30 November 2017

Special Guest Post ~ Bonds Under The Armour, by Sarah Dahl

NEW from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Bonds – Under the Armour – the fourth in the Tales of Freyaå collection of sensual short stories set in the Viking Age

In a world of crackling fires and rough landscapes, long winters and bloody raids, the immediacy of life and death ignites undeniable passions. Warriors and monks, healers and housewives – all follow the call of their hearts and bodies to indulge in pleasures that may 
forever change their lives

About visual inspiration for historical fiction 

More than authors of contemporary fiction, historical fiction authors have to create images for readers that they haven‘t ‘seen’ before. We create or revive bygone worlds and have to do meticulous research into every detail of the medieval lives and mindsets in order to be convincing and captivating for readers.

In my Viking era stories I don’t focus on the kings and chieftains but on the very people battling to survive: warriors and farmers, monks and housewives – with very human desires and fears. In order to create a dense atmosphere, I have to know all the little details of their daily lives and routines (for the Vikings, there are unfortunately huge gaps and blind spots in sources, which are also heavily influenced by who wrote them). 

So, my own version of sensual Vikings might not be entirely ‘the truth’ – just like the monks and scribes of later centuries are not telling ‘the truth’ about Vikings. Luckily, these days we have more objective sources like archaeology and non-fiction to hand, and they are an endless source of textual and visual inspiration. But with the digital age came a much more direct way to imagine ‘Viking life’: photographs and filming. Huh, you’ll say, but they are all dead?? 

Yes, unfortunately. Well, that may be good for rich monasteries, but bad for me. Luckily, there’s very lively help in the form of modern reenacting societies and enthusiasts of all backgrounds. ‘Going Viking’ is en vogue again, and there’s countless medieval markets and museum events that an image-hungry writer can go to, to experience the looks and walks and moves of real Vikings to translate into her books. 

Nothing tops the feeling of actually holding a Viking sword
(even a replica) and getting a feel for it.

Several times a year, I soak up atmosphere on these sites, get research done and answer questions that popped up during writing. And of course I take tons of pictures of everything that might come in handy, either as inspiration (a quirky Viking that just fits my brief for a character) or as necessary detail for a setting (a hanging basket, or a table lamp, and the way it lights up faces, for example). The challenge then is to translate all the inspiration into writing so that similar images are created in the readers’ heads. Heads that haven’t seen anything of what I describe almost first-hand. 

So what I do for myself AND for readers is to create Pinterest boards with visual inspiration. Most pictures are from either museums or reenactors. It is a very different experience to imagine a Viking warrior from a written description or to see him (or her!) in full armour, colour, and sweating on a picture from a reenactment battle event.

My collection of inspirational pictures is growing fast and contains a wide array of topics, from research facts and character ideas to sensual moments. In addition, I also have a huge moodboard on the wall opposite my desk, onto which I pin all my ‘characters’ and settings for the novel I’m currently writing, so I can just look at them across the room. 
What is even more brilliant: some reenactors and enthusiasts do little films to show ‘how things were done’ – and my entire research and inspiration is taken to a new level. Just recently I watched a short video by Hands On History (see end of post). As well as showing the ‘Travel Food of the Vikings’, embedded in a little story about a lonely traveller. How he prepared, walked, rested, then cooked and ate on his journey. Just a few minutes, but the way it was filmed was breathtaking: the way he put on his leg-wraps while his wife made butter and bread in the light of a flickering candle, how she packed the food for safe travelling, and how he later spread the butter on flat bread and sat to eat it in the shelter of a rock, overlooking a vast, barren landscape that held many dangers. 

It was immensely inspiring to watch: there were ‘my’ people, living and moving as if I had fallen into their time. Ideas for a dozen scenes and details I wanted to transfer into my stories formed. I gave the guys names before I knew it, memorised the way they moved their hands when using all these long-gone objects. 

So yes, visual – preferably moving – inspiration is so much stronger than just a sketch or text, and much more inspiring. 

But this little film also showed that inspiration goes both ways: when writers are script-writers and create the basics for an educational mini-movie like that. Because someone, a very good historical writer at that, had to write this little journey down before it was brought to life by the actors. Visual inspiration works both ways: historical writers like me can get endless ideas and insights from (moving) pictures – but moving pictures can only be created after a good writer lay the foundation with her words. And entire worlds come back to life.

So I keep telling myself that one day my own little story will be on a screen, and my favourite characters will not only live in my readers’ heads, but will be living and breathing people that propel the audience back into a long-gone era, in real-time. 

Skål to that dream, and always happy reading and writing! 

Sarah Dahl

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About the Author

Sarah Dahl lives on the edge of the rural German Eifel and writes historical fiction primarily set in the Viking age. She also works as an editor, translates, and coaches new writers in German and English. She is interested in everyday life in bygone centuries and the human stories that may have occurred behind the hard, historical facts. Find out more at Sarah's website https://sarah-dahl.com/book/bonds and find her on Facebook & Twitter @sarahdahl13  


  1. Thanks a million, Tony, it was a great pleasure to be your guest :-)

    1. Thanks for your guest post Sarah - I'll update it on launch day :)


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