Friday, May 24, 2024

Henriette Lazardis brings her “Terra Nova” to the Harvard Book Store on Tuesday. (Photo: Henriette Lazardis)

Henriette Lazardis is a graduate of Oxford, a Cambridge mother of two and the only child of Greek expats. After teaching English literature at Harvard for 10 years, she is a full-time writer with a new novel: “Terra Nova,” a story of love, betrayal and adventure set against the backdrop of 1910 Antarctica. The Boston Globe bestselling author comes to a reading at the Harvard Book Store on Tuesday. We talked to her Nov. 17 via Zoom; the conversation has been edited for length and clarity.


What inspired you to begin writing “Terra Nova”?

I have been obsessed with the polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott since I was about 7, when I saw a documentary on public television. I loved the snow and I loved to ski, and here was this man doing this adventure in the snow, racing to be first to the South Pole, but losing the race to Roald Amundsen from Norway. I don’t think I realized how much he was suffering – Scott died on the way back. At some point, when I was an adult, I began to wonder what it must have felt like for Scott to go all that way to the South Pole and find his competitor’s flag already there. You came all this way, and now you have to go back, and you lost. What happens if you’re not a noble person and you get there and realize that no one’s going to know whether you were first or not? That was the question that got me started.

How has teaching English affected your writing?

I pay really close attention to my word choices in terms of the rhythm, the sound, the etymology, all of the pieces that go into making up a word. And in a more macro way, I’m considering questions I didn’t think about when I was an academic, like how do you keep the reader wanting to keep turning the page? Especially now, when readers have so much competition for their time, you have to write something beautiful. You have to have a story that compels.

What do you think makes a good story?

There has to be a question in the reader’s mind all the time. Maybe the whole book has one question that goes from start to finish, but along the way you have to always have little questions too. And maybe these get answered, but as soon as they do there’s a new one. Some might take two or three chapters to get answered, but in the meantime, there are these other ones ticking along underneath. As long as you always have the reader hooked with a question, and you’re also giving them enough answers – that’s what you need to keep doing.

What authors inspire you?

Kate Atkinson, because she does things I don’t see anybody else doing. Even when she isn’t at her best, I think she’s amazing. I would also say Tana French, who writes mystery detective books. She involves a lot of other elements besides police procedure, and they become these really interesting stories about place and character.

What do you hope readers will take away from “Terra Nova”?

The book raises questions about authenticity, about truth and about art. When might you cross a line with art in the pursuit of the truth? What are the limits of your exploration in art? Should there be limits at all? I hope readers ask themselves these important questions, and put themselves in the place of the explorers. Would they have acted similarly in the same situation? I would hope that they do the same for Viola, the female character and put themselves in her position as a woman who is a photographer and involved in the suffrage movement. What would they do if they were in a situation like the one she’s in, trying to claim power and independence as a woman artist?

What do you love about it?

The dogs. There are a lot of dogs in “Terra Nova,” and it might make some people sad, but not all the dogs have a happy story. When I was writing, my golden retriever, Finn, would come and stare at me from across the table every morning – because I wrote in the morning and he was hungry. He would just come and he would just sit there and he would watch me. Finn died a couple of years ago. He was a very old dog, and he lived a very good long life. I think Finn kind of sent the dog vibes into the book, and I’m very fond of the result.

  • Henriette Lazardis reads from “Terra Nova” at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square. She’ll be in conversation with Marjan Kamali, author of the national bestseller, “The Stationery Shop.” Masks are required. Information is here.