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Writing Research – How I’m Using My Love of History #Vikings #WritingTips

Writing Research

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?

Jorvik 19There’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.

16 thoughts on “Writing Research – How I’m Using My Love of History #Vikings #WritingTips”

    1. It’s absolutely fascinating! I watched a video of a lady taking the test and getting her results, I think it was supposed to be a ‘don’t waste your money on this’ kind of post but she was totally blown away with her own results. My ancestry is something I’ve always been interested in and have only managed to get so far with my research using the genealogy sites. I need to pack my bag and do some proper digging if I’m going to find out more. The thought that this Yorkshire lass might be a descendant of a shield maiden is pretty epic haha

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  1. Research is great fun. Although I rarely write about real places or real people, I like to visit places that show how my characters might have lived and to take photographs as reminders of what I’ve seen. I also have a whole bookcase full of books about all aspects of the Middle Ages. The internet is good for pictures, but I wouldn’t use it for any other kind of research, unless I knew or had heard of the person who wrote the article. I write historical romance.

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    1. That’s interesting to hear, April. I did wonder if I should use real places but change the names of them. Part of the reason for writing this novel is to entice another generation to explore our history. If I read a book I enjoyed that included a particular place then I’d want to visit and find out more – I guess that’s why I’m sticking with the real names eek! I collect lots of images and save them on a book board on Pinterest, I find this to be a great help, but I agree that any internet research needs to be done with a huge dose of salt.

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  2. The Vikings are fascinating and your insights into your own genealogy are interesting. I am writing a supernatural horror book at the moment and I have had to do masses of research because the ghosts are all from different eras. I have chosen an area in the UK I have been to as that makes it a bit easier with the settings.

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    1. There’s something to be said for ‘write about what you know’ isn’t there ha ha! It certainly makes the research easier. Your book sounds interesting. What a great mix – supernatural horror/history.

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  3. Really interesting post. As a reader I like this mix of fact and fiction, often I find myself disappearing into Google for further reading. I love that I can learn and discover new things from reading. Great post x

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    1. Thanks, Yvonne. I’m just like you with wanting that mix of fact and fiction. I adds another element to the story that you can take with you once you’ve finished reading. I read a fantasy novel by Cassandra Clare once (a favourite YA author of mine) and it was partly set in London. The next time I visited the capital I went to the area to see it for myself!
      We can be eternal students together 🙂

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  4. Bamburgh Castle is incredible…as is Lindisfarne. It’s easy to imagine the Vikings landing there. I did the genealogy thing too – I’m 45% Irish and 36% western European and only 15% British! Best of luck with the research, it sounds like it’s going to be a lot of fun x

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    1. I’m already looking at places to stay near Bamburgh so I can have a weekend away and explore. The DNA test is fascinating isn’t it! I wonder if anyone is 100% somewhere? Thanks for the well wishes, I’m thoroughly enjoying writing this book so I hope that translates well for the reader x

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  5. Shelley, before I wrote Lindisfarne I made 3 trips there, twice with a friend but once on my own, which was the most useful; I’d already planned the book out and I walked around talking videos and talking about what I was doing and who lived where, so I would be able to visualise it as I wrote it. I used the videos a hell of a lot when writing it, and UK2! I know exactly where all the characters live – Wedge’s cottage was really called Creel Cottage, which I loved, but I thought I’d better not use proper names, so I changed it to Seal Cottage; I don’t know if you’ve got to the end of Legacy yet, but Bree and Silas stay there 100 years later.

    I totally understand your fascination with the Viking period – I’m totally into the Dark Ages, and have read lots of stuff from those times. I think your standing on the rock at Bamburgh will make a lot of difference – I don’t think I’d have been able to write about the feel of Lindisfarne so well if I hadn’t experienced it. 🙂

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    1. That’s really helpful, Terry. The videos are a great idea. I’m half-way through Legacy (LOVING it!!) and I’m at that ‘I hope they make it’ stage LOL.

      I’ve been back and forth about naming the physical places rather than choosing fictional names but it feels right to keep them as they are. I have opted for the more modern names instead of the Viking/Saxon language for ease of reading – Eoforwic is a bit of a mouthful for even the most dedicated reader so I thought sticking with ‘York’ might be better! Same with Hedeby instead of Haithabu 🙂

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