Set in late 10th century France and Wales, The Viking Hostage tells the intertwining stories of three women living through turbulent times of Viking raids, Christian conversions, and struggles for power across Europe. Sigrid is a Norwegian sold into slavery in the French Limousin, stubbornly clinging to her pagan identity. Aina is a rich heiress, betrothed as a child to a man who does not offer her the adventure she craves. Adalmode is the daughter of the Viscount of Limoges, whose father has forbidden her passion for a young man imprisoned in his dungeon for a great crime. Their stories question and tangle with the nature of human nobility and of freedom in the highly stratified, unequal, and often brutal society of early medieval Europe.
The initial spark for my novel, The Viking Hostage, was a couple of sentences in a Chronicle written by a monk, Ademar of Chabannes, in 11th century France. Ademar described the kidnap of Emma of Segur by Vikings in the year 1000, from a monastery on the coast near Poitiers and her return to her husband, the Viscount of Limoges, three years later in exchange for a huge ransom paid in silver. The Viscount had to ‘appropriate’ some of the silver from the monastery where Ademar lived so I suppose that rankled with him and his fellow monks. I immediately started wondering what happened to Emma during those three years.
At first I thought her captors would take her to Norway and I began researching 10th century Norway and Vikings. Then I considered that perhaps she would be kept nearer France to enable a quick turnaround when the Viscount managed to get together the ransom, so perhaps she was held on the Isle of Man which was a Viking stronghold. But then I realised that most of the islands around the coast of Pembrokeshire in Wales where I live were also occupied by Vikings and well known to me, so why not have my captive Viscountess on a Welsh island that is a fictional mix of the islands of Caldey and Skomer. I’m very short-sighted and I liked the idea of writing a medieval character with myopia and this became Emma’s husband Viscount Guy. The story of Guy’s sister Adalmode runs parallel to Emma’s, as does that of a third woman, the Norwegian Sigrid Thorolfsdottir.
I wanted to write a novel about Vikings from a female perspective and to combat some of the stereotypical ideas about them. We can’t help but be impressed by the Vikings’ adventurous spirit and their achievements as seaborne explorers. I tried to write about them as fully rounded people, rather than two-dimensional villains: as tender and funny, as well as fearsome pagan warriors. There is evidence that Scandinavian women were on some of the Viking ships. The people of the fjords, as the Welsh called them, were traders, farmers and mercenaries, often integrating with the other cultures they encountered, as well as being raiders and slavers. Traces of the Vikings in Wales are in place names especially islands and coastal ports, in a few references in the Icelandic Sagas, in recent archaeological digs at Anglesey, and in the Welsh Annals written at St David’s Cathedral where those monks had good cause to complain about them since Vikings raided that cathedral eleven times.
I was surprised and delighted to find The Viking Hostage topping several bestseller lists in the Amazon Australia Kindle Store this month. I always enjoy hearing what readers have to say about my novels because each of them imagines the story in their own slightly different way and I’m often surprised by what my words have conjured in their minds. There are both conscious and unconscious processes at work in writing, and you have to trust to that. It’s easy to lose impetus and self-confidence and start to doubt the value of what you are doing. You are working alone so much as a writer. When I was writing my first novel I did an MA in Creative Writing in Wales and my fellow writers on the course were important critical friends in the writing process. Now I belong to the Parisot Writers Group in France and continue to find it very helpful to discuss writing with other writers when I’m in the thick of doing it. Writing a novel is a long haul and you need all the encouragement you can find.
My novels are a weave of researched facts and imagining in the gaps between those facts. Alongside historical research I use maps, objects in museums and visiting places to help me flesh out my characters’ experiences. In writing The Viking Hostage I was aiming to create a world that the reader could step into, encountering the sights, sounds, colours and smells, joys and anxieties of the 10th century.
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About the Author
Tracey Warr was born in London and currently lives in Wales and France. She studied English Literature at Oxford University and holds a PhD in Art History. She worked as an art curator and university lecturer in art history and theory before starting to write fiction six years ago. She undertook an MA in Creative Writing at University of Wales Trinity St Davids in Carmarthen. Her first historical novel Almodis (Impress, 2011) was set in early medieval France and Spain. It was shortlisted for the Impress Prize, presented in the Rome Film Festival Book Initiative and won a Santander Research Award. Her second novel The Viking Hostage (Impress, 2014) is currently on Amazon Australia Kindle bestseller lists. She was recently awarded a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary for work on her third novel about Princess Nest and King Henry I, set in 12th century Wales and England, which will be published next year. She also received an Author’s Foundation Award from the Society of Authors this year for a biography she is working on about three French noblewomen, three sisters, who held power in 11th century Toulouse, Carcassonne, Barcelona and the Pyrenees. Tracey is a Book Reviews Editor for Historical Novels Review and also writes art book reviews for Times Higher Education and New Welsh Review. Her most recent publication on contemporary art is Remote Performances in Nature and Architecture (Ashgate, 2015).Find our more at http://traceywarrwriting.com and find Tracey on Twitter at @TraceyWarr1