My fascination with historical Antarctic exploration began when I was 8 years old.
My mother worked part-time in the local library and on the days that she worked I had to spend my late afternoons after school in the library waiting for her to finish work. Not exactly my idea of fun. I remember the day I picked up a book about the early Antarctic explorers. The adventures and hardships encountered were amazing to me. I couldn’t comprehend why the explorers exerted great effort to stand a spot on the planet that would look no different than any other location for hundreds of miles in any direction.
The stories were fascinating, the adventures heroic, and yet even at 8 years, the irony of the fact that 10 years after Amundsen, Scott, Shackleton and Mawson were doing this, airplane technology had advanced to a point where explorers were flying over the South Pole. Men risked their lives, and some literally died, in the quest to get there in the early 1900’s, yet had they just been patient, they could have gotten there so much easier.
The Antarctic stories stayed with me all my life. Their expeditions were really challenging but what struck me most was the number of times the explorers needed to make life and death decisions. In all the Antarctic conferences I have attended, and all the books I have read, there are always points where a life and death decision is discussed, but decision making itself was not the core element of the presentation or book. I thought about this a lot, especially in the years of 2013-2015. I had previously written an unpublished novel set in the Middle East, and was yearning to do something far less controversial. During those years the concept for this book started to take shape. I realized that one way to get an audience was to tap into the people who like to read self-help books, which is a genre I enjoy. My idea morphed into: “what if I could write a book combining these wonderful adventure stories, the life and death decisions that were made during the expeditions, and tease out of this a set of decision making principles that would help people in their modern lives?”
Since I work full time, I knew I could never write this book on my own. I would need to work with an Antarctic expert. I attended the South Pole-sium conference in May 2015, and at that conference each of the 60 attendees was invited to speak for 10-15 minutes about why they were there. The room was filled with avid rare book collectors, world-renowned Antarctic experts, people who have travelled extensively in the polar regions, authors, explorers, descendants of the men on the original expeditions, and … me. I was probably the only person in the room who could say, “I don’t like boats and I don’t like being cold.”
I was sitting near the front of the room, so I was one of the first to explain why I was there. I talked about what my fascination with the explorers life and death decisions. As each person after me spoke, I realized how unique my perspective was. In the room were people who had Antarctic mountains named after a family member, and people who owned many Antarctic first edition signed books, each of which book was worth more than my car. Towards the back of the room it got to David Hirzel’s time to speak, and he said, “I’m interested in what Brad is interested in. Why did they go?” In his 10-15 minutes he explained he had written 3 books about Tom Crean, who was on Scott’s and Shackleton’s expeditions. I had never met David before, so I approached him at the next break, and asked him if he’d like to write a book together. He thought it sounded interesting. I told him I’d send him my outline.
That was the start of a year and a half adventure of sharing notes and ideas. It took us 3 months to agree on the tone, themes and table of contents. We never met during the writing process since he is based in California and I am based in London. How we achieved an excellent collaboration to write the book will be the subject of a future blog.