NAME: Glenn M. Stein, Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (FRGS)
CURRENT TITLE: Polar & Maritime Historian, Author and Speaker
AREA OF EXPERTISE: My objective is to interest and educate the public in the history of Arctic and Antarctic exploration, thus allowing for the appreciation and preservation of human cultures and historical sites, as well as the vast varieties of plant and animal life.
WEBSITE: Author of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Discovering the North-West Passage: The Four-Year Arctic Odyssey of H.M.S. Investigator and the McClure Expedition. This book has been awarded the John Lyman Book Award (North American Society for Oceanic History-Canadian Naval and Maritime History category), Honorable Mention of the Keith Matthews Award (Canadian Nautical Research Society), and is on the shortlist for the Anderson Medal (The Society for Nautical Research, United Kingdom).
What’s your job like?
When I’m working on an article or some other piece of writing, it requires a tremendous amount of focus – really concentrating on the task at hand. This means having a very clear idea of what I want the reader to understand about a story. Consequently, I often tell people that I spend much more time THINKING about what I’m going to write than actually writing. Only a few weeks ago I returned from the High Arctic, where I spent six weeks as a Polar Historian and Assistant Guide onboard the M/V “Academic Sergey Vavilov.” We sailed on four voyages around the Svalbard Islands and up to the ice pack, passing 81ºN.
What’s a typical day like?
As an author, it depends what stage I’m at with my writings. For example, if I’m gathering research, being exceptionally organized and methodical is the key. This is so, during the writing mode, I can quickly refer to needed information, and if necessary, know how to correctly cite it. While working in the Arctic, I often went with passengers on two excursions in zodiac rubber boats each day, cruising fjords and glaciers, and landing on remote places to seek out historical sites, animals and plants. It was great explaining historical events on the very spots where they took place. We were also privileged to see polar bears, walruses, seals, and several species of birds in their natural habitats.
The really fun part of writing is when a story comes together – all the puzzle pieces (even the smallest ones) fall into place. That’s when you know many months (or even years) of hard work have been worth it. You never know how animals are going to react to you being in their world. Some ignored us – as if we weren’t even there – while others were quite curious, and came closer to us little by little. One time, at the edge of the ice pack, a polar bear was walking toward the ship, but then suddenly decided to climb onto a piece of ice and take a nap!
The challenging part of non-fiction writing is “getting it right.” This means being true to the facts and the people about whom you’re writing. I feel personally responsible for the memories of these individuals and have corresponded with, and in some cases personally met, their descendants. Onboard ship and out in the field, it’s a very fluid environment, so things are always changing. This is especially true regarding weather and ice conditions, which have a direct impact on what you can and cannot do, because safety is paramount.
What’s your advice to students?
Pursue your PASSIONS! You must understand yourself before you can understand others.