is about experiencing a culture but also being able to contribute to that culture. I never like the word rewarding because it was actually a job but I really felt good about teaching kids in Greenland. I felt good about the feedback I got. I thoroughly enjoyed teaching police academy students in Greenland because I felt like I was giving something back.
For me, traveling is experiencing a place and getting to know that place and contributing to the community. There’s a lot of people, this is this especially in Greenland, there’s a lot of people coming and going for short periods of time, often on short contracts and the typical Greenlandic grudge they have with others with foreigners is coming when the foreigner comes and gives a lot of good advice you should do this to make your country better and then they leave after two weeks or two months. When you get a lot of people doing that it gets old really quickly.
So for me traveling is about settling somewhere, respecting the people and also, contributing.
Joanna: That’s fantastic.
Where can people find you and your books online?
Christoffer: My books are available on Amazon, Apple and Kobo and the different platforms. My web site is Christoffer-Petersen.com and that’s where I try and gather most things.
Joanna: Brilliant. Thanks so much for your time, Chris. That was great.
Christoffer: Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.