Writing fantasy fiction allows me to bend the rules, make stuff up, and be as creative as I want to be. I’ve invented realms, worlds, and races for my Guardian Series, I’ve run with a werewolf pack through Sherwood Forest in my Hood Academy Series, and I’ve turned little red riding hood into a kick-ass werewolf hunter! For my current work in progress, however, I’m turning back time and writing about the 9th Century, and in particular, the Vikings.
Why have I chosen the Viking Age?
Firstly, I’m obsessed with Viking history and how it’s more than likely linked to my ancestry (more on this below).
Secondly, blending history with fictional stories allows you to breathe new life into old sagas and bring these incredible topics to a new audience. As I write for young adults, I wanted to show this age group how diverse our culture was and how exciting historical tales can be.
I’m a huge fan of genealogy and have traced my Wilson line back to 1805 and my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Wilson. I was so intrigued with my roots that I did the ‘spit in a tube’ test via Ancestry to see what my DNA would reveal – it was quite a surprise for this Yorkshire lass who lives in the Midlands!
My results were:
- 1% African
- 5% Great Britain
- 8% Iberian
- 40% European West/Scandinavia
- 46% Irish
Along with your test results, you receive huge amounts of information about the regions you come under including a comparison to a typical native from that particular area. The pages and pages of documents contain in-depth historical facts, maps, and images.
When reading the 5% Great Britain section, it points out that the history of Great Britain is often told in terms of invasions (Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans). My result clearly shows that my ancestors weren’t part of the existing population. When I dig a bit deeper, I see that the likelihood of my ancestors being one of the invading tribe’s increases.
Were my kin part of the Germanic tribes who seized the opportunity to invade Britannia in 410 A.D when the Romans left? Or were they seafaring Vikings from Western Europe/Scandinavia/Iberian Peninsula who settled in Britain and Ireland?
There’s every possibility that I’m reading what I want into the findings, but every section of my report points to a Viking invasion at some point, so I’m claiming it as the truth!
Mix together my fascination with the Viking Age, the possibility I’m descended from a warrior/invader, my need to travel far and wide, and my love of writing kick-ass female characters, and we have the making of a novel packed full of battles, loyalty, friendships, love, and plenty of axe wielding.
Of course, writing about a specific point in our history means I can’t just make stuff up this time. There needs to be an authentic timeline that includes realistic Anglo-Saxon places and people. Clothing, weapons, and customs need to be investigated thoroughly. Although my manuscript is entirely fictional, I’ve had great fun including a few cameo roles for larger than life historical figures, real-life places that played a huge part in the Viking Age such as Hedeby and Bamburgh, and I’ve opted to use Anglo-Saxon/Viking names from the era for my characters.
The research part of this book has been great fun. I recently visited the JORVIK Viking Centre in York to see first-hand what my characters would have worn, used in battle, cooked with, and also to smell an authentic 9th Century street – cow dung and rotting meat in case you’re interested – luckily I went before lunch!
I’m planning a trip to Bamburgh Castle early next year so I can stand on the volcanic rock and look out to sea just like my main character will do. These experiences might not make it into the book, but for me, it brings the story to life in the best possible way.
I’d love to hear about your research stories. Which resources do you use? Do you stick to literature and the internet or do you travel to discover what you need to know? What genre do you write for and how important is research to your story?
Next time I’m going to be sharing the process I used for choosing my authentic Anglo-Saxon character names so be sure to pop back to my blog and check it out.