In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m fifty percent pure Viking. Danish mother. The tough variety…

And that’s something which has coloured almost everything in my life. Which is – yes – another blessing.

It has also coloured the stuff I choose to write about. In particular the fiction I’ve worked on, with greater or lesser degrees of success.

My unpublished novel Thorgrim Berserk’s Saga was born from my study of Icelandic family sagas at university, in particular Laxdaela Saga and Njal’s Saga. Both feature a woman by the name of Hallgerd Hoskuldsdottir as a main character. She marries three times, and each of her husbands is killed – some would say with her connivance. She’s a fascinating person, but I chose to see her not as a monster, but as a heroine. And to see her through the eyes of a young slave boy she takes under her wing – and who becomes something of a monster himself.

Rereading it, it’s still a good yarn, with a fully researched and authentic background. I can see why Richard Evans liked it. And it may be time for it to reach a wider audience. But back then, it didn’t.

What did – initially at least – was a story called The Ice King. Co-written with my best mate Mike Scott Rohan.

Why ‘co-written’?

Frankly, we didn’t have much choice. For some time we’d been batting about the idea of a story based on Viking folklore – and specifically on the Viking version of the vampire. Draugar are Iceland’s walking dead. Blue, bloated, thoroughly unpleasant, and keen on killing off anyone they come across who might become a draug alongside them. One weekend in Oxford in 1982 we’d been desperately trying to think of a mechanism to bring them into the 20th century. And when I came back from a comfort break, I had the answer. ‘I’ve got it,’ I said. ‘So have I,’ said Mike. ‘A Viking ship burial,’ we said together.

As it happened we’d both worked on archaeological digs, and we used my own experience in Lincoln to create the somewhat down-at-heel base for our digging team. The dig itself was based on the excavation of the Roskilde Viking ships, where a coffer dam was built around the wrecks and pumped out so that no underwater equipment was required. I’d seen that excavation in progress myself as a young boy.

In terms of getting published, working together was an advantage. Mike’s first novel had already sold, and – thanks to Pieria – we were both known to and trusted by our editor. We were working with an excellent agent, and it wasn’t too long before the deal was struck.

And so the collaboration (and the arguments) began. We set the story a few years in the future, in the 1990s. By which time we predicted there’d be one-person news teams, portable computers, tasers as a weapon for security staff, and an international computer network linking universities all over the world – with a sophisticated search facility. As a location we chose the fictional town of Saitheby, on the North Yorkshire coast – a nod to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But our Van Helsing was the the computer – which, at a critical point in the story, trawls through dozens of different databases to recreate the story of a tyrannical local king and his evil queen, draugar both, whom their victims attempt to destroy by sending their coffins out to sea in a burning longship…

At one stage it seems that the two monsters have brought the Norse apocalypse down on Yorkshire, as the landscape disappears under a massive snowfall that cuts off the town. Publication coincided with a similar event in the UK, which my local paper gleefully seized upon with the headline ‘Blame this man for the weather!’ Ice King is a far from perfect novel, but it’s a pretty good first effort, and it did get reprinted twice – the second time with an excellent Ian Miller cover, the only one we felt did the story justice. It’s still available as an e-book, although these days people may not realise just how accurate some of our forecasting turned out to be… 

And with that under my belt I finally felt ready to tackle my first solo novel. But that is quite definitely another story…