ELKA BARELY REMEMBERS a time before she knew Trapper. She was just seven years old, wandering lost and hungry in the wilderness, when the solitary hunter took her in. In the years since then, he’s taught her how to survive in this desolate land where civilization has been destroyed and men are at the mercy of the elements and each other.
But the man Elka thought she knew has been harboring a terrible secret. He’s a killer. A monster. And now that Elka knows the truth, she may be his next victim.
Armed with nothing but her knife and the hard lessons Trapper’s drilled into her, Elka flees into the frozen north in search of her real parents. But judging by the trail of blood dogging her footsteps, she hasn’t left Trapper behind—and he won’t be letting his little girl go without a fight. If she’s going to survive, Elka will have to turn and confront not just him, but the truth about the dark road she’s been set on.
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Hands-On Research is the Best Kind
There are a lot of survival elements in The Wolf Road and while I devoured a dozen such TV shows, read the SAS Survival Handbook cover to cover, and drew on my memories of holidays in the Canadian wilderness, nothing beats hands-on experience. There’s nothing like sleeping in the woods, under a shelter you made yourself from branches and leaves, with a fire you also made yourself (without matches or a lighter, may I add) blazing just outside. It’s the kind of full sensory experience you can’t really read about. Well, you can, but doing it yourself is way more fun. To write The Wolf Road, I undertook a three-day survival and bushcraft course where I learned, among other things, fire-making, shelter-building, trapping techniques and preparing game. I wasn’t about to shy away from skinning a rabbit. What kind of survivalist would I be if I got squeamish? Elka, my main character, is far from squeamish. She’d have laughed me out the woods if I got all precious about it. So I skinned that rabbit, and gutted those trout and pulled the head of that pigeon and did it all in the name of research. It was utterly invaluable in creating – I hope – an authentic experience for Elka and for the reader. From now on, as much as possible, I’ll be getting my hands dirty for my writing.
Don’t Be Afraid to go Dark
The Wolf Road takes some pretty nasty turns (see what I did there?). There’s a lot of violence and sometimes quite visceral, brutal scenes and because I was writing in the first person, I couldn’t shy away or fade to black or switch POV. Those scenes and experiences are what shaped my character. Elka wasn’t the same after she was chained to a table or had her ribs broken by a bastard with a crowbar. I felt like glossing over those scenes would be doing my character and readers a disservice. We need to see the dark to appreciate the light. I needed to have the absolute worst most awful terrible things happen to Elka so when something good happened, she grabbed on with both hands, dug her heels in and didn’t budge.
The Setting is a Character Too
And it needs to be developed. It needs to be that chosen place or time on purpose, for a reason. You set your story in London, it’s got to feel like London and won’t be right set anywhere else. You set a story in medieval Spain, I’ve got to be able to smell it, taste it, feel like I’m living in it. The setting for The Wolf Road is a near-future British Columbia. I tried very hard to evoke the wilderness accurately and fully. I learned to take my time immersing the reader in the world, building the atmosphere of the land and the wild and I hope it paid off. In one of my favourite books, Wuthering Heights, Bronte brings the moors to life. She uses the weather to great effect, makes the reader feel the cold and the wind and when you read her descriptions of the heath, you can almost smell it. That’s always stuck with me and something I wanted to really push in The Wolf Road. The weather especially is such a wonderful vehicle for conveying all kinds of things; emotion, passage of time, danger, foreboding. I found the way Elka interacts with the landscape and the wildlife to be such a huge part of her character that the setting just had to become something just as important and well-rounded.
Watch TV and Movies. A Lot.
Of course you should read too, you’re not getting out of it that easy. Jeez. I may get drummed out of the Writer’s Club for saying this and you all may think I’m cheating, but I’d rather watch a TV show or a movie for research than read a book on the subject. I purposefully avoid similar books – fiction and non-fiction – when writing a story. I don’t want to know how Awesome Writer described a forest, I want to see the forest and describe it myself, which is where the gogglebox comes in. I watched dozens, probably hundreds, of hours of Discovery Channel shows on Alaska and Canada. So much so it became something of a problem in my house. I didn’t much care for the people but when you can’t hop a plane to the Yukon to see what the rivers look like when the ice melts or how the rain clings to moss in the spring, these hour-long windows into that world become invaluable. Being able to visualise my setting, characters, clothing, everything, and then put it all into my own words is so important for me.
I Should Always Trust My Gut
This is probably the most important lesson I learned from writing this book. I’d written four novels prior to The Wolf Road, or was it five… They will never see the light of day until my great-grandchildren unearth them in an attic and try to make a quick buck. They’re not terrible but I wrote them wrong. I wrote what I thought people would want to read, rather than what I thought was best for me, my characters, and the story. I suppose I wrote for the market, with a beady commercial eye, thinking ‘this was popular in this book/movie/tv show, so I’ll put it in my book and we’ll be quids in’. You can guess how well that worked out. In those previous novels I’d tried to follow someone else’s rules and second-guessed my decisions based what someone else may think is best. Not with The Wolf Road. That baby is all me and all gut. I learned to follow my instinct and more importantly to trust that instinct was right for what I was trying to achieve with the story, something I’ll be doing for every book I write from now on.
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Bio: Beth Lewis was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has traveled extensively throughout the world and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales, and great white sharks. She has been, at turns, a bank cashier, a fire performer, and a juggler, and she is currently a managing editor at Titan Books in London. The Wolf Road is her first novel.