Monday, 10 December 2012

Cumbrian Vikings, sources and research.

Cumbrian Vikings.

 When I first began writing Shieldmaiden I was very arrogant thinking that being Scandinavian, growing up with legends and sagas and being a student of History I wouldn’t really need to do much research. Please insert hollow laughter here!

The first enormous gap in my knowledge was of course about the Viking settlers in Cumbria. While staying at the Bridge Hotel in Buttermere I came across the tale of the Vikings from the Isle of Man who got a bit uppety and refused to pay tribute to Harald Finehair of Norway. Well, that must be one of the worst miscalculations ever. Harald Finehair’s punishment expeditions were legendary and, when they heard that he’d set sail and was on his way, the Manx Vikings left in a hurry taking their families, animals and all they could carry on their ships. Some of them ended up in Buttermere and Rannerdale.

Jarl Sweyn and his family are based on this tale but here I have exercised the novelist’s prerogative and shaped the events to suit me. Otherwise I have made every effort to stay true to actual events.

The Vikings left practically no written records. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle was written by monks who weren’t over-fond of Vikings and anyway don’t deal with everyday life. So I have used what sources I found, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, Icelandic Sagas, reports from archaeological digs and secondary sources such as the writing of W.G. Colloingwood and Nicholas Size.

They were both scholars, specialists on the Viking settlers in Cumbria. Collingwood wrote Thorstein of the Mere, a Saga of the Northmen in Lakeland. This saga fills in the gaps that the Historian has to leave alone due to lack of unambiguous evidence or simply lack of any evidence at all. Nicholas Size writes about his novel The Secret Valley, the Real Romance of Unconquered Lakeland : “There are details to imagine and suggestions to make in order to cover points which have not been recorded; and as life is too short for most of us, it seems best to put the facts into the form of a readable story appreciated by the many, instead of into a dry handbook appreciated by the very few.” I couldn’t agree more.

The novelist can continue where the historian must stop and admit that we don’t know.  But to use conjecture and create fiction carries responsibility and, like Collingwood and Size, although I am no longer an academic, I do take that seriously. More about sources and inspiration in my next blog.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Shieldmaiden Interview and Review

The Bookish Dame has inviewed me and reviewed Shieldmaiden on her blog:


"Shieldmaiden" by Marianne Whiting~Absorbing Story!

SUMMARY:  Sigrid is the daughter of a runaway Norwegian princess and a warrior who was once Harald Finehair’s housekarl. She grows up on a farm by Loweswater but her childhood comes to an abrupt end when her father is outlawed and killed, her home is burnt and the rest of her family disappears...
In the year 934 Cumbria is in turmoil. The English fight Vikings for political supremacy in the North, whilst the traditional Viking way of life is threatened as Christianity advances against the worship of Norse gods. Against this background, Sigrid embarks on a quest for justice and security for herself and her children. Her only option is to appeal to the King of Norway to reverse his judgement on her father and allow her to inherit the family farm, but Norway is far away and Sigrid is a daughter of an outlaw with only her wits and her sword skills to help her cause. Recruiting a small but gallant force of allies, she sets out to regain her birth-right. During her quest, she encounters kings, warriors and villains. While her fighting skills earn her admiration and rewards, she also begins to understand about duty, honour and loyalty, changing from a headstrong teenager into a respected warrior woman. Shieldmaiden is a well-researched and realistic tale that will appeal to fans of historical fiction, as well as young adult readers. Marianne has been inspired by Nordic sagas and legends and the Icelandic sagas, as well as Frans G. Bengtsson’s The Long Ships, Robert Low’s The Oathsworn series and Manda Scott’s Boudica novels.
Published by:  Troubador Publishing Inc./Matador
Pages:  264
Genre:  Historical Fiction
Purchase:  Barnes & Noble   Amazon


Welcome to A Bookish Libraria, Marianne.  I'm anxious to hear your answers to some of my questions!

1) First of all, please tell us a special something about what makes you “tick.”  When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
 Reading, unless my husband drags me, kicking and screaming, out for a walk or bike ride which I then enjoy very much.

2) We’re always curious about where a writer chooses to write.  Could you tell us about your favorite place to write?  Describe it in detail…what’s on your desk, what do you see from the window if any…do you have a favorite lucky charm?

 This is one of my big problems. I have a very small, crowded room where I do my writing, keep track of my finances (it can be seriously scary to find an unpaid bill between chapter one and two), keep the accounts for Leicester Writers’ Club and any correspondence. A shared filing-cabinet and a chest of drawers ensure regular interruptions. This is why I’m often found in our lovely little conservatory; it’s bright and with a view of the garden but cold in winter and boiling hot in summer. I may also claim space in our living room or on the dining table. Need I say, how grateful I am to whoever invented the laptop! My desk is a mess – you really don’t want to know!

Every now and then I excavate my desk and then I find my lucky charm. It is a small stuffed dog, about two inches long, with a funny smile on its face. He’s very cute and I’m always very pleased to see him. I make a great deal of fuss of him until he’s again buried under the debris.

3) Bronte or Austen?  Hemingway or Hawthorne?  Why?

  My dad introduced me to historical fiction. He took me to see The Three Musketeers with Errol Flynn and when we got home he let me borrow his copy of the book. I never looked back! I devoured historical adventure and novels about war and, yes, I read Hemingway and Steinbeck too. Never a fan of romantic fiction, I do however also have a complaint about adventure stories; the men and the boys always seem to have all the fun and excitement. We have tough female detectives, why not a warrior woman? Sigrid, the Viking shieldmaiden, demanded that her story be told.

 4) In your opinion, what makes a book a great one?

One that stays with you; one that makes you think and feel; one that challenges you and shows you something new. I like to find out facts and ideas from my fiction.

 5) Which author(s) most influenced your love of books? 

 This could easily be a long list and it would probably change quite often but Villhelm Moberg and Sven-Edvin Salje, two historical novelists from Sweden have had a lasting influence because they manage to combine historical accuracy with realistic characters facing challenging situations and moral dilemmas which feel relevant to the modern reader.
Going back to my childhood, I’ve already mentioned Alexandre Dumas but there is of course also Astrid Lindgren whose Pippi Longstocking influenced not just my love of books but probably my attitude to life as well.

6) Read any good books in the past 6 months?

 You want the whole list?! I belong to a book club which makes me read things I wouldn’t otherwise choose. This year I discovered David Mitchell’s Ghostwritten, Rose Tremain’s Restoration, Georgina Harding’s Painter of Silence and Fawsia Koofi’s autobiography The Favoured Daughter. Outside the club I have enjoyed Robert Low’s Oathsworn, a series of Viking adventures. At the moment I’m re-reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

7) Choose 4 guests from any era for dinner.  Who would they be and what would you choose for a topic of conversation?

Theodora Byzantine Empress, Queen Margareta of Sweden, Denmark and Norway 1389-1412, Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia. I think they would find a discussion about the challenges women face when ruling empires.

8) There’s a song that goes along with your book, what is it?

 Clannad, Boadicea. It is a celtic tune but I don’t think there are any surviving examples of Viking music.

9) If you could cast your book for a movie, who would you choose for your 2 main characters?

Jennifer Lawrence as Sigrid and Viggo Mortensen (20 years ago) as Ragnar.

10) Worst habit you have while writing books?

Answering questions that I then have no recollection of. This is particularly embarrassing if I have promised to do something.

 11) How much research did you do before and during writing?

 In my arrogance I thought that being Swedish I knew enough about Vikings so I did nothing before starting. I have since done lots of reading, searching on the internet, looking up websites of re-enactment societies and visiting museums, Viking Centres and places I mention in the book.

12) Psychologists tell us the thing we think we’d most like to grow up to be when we’re ten years old is our avocation.  What did you want to be?

Honestly, I wanted to be a novelist. It just took me half a century to get started!

 I read and thoroughly enjoyed "Shieldmaiden: You are your Father's Daughter..." this week.  It wasn't at all what I expected.  Frankly I thought I would be bogged down in Viking names and history and would have to plough my way through them to find a story to enjoy.  Quite the contrary. 

We are very soon introduced to the strong-willed and beautiful Sigrid, who is the shieldmaiden, and her soon-to-be-lover, Ragnar.  Both of these young warriors are beautifully rendered, exciting, and not at all boring or bogged down!  Through them and their personal struggles around a great battle, we become familiar with the times and the peoples of the year 934.

Mythologically, Norse gods and Christianity wrestle for foundations amongst the English and the Vikings in Ms Whiting's novel.  I loved the contrasts shown in the warriors and peoples.  I saw Norway as I'd never experienced it before.

This is a historical novel that's a surprise.  It's well-written and wonderfully told.  I enjoyed the love story and the strength of character of the warrior woman, Sigrid.  I would recommend it for those who like to take a risk on unusual historical fiction with a wonderful love story.

4 stars                Deborah/TheBookishDame