Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Researching Vikings by Marie-Louise Jensen

I think most books need research of some kind. Locations, issues, names – all sorts of things that might seem to flow quite naturally when you’re reading the story, but that probably took the author many painstaking hours of work to give that naturalness. And if they haven’t been done carefully, might jar with a knowing reader.

Personally, I find I need to do a great deal of research. I need to bring the historical period alive in my own mind before I write about it. Otherwise how can I expect my readers to believe in it?
I have a Viking book coming out in February 2010 which took a great deal of time, money and effort to research. I’ve been to Iceland twice to visit locations, museums, digs and reconstructions. We camped around Iceland for six weeks, visiting almost every Viking site there is up there. Most were awesome. The reconstruction of Erik the Red’s longhouse, for instance. You are greeted individually by Icelanders in full Viking dress, willing to tell you the saga of Erik the Red and his bloodthirsty feuds and daring exploration, shown Viking replica artefacts, allowed to dress up, and you leave feeling you have come a huge step closer to understanding Viking life.

Another amazing experience was the Exhibition of Settlement at Reykjavik, where the curator took the time and trouble to explain all kinds of detail of Viking life to me and my family – and I picked up such delightful details as the eating of sheep’s brains in the winter to ward off scurvy – wonderful!

In the tourist centres I used reference books to look up flora and their healing properties, and made copious notes. We took an hour to ride the famous Icelandic horses. Spent whole days bird watching. And the wonderful summer medieval market at Gazir outside Akuyeri was invaluable.

Almost most important of all was the landscapes. I soaked them up for six long sun-drenched weeks. At times the weather was bitterly cold, but it was almost invariably beautiful. I came home and threw away the chapters I’d written before I visited the country and started again, realising I now had a far better understanding of the sights, sounds, smells and atmosphere of this wonderful land.

Of course it’s disappointing when one of the first reviews of the book (on refers to the Greenland setting (It was a lovely review apart from that *minor* detail) but I do hope, as I always hope, that for many readers I’ve captured a little of the place and time and brought it to life.


Nick Green said...

I am in awe. I can't even imagine going to such lengths for a book... to be so sure that I'd write it, that I would undertake such a trip, invest so much in it.

I feel like the man who buys garage flowers for his wife on Valentine's day, who glances across the road to see a suspiciously Rolls Royce shaped parcel done up with ribbon outside his neighbour's house.

My novel: "You got my research from WIKIPEDIA! Get out! Get out!"

Yunaleska said...

I figured a lot of research went into the Viking book (which is awesome!), but I never realised that much. Wow. Pretty neat fact about the sheeps brains!

Penny said...

Michelle, sorry if this sounds too nosy but how on earth did you fund such a wonderful and exciting research trip? Publishers don't pay much for most novels, not when you take "having to live" out of the sum. Do you have another job other than writing?

btw the trip sounds as if it was really great & useful experience!

steeleweed said...

Among the many books I have in storage (waiting sale of home), there is a series describing how people lived in various eras, from ancient Rome to Victorian England. They go into a lot of detail on daily life - housing, food, clothing, social processes, etc.
Next time I visit the storage unit I'll see if I can locate them and post the name/publisher here.

bookwitch said...

Iceland, Greenland... Not much difference! ; )

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

No not much difference... just
1284 Km apart right across the whole of the North Atlantic and one belongs to Europe and one to North America but really not much to quibble about!!! ;) A pity reviewers don't take the trouble some writers take when it comes to detail. A fascinating adventure Marie-louise.

Stroppy Author said...

Oh, what a lovely post. I was so pleased to read this, as it's exactly what I'll be talking about next week and I'm very reassured to know I'm not a one-off nerd for doing lots of research. Phew! Thankyou Marie-Louise :-)