The cover story

This weekend I discovered the extraordinary story of the photograph that appears on the cover of “Chasing the Light”, and as many people have commented on and asked about the cover, I thought I’d share it with you.

Many non-writers think that it is authors who design the covers of their books, but in fact it is the publishers. This can be quite a tricky process, because contractually the publisher has the final decision on cover design. Luckily HarperCollins has been a brilliant partner in this, taking my comments and suggestions very seriously and changing the photo in response. I’ve heard of other authors who have barely been consulted about their covers.

medium CHASING THE LIGHT coverAnyway, I really love the image of a woman suspended in the water underneath sea ice on the front of the book but all I knew was that it was a stock photo. When I studied the image I couldn’t imagine how it would have been shot, and so I presumed it had been Photoshopped. I even thought perhaps the woman in the image was a dummy.

It turns out, I was completely wrong. The photograph was taken by Victor Lyagushkin of Russia, a photographer for National Geographic and Nikon, and part of Phototeam Pro, a Russian group that specialises in extreme media projects in remote places. The woman under the water is Natalia Avseenko, a thirty six year old Russian who’s twice won the world freediving championships (in 2006 and 2008).

The shoot was done in the White Sea in Northern Russia, under ice, at a water temperature of around -2 degrees Celsius (salt water freezes at a lower temperature than freshwater).  Natalie was freediving below the frozen surface of the sea with a safety diver providing air when she needed it.

In another shoot that was part of the same project, Natalie swam naked with Beluga Whales, which was the realization of her childhood dream. (see more about this project HERE) This had more reverberations with “Chasing the Light” than I ever could have imagined – bringing in whales, ice, childhood longing and female courage.

So – below are some photos of the shoot, courtesy of, where Victor works. Please check out Phototeam Pro’s web post responding to my question about the cover HERE. If you have a bit of time, you can watch the half hour documentary about Natalie’s swim with the Beluga Whales on Youtube. It’s quite extraordinary to see her sitting naked on the edge of the ice while around her everyone is bundled in extreme cold weather clothing.






























About Jesse Blackadder

Living at the easternmost tip of Australia on the caldera of an extinct volcano, Jesse Blackadder is a novelist, freelance writer and Doctor of Creative Arts. She is fascinated by landscapes, adventurous women and very cold places and has published three adult novels and three novels for children.
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9 Responses to The cover story

  1. Lisa Walker says:

    that is absolutely amazing! what beautiful photos

  2. jenboau7 says:

    Wow Jesse, the visuals are even more extraordinary than the telling…! Amazing x

  3. jenboau7 says:

    Wow Jesse, the visuals are even more extraordinary than the telling…exquisite. XX

  4. catherine therese says:

    Majestic Jesse, thank you so much for sharing x

  5. Dawn Cohen says:

    How apt that the photo is of a woman freediver who swam with whales, when you have such a profound relationship with the ocean, and with swimming. And have been known to swim with a dolphin or two. Dawn.

  6. Jude says:

    Thanks Jesse, stunning photo and story behind simply amazing…

  7. Jane Massingham says:

    Amazing picture and amazing story. I had wondered about it myself actually so am glad you told us the story behind it. I didn’t realise she really was shot underwater though. I finished the book last night – I couldn’t finish it, so woke at 5am this morning to read the last part. As with the last one, I couldn’t put it down. I love your characters. I feel like I know them right from the start. Can’t wait for the next one after the kids books!!

  8. Caroline Downs says:

    I was only wondering about this other day. Extraordinary photograph and it is the real deal. I thought it must have been trick photography. How do you get someone to pose under ice with such little clothing? Amazing and how interesting. Really enjoying the book Jess. Congrats.

    Downise x

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