Thursday 6 March 2014

Swords of Good Men (The Valhalla Saga) by…

Today I have an interview with Snorri Kristjansson about his book Swords of Good men. Snorri's second book in the series will be published in May 2014, so you have time to catch up with this one, if you haven't already.

How close is the book to real history? – how much research did you do into Viking times? (or to put it another way why have the Vikings not got horns on their helmets?)

Oh, you - you - cheeky little scamp. You know full well that the Vikings never had horns on their helmets - anyone with an IQ over the average temperature of a Norse summer (i.e. not very much) would probably choose to *not* go into battle with armour full of snags. Swords of Good Men is, as far as I could make it, reasonably historically accurate. There are no doubt Viking enthusiasts out there that can quite easily spot the odd anachronism, but I did my homework and read up on stuff. That being said, the language is totally anachronistic by choice and necessity - for purists, there are always the Sagas in the original, as it were.


Apart from the beards, the swearing and the violence (as if they’re not enough on their own) what attracts you to writing about Vikings?

They were badasses - but in a thoughtful way, I think. Cleave you with a conscience, that sort of thing. The rich tradition of storytelling, the cheerfully bonkers mythology - what's not to like? They're also a part of my cultural heritage. It was a no-brainer, really. 


Tell us a bit about the path to publication, did you go via an agent?

Well. I've long since accepted that my life is mostly governed by a ridiculous chain of coincidences. I've also accepted that Proper Writers will probably at the very least dislike me for this - but the long and the short of it is that I got an agent before I had written so much as a short story. I was 'discovered' doing stand-up comedy in the West End by my agent, Geraldine Cook, who thought I was an amusing and odd sort of potato, doing jokes on stage on the same day the Icelandic banking system looked like going kaput (it did) and people speculated that Iceland as a country might actually go bankrupt (we didn't). I pitched a couple of ideas to her, of which a trilogy about some badass Vikings was quite obviously the strongest, and set to writing. That was in November 2008 - I finished the manuscript in November 2009. What followed was then something like a year and a half of polishing, after which we started sniffing around for interest.  A number of less important publishing houses showed an abject lack of judgement in saying no - then something started moving. Just as we were anticipating an offer from a Big 5 direction, legendary fantasy editor Jo Fletcher (of Jo Fletcher Books) saw it, said immediately 'Strange, hairy Icelandic man? Perfect for my collection!' and snapped it up. The rest, as they say, is history.


What would you say was a greater influence, the sagas or modern fantasy?

Up until recently, I'd say modern fantasy. However, getting stuck into the intricacies of the Sagas has connected me to the roots as well. The Sagas are pretty mind-blowing, once you get into them. Snorri Sturluson was essentially the Jerry Bruckheimer of his age, with better one-liners and more violence.


Has the book been translated into any other languages? Would you like to see if translated into Icelandic?

At the moment it is slated for publication in Polish, with other negotiations ongoing. It has not been published in Iceland yet, and while I would of course want to see my work in Icelandic I cannot deny that it would feel incredibly weird to translate my own work. Who knows, though - maybe one day.


What books would you recommend in the Viking genre apart from your own?

Anything by Bernard Cornwell, Giles Christian or Tim Severin. 


If you could be a character from the book who would you be and why?

I think I might like to be Thora. She can take care of herself, swears like a virtuoso and mostly seems to be having a hell of a good time. 


What are you most proud of about the book?

I am still a little surprised that it is actually finished, and that it is actually a thing that I made. If there is such a thing as 'quietly mind-blowing', then that's it. I'm also proud that people that I don't know personally have read it and liked it - and that I've spoken to someone who told me that from their point of view I'd gotten some of the more sensitive and difficult bits pretty much right. 


What did you learn about writing whilst writing the book?

The specifics are too many to mention. Technique, description, pace, character, dialogue and all manner of other things. I learned an awful lot about mindset as well. Generally, though, I'd condense it into this: I'm worse at writing and better at editing than I think I am. 


In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?

Read critically.
The Bristol Book Blog review:
Kristjannson, an author originally from Iceland, has crafted an adventure tale set at the end of the Viking age when the old gods are in process of being displaced by the White Christ. There is a large cast of great characters and we switch POV between them fairly often. The action all takes place in Stenvik, a fortified town in Norway. War comes to Stenvik in the form of a Viking fleet and Kristjannson spends enough time to set up each and every character and the situation beautifully before the Vikings land. The prose is sharp, punchy and keeps the pace going and ratcheting up the tension throughout. There are a few twists and turns and when the battle finally comes it is cinematic in scope. The only off note was right at the very end but this is the first in a series so further books will, no doubt, claw that back. This is a pretty solid read that does exactly what you want it to. If you’ve a penchant for sweary bearded men killing other sweary bearded men in a Viking style then this is your thing. I can't wait to go a viking with Kristjannson again in the future.

Overall – a slightly off ending drops the rating a little but it is a rollicking good read nonetheless. Recommended.
Many thanks to Snorri for the interview, looking forward to revisiting the Valhalla Saga again in the future. If you've got a hankering for all things Viking after this then you should check out this:

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