Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail talks Polar Winds

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail talks Polar Winds

Posted on February 18 by Kyle in Interview, Non-fiction
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Tell us about your book.
If I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, Polar Winds is an engaging look at a century of aviation in the North using as many northern voices as possible. It’s not just about the typical bush pilots you find in books and movies (although they certainly exist and make appearances!) but it looks at “balloonatics” during the Klondike gold rush, air tourists to the North Pole, military flyers  during the Second World War and Cold War, as well as passengers, base managers, air mechanics, and so on. I tried above all to shine a light on the experiences of women, indigenous people, and others who are often left out of aviation history.


How did you come up with the idea for this work?
In my last book, For the Love of Flying, there was a photo of Inuit kayakers next to a float plane off the coast of the Belcher Islands in Hudson Bay that really captured my imagination.  As I drove across Canada talking about the book, I had a lot of time to think. My mind drifted back to my dad’s Inuktitut lesson books, and my mum’s soapstone carvings and Inuit art, as well as my academic and personal interest in the North, contact relations, and gender history.  Together with my new interest in aviation and its importance to Canada, I saw the potential for a fascinating project.

How did you research your book?
This was one of the best parts of this project. I was chosen to be writer-in-residence at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon from October to December 2010. So for three glorious months I got to call Pierre Berton’s childhood home my base of operations as I explored the region by car and plane. I padded around libraries and archives in Inuvik, Old Crow, Whitehorse, Watson Lake and Dawson, and interviewed people over cups of tea. Then in July 2011, I went to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories for the Midnight Sun Float Plane Fly-In and was surrounded by legends of northern aviation for a few days. They allowed me to tag along on all sorts of adventures, recommended books and contacts, and were incredibly patient with me. And I lost myself in the libraries in Edmonton for awhile, as my husband can attest: the Alberta Aviation Museum, University of Alberta, and Edmonton Public Libraries were incredibly important for tracking down rare publications.

What was the hardest part of writing your book?
I found it incredibly challenging to take all the research materials, and interviews, and stories and distill them into a coherent narrative. One of the things I’ve learned working as a freelance writer is that it’s much easier to write long, but I didn’t want to overwhelm readers with a 500-page book. I wanted to bring these fascinating people to life, keep the richness of detail and dialogue, and explore some of the hard issues, but in an accessible book you could pack in a carry-on bag.  Of course, having a baby in the middle of things was pretty tricky too!

What is your new project?

I’ve always got a few on the go, and I just finished drafting a kid’s picture book, which I hope to read with my toddler and the school kids I visit in Edmonton someday soon. I’m also developing an anthology project and looking forward to returning to a historical novel that’s been on the backburner for quite some time.