#NorseNews: The Launch

It’s so exciting: the launch of #TheChessmenThief is now only 15 days away! You can join the launch event by signing up HERE (the platform is interactive but the audience are not visible like they are on Zoom).

Book blogger Kirsty Crommie will host the launch!

Also, you can now read the first three chapters of the book on Book2Look, by clicking HERE. Easy!

It’s all happening! Soon we will be announcing a really exciting competition and launching the free to download teaching resources…

#NorseNews: Humour

What did Vikings find funny? Do we share a sense of humour with them?

We know that there was plenty of goading, particularly women goading men, often resulting in action or conflict. We know that Viking graffiti did not vary greatly from the type of content found on bus shelter walls – usually of a descriptive nature on women’s appearance, or simply leaving the writer’s name for posterity.

One of the Lewis Chessmen, a bishop on display at Museum nan Eilean, Stornoway

Dr Hannah Burrows of Aberdeen University has given the matter of Viking humour some thought:

Read more at https://www.medievalists.net/2021/04/viking-humour/

Or why not watch her lecture on the subject on YouTube.

#NorseNews: The Norse Phrasebook

What did our Norse ancestors sound like? I needed some Norse phrases to drop into my Norse world in The Chessmen Thief. But careful: too many unfamiliar words and the story can become confusing to young readers. A little, a sprinkling of authenticity, helps to build the world. I needed some simple phrases. Here are some I found:

Old Norse speakers would have walked among the Standing Stones

Hei – Hi! (informal greeting)

Heill – Hello! (when addressing one male)
Heil – Hello! (when addressing one female)
Heilir – Hello! (when addressing a group of males)
Heilar – Hello! (when addressing a group of females)
Heil – Hello! (when addressing a group of both sexes)

Sæll – Hello! (when addressing one male)
Sæl – Hello! (when addressing one female)
Sælir – Hello! (when addressing a group of males)
Sælar – Hello! (when addressing a group of females)
Sæl – Hello! (when addressing a group of both sexes)

‘Heill’ involves wishing good health … whereas ‘Sæll’ simply wishes happiness.

Góðan dag/Góðan daginn – Good day!
Góðan morgin – Good morning!
Góðan aptan – Good afternoon!
Gott kveld – Good evening!
Góða nótt – Good night!
Sof þú vel – Good night! (sleep well)

Velkominn – Welcome! (when addressing one male)
Velkomin – Welcome! (when addressing one female)
Velkominir – Welcome! (when addressing a group of males)
Velkominar – Welcome! (when addressing a group of females)
Velkomin – Welcome! (when addressing a group of both sexes)

Hvat segir þú? – How are you? (formal)
Hversu ferr? – How are you? (informal)
Hvernug hefir þú þat? – How are you? (slang/colloquial)

Allt fínt, þakka – Fine, thanks.
Allt gott, þakka – Good, thanks.
Allt vel, þakka – Well, thanks.
Allt ágætt, þakka – Awesome, thanks.
Ágeatavel, þakka! – Excellent, thanks!

En þú? – And you?

Far vel – Goodbye
Sjáumst – See you
Vit sjáumst – See you (said between two people)
Vér sjáumst – See you (said between more than two)

Já – Yes
Nei – No

Source: https://oldnorse.forumotion.com/t8-basic-phrases

I can only imagine how the Norse warriors in The Chessmen Thief would have sounded.

#NorseNews: Language and Wisdom

When I was writing The Chessmen Thief, I knew that my young hero’s world was multilingual. French as a court language, Gaelic in the Southern islands and in most of mainland Scotland, and Norse in Norway, Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

Most events, however, take place among Norse speakers. My husband gave me a three-volume introduction to Old Norse for our anniversary. I’m telling you, he’s a keeper! But I also came across a website with old Norse sayings. Enjoy! Source: https://futureofworking.com/21-great-old-norse-sayings/

Our Norse ancestors would have walked this very beach in Orkney

Altfor reint har ingen smak. – Too clean has no taste.

Árinni kennir illur ræðari. – A bad rower blames the oar.

Bara döda fiskar följer strömmen. – Only dead fish follow the stream.

Båtlaus mann er bunden til land. – Boatless man is tied to the land.

Ber er hver að baki nema sér bróður eigi. – Bare is the back of a brotherless man.

Berre bok gjer ingen klok. – Merely book makes none wise.

Bra vind i ryggen er best. – A fair wind at our back is best.

Brennt barn forðast eldinn. – A burnt child keeps away from fire.

Den hund som bieffer meget, han bider ikkun lidet. – Barking dogs seldom bite.

Det är som mörkast innan gryningen. – It is darkest before dawn.

Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder. – There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.

Det som göms i snö, kommer fram vid tö. – What is hidden in snow, is revealed at thaw.

Du skal kravle, før du kan gå. – You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.

Enn skal lytte, når en gammel hund gjø. – One should listen when an old dog barks.

Gammel kjærleik rustar ikkje. – Old love does not corrode.

#NorseNews: Orkney Earls

Norse domination of Shetland, Orkney, the Hebrides and Caithness lasted much longer than it did on the rest of the Scottish mainland. As a seafaring nation, the Norse people regularly travelled the trading route from Norway to Ireland, stopping along the way.

There were powerful Earls in Orkney, and at times more than one, vying for power, resulting in notable residents shifting allegiances and becoming kingmakers. Orkneyinga Saga provides a rich tapestry of Orkney society around the time when The Chessmen Thief is set. I travelled to Orkney with my husband and our friends to check out the lie of the land and to find out more about the Earls.

The plaque commemorating Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, a character in The Chessmen Thief, in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

The Earl of Orkney at the time was Ragnvald Kali Kolsson. He continued his father’s passion for the building of a cathedral in Kirkwall, which we visited. The Earl’s Palace beside it is ruined now, but it is easy to imagine its grandeur. Still, this is not where my characters are accommodated. A number of the party in my story fall ill, and I though it was more likely that they would have been taken to Orphir to avoid spreading disease near the cathedral.

The impressive interior of St. Magnus Cathedral, built by Earl Ragnvald Kali Kolsson, a character in The Chessmen Thief

The lovely wee museum in Kirkwall has a host of Viking-Age finds on display. But it also houses a small room with lots of folders where I was able to read up on the Earls and what we know about them. Well worth a visit!

I read in the museum’s folder that the Earl left Orkney to go on a crusade in the 1150s. This event features in The Chessmen Thief.

By the way, I feature the Orkney ‘Earl’ in my story, but there is also a ‘Jarl’. In truth, these titles mean the same thing – I just thought it would be easier for young readers to tell the characters apart if I used both in the book!

#NorseNews: Viking Families and Motherhood

Happy Mother’s Day, in the UK at least. In The Chessmen Thief, my hero Kylan feels a responsibility to protect his mother and is willing to risk his life for her. Time for some myth-busting about families in the Norse world:

A chess queen – women in Norse society didn’t have it easy!

A household consisted not only several husband-and-wife couples plus their children, but also the families of servants and bondsmen. Estimates suggest that the typical household size was probably ten to twenty people.

Most of our information about Norse demographics and family structures come from Icelandic sagas. Experts think that a typical woman bore around 7 infants during her lifetime, 29 months apart on average. During pregnancy, women were expected to continue working.

The Chessmen Thief, set in Norse society in 1154 AD

After childbirth, a woman typically resumed work with little delay. Evidence suggests that mothers breastfed their children for 2 years. Generally, a Norse couple had 2 or 3 living children at any one time. Not many parents lived to see their children get married while even fewer lived to see grandchildren. Three generation families were rare.

If a wife or a husband died, the other remarried quickly, for pragmatic reasons – it was hard to run a farmstead on your own. It was also common for a family to give one of their children to another family to foster. Fostering also allowed childless households to raise children.

Most Viking women were married between ages 12 to 20, and Ingirid in The Chessmen Thief is already a mother despite only being a few years older than Kylan. Marriages were often arranged for purposes of allegiance, but courting, while frowned upon, certainly happened – plenty of praise poems praising the lady of affection survive today. Marriages had two parts: betrothal (the business contract between groom and bride’s family) and the wedding, within a year of betrothal.

A child was accepted into the family through rituals. The mother accepted the child by feeding it. The father took the infant onto his knee, gave the child a name, and sprinkled water on the child. This gave the child inheritance rights.

If you want to know a bit more detail, read for yourself at http://www.hurstwic.org/history/articles/daily_living/text/Demographics.htm

#NorseNews: Margrét the Adroit

As I write this, we are entering the last hour of #InternationalWomensDay in the UK. Today, I wanted to flag up an amazing lady who I just couldn’t resist writing into The Chessmen Thief: Margrét the Adroit ( or Margrét hin haga), an Icelandic carver. She is mentioned in the Saga of Bishop Páll.

Was this female chess figure carved by a woman? Some think it’s possible.

I have played slightly fast and loose with the timeline in my book – my events take place in the 1150s, while Margrét the Adroit is more likely to have been at the height of her fame in the early 13th century. Some have linked the Lewis Chessmen with the Icelandic carver and craftswoman working at the highest level. She was married to a churchman.

Archaeologists and historians have debated whether the chess pieces were created in Trondheim (there are parallels with local artwork and it is generally accepted as the most likely theory) or perhaps by this Icelander, Margrét, who carved in walrus ivory and was extraordinarily skilled.

I am lucky – I write fiction! The opportunity to include a woman at the heart of this origin story for the Lewis Chessmen was just too good. I created a fictional visit, so that Margrét would have found herself in Trondheim at the time of the commission.

The chapter which introduces the female carver, including Sandra McGowan’s beautiful chapter heading illustration.

Inclusion of legendary lady – check! One happy writer.

#NorseNews: The Barn Owl

The Chessmen Thief cover has a barn owl on it. Everyone loves an owl, right? I certainly do. I’ve only seen a barn owl in the wild once, but barn owls felt right for my story. They screech rather than hoot for a start – they are majestic. but with a sense of menace too.

The beautiful cover for The Chessmen Thief

As I finished the manuscript, I realised that, sporadically, I had written a barn owl into the story, usually at significant moments in Kylan’s tale. Ghostly white, nocturnal, mysterious and merciless hunters, barn owls made a good wee motif to thread through the tapestry of the tale. Nesting in old ruins is what they do, so their appearance at the end of the book also made sense in the context of the Chessmen’s final resting place at Mealasta (although this is merely a theory, it may have been elsewhere in the Uig region of the Isle of Lewis).

Barn Owl
Source: Freeimages.com

The best place to find out more about these fascinating creatures is the RSPB website. Check out their species profile HERE.

#NorseNews: The Sea Witch’s Wheel

I love a story set at sea. Perhaps it is because I grew up in a landlocked area. The Norse culture I am describing in The Chessmen Thief, however, was defined by its relationship with the sea. Yesterday’s #NorseNews concerned itself with Viking ships, but let’s think about the route for a moment. There are some real dangers my sailors have to face on their voyage from Trondheim to the Isle of Lewis.

The journey my characters take in The Chessmen Thief

The waters around Orkney are notoriously dangerous and stormy, plagued by strong and often unpredictable currents. On my research visit to Orkney, I saw for myself how forbidding the conditions could be at any time of the year.

There’s a storm coming… Orkney shore at its dramatic best!

In the Pentland Firth, a dangerous strait my characters have to navigate, there is a natural tidal whirlpool called The Swelkie, also called The Sea Witch’s Wheel. It’s just to the north of Stroma. It would be remiss of me as a children’s author not to throw my characters into mortal danger there, don’t you think?

Swilkie Whirlpool, Orkney, Scotland - YouTube
The Swelkie, also known as The Sea Witch’s Wheel.