“Marchez! -- A race for survival
“When Rhodes Delaney challenged James Alderston Whitbury III to a grudge match she chose the most grueling of all tests — the Iditarod: a lethal dogsled race across the perilous wastelands of barren Alaska.
“Through life-sapping storms, howling blizzards, and deadly sub-zero temperatures, the racers must struggle over treacherous mountain passes where the sun's rays never reach, cross frozen rivers risking the icy torrents below, and pass enraged bull moose, ravenous bears — and the world's largest, hungriest wolf pack.
“In Iditarod, André Jute puts the reader's feet on the ice and on the runners for twelve hundred hazardous miles of the last great race across the last dangerous frontier as the exhausted bodies and hallucinating minds of the contestants battle towards the moment of truth -- when Man and Nature exact the ultimate reckoning from each other.
“Iditarod is at once a love story, a great adventure, and a brilliant word portrait of the world's most spectacular and least-known land.”
– SYNOPSIS by Nick Austin
– from the 1990 edition of IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth.
IDITAROD was originally released in 1990 and recently re-released in electronic format. This book is a real gem. It's no wonder it stands the test of time.
Through this book, I learned a great deal about Iditarod race itself and the people who breathe life into it. I now understand a little more about the nature of Alaska and it's inhabitants. In particular, I learned something of the complex interplay between species of animals, man, the landscape and the elements along the Iditarod route. Fascinating stuff.
That would have been enough for me, but I also enjoyed an extremely well-written story that kept me on the edge of my seat the whole way through. Most chapters end with a cliffhanger as the story then moves to an alternate view, forcing us to wait a little longer to know what will happen next. In this way, the author takes us on a ride nearly as wild as the Iditarod itself.
I became a part of this story as I braved the elements and adapted to the challenges that faced the drivers along the Iditarod. I couldn't help but ride the roller coaster with them as they triumphed and failed and rose again and again to meet the next challenge.It was like descending a mountain handcuffed to a rolling rock. ~ IDITAROD
If that wasn't enough, I was also treated to a warm romance between two of the story's characters.
I'm happy to recommend this book to all readers. Due to its sometimes graphic nature, parental discretion is advised.
- Rating: 5/5
Interview with André Jute:
Cookie’s Mom: André, thanks for speaking with me today. I was fascinated by IDITAROD: a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth. What inspired you to write this book, first published 21 years ago?
André: On Boxing Day 1977, Roz and I left Adelaide in South Australia to move to Britain, generally to be nearer my publishers, particularly to do research at King’s College, Cambridge, for a novel on John Maynard Keynes I had in mind. The Keynes novel eventually fell through because the Keynesian leftovers and the Bloomsbury relics (one of whom was Literary Advisor at my own publishers!), worried that I might hone the icon-smashing for which I already had a reputation on Keynes (I’d just exposed Sir Anthony Blunt, Keeper of the Queen’s Pictures, as a Russian spy in my novel REVERSE NEGATIVE), so I was obstructed everywhere I went. But that’s by the bye. On the way to London, we took a layover in Singapore. Coming from the 100 degree plus temperatures of Australia, into the high humidity of Singapore, brassed me off. Sitting in a beer garden, while Roz was photographing me (see the photo that accompanies my bio below), I said, “The hell with hot, humid weather. My next book will be set in a cold place.”
The next year I was in Seattle for some reason, perhaps to promote a book, perhaps for a sailing regatta. A journalist interviewed me about sailing around Cape Horn in a ship of my own design and construction in moulded wood. He said, “The Iditarod is also a tough race for hard cases.” This was the first I heard of the Iditarod, which had been going only five years at that stage. The race started the next week. I went to look and was captivated by the pure adrenaline of it, the danger. I decided that was my “cold book”. So, I first had the idea for a book set in a cold place, then learned about the Iditarod, then went to Alaska to see for myself.
Cookie’s Mom: I am struck by the level of research you did for this book. In your Acknowledgements, you thank “nearly two dozen experts, researchers and consultants on wolves, conservation, Siberia, the Black Death, sub-zero temperature medicine, endurance psychology and diverse other specialties,” among many others. How would you describe the research process for this book?
André: The Hungarian translation of IDITAROD has the distinction of being the only novel ever used as a dog sled racing manual by three teenage girls who wanted to set up a husky racing club. They couldn’t find a manual in their own language, so they used my novel. That to me was the most flattering validation of my research. But though it would be neat to say I planned it that way, that’s just the way I always do research. I don’t start writing the book until I’m comfortable in the milieu. The academic experts you refer to were really surplus to requirements, but, though I’ve taught only a little and infrequently because I prefer to teach through my non-fiction books, I’m at heart and by method an academic from a whole family of teachers and preachers. To me it is never enough to know something is so, I have to know why as well. I kept going back to Alaska and learning about the people, the land, the flora and fauna, and of course the dogs. Many people don’t discover until they read my book that the Iditarod is a race between dog teams in the first instance, rather than primarily between human athletes. The musher is merely the feeder of the team.
Cookie’s Mom: What did you get out of it (besides a great story)?
André: I was nearly killed several times, in an emergency landing in a small plane, in the take-off from a chunk of floating ice, in an incident with an elk on the trail while I ran a half-Iditarod (about 600 miles), by my huskies eating me when I wasn’t fast enough feeding them when they decided it was chow time — those animals aren’t pets! Once some wolves circled me and decided I wasn’t lunch, yet. Frightening, very. The sense in IDITAROD, the novel, of the racers every moment being one or two tiny errors away from death arose from being on the spot and replicating a small part of the experience.
Cookie’s Mom: How did it impact you as a writer and as an individual?
André: As a writer, IDITAROD convinced several of my publishers that I was the most stubborn, obstructive son of a bitch they had on their lists. You must understand that they saw IDITAROD as a “little novel”, a distraction from the “big novels” they commissioned from me. IDITAROD was just too specialized, for too small a niche, set in too obscure a place, about a (then) totally unknown event. It was a time when I published two novels a year, a novel for the upper intelligentsia under my own name and a pseudonymous bestseller, lots of sex and violence. Even my literary publishers didn’t want to see me “waste time on some little novel set on some goddamn icy tundra”. And here I was spending every spare moment for a dozen years working on the “small” novel!
When IDITAROD was eventually ready for publication, it was published by Grafton, a division of Collins (now HarperCollins), the quintessential imprint for writers and readers who leave hairy footprints. It was the lead title in January, a good month for books aimed at mopping up book tokens, the third largest sales month of the year. The sales were respectable but not a patch on some other books of mine Grafton reissued again and again. It was of course altogether the wrong list, zero “family-safe” interest (in fact quite the contrary), zero young adult crossover. At my American publishers, Warner, Bernard Shir-Clif looked me straight in the eye and said, “Alaska? Where’s that?”
Also as a writer, IDITAROD nonetheless convinced me that I do my best work when I write what I want.
As an individual, at first, during the research, nothing much happened. I’d had the same sort of adventures in Africa and South America. On publication, I had no contact with the readers of IDITAROD until the 2010 edition appeared, when I was stunned by how intensely the novel affected people I met when I took a busman’s holiday at the Iditarod race, catching a ride with the Iditarod Trail Committee.
Cookie’s Mom: Is it true that it took a decade to write IDITAROD? I believe it, based on the amount of detail within and the respectful way in which you treated the subject and the people involved.
André: More than a decade. From when the Seattle journalist told me about the Iditarod race in 1978 until I approved the proofs of the 1990 edition late in 1989, twelve years.
Cookie’s Mom: Can you describe the process of writing the book? Once inspired, did you write a story and then fill in the details? Did you first investigate the race, do your research, and then let the story develop from the details?
André: My normal mature process is to have a few fully formed characters in my mind, people who have a problem or a conflict, and to put them on the page at the last possible moment, as late into the story as possible, and then just let it develop, see what happens. When their problems are resolved, the novel is complete. (It works for me because I’ve written many shelf-feet of books. Aspirants would be well advised instead to choose one of the many planning procedures described in my handbook for other writers, WRITING A THRILLER. I know, do as I say, not as I do, but believe me, I was once where you are, and then I was glad for prior professional experience which guided me towards those planning methods.)
That “normal mature process” doesn’t describe the writing of IDITAROD. For a start, IDITAROD is a themed novel, something I and others are always hammering at young writers not to do! That everybody can’t see it is a themed novel is probably due more to luck than skill. Today I could almost guarantee not to let the joints show but back then I had maybe ten, twelve books under my belt, and it was a struggle. I should also say that, at the same time as writing a themed novel which is not my normal style, I was in addition trying to do something else I hadn’t done before, or since. IDITAROD was conceived as a novel for the whole family, everyone young at heart from 14-94. This placed restraints on my normal style of expression, and on the class of events I could include. For instance, your readers can get a copy of The Survivor, an outwrite from IDITAROD, free from Smashwords [link follows this interview]. It should be obvious to those who’ve read IDITAROD that inclusion of The Survivor would have given IDITAROD an altogether darker tone, made it a different book. That’s just one example from hundreds of places where the story went wrong over the years, perhaps because I had too much material.
My day to day process is to do all the research I’m planning to do — for most books much, much, much less than for IDITAROD — and then, once I start writing, not to stop to do further research. Normally only small details need to be added, and for these I leave a space or a note, and fix them on the second pass.
Cookie’s Mom: What’s new in the 2010 edition?
André: The 2010 edition, and the succeeding 21st Anniversary Edition of 2011, at which time CoolMain Press also brought out a new paperback edition, are different from the original 1990 edition in— no significant respect!
I might add that, by not having time to mess around with a new cover and a full rewrite, I enjoyed a lucky escape from being tarred and feathered by my own fans, whom I didn’t yet know the book possessed. When I arrived at the Iditarod race in March 2011, about three months after these editorial events, I discovered that IDITAROD had fans that I knew nothing about, and that it was well remembered by a surprising number of people.
Quite a few of these new friends wrote me notes anxiously enquiring whether there was much different in the new edition. Several among those waiting for the paperback to appear also asked after the original cover, one of the finest examples of the work of the distinguished illustrator, Gino D’Achille. You must understand that, by not knowing of these fans for twenty years, I didn’t know of their concerns until I met them, when the new edition was already issued on the Kindle.
I was able to reassure them that I made only the lightest of passes over the text for linguistic conformity, and that the editorial helpers I found on the net were very respectful of the original text, and I approved every single alteration myself. In consideration of these concerns of readers, I took the design of the 21st Anniversary paperback edition into my own hands, and took special care both with the interior typographic design and redesigning the cover to highlight the beloved Gino D’Achille illustration. Fortunately these necessary redesigns met with enthusiastic approval, much to my relief. There are articles on my blog about these designs for IDITAROD at http://coolmainpress.com/ajwriting/archives/1203 and http://coolmainpress.com/ajwriting/archives/1197.
We added a map. Andy Jenkinson, one of the associate editors, suggested we should have a map. I didn’t have time to draw it, so Andy volunteered, under my supervision, and a super job he did too. That map adds so much to the comprehensibility of the story. The reason the original edition didn’t have a map is that, after hiring the very expensive D’Achille to illustrate the cover, there was no money left in the publisher’s kitty for a map, another expensive piece of art. The map too was favorably received.
Finally, at the third edition, coinciding with the launch of the paperback in May 2011, we created Value Added Pages for IDITAROD on the CoolMain Press netsite, with a page in all editions of the book containing various URLs that will be helpful to readers and to teachers who use the Iditarod as a resource. The Value Added Pages include a way of vicariously reenacting the extraordinary 2011 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race with me as your guide (gratuities accepted). Readers of IDITAROD are invited next year from the first Saturday in March 2012 to come racing (virtually — it’s too dangerous in person to get insurance) at the Iditarod with me. There are also anecdotes I collected from Joe May, the winner in 1980, and samples from IDITAROD for those who haven’t read it yet.
Cookie’s Mom: You've really gone above and beyond there, André. I'm looking forward to following along next March from the comfort of my recliner.
IDITAROD is the kind of fiction that provides non-fiction lovers the historical details they crave. Would you call this book historical fiction? Adventure? I see that it is categorized on Amazon under “sports”. I can imagine that the book would appeal to sports enthusiasts. In fact, it must have a far reach.
André: Frankly, I haven’t the faintest idea of how to categorize IDITAROD. I tend to think of myself as a novelist, period. IDITAROD is an adventure, but as Margie Myers-Culver pointed out, it is also a romance, even if the lovers never as much as touch hands. For sure, it’s a dog story, and it is about the greatest of the ultra-endurance sports, the only modern race that can aspire to the stature of the Marathon of the Ancient Greeks.
Your remark about historical fiction is apt. It turns out that the fans were so much on tenterhooks about the possible changes I might have wrought because they feared I would update IDITAROD to the present. IDITAROD, as originally published, and now republished, stands on the cusp of two distinct ages of the race, the breakpoint between an extended, dangerous camping lark for transport mushers and trappers, which the race honestly was in the beginning, and the hyperfast event between professional athletic gods it has now become. So IDITAROD, in fact by design, because I chose my characters to represent the Iditarod as it was, and also as I knew it must become, satisfies both those who claim the old style was best and those who claim the new style suits the thrusting modern Alaska better. There is a sense in which IDITAROD was prophetic, though I don’t think we should make too much of it: it is after all a sporting event, not a religious festival. (Don’t tell that to some of the die-hard fans!)
Cookie’s Mom: This book is enjoyable no matter who you are. It represents, among its other topics and themes (the Iditarod, Alaska, sled-dog racing, man against nature, and so on), the greatest challenge a person can face. This story speaks to our own will to overcome such a challenge, the essence of the human spirit.
André: Why yes, so readers tell me. But I don’t set out to write “life-enhancing” or “uplifting” stories; there’s a point of truth to be observed even in a modest novel about a dog sled race. Of course, when it is possible to write a triumphantly uplifting story without doing harm to the truth, I join in readers’ glee at finding the story and identifying with it. A writer is also a reader.
Something else is worth saying that may sound a little mystical but is nonetheless real enough to be tangible, in the sense that if you aren’t true to it, Alaska will kill you. The grandeur of Alaska almost enforces the truth in the tale upon the writer: it is just about impossible in this cathedral of nature not to speak the truth.
Cookie’s Mom: As you mentioned, IDITAROD also offers us a warm romantic relationship, the sort that often develops in life-threatening situations and is made of a bond stronger than mere attraction. Was this a story that came to you, or was it one you had heard as you talked to racers about their experiences?
André: A novel is a romance. That’s the classical style. So, writing a family-safe novel with young adult crossover, I automatically started out with two young people of complimentary gender. I put them on the page at their first literally abrasive meeting. But then I needed to do absolutely no further matchmaking: Alaska, the trail, the race and the wolves did it for me, so in the romantic sense I, the writer, hopped off the sled at the next checkpoint. On rereading the novel after twenty years, I saw with amazement how the fact that they never even touch hands strengthened the romance.
Now here’s another amazing thing. Jason Barron, author of Ballad of the Northland, a superb book about Alaskan people, met his wife when they were both competitors on the Iditarod.
Have either you or I said yet that the Iditarod can and has been won by women? Or that one of the most attractive aspects of the race is absolute equality between the genders? There’s even an old saw about it: Alaska, where men are men — and women win the Iditarod!
Cookie’s Mom: If someone offered you the right incentive, whatever that might be for you, to write a sequel to IDITAROD, what would that look like?
André: It wouldn’t be as good. The freshness, the absolute amazement of the land, the people, the race, those heroic dogs, would be missing. IDITAROD is a triumph that has outlived those editors who called it “a little novel”. But it is a one-shot. I am far too fly to accept any amount of money to attempt the impossible. IDITAROD can’t be repeated.
Cookie’s Mom: We've talked a lot about this book! It's a book that deserves more time and attention that we have in this small space, but I've enjoyed learning something about how it came to be. Thank-you for that!
Now, André, will you tell readers a little about yourself? What inspired you to become a writer? What other jobs have you had?
André: The truth is, I can’t remember when I wasn’t a writer. My first memory is of sitting up in bed with my mother, writing a novel in a school exercise book, while she tapped out a short story for a magazine called Personality.
I’m by training an economist and a psychologist and a corporate manager. You’ll hear about quite a few jobs, a CV as long as a gorilla’s arm, but what it all has in common is that by profession I was a troubleshooter in the communications industries from the time I left college until in my early thirties I became a fulltime novelist.
Cookie’s Mom: If you could be anything other than a writer, what would you be?
André: I’ve been most of the other superficially attractive things, an intelligence officer, a painter, a theatre director, an executive with his own jet, a professional jock (very upmarket: I played polo). I’m a writer not because I can’t be anything else but because I like being a writer.
Cookie’s Mom: You’ve written many other works of fiction and non-fiction including a number of helpful books on the subject of writing. Can you tell us about your other works?
André: There’s a chronology in the booklist on my bio. My other novels are all so different, from IDITAROD and each other, there is nothing useful I can say to divide them into groups. Basically, I’m not a safe writer: I write for people who are delighted by new ideas, not frightened by them.
My guides for others in the professions I practice — creative writing, graphic design, engineering — were written because publishers asked me to write them. I find that if I write the book not too long after taking up the profession, it is fresher, closer to the problems of novices following in my footsteps. Some of my handbooks for others are DESIGNING AND CONSTRUCTING SPECIAL CARS, GRIDS the Structure of Graphic Design, PUBLICATIONS for professional communicators, COLOUR for professional communicators, WRITING A THRILLER, WRITING PROPOSALS AND SYNOPSES THAT SELL, etc, and I’ve inspired and edited a great many more.
Cookie’s Mom: What authors or works are you inspired by?
André: In my youth, like everyone else, I was inspired by Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. I like Richard Condon’s versatility and wit. Len Deighton is a minimalist so richly textured you need to be an expert even to discover he’s a minimalist. The last published books I read were all of the Dalziel and Pascoe mysteries by Reginald Hill; my wife ordered the whole series in paperback for me and I read them while taking steam or in the bath. Hill is witty and erudite.
Cookie’s Mom: What are you most proud of?
André: Designing and building the City of Germiston, a 68ft trans-Atlantic racing yacht that twice made safe passage around the Horn.
Cookie’s Mom: What are you working on now?
André: The ten-book series RUTHLESS TO WIN by my protege Dakota Franklin, the fourth (25th anniversary) edition of my WRITING A THRILLER, finishing touches to THE MEYERSCO HELIX by Andrew McCoy on which I supervised the editing by friends on the net, finishing touches to a minimalist minority interest novel currently called PIVOT. Also shopping for a new ergonomic chair since mine broke on Monday, and electrifying my pushbike because I’ve suddenly noticed that I’m the only one cycling up the steep hill before my house.
Cookie’s Mom: Finally, André, just for fun, will you answer the desert island question? If you were somehow stranded on a desert island, having arrived there floating on a water-proof backpack, what three things found in your backpack would you be grateful for having had the foresight to pack in preparation for the unlikely event of an emergency?
André: I’m extremely fair-skinned, so enveloping clothes including a hat must be first on the list for my desert island. Secondly, fishing gear, because the seas are rich in protein, and I’d like to eat. Thirdly, a radio with endless batteries so I can call in the rescue mission. I know this question is “just for fun” but this is a good place to say something that isn’t obvious even to those interested in the doings of writers, or often to writers just starting out. It is very macho for writers to pretend that the main occupational hazard for a writer is alcoholism. That’s nonsense. A genuinely drunken writer will produce nothing worthwhile. Norman Mailer once offered to beat me up in a passage at the BBC for quipping, “Mailer must have written that while he was sober. It’s actually rather good.” The true occupational hazard for a writer is loneliness. A writer spends eight to 14 hours every day staring at a blank wall, with nothing but his characters for company. You need to be very self-contained to survive that. Of course, in the end the successful writer, after a decade or two of doing it, comes to prefer the company of his characters to that of most real people, except only the most simpatico and entertaining. But that doesn’t mean that a desert island would be any more bearable for a writer than for someone else. I’d want off and as soon as possible, hence the radio.
Cookie’s Mom: Good points! André, thanks for speaking with me today, and thank-you for writing this exhilarating story!
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'The Iditarod....Twelve hundred miles running behind your dog sled across barren Alaska and into the Arctic shadow — through the life-sapping storms, howling blizzards, thirty-and forty-and fifty-below zero temperatures, over treacherous slippery mountain passes where the sun never reaches, on frozen rivers where a moment’s exhausted mind-wandering can drop you forever into the freezing torrent under the ice, past the enraged bull moose and the ravenous bears and the world’s largest, hungriest wolf packs.' ~ IDITAROD
Now, doesn't that sound like fun? Pick up your copy of IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute. It's just $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store!
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André Jute is a novelist and, through his non-fiction books, a teacher of creative writing, graphic design and engineering. There are about three hundred editions of his books in English and a dozen other languages. He was educated in Australia, South Africa and the United States. He has been an intelligence officer, racing driver, advertising executive, management consultant, performing arts critic and professional gambler. His hobbies include old Bentleys, classical music (on which for fifteen years he wrote a syndicated weekly column), cycling, hill walking, cooking and wine. He designs and builds his own tube (valve) audio amplifiers. He is married to Rosalind Pain-Hayman and they have a son. They live on a hill over a salmon river in County Cork, Eire.
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IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth is the winner of the Flamingnet Young Adult Review TOP CHOICE AWARD
Read the Iditarod Sample Chapters or an Interesting snippet suggested by 1980 Iditarod race winner Joe May. IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by André Jute is just $2.99 at the Amazon Kindle store where you can order yet another free sample from the book.
Get The Survivor, an outwrite from a distant draft of IDITAROD, free!
André Jute's AMAZON CENTRAL page is here. Visit to access all of his books on sale through Amazon.com.
You can also follow André's musings at Kissing the Blarney.
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