On a perfect summer day in the Canadian Arctic last summer, I watched a mother polar bear and her two yearling cubs bask in the sun on an ice floe as our expedition ship edged ever closer. Everyone out on deck, all one hundred of us, were perfectly still, perfectly quiet, for none of us wanted to disturb this trio. But as our ship inched closer, the bears finally noticed us, and to our delight they rose from their slumber and ambled toward our bow.
We collectively held our breaths as the bears approached, the yearlings in the lead. They young ones showed no fear, instead they were curious, as curious about us as we were of them, and the mother too, while wary, wanted to understand who and what we were. In the end, the cubs played on the ice just below us, then settled in for a nap, but as much as their mother wanted to relax and join them, she always remained alert. Eventually that wariness caused her to lead her cubs away from the ship, crossing over to the far edge of the floe, but only after allowing the young ones to indulge their curiosity for almost an hour.
I too was indulging my curiosity, which is how I came to find myself in the Northwest Passage. Curiosity drives us to investigate the world around us and from our earliest days, we touch and taste everything, stare with wonderment at new people and places. At some point, whether through education or experience, we learn to fear or avoid certain things – electrical sockets, hot stoves, busy roads – and so our curiosity-driven learning keeps us safe.
But curiosity is also about exploration, and that’s how I came to find myself in the Northwest Passage. I admit to a certain lack of detailed knowledge about my new home city of Vancouver — there are people who could easily name every museum, beach and hiking trail, something I will probably never achieve. Instead, I’m drawn to visit far-off places to sample what life is like there, to learn about different countries and experience cultures other than my own.
For each of us, there’s something we’d like to know more about, something that fascinates us. I studied geology largely because it answered so many questions about the physical landscape – how mountains form, why rivers meander and why volcanoes erupt, to name just a few. And the more science I learned, the more questions I had!
I’m not sure I could write suspense thrillers without this strong sense of curiosity. For me, a story develops from an intriguing idea, something that tugs at me and needs to be fully explored. I create complex plots that weave science with politics, asking “what if?”, “why?” and “how?”. I ask myself how my protagonist, geologist Alex Graham might act and react to different situations and people. I ask what would drive someone to commit heinous crimes, to break the rules. In essence, I ask a thousand questions.
Alex Graham is an explorer, and I’m thankful that I can indulge my curiosity by creating stories for her. So I’ll keep asking questions, and like the polar bears I’ll reach out beyond my comfort zone, to investigate something new for each mystery I write. And in those stories, I hope I’ll satisfy some of your curiosity too.