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« The Huxley Hoard - The lost treasure of Viking Refugees from Dublin? The Cuerdale Hoard - Viking Age Neck Rings »

Tony Bradman ( Author ) – Viking Boy

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Categories: vikings, Novelist, Gunnar

I’ve always loved historical fiction, and history too. A good historical novel has lots of drama – writers don’t tend to pick dull periods to write about! And if it’s a well researched story, you also learn lots about a particular time and place.

The Vikings were my first love. I’ve been a fan of Viking stories (and the history of the Vikings) Among the earliest books I read as a boy were the novels of Henry Treece, a historical writer for children who has almost been forgotten now. But his book Horned Helmet stayed in my mind for a long time – it’s very cool in the way only a Viking story can be cool – spare, hard, northern, but witty and poetic too. I then went on to read other Viking novels (by Rosemary Sutcliff!), and saw a great film at an impressionable age – The Vikings, starring Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. All good stuff…

Viking Boy is the story of Gunnar, a boy whose home is destroyed by raiders and his father killed. Gunnar swears revenge on the man responsible, and sets off on a quest to achieved it – but he encounters some pretty big obstacles on the way. I wanted to write a book that I would have loved when I was a boy – something packed with drama and with lots of twists and turns in the plot. I also wanted to make it feel as Viking as possible, and did plenty of research to make that possible. I’ve read loads of stuff about the Vikings over the years – lots of history books! I also read a lot of the Icelandic sagas, brilliant real-life stories of Viking life in the early years of settlement on Iceland. They were written down in the 14th century by an amazing man called Snorri Sturlusson who is worth a book on his own. I read lots of versions of the Norse myths, too, the best one by far being Kevin Crossley-Holland’s The Norse Myths. (Kevin has also recently produced two brilliant new Viking stories, Bracelet of Bones and Scramasax – I’m hoping there’s a third one in the pipeline!). And last but not least I did a couple of research trips to Scandinavia. I visited two great Viking ship museums, one in Oslo, and one in Roskilde, Denmark, where I went for a ride in a reproduction Viking ship and even dressed up as a Viking! My wife still won’t let me buy a sword, though.

I’m a big fan of the ancient Greeks, and there are some similarities between the two sets of Gods – their violence and capriciousness, the way they interfere in human life. But the Norse Gods do have their own darkness and intensity – the idea of fate as being inescapable is a powerful one, especially when it generates an attitude that runs through Viking culture – fate is inevitable, but you don’t know what yours will be, so you might as well get on and live your life as best you can. There’s a kind of tough, rugged individualism at the heart of Viking culture that boys find very appealing – I know I did when I was young!

One of my favourite Shakespeare plays is Macbeth, and the scenes with the three witches were very much in my mind when I wrote the Norns scenes in Viking Boy. The Triple Goddess of Maiden, Mother and Crone also features in ancient Mediterranean culture – I was a big fan of Robert Graves in my 20s, and read his book The White Goddess, which explores the idea that the original European religion was matriarchal. It’s fairly barmy, but rich in ideas that have obviously percolated in my mind for a long time. Viking Boy is also a very masculine book, with mostly male characters – although when any female characters appear (the Norns and the Valkyries!) they’re very scary. Maybe that says something about me…

I do plan quite carefully – the process is one of lots of research and thinking and note-taking and making, and then an outline… I like to know where I’m going. But the plan often changes, sometimes completely. I usually have an idea of the ending, but that can change too, and it never works out the way I thought it would when I started the journey. A lot of writers say they don’t plan because they need to be surprised by the characters and the story – that happens to me all the time, even though I plan, in every type of story – long, medium, or short. In Viking Boy, for instance, I never really planned to have a character called Rurik – but there he was in a key scene, a minor character who became my hero’s friend and a major part of the plot.

 

It took me a long time to write Viking Boy, and I had a lot of ups and downs with it. The first draft was over 60,000 words, and the publishers reminded me that they’d only wanted 30,000 (whoops!). I thereupon cut it to 42,000 and swore blind that I couldn’t cut another word. They were happy with that draft, except for a few fairly minor suggestions… but when I read it again I realised I could make it a lot better and proceeded to cut it to… just over 30,000 words! So I got there in the end. It was an interesting experience, and I think the final draft was right for a Viking story – lean, mean, under-stated, cool. Why didn’t I do that in the first place? Ah, writers… we’re a mystery even to ourselves…

I love the way Viking Boy turned out, and I’d love to do something else on that scale, or even bigger. But I always take on too much and I want to be careful about what I commit to over the next few years – I’m not getting any younger! I have a number of ideas – another Viking story, but a much darker one with a real twist;. We’ll have to see…

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