Today I have a guest post from author Lucy Morris on the importance of research in historical writing.
The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance
A challenging wife
For a warrior Viking
When Thorstein Bergson rescues a beautiful woman from a storm-tossed longship he little expects to broker a powerful marriage alliance with her. This high-status ice queen is not the comfortable wife this warrior chief is seeking, but maybe the bittersweet pain in Gyda’s eyes hides another woman beneath? The one he tasted that first night, when she kissed him with such pent-up longing…
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The importance of research in Historical romance writing.
I’ve always been a bit nervous of writing historical romance (despite being a huge fan) because I have no academic background in history. Thanks to my Catholic school, I didn’t even do it at high school. Religious Education was compulsory and if I studied both English language and literature one of the other humanities had to go. Sadly, it was ‘bye bye, history!’
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted to write an historical romance. The advice you hear a lot from published writers is to ‘write what you love’. Well, I loved medieval romance. On Twitter I chatted with a successful historical romance author, who encouraged me to ‘give it a go’ despite my fears.
I’m a huge fan of the TV show ‘Vikings’, and some of the first Johanna Lindsey books I loved were set in the Viking age. When I looked at my dream publisher Mills and Boon (Harlequin Historical), I noticed they specifically mentioned Viking heroes as a regular submission request. That decided it for me, I was going to give writing a Viking romance a go!
I decided to start my research by reading several non-fiction books on the Viking age. I highly recommend Neil Oliver’s ‘Vikings a History’ as one of the best overviews. To my surprise, I really enjoyed reading these books despite the lack of romance. It got my imagination whirling and ideas started to form in my head of the time and place of my book, ‘The Viking Chief’s Marriage Alliance’.
I studied at York, so thought a setting close to the old Viking Capital, Jorvik would be a great location.
Jorvik was a trading capital in Northern Europe. Merchants and artisans came to Jorvik to sell their goods across the known world. It became the centre of ‘Danelaw’ an area of England ruled under Norse law with its own ruler. I became fascinated with the idea of a ‘new land’ being carved out of an old one, with its own sense of blended identity. I decided to choose this time of change (the creation of Danelaw) and the forging of political alliances as the setting for my book.
I also learnt about their boat building, and decided I wanted to include a shipwreck in my opening chapter. It’s funny how research informs your plot.
I was also fascinated with the relative freedom Norse women enjoyed (ok I won’t get carried away it was still sexist and limited), but compared to Saxon Christians there was much more freedom. There are many examples of powerful Norse women who owned their own land and ships, they were nearly always widows. It seemed that a new power came to women after their husbands died.
For example, a Norse couple could divorce relatively easily. This is also clear in the Viking mythology, where there are tales of women threatening to divorce their husbands. A woman could divorce her husband for lots of reasons (sadly infidelity not being one of them -unless of course the infidelity was on the woman’s side). Some examples are: if a man was violent or became suddenly poor, and (my personal favourite) if a man displayed too much of his chest in public. So, I decided to have a divorced man as my hero, and a widow as my heroine.
So, purely from research I had a time, place, and a character.
The rest of the story fell into place from there and I realised that rather than finding historical romance difficult to write. It became the most enjoyable and easy to plot. I even included the Norse tradition of Yule. Yule, as you can see from my book, is surprisingly similar to our Christmas’s today.
So, my advice to any writers out there, would be to write what you love, and enjoy the journey!
Lucy Morris lives in Essex, UK, with her husband, two young children and two cats. She has a massively sweet tooth and loves gin, bubbly and Irn-Bru. A member of the UK Romantic Novelists’ Association, she was delighted to accept a two-book deal with Harlequin after submitting her story to the Warriors Wanted submission blitz for Viking, Medieval and Highlander romances.
Writing for Harlequin Historical is a dream come true for her and she hopes you enjoy her books!