Monday, 5 December 2016
Interview: Giles Kristian
With the release of the third book in Giles' epic Rise of Sigurd trilogy, we've been lucky enough to be included as part of the authors blog tour. (For more stops see the poster further down the interview.)
As such we wanted to dig deep into the mind of this modern skald and bring you some answers to some questions we've been pondering for quite some time, so without further ado here we go:
You spend a lot of time writing about the Viking period. How well do you think you'd survive if you were thrown back into those days?
Great question! The truth is, of course, I’d be woefully ill-equipped in every aspect to survive in late 8th century Norway. The itchy woollen clothes alone would finish me off. We are, after all, products of our environment, and my environment is mostly centrally heated, populated with labour-saving technology, relatively sterile and lacking the immediate threat of physical danger. And yet. There is a part of me that would fit right in. Let’s call it my feasting hall mentality. Plus, I’m sure I could do my bit in the mêlée if it came to it. In fact, there’s a dark part of me (buried deep, fortunately) that would love to swing an axe in anger. Still, it’s probably for the best that I can write about Vikings from the comfort of my slippers and save the axe for my enemies that lurk within the log pile.
New discoveries are made every so often that affect the way that we today see those who have gone before. What is the weirdest period fact that you've come across and why has it amazed you?
When I visited the British Museum’s exhibition Vikings: life and legend, I was struck by a collection of bones and decapitated heads, unearthed during the creation of the Weymouth Relief Road, which are believed to be those of fifty-two young Viking warriors. Something else which made this rather disturbing discovery extraordinary was that some of the men’s front teeth have horizontal grooves etched into them. However this was done, it can’t have been a pleasant experience and we don’t know why they did it. There is a suggestion that these grooves were filled with pigment or resin and it could be that having filed teeth was a status symbol, perhaps the mark of a great warrior. Or perhaps it was done in order to frighten one’s enemy, for it must have made for a strange and outlandish appearance. Or could it even have been purely decorative? We just don’t know why a young Viking might have filed his teeth, but it certainly adds fearsome colour to the image of a warrior who has chosen to live outside of society’s norms. And what could be more Viking than that?
Who has been your favourite character to write about and why?
It’s funny how this has changed the older I’ve become. I used to like writing Black Floki best. He’s just so dark and dangerous and good with his blades. He’d kill his own grandmother for the fluff-covered Werther’s Original in her coat pocket, and this lack of decency makes him fun to write. He seems fearless and just does not care for the rules of men or even, perhaps, the gods, and yet he has some sort of spiritual side in as much as he believes his wyrd - his fate - is woven into Sigurd’s own. Then of course I realised I enjoyed writing Sigurd so much that I wanted to base another series on him and how he became a jarl and a man who inspires others to pledge oaths of loyalty to him. But these days I really like writing Olaf. I like his slight cynicism when it comes to the gods. I enjoy his banter and the way he talks to his enemies and I think he is often the voice of reason and experience in the face of some of the other men’s rash bravado. I also like that even among a crew that includes Black Floki, Svein and Bram the Bear, you wouldn’t bet against Olaf being the last man standing if it came down to it. I like to think experience counts for a lot.
What can you say about your next project?
My work-in-progress, LANCELOT: The Betrayal, is my take on the Arthurian myth. What makes it so different from anything else I know of is that it tells Lancelot’s story, not Arthur’s or
Merlin’s, but Lancelot’s. He is, after all, the great warrior. The famous lover. The betrayer. We see the world through his eyes, man and boy, and his journey will be our journey. His inner conflicts will be our conflicts, his battles our battles.
Set in a 5th century sub-Roman Britain besieged by invading warbands of Saxons and Franks, Irish and Picts, this will be a tale of love, lust, guilt and tragedy. It will be earthy yet spiritual. It will be imbued with pagan beliefs and the associated ‘magic’ of divination, spirit-flight and incantation, but there will not be dragons.
What would you say is the most valuable lesson you've learned about writing?
This is a lesson not so much about writing but about the business of writing – and that is: there’s nothing, or at least very little, I can do about what happens after the book is written and published. So, for instance, when I receive emails from angry readers who want to know when book III of the RAVEN saga is going to be translated into Spanish (for whatever reason the Spanish publisher has so far only bought books I and II); when readers mail me to say that this Waterstones or that Waterstones doesn’t have my new book in stock (alas, nothing I can do); when some of my ebooks are available in the U.S. while others are not (all to do with the licensing agreements); when audiobook listeners complain that they can’t find my audiobook on CD, or else they can only find it on CD (depends what deals have been done); when someone doesn’t like the image on the cover of the book (ultimately the publisher’s decision); or when they think a book is too expensive (I don’t set the price); or when the map on the ebook is not big enough (not my area); or when Amazon doesn’t deliver the book fast enough or the box it comes in is damaged so they give me a bad review (seriously); however frustrating all this stuff can be, there’s really not much I can do about it. I guess this is the double-edged sword of being available via all the social media platforms. It upsets me when a would-be reader can’t find my book in a branch of Waterstones, and I do tend to pass the info on to my publisher, but I must try to not let it bring me down, because it’s out of my control. All I can do is try to write the best book I can, then be available to my readers should they want to get in touch. That is what I am trying to learn.
When you're working on a project, what is your biggest flaw and likely to cause delays?
The enticing black hole that is social media. On the one hand it’s amazing to be able to chat to readers and other writers about books or the business or whatever. After all, being an author can be lonely and intense and very, very quiet, so Facebook and Twitter go some way to making up for that. Also, from a business perspective, social media is the way by which we authors, who are, after all, running our own small businesses, can interact with our customers and publicise our work.
And yes, it’s all too easy to let social media, or the internet generally, lead us toward temptation and procrastination. Writing can be hard work. Chatting to friends or looking up medieval recipes for mead is fun. The trouble is that both involve the same keys and the same screen, which are both within arm’s reach. I mean, who hasn’t started Googling images of Iron Age hill forts only to be sucked into a wormhole where you find yourself looking at pictures of supposed ghosts captured on camera, then end up buying a pair of shoes and checking Leicester City’s position in the league? Or is that just me?