My second research trip to Norway was in December 2018. I flew into Bergen, boarded a Hurtigruten ferry (the MS Richard With) and spent the next 12 days travelling all the way up the Norwegian coast to the Russian border and back.
It was an incredible trip. I had never left my children for that long before, but I was also excited about being on a ship and seeing so much of Norway. As it happened, I wrote a lot more than I had anticipated. 37k words in 10 days! Turns out that not having a full-time job, housework, admin, cooking, laundry, and four children to juggle with my writing makes for a lot of mental space! I spent my days visiting the various ports and writing at night in my fabulous cabin.
Yes, it was cold. But not as cold as I had expected, and in fact some of the inhabitants of a tiny village in the North Cape talked about the impact of warmer winters on their livelihoods. At one point I checked the weather back home in England and it was colder there than in Norway…
Some of the highlights of the trip include:
- visiting a Viking grave at Bødo
- crossing the Arctic circle
- visiting an Arctic fishing village and learning about ancient fishing techniques
- seeing the northern lights
- attending a midnight concert at the Arctic cathedral in Tromsø
I had forced myself to ignore any nervousness about being a solo female traveller, given that (a) I was going to be based on the ship the whole time and (b) the other travellers were mostly older, retired couples and (c) I’m an experienced traveller and independent 40-year-old woman.
As the ship is a working ferry and not a cruise ship, we were picking up travellers at various ports around Norway, so new passengers came and went every day. I had noticed a man staring at me every time I went to the top level of the ship to write. I didn’t think much of it. He was sitting with a woman – his partner, I presumed – and I’m, you know, a 40-year-old mother of 4, and was make-up free and dressed in hiking gear most days, so if a guy stares at me I immediately think I’ve got vomit on my top or ketchup on my face.
One day I’m sitting in my usual spot writing. Guy-who’s-been-staring comes up to me and sits down without invitation. Starts making small talk. I’m a bit unnerved and irritated (hello, I’m writing here?) but I’m polite. It strikes me that he has just left his girlfriend/wife sitting at their table to come and chat to me. But maybe he’s just interested in what I’m writing. Or my accent. Right? Because he couldn’t possibly have just left left his girlfriend to come and chat me up.
I mention his girlfriend – he confirms that yes, she’s his girlfriend, and she’s sitting right back at their table just now – and so I drop my husband and kids into the conversation, and then ask outright what he wants, because I’m writing.
He says he wants me to come visit him in Tromsø, where he lives. I say uh, no. He wants me to hook up with him on Facebook. Again, no. He’s very persistent, and the fact that I’m alone is suddenly very, very real to me.
Eventually he leaves. An older couple sitting nearby lean over and say WTF. I laugh it off but find I’m shaking. The area I’m sitting in is at the very end of the ship. The only way back to my cabin is by walking directly past the table occupied by the guy and his girlfriend.
He knew this when he approached me.
For the rest of the trip, I felt uneasy. I double checked my cabin was locked at night and avoided the area that I’d usually sat in to write. I felt targeted. He’d been watching where I sat to write, and when he approached me it wasn’t happenstance. It was targeted and weird, and he’d been unfazed by my mention of my husband and my obvious reluctance to join him (and his girlfriend??) in whatever kind of set-up he had in mind.
I’m not put off by this encounter – I went back to Norway alone for another trip, which I’ll cover in a subsequent post – but it was a reminder of the vulnerabilities that beset female solo travellers.
By the end the trip, I had finished a complete draft of The Nesting. I hadn’t expected to do that, but the trip had been absolutely immense in terms of freeing up mental space and enabling me to immerse myself in the world of the story.