Monday, 1 November 2010

A Valkyrian Sanctum First Author Blog Interview -MD Lachlan on Old Gods, vikings and writing

MD Lachlan, author of 'Wolfsangel' - Blog Interview:
We discuss writing and reading about vikings and norse mythology
  1. When did the idea of Wolfsangel first come to your mind?
    As I was writing. I began writing a scene about the Blitz in London and I realised that someone was watching it. That person turned out to be an immortal werewolf. The events of Wolsangel are part of his back story. I’m not really an ‘ideas’ writer. That is, I write and I see what emerges. I don’t really try to control things at all tightly.

    2.    What interested you first - Vikings or Norse Mythology or both and why?
    They’re interdependent. I fell in love with Norse mythology doing a project on the days of the week at school – Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday being derived from the names of Norse gods. That was continued through Marvel’s Thor and Dungeons and Dragons. Reading about the mythology makes you read about the people. I played a lot of berserkers in D&D.

    3.    Did you have to do a lot of research into the life and times of Vikings as well as Norse myths? Can you recommend any sources?
    I knew a lot already but I still did quite a bit and I’m still doing it. The Edda – the 14th century source of the myths is a good starting point. The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings is good too. I’ve found Viking Answer Lady webpage useful.
    I have a huge bibliography behind Wolfsangel and one day I’ll write it all out!

    4.    Wolfsangel could be described as a mix of Viking historical fiction with mythological fantasy - is that what you intended it to become?
    I didn’t intend it to become anything other than a good story. I don’t really think that clearly about genre or anything like that when I write. I watch the story unfold, and don’t plan very much. That said, I knew the story had fantastic elements because it contained a werewolf.

    5.    Have you read any Viking historical fiction novels? And if so can you recommend one?
    Yes, I’ve read Frans G Bengtsson’s The Long Ships. It’s great and really contains that earthy Viking humour. The story meanders a bit and may seem a little unfocussed to modern readers but I really enjoyed it.

    6.    Have you read any Norse mythology fantasy novels before? And if so can you recommend one?
    The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is the nearest thing to that – and only in that it contains the name of Freya’s necklace in the title. I certainly recommend it, though – particularly to younger readers.
    I steer clear of anything similar to my work because I don’t want to be influenced by it – either trying to be like it or trying not to be like it!

    7.    The presence of Loki in Wolfsangel is a new take on this God of Mischief and Chaos, does it suggest he's your favourite or you have another favourite Norse God and if so who and why?
    I like Loki because he’s the only Norse god who isn’t a god of war. All the rest – even the women – are. He’s also only really mischievous towards the gods. He tends to help humans in the myths. He’d be my favourite. Odin, in the way I interpret him, is fascinating too but he’s very dark and odd. Mad, really.

    8.    How long did it take you to write Wolfsangel?
    Well the first draft was set in WWII.  When I decided to focus it on the Viking period, about 6 months. I’d been messing about with it for two years before that.

    9.    Do you prefer writing by hand or on a PC/Laptop?
    PC – well, Mac now. I’m a journalist so I can type much quicker than I can write. I also can’t think when writing by hand. There’s a link between your thoughts and the physical process of writing. It’s why writers like Bruce Robinson (Withnail and I) still bang away on old Remingtons. Their creative process is linked to the physical act of typing on a manual. That’s what they’ve learned to do. They can’t be creative on a PC. My creative process is linked to a computer.

    10.    Did you make lots of notes before writing?
    Hardly any. I read and what I need to remember comes out in the writing.

    11.    Do you structure your writing at all, say scene by scene? Plan each chapter? Write detailed character profiles?
    I start at word one and keep plugging away until it’s done on word 150,000 or so. Writing a character profile would to me seem like an admission of writer’s block. By the time you’ve written a chapter plan you could have written the chapter. My best characters – Saitada for instance – arrive as complete surprises. I wrote the two baby boys and suddenly realised they’d need to be fed on a three week longship voyage. So I gave them a mother. I thought she’d be killed on the boat by Authun. But – and I’m aware of how pretentious this sounds – she started talking to me and telling me she was equally as important as Authun or anyone else to the story. I’ve had a similar thing in Fenrir – the sequel to Wolfsangel.  There, the third Viking of a raiding party suddenly spoke up and said ‘you do realise I’m a major player in this story, don’t you?’ He was only meant to have one line in the book and now it’s his story as much as anyone’s.
    This is the approach that works for me. Everyone’s different, though, and some people swear by writing plans.

    12.    Have you always wanted to be a writer? If so when did you first begin writing?

    Always. I can remember wanting to do it as early as nine years old and that’s when I started. I always wrote diaries of holidays and parties and things just for my own amusement. I started writing novels when I was about 34 – which I think is a good age to begin.

    13.    What is your writing style? Do you have set times during the day/week to write?
    I write full time. When I’m into a book I write from 9 when the kids go into nursery to 5 when I pick them up. They go to bed at 7, I’ll spend a couple of hours with my wife and then write until the early hours of the morning. I do that five days a week and I write on Saturday and Sunday nights too.

    14.    Can you offer any advice or recommendations of any kind for budding writers?
    Write – set yourself a word target and stick to it at all costs. 1000 words a day minimum. It might take you 6 hours at first. Eventually you’ll amaze yourself when you knock them out much, much quicker.
    Don’t bother about quality, just get it down. Really, never, ever think ‘is this any good?’ – Don’t get it right, get it written.
    Then, in the edit, really bother about quality. Read Stephen King’s On Writing and do what it says, particularly about adverbs.
    And read. Read a lot outside of your chosen field. A major inspiration for Wolfsangel – though I don’t think it would be apparent – is Jean Rhys’s prequel to Jane Eyre Wide Sargasso Sea. I was really impressed by the simmering menace of that book and the air of grim inevitability about the heroine’s fate.

    15.    What have your experiences been like on your journey to becoming a published author?
    I was very lucky in that I got asked to write a novel by a literary agent who’d read my journalism and that book sold straight away. I wrote five mainstream books before going over to fantasy.

    16.    Has being published fulfilled your expectations?
    No, it hasn’t. I haven’t become ridiculously cool and I haven’t been chased by Gitanes smoking arty girls on the left bank of the Seine.
    The only lesson I’ve learned is that there’s no such thing as ‘making it’ as an author – not for most of us. It can all end tomorrow. Or today.
    I have  been lucky enough to make a living as a writer for 12 years now and I didn’t expect that. I’ve also re-invented myself twice and I didn’t expect that either. I thought I’d be writing modern comedies for my entire career.

    18.    How many times did you try to get Wolfsangel published? Was it alone or with an agent?
    It was with my agent. It went out on general submission in its form as a WWII fantasy novel. Everyone loved it and no one could work out how to publish it. I had four meetings with publishers who wanted to publish it but couldn’t quite work out how it was going to fit into their schedules. One publisher said it was the best novel he’d read in 20 years but his marketing department couldn’t work out how to publish it – what genre to fit it into – so he didn’t bid on it. After about a month Gollancz offered on it – on the condition that I split the novel into a series, starting in the Viking period and – in about 20 years if I’m lucky – arriving in WWII.
    I didn’t want to break up the book but it was the only deal I had. In retrospect it was a great idea and the book’s been much improved by it.

    19.    There has been a good but small surge in Viking themed novels in historical fiction and yours has added to the fantasy side of the genre - do you think there may yet be a chance of Vikings, in the fantasy side of things, dominating the way vampires have of late in the book market?
    No. A vampire is a powerful mythic figure easily converted to a symbol of sexual fascination. The vampire’s mode of operation is that of seduction. Really he’s a version of the tall dark hero who sweeps you off your feet.
    Vikings aren’t really as fundamentally sexy. That’s not to say they’re not interesting but they don’t stand on the same terrain of fascination, danger and repulsion that a vampire can be made to inhabit for teenage girls. At least in the Twilight form. Not sure where Nosferatu fits in to all that.

    22.    How much do you think English people should value our Viking heritage as it is often tainted by the images of horned helmets and raids?
    Well, the Vikings did raid so nothing wrong with that. They did a lot else too but, if you asked the Vikings if they would rather be remembered as traders and farmers or great warriors, they’d have gone for the latter. The horned helmets don’t really bug me all that much. If people want to believe in them, that’s up to them. In fact, the fact that the Vikings have this larger than life image might encourage some people to look into them a little more closely.
    I think we should value our heritage – and there are those who would argue that our heritage is more Viking than it is Anglo Saxon. I have heard it said that in the Domesday book Norse derived names outnumber Anglo Saxon ones.
    However, even though we do have a Viking heritage I don’t think we should use it as an excuse to think we’re better than anyone else or to prop up some far right wing ideology. I think we should see how enthusiastic the Vikings were to assimilate with the people they came into contact with and how curious they were about other cultures.
    There’s a  lot we can learn from the Vikings. The Sayings of the High One – Odin’s lore from the Edda – make a good guide to how to live your life.  I like the way they stress the value of the great deed and how much important it is to have lived heroically – in whatever form you take that – than to have lift comfortably and richly.
    ‘Cattle die, kindred die, 
Every man is mortal: 
But the good name never dies 
Of one who has done well
    Cattle die, kindred die, 
Every man is mortal: 
But I know one thing that never dies, 
The glory of the great dead

    20. Wolfsangel was a huge and amazing saga of epic proportions, I am curious as to how you can possible rival it with its sequel due out next year? Are you having to bring in new characters, locations, threats and challenges to entice the old gods back to meddling with human affairs?
    The sequel is written, it’s called Fenrir and it’s set about 60 years after the events of Wolfsangel – starting in Francia in 885. It’s a complete cast of new characters but attentive readers of Wolfsangel will know it’s not quite that simple!
    I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m very grateful that the book worked so well. The people who have read it so far – my publisher and one expert reader – have also said they think it’s the best thing I’ve done.
    It’s much longer than Wolfsangel – the famous second novel bloat – and it has many more characters. I found it exciting to write and I hope people will find it exciting to read!
Thank you very much for MD Lachlan's kind time and advice during this interview, I'm sure it will illuminate many minds of those who are interested in writing about vikings and mythology and I can't recommend reading Wolfsangel strongly enough to all fans of everything vikingy.
You can follow MD Lachlan on Twitter @MDLachlan, visit his website
Here is my review of this fantastic norse fantasy epic, you can also buy it off

WolfsangelWolfsangel by M.D. Lachlan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

MD Lachlan has become one of only three authors I can name who have magically blended the historical world of vikings with that of norse mythology. He now joins the ranks of my favourite norse fantasy authors being Betsy Tobin with her fantastic Ice Land and Joanne Harris with Runemarks.

He grasps the reader by the hand in a firm yet gentle grip of storytelling that enchants the reader as much as the characters of Vali, Fealig and Adilsa are bound by fates, magic and the gods of war and mischief.
It is a norse saga of kings, princes, beserkers, fair maidens, long ship battles, raids, kidnap, sorcery, runes, witches and of course wolves. Yet it is as fine a saga tale as Shakespeares with all its twists, turns, plots, subplots, mysteries and magical mayhem.

The story is so full of suprises both exciting and shocking that nothing is ever as certain as it appears until you reach the final page and even then MD Lachlan leaves a nice twist which will be the build up to his next book.

It is as it says no the front cover a DEFINITE MUST READ for all fans of VIKINGS and NORSE MYTHOLOGY. You won't be disappointed and you'll be left hungering for more like the wolves of chaos in the story.

If I could give this book 10 stars I would. It is that goood!

View all my reviews

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