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Thursday, December 19, 2013


Love makes us do things we never imagined. It challenges our beliefs, comfort zones and imagination. I think because, until you've experienced it, you cannot possibly fathom how overwhelming and magical it can be. You cannot imagine what it feels like to become a part of someone else and they you. In theory, something like this should make you feel tethered and suffocated, but I have found quite the opposite to be true. Personally, I have never felt more free to fly than when in love. 

The other side of the coin is that you also cannot imagine the hollowness that descends when you cannot be with that person. It is as though a piece of you is missing. Do I begin this way to scare you or caution you against love? Absolutely not! Because in my humble opinion, although the dark times can be all-encompassing, the amazing times are worth any pain that may come. 

I wanted to begin with the truth about love because I think it is portrayed so beautifully in my friend Andrew's new book, Revontuli ("northern lights"). It tells the story of Marit, a Sami girl living in the Norwegian village of Karasjok during the German occupation of World War II. I will admit I was unfamiliar with the Sami and their nomadic culture when I first met Andrew and heard about the real-life love story behind his first novel. A spaceman, farmer and now author, Andrew is somewhat larger than life. Seriously, he's really tall! I met him at a dinner many months ago and was fascinated by the personal story that led he and his family to restore a farmhouse in France and the professional journey that led him to become an author. 

With Revontuli, Andrew paints a very vivid picture of life in the Finnmark during this crucial time in history and forces us to look at the inhumanity of war through the eyes of a heroine that is already torn between two worlds. Marit's maternal Sami roots are always at odds with her paternal Norwegian heritage, but these conflicted feelings soon begin to pale in comparison to the fresh struggles that come with falling in love with a German soldier. The atrocities of war play out in this little village while Andrew's characters do their best to navigate a new heightened reality that forces them to cling to anything still human, like love. Love is sometimes inconvenient and scary but it's never a waste, and when set against the backdrop of war the humanity and necessity of it becomes even more clear.

Life, family, love.....war. I wanted to know more about the man and the story behind this wonderful novel. Luckily, Andrew was kind enough to answer my questions. 

1. How did a spaceman and a farmer decide to become a writer?

Actually, I don't believe you ever decide to become a writer. In my case, I ran away from it for a long time. I have always had a passion for telling stories. I did not feel it would be an easy choice for those close to me to be a writer- its a very demanding profession. A few years ago, I realized I was not truly happy unless I was writing. After that, I started putting the pen to paper again, and eventually moved to the keyboard because it was faster, I've never regretted that "decision". A word of caution though, if you have any other passion in life, follow that first. The life of a writer is hard work.

2. What inspired you to write Revontuli?

A few years ago, I met by chance someone whose family lived in Karasjok during the war, and whose grandparents had lived a love story like the one in the book. I was fascinated by this unsung story of WWII, especially given the dramatic events that unfold as the war evolves. After this meeting, I researched the history of relationships between German soldiers and Norwegian girls and discovered that there may be as many as 12,000 children born of these relationships. The topic remains to a great extent taboo in Norway today, and I felt someone should tell the human side of these stories. 

3. What is your writing process?

A lot of readers are surprised to know how much time and effort goes into research. I estimate that the ratio of hours of research to hours of writing to be about 50 or 60 to 1. For many months, I am researching the little details, trying to imbue myself with every detail that might be relevant to the story. I do most of my research, whether online or in books, in the evenings or on weekends. I chart out the story line, and write key chapters or passages, but not in any sort of order. Eventually, I come to the point where the story is "mature" in my head, and the research is mostly complete. At that point, it is time to write. I get up very early (I won't say how early or you will be shocked) and write for several hours- two or three typically, sometimes four but rarely more. I must do this every single day. After writing, I do what I would normally do in a business day, but I have to admit my mind is elsewhere. In the evening I review what I wrote and do complementary research to improve it. The next day I start again. This process lasts several months and is hard on family life. Then, one day, the manuscript is done. Life goes back to normal, and editing can take place a day or two at a time all day long, instead of every single morning. 

4. What was the most interesting thing you found while researching the book?

I don't think I can point to one thing. The story itself was unknown to me when I began- the village, the camp, the Blood Road, the burning of the Finnmark, everything....I guess what will stick with me the most is the fascinating Sami culture, a beautiful culture that suffered greatly during WWII and in many ways is still recovering. I am happy that people are discovering more about the Sami by reading the book.

5. Your protagonist, Marit, is a female. Was it difficult as a man writing from a woman's perspective?

I think with this question you are hitting on one of the most challenging things about writing Revontuli in my mind. I put a lot of effort into shaping that unique perspective. I was very discouraged when an early reader told me she could tell from one or two key scenes it was written by a man. I was relieved a few days later when another reader said with amazement that the loves scenes were so completely told from a woman's perspective that she wondered if I hadn't had help writing them. Ultimately, appreciation of a book is subjective. So yes, it was difficult. I hope readers in general find I was successful.

6. War is horrific and under these circumstances people do things they would never normally do. Do you think what people do under stressful circumstances reveals their true nature or are they just responding to the world around them and doing their best to survive?

I don't know if I am comfortable saying we have a "true nature" that is hidden deep within us. I believe we make choices. Every day we make choices. Sometimes in war those choices are starker or have more consequences, but every day we choose. Certainly, circumstances shape us, and our morals and values bring us to shape circumstances. In terms of horror and atrocities, I believe all humans are capable of them, and all humans can choose not to do them. Which side of that equation any one of us lands on is a question we face a little bit every day. Do you help those you know to be in need, or do you turn a blind eye hoping no one will notice? Do you seek out difficult choices, or try to put them off and sweep things under carpets?

7. In many ways I felt the book was about closure; from war and a past we can't run from. Do you think we can ever achieve closure or do we simply incorporate the loss into our daily lives?

I think Revontuli is very much about closure, and Marit does find it in the end. She needs to go to the end of her journey to understand what Hans felt too. When she does, she can accept his love unconditionally and find closure, even if they will never be together. What is that cliche quote? "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all"? I guess my message is that love is beautiful, however it ends, and there is no shame in having loved.

8. How can heartbreak be hopeful?

We all live through heartbreak of one form or another in our lives. There are no mountains without valleys. Heartbreak is only sad if you are unable to embrace the experience for what it was-  a love lost, but love nonetheless. You must risk heartbreak if you are to truly love. There is no love without at least the risk of heartbreak. Marit's hope stems from within her. She gives herself to Hans, and that cannot come without conditions. But I do not see Marit as having lived a miserable life. I think she was happy for a long time, loving others, like her daughter. In the end however, she does seek closure with Hans. She finds her hope again when she finds the truth behind Hans' actions.

9. I alluded to the fact that writing wasn't your first profession. Tell us about your other pursuits and your life in France.

My wife and I made the decision to move to France three years ago. It's been an incredible adventure. We still run our space consultancy business, and in fact are working on some of the coolest projects we've ever done. Have a look at my blog post "Rasor" from earlier this summer if you're curious. Buying a farm brought us into farming and the discovery of an ancient grain called einkorn. And then of course, there are renovations. My wife would like a holiday, but I think she secretly loves to run off madly in all directions like we seem to do. I really wish there were more hours in the day, and renovations and farming have taken a back seat to writing and the space business of late, but that's life. There will always be an ebb and a flow.

10. If you could tell your 20 year old self one thing, what would it be?

Don't be afraid to follow your dream. If you don't, it will haunt you until you listen!

Thanks for taking the time to find out a little more about the story behind Revontuli. If you liked the answers to the questions, you can find the book here!

Revontuli means "fox's fire" or "northern lights". It was released November 1, 2013. Revontuli is Andrew's first book.

Andrew was born in Vancouver, Canada. He grew up in Western Quebec and in the Gulf Islands, where he developed an appreciation for nature and became hooked on a rural lifestyle. He also lived in Paris, Burgundy, Montreal, Knowlton, and Leiden. In 2010 he found a home with his family in Simiane-la-Rotonde, in the hills of Provence, where he farms an ancient grain called einkorn, indulges his passion for history, and prepares his next travels.

Andrew is married and has five children. Revontuli is his first novel. 
Read more about Andrew at and on his blog, Serendipity.

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