Note: for clarity, I am going to ignore the questions such as where the coal, wood, and paper came from; how Karl obtained wire steel stock; etc.

“Today’s the day,” said Karl.

Gunnar looked up, surprised. He was busy rearranging his collection of animal bones, this time from the largest to the smallest. Sometimes he picked the prettiest one, sometimes the most bad-ass one (a broken skull of a fox), then arranged them in the badassery order. Strangely, the older he got, the less he enjoyed the game. Perhaps he just needed more bones. “The day?”

“The day you start working at the forge.”

Gunnar jumped up to his feet, dropping the large bone he was holding. It hit the skull, breaking it further, but the boy didn’t care. “I…will work at the forge? All on my own?”

 

Kids’ toys – Árbærsjafn open air museum, Reykjavík

 

His father laughed. “No, Gunnar, you can’t work at the forge all on your own. You need a helper. Or, in this case, I need a helper. That will be you.”

The boy was overjoyed. He watched his father at work since the forge was built a year before. Karl was self-taught, or more precisely still self-teaching, explaining to Gunnar over and over again over the noise of the hammer and the roar of the fire that the most important thing about forging was practice, practice, practice. To Gunnar’s dismay, Karl had never made a sword. Yet. “Will I make swords?”

Karl emitted a sound somewhere between a sneeze and a chuckle. “Come, boy.”

Gunnar’s head was already filled with the images of himself making a huuuuuuge sword. One that would slay enemies in half before even touching them. So what that in the twentieth century nobody really needed swords? Gunnar wanted one. He could already see himself expertly handling the weapon. He ignored his mother raising her eyes from the shirt she was mending, then shaking her head. What did mother know about swords? Nothing, that’s what.

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One of the many reasons why I decided to self-publish Storytellers rather than go the traditional agent > editor > publisher route are my control issues is my love for the art of cover design. When you have a traditional publisher, you have very little say as to how your book will be promoted, marketed… and how it is going to look. I don’t mind the first two, but the cover is my baby. Which means I am revealing my baby to you. Hey, at least there was no gender reveal party!

Here’s the cover – click through to read more about the design process, upcoming audiobook, and all other formats.

 

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You’re broken, the darkness taunted him. You don’t know how to live like normal people. No wonder nobody loves you. When you die nobody will remember you. That will be your legacy, said the darkness, its disembodied voice filled with fake pity.

The lead protagonist of my novel Storytellers, a blacksmith called Gunnar, suffers from depression, social anxiety, and possibly a form of PTSD. Today we would be able to steer him gently towards a medical professional of some sort – that is, if he managed to break through the internalised stigma of having to be a Strong Man Who Needs No Help Ever. But Gunnar was born in 1888, the novel takes place in 1920, and all he knows about his condition is that 1) it makes him “not normal” and 2) he can never, ever tell anybody about it.

 

Back then

In 1917, Freud “believed that a person’s unconscious anger over his loss leads to self-hatred and self-destructive behavior. He felt that psychoanalysis could help a person resolve these unconscious conflicts, reducing self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. Other doctors during this time, however, saw depression as a brain disorder”. (Source: verywellmind). As time passed, around 1920 “treatments for severe depression were generally not enough to help patients, leading many people desperate for relief to have lobotomies, which are surgeries to destroy the frontal portion of the brain”. Another technique used back then were electroshocks.

Gunnar lives on the outskirts of a small town. The local doctor, despite trying to keep up with the medical news, wouldn’t be able to administer electroshocks or lobotomy. In any case, he would first have to know what Gunnar suffers from, but the blacksmith can’t find words to describe how he feels. His depression comes and goes, and he refers to it as “the darkness”. His social anxiety manifests in ways that he doesn’t realise are even related to people – he thinks he’s afraid of objects, not understanding he is afraid of what would happen (according to his subconscious) if he accidentally broke or stained something that belonged to somebody else.

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