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Antarctic stories

By fusing the real and the imagined in my stories of early Antarctic exploration, I seek to reveal the human aspirations and tragedies that have shaped our understanding of what remains an utterly inhuman place. As a writer, I believe strongly that engaging with Antarctic history encourages a deeper connection with a globally significant continent that few will ever visit. 

 Captain Scott and the Terra Nova expedition

If you’re into happy endings, you better look elsewhere. This story does not end well. This is a story where men die and their dreams of greatness die with them. But it is a fine story and one that is worth telling from heroic beginning to tragic end. 

Scott's story is often abbreviated to the point where failure and death are the only points of discussion and yet so much of what makes the story truly compelling are those aspects most relevant today – the need for curiosity, perseverance and resilience, as well as the importance of teamwork and collaboration. 

Without risk there can be no discovery

The idea for writing this book came about when I tried to find an abridged version of Scott’s diaries that would be suitable for my sons (then aged 12 and 14) to read. Having read the diaries myself, I was struck by the gripping nature of the story. This was no dismal tragedy. Scott’s diaries were pure adventure.    

In searching for an appropriate book, I found that much of what has been written about Scott for this age group lacks any meaningful detail about the expedition itself, how it was planned and the many colourful characters who worked towards achieving a successful outcome. As a consequence, many readers tend to remember only the missteps, the errors of judgement and the final tragedy and ultimately Scott’s story fails to move beyond the tent where he and his men await death.  

Framed by tragedy, the danger, excitement and accomplishments of the Terra Nova expedition fade into insignificance. My aim was to retell the Terra Nova story in all its richness.

So much can be achieved through team work and a sense of shared purpose. It is a real triumph of human spirit that Scott and his men were able to reach the pole with such rudimentary equipment and rations and survive in the midst of such hostile environmental conditions. The extent of their physical endurance is awe inspiring but the fact that the men of the Terra Nova expedition were able to cope with the significant mental strain of venturing into the unknown day after day is testament to Scott’s strong leadership style and the unifying power of camaraderie among men who share a common goal.

Rather than becoming a source of conflict, adversity drew the men closer together. Even as their health deteriorated and their rations dwindled, the men found the strength to help each other.  When Taff was unable to perform his camp duties, the others shouldered more of the burden to spare him further suffering. Whenever the outlook appeared grim, the men supported each other emotionally with humour and reassurances despite having their own grave concerns about their survival. Oates made the ultimate sacrifice by walking out into the blizzard to avoid waylaying his team more than necessary.     

Scott carried a heavy burden in terms of his responsibility for the polar team’s safe return to Cape Evans and as the leader of the expedition. He must have known that their safe return was unlikely and still he pressed on, never giving up hope and never giving up on his men. When death seemed inevitable, Scott wrote many letters, to explain their predicament and to thank people for their support. The act of writing must have been pure agony but he saw it as his final duty to the men who had given their lives in the pursuit of greatness.