Where I share my love of books with reviews, features, giveaways and memes. Family and needlepoint are thrown in from time to time.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sue-Ellen Welfonder Shares Her Love of Vikings!


I love Vikings.

Sometimes I suspect the feeling must be mutual because they often pop into my books. When they turn up, expecting to be included, I can’t resist them. After all, they’re bold and full of life, grand storytellers, brave and daring, romantic, and, at times, pretty darn dangerous. I’m sure you’ll agree those are all good traits for potential romance novel characters.

Having them appear suddenly, looking for a story part, is like being kissed by the writing gods.

I haven’t yet refused one.

So readers can expect to find the rare Norseman (or Norsewoman) living happily somewhere in my books’ pages. Or you can travel along when a character visits a Nordic setting. At the very least, there will be a few references-in-passing to Viking times.

A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009) has some wonderfully fun Norse characters. When heroine, Arabella MacKenzie, begins her grand adventure, you’ll meet Arnkel Arneborg, shipmaster of the Merry Dancer, the merchant cog she journeys on. Then there’s Olaf Big Nose, neighbor and friend to Arabella’s hero, Darroc MacConacher. I really adored Olaf and loved writing the scenes that took place on his isle. His womenfolk also won my heart and I hope you’ll enjoy spending time with them, too. Asa Long-Legs was especially dear to me. Look for her at Darroc’s own Castle Bane.

These colorful Viking secondaries share the pages of A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009) with some fascinating bits of Norse myth and legend.

Clan MacConacher’s fabled Thunder Rod has its roots in Nordic lore. This clan heirloom plays a strong role in A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009) and provided me with hours of deadline enjoyment. The Thunder Rod is very special. I smiled each time it appeared on my pc screen. If you don’t yet know what it is, the Thunder Rod is a polished length of fossilized wood. It’s carved with runes and is charmed – though some may say cursed – and it may or may not have been torn from the prow of Thor’s own dragon ship. There’s another, equally romantic, tale about the rod’s origins, but I’ve shared enough for now.

You can surely see that I’m fond of all things Norse.

But some of you might be wondering why I weave such things into Scottish medieval romances.

The short answer is: see above. I just love Vikings.

That’s true enough. It’s also true (again, see above) that I have so much fun writing them. Even so, there’s much more to it. You see, those Vikings have every right to be there.

The Norse ruled the Hebrides for nearly four centuries. Some historians place the earliest invasions as far back as 100 B.C. But the great age of Viking raids didn’t happen until many hundreds of years later. When it came, beginning in the late 700s, the attacks were vicious and terrifying. There isn’t any way to paint them pretty. They were what they were.

But the Vikings weren’t just blood-thirsty sea-raiders.

They were also farmers, fishermen, great shipbuilders, amazing craftsmen, and incredibly far-traveling traders, merchants, and explorers. And like so many people who raid, they eventually became settlers, bringing their own history, culture, and beliefs to the lands they’d once ravaged. Through intermarriage with locals, they also brought new and fresh blood.

Here’s a photo of me (well, my feet) enjoying a picnic at one of my favorite haunts in Shetland. Not surprisingly, a Viking settlement was excavated not far from this idyllic spot.



They obviously knew a beauty spot when they saw one.

Norse hold on the Hebrides began to crumble after the Battle of Largs in 1264. The actual battle wasn’t a grand victory for the Scots, but the weather gods joined the fray and fierce sea storms smashed the Norse longships. King Hakon retreated to Orkney where he died and Norway ceded the Hebrides to Scotland two years later, in 1266.

Scotland’s Northern Isles, Orkney and Shetland, remained under Norse rule much longer. Only in the late 1460s did Scotland gain power there.

Those are cold, hard historical facts. Dates and events carved in time and that are irrefutable.

What is also indisputable is that Viking influence remained strong.

This legacy can still be seen throughout the Hebrides, setting of A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009). To this day, you’ll find these beautiful, windswept islands brimming with Norse archaeological sites. For those who look for such things, Viking influence can be found in place names, local customs and festivals, and myth and legend. Who hasn’t heard of the fabulous sagas? To say the Norse had a way with words is an understatement.

There isn’t room to go into the pagan world of their gods or their spectacular ship burials. I could also wax poetic over how charismatic the men could be. Or sing praises of the women who were so strong and vital and held so many rights. Some of those rights are real eye-poppers for those who like to think women back then were helpless doormats.

Not Norsewomen.

They enjoyed sexual freedom that was unheard of in other societies. A woman could divorce a husband if he didn’t adequately satisfy her. Some wives who are recorded as having made use of this right are also noted as walking away with their dowries returned to them.

I like to think they were also as generous, good, and big-hearted as they were free-spirited.

That’s how I saw the Norsewomen you’ll encounter in A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009) when the story takes you to Olaf Big Nose’s isle. Asa Long-Legs’ tale is a bit different, and tinged with tragedy. But she, too, could well have existed and her fate isn’t really a stretch. Although she is entirely my own creation, as is what happens to her.

Asa hailed from Shetland and she missed her northern home. The following two photos were taken at a place she would have known. These cliffs are the northernmost point of land in Great Britain. I thrilled to walk those cliffs. Being at the very top of Shetland, they’re closer to Norway than mainland Scotland. I like to think Asa loved this place, too.

My portrayal of other Vikings in the story, namely the villainous ones, is also how I truly believe those particular sea raiders would have been. The Hebrides are vast and provided many hiding places for sea raiders. Such marauders did exist and some Hebridean isles were notorious lairs for them, the surrounding seas perilous to the traveler.

They certainly posed a danger for Arabella in A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009). But everything worked out in the end and I like to think she’s forgiven me for some of the trials she had to endure on her journey across the Hebrides. After all, if everything had gone smoothly, she never would have landed in Darroc’s arms.

So I don’t think she minded overmuch.

Although I’ll share that she blanched the day I was sitting at my desk, dreaming up her adventure, and the Black Vikings stormed into my office to announce that they were my villains.

She knew then that her path wouldn’t be easy.

She’s also been ‘working with me’ through many books (she was born at the end of my third book, Bride of the Beast (GCP, Jan. 2003) so she was aware of my affection for Vikings. She’ll have known I couldn’t have just looked the other way and pretended those fearsome, fire-in-their-eyes, sea-raiders weren’t in the room with us, demanding a piece of the action.

Obviously, Arabella trusted me to see her safely through a 450 page manuscript and into her happy ending, Vikings or no Vikings.

I’m also sure she understood their presence in her book.

With Norse legacy still such a tangible part of today’s Hebrides, imagine how strongly she would have been aware of their influence in her time, living when and where she did.

I hope you’ll agree that the Vikings you’ll meet in A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009) fit in well and add some lovely color and excitement to the story.

Here are a few Viking fun facts you might not have known:

1) They didn’t wear horned helmets. A Viking warrior’s head protection of choice was most often a simple pointed helmet with a nasal bar. These helmets sometimes had mail ‘curtains’ at the back to safeguard the neck.

2) Vikings cared about appearance. They bathed frequently, braided their hair and beards, wore colorful clothes, and were fond of jewelry.

3) They were world travelers. A runic inscription at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows they reached Turkey. And archaeologists in Scandinavia have uncovered countless stashes of dirhams (Arab silver coins), proving trade with those distant lands.

4) They could charm. One Norse trader was so well-liked for his engaging tales about his sea-journeys, that he was always an honored guest at King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon court. This would have been at the height of the worst raiding years.

5) Their powerful sagas speak for themselves. These men had silver tongues. As proof: they had over a dozen beautifully evocative words just to describe the wind.

I could keep on – there are so many other fascinating bits I’d love to share - but space and time sets limits. You can probably tell already how much I love exploring the places I use as settings. And that I love, love, love research. Visiting such places first hand and learning as much as I can about something that fascinates me, is my idea of heaven.

Though just now, I should probably say Valhalla.

Question: do you enjoy research?

Or are you like some (not-to-be-mentioned) people I know who would rather have their toenails pulled out than be forced to wade through history books?

Visit my website to learn more about A Highlander’s Temptation (GCP, Oct. 2009) and see photos from my travels to sites of Viking interest in the Hebrides and Northern Isles: www.welfonder.com

6 comments:

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Morning, Ladies!

Kristi - Thank you so much for featuring A Highlander's Temptation and my essay on Viking Scotland on your blog today. I appreciate it.

Everyone - Good luck in the drawing and have fun!

Elena said...

This was really interesting - and such lovely photographs too.

Thanks for making it available to read.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Thanks so much, Elena. I appreciate your good words. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and the photos.

Good luck in the drawing!

SAS said...

First time reply on author blog. I really enjoyed the info.

I thought the Thunder Rod provided many funny moments in the book. I especially thought Darroc's reactions were funny and gave me more insight into his character.

Great book.

stacey said...

I love a Viking almost as much as I love a Scot.I even think there is some viking blood in my family.
sasluvbooks@yahoo.com

Sue-Ellen Welfonder said...

Evening, Ladies - Thanks so much for looking in here.

SAS - I'm not a blogger either and this is the first-ever such tour I've done. My publisher arranged it, so it's all new for me, too.

I'm so glad that you enjoyed this book. Especially the Thunder Rod. I did have lots of fun with it. Thank you so much for your good words. I appreciate them.

Stacey - Thank you, too, for looking in here. I'm delighted to see that you're also fascinated by Vikings. With your Norse blood, you really should visit the Hebrides and especially Scotland's Northern Isles, Orkney and Shetland. The history is all so tightly entwined.

That's why this essay was one of my very favorites. I really wanted to show the strong Viking influence in the Western Highlands and Isles and tie that centuries-long connection to the story. So this piece was one that really mattered to me. I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Those interested can learn a bit more about Viking Scotland and see more related Scotland/Shetland photos at my website. Just look for the cover to A Highlander's Temptation and click on 'see the inspiration' to get there.

Thanks again!

Good luck in the drawing, Ladies!

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