Today I’m delighted to host Tim Hardie, the author of Hall of Bones (SPFBO7 finalist), Sundered Souls, and soon more – so that he can tell us how Hall of Bones came to be and (gasp) how he did NOT read the myths for inspiration!
floor blog is yours, Tim.
When Bjørn Larssen asked if I’d like to contribute to his blog, I’ll admit I was a bit intimidated. Mr Larssen is a scholar [he really isn’t at all – B] when it comes to all things Viking and Norse and for a while I debated whether I should back out. My reason for thinking this, which I’ll expand on in this post, is my book isn’t really Viking or Norse at all.
This is, of course, a form of imposter syndrome. I particularly dislike that whole ‘You’re not a fantasy writer until you’ve read A, B, C … X, Y, Z, the short story collection for D, E, F … and the prequels for blah, blah, blah’. You get the point. By all means shout from the rooftops about the books you love. Authors need the support of their readers and fans. Seriously, though, if everyone had to read all everyone else’s favourites before they were allowed to put pen to paper the literary world would be dead. It’s a form of elitism which, taken to extreme, stifles creativity. If you want to write – just write.
As an aside, I’ve not read Malazan, will never pick up The Wheel of Time and I’ve DNF’d The Way of Kings, the first book of The Stormlight Archive. Bite me.
So, having gotten that out of the way, Bjørn asked me to write about the Norse influences of my book. I found myself thinking about this for some time, because I tend to describe my series (The Brotherhood of the Eagle) as Viking-inspired fantasy, with an emphasis on the word fantasy. You won’t find the Norse gods in my writing because my fantasy world has its own mythology and pantheon of flawed deities. It’s interesting how Norse fantasy has become a ‘thing’ in recent years and is now incredibly popular.
When I set out to write Hall of Bones, way back in 2011, I wanted to use a Viking culture as it provided something a little different to the standard/generic medieval fantasy setting. I couldn’t think of a comparable title back then. By the time the novel was finished at the end of 2015 the genre had caught up and that trend has continued apace.
Where did this idea come from?
It’s hard to say. When I was younger, I was far more interested in Greek mythology and Tolkien. I was much older before I realised how much of Tolkien’s writing was influenced by, amongst many other things, Norse mythology. Whole books have been written on that subject and I’m not going to attempt to summarise them here. Just taking a couple of examples, it’s well-documented how the elvish languages were influenced by Finnish, whilst Tolkien confirmed Gandalf is a figure inspired by Odin, The Wanderer. This whole area is fascinating and I had to stop myself disappearing down a research rabbit hole for several months in order to stay on track.
I do have vivid memories of reading Henry Treece’s Viking Trilogy as a young teenager. Published between 1955 and 1960, those three books (Viking’s Dawn, The Road to Miklagard and Viking’s Sunset) featuring Harald Sigurdson really stayed with me and I read them cover to cover numerous times. They were my first foray into historical fiction and Treece’s well-researched series used each book to represent some of the key voyages undertaken by the Vikings. Harald’s adventures take him to Scotland, Ireland, Constantinople (Miklagard) and finally America. Although the key influence on Hall of Bones is Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy, there’s certainly an echo there of Treece’s writing as well.
I deliberately didn’t read the Norse myths as research when I began Hall of Bones.
Some of this was down to a combination of laziness, lack of inclination and time constraints. However, I was also conscious I didn’t want to fall into a retelling of those myths and I was worried those ideas would seep into the story I was trying to tell. It was only much later that I began to dip into Norse mythology, once I had the full plotline for The Brotherhood of the Eagle worked out. Like all writers, I’m a brazen magpie, stealing ideas as and when it suits. Fantasy provides the perfect melting pot to bring those ideas together into something fresh and new. The Viking elements of my books are just one component, drawn together with all sorts of other influences.
Although I was studiously avoiding all things Norse, the fantasy genre carried on regardless. The first book where I noticed fantasy and Norse culture coming together was Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King, which came out in 2014 but I first picked it up a couple of years later. I loved the story of the ‘weakling’ Prince Yarvi and the setting of the Shattered Sea. There were definite echoes of Rothgar’s personal journey in Hall of Bones, although my book was completed before I read Abercrombie’s.
More recently, John Gwynne’s The Faithful and the Fallen series from 2012-2016, whilst drawing on various influences, including the Romans and Celts, has a clear link to Norse culture. Not only do we have the warrior giants of Jotun but the climax of the whole series is set in the city of Drassil, built around an enormous sacred tree, which is clearly drawn from Yggdrasil, the Norse ‘world tree’. Gwynne’s latest, The Shadow of the Gods, the first book in his The Bloodsworn Saga, moves firmly into this territory and is very much a Norse inspired series.
The other major work worth a mention is Mark Lawrence’s The Red Queen’s War, published between 2014 and 2016 where we meet the fantastic character of Snorri ver Snagason and his quest to cross Norway to reach the Black Fort and save his family. The tale of the fall of his people, the Undoreth, is a brilliant and painful piece of writing. It’s one which has stayed with me long after finishing this series.
You can see how these books have had a strong influence on the fantasy genre of today. In this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off competition there were numerous entries featuring Viking and Norse influences. To name but a few in no particular order:
Windborn by Alex S Bradshaw
Cold From The North by DW Ross
The Throne of Ice and Ash by JDL Rosell
A Song of Steel by James C Duncan
Children by a certain Bjørn Larssen
What does all this mean?
I’m not sure there’s an answer to that question, beyond the fact writers take ideas and fashion them for their own ends. This has always happened and always will and it’s a natural part of storytelling. This is the process at work in Hall of Bones, where Viking culture is important but by no means the only influence playing out through the story. Perhaps a more interesting question is what shiny object will catch the eye of the magpie next? If you know the answer to that question, you could be the next big thing in fantasy literature.
I grew up in the seaside town of Southport in the north west of England during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, I discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led me into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.
After training to become a lawyer I lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where I’ve worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. My writing began as a hobby in my early twenties and has gradually grown into my second career. I write epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.
I currently live in Derbyshire with my patient wife and two teenage children.