David Knoff makes his debut with 537 Days of Winter. Read on for a Q&A with David about his memoir – inspired by his experience stranded on one of the most unforgiving continents during the global pandemic. 

Please tell us about your book, 537 Days of Winter.

Have you ever wondered what it would have been like to watch COVID unfold while stranded in Antarctica? Well, 537 Days of Winter is that story. When we left Australia in late 2019, we could never have imagined what would happen while we were away. As the seasons changed, we were left isolated far longer than ever anticipated – and faced challenges that would push us to our physical and mental limits.

Why was it important to you to write this story and share your experience?

Everyone on Earth has shared their COVID journey over the last two years; our story of both being in Antarctica when it broke out and returning to a changed world was a unique and strange experience. The challenges we faced were similar to those back home with lockdowns and travel restrictions, but in a very different environment. For me, it was important to share this experience for the historical record of what happened during 2020 and what it was like to observe the world change from afar. It was equally important to share what it was like to lead a team through one of the longest periods of isolation in modern Antarctic history.

What aspects of the book did you find challenging to write and which parts flowed easily?

Writing about what happened as our stay was extended and how we faced multiple emergency situations beyond anything we imagined actually flowed quite well, and structurally putting the book together was easy. What was difficult was reliving the darkest moments of that time, and trying to balance my own opinions and memories with not only those of the people around me, but also with the hindsight that comes with reflecting on complex decisions. I had to be honest with myself and admit when I got it wrong, but also focus on the positives and successes.

Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

I worked with a writing coach to develop the structure of the chapters and to decide which specific stories to focus on, as well as which characters would be central to the story of what happened. From there, I wrote flat out for a few months to complete the manuscript. I also added more anecdotes and small stories between major events. After that, to get feedback I shared the manuscript with some of the team who had been there with me, as well as a select group of test readers. Then, the editors at Affirm Press got the red pen out – and after a few rounds of polishing, here we are!

What is the last book you read and loved?

Throughout the writing process I read dozens of books about adventure, polar history and modern memoirs … but the one book that I always loved re-reading and re-living was Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which is about the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest.

And finally, what’s next for you?

At the moment I’m really enjoying speaking to companies and school groups about the leadership challenges in Antarctica and what I learnt from my experiences there. I’d love to write another book – perhaps fiction this time – based on my experiences living and working around the world. I also hope to return to Antarctica again and would love to summit Vinson Massif.