Sue has been kind enough to invite me to write a blog post to celebrate the publication of a short collection of stories. The collection is called Tales from the Northlands, and is, as you might expect, about things Nordic.
The stories came about because for the last couple of years, on and off, I’ve been writing a historical fantasy saga set in an alternate ninth century on the north-western fringe of Europe. I have been living and breathing ninth century customs, language, history and legend, and it has made me acutely aware of some of the difficulties involved in writing historical fiction, one of them being the language—using a vocabulary that isn’t full of modern imports.
English has changed drastically from Old English based on Old Norse and Anglo-Saxon, the Latin/French-influenced Middle English, to our melting pot of Modern English with its additions from Greek and the languages of the former colonies. Keeping the language of my story coherent has been a challenge.
However, I have a big advantage in that I was brought up in the West Riding of Yorkshire where folk speak a dialect based on Old Norse. At the time, I understood very little of it, being of Irish stock and speaking a different variety of English at home. Since moving away, I’ve made a nostalgic study of Yorkshire dialect and used many of the words in my saga.
Of all of us, my dad had the most difficulty understanding the natives, and until the Pakistanis started to arrive in the 1970s he spoke to few people outside our Irish community. I remember pestering him to buy me a hamster. We’d had one, Custard, donated by a school friend, and it died. My dad promised to replace Custard and went down to the pet shop in the village a mile away at the bottom of the hill. I was hoping he’d come home with a Custard II, but he said he’d have to go back to collect it because he needed something to bring it home in. He went down the cellar and spent the rest of his Saturday hammering and sawing. When he emerged, he had a thing like a scaled down cattle crate, the top held down with rope, and filled with straw. The crate sat in the hallway until the following Saturday. My mother would give it murderous looks from time to time, and I was too non-plussed to ask what was going on.
Saturday arrived, my dad picked up his crate, proud as punch at his handiwork, and set off down to the village. About an hour later he was back and put the crate down in the hallway. The crate rocked back and forth, shedding straw as the occupant threw itself about inside. We all stood back as my dad undid the lid, opened it, and the biggest guinea pig I have ever seen shot out with an irate squeal. He was speckled grey like a wild boar and as bristly. I named him Napoleon and was ecstatic, until I was given orders by my mother that Napoleon was to be removed immediately to the school pet’s corner in the sport’s field where he would ‘be happier’.
When asked why he hadn’t got a hamster, my dad explained that he’d asked for one, but there must have been a misunderstanding. The pet shop man, who spoke pure Yorkshire and very little Standard English, had nodded (true Yorkshire folk don’t speak if a silent nod will do) and gone out to the back room where the ‘bastes’ were kept. He’d come back with this thing like a wild piglet in his hands saying it was “a wick ’un” (Yorkshire speak for “a lively little beggar”). My dad said he didn’t want a Wickan he wanted a hamster but the pet shop man wasn’t having any of it, showed off the prowess of the “wick ’un” and how difficult it was to keep the critter from rampaging off the top of the counter. That must have been the only rodent he could lay his hands on at the time. My dad, not being one to start an argument he didn’t stand a chance of winning, or even being able to play an active part in, gave up and went home to build a cattle crate.
Anyway, that short trip down memory lane was by way of explaining my attachment to the north and northern folk. If you’re up for a raid into Viking Sweden and Anglo-Saxon Northumbria, I have just the thing. I won’t clutter up Sue’s blog with an excerpt. That’s what the Kindle look inside feature is for.
Tales from the Northlands
About the author
Jane Dougherty writes stories where the magical and the apocalyptic mesh, where horror and romance meet, and the real and the imaginary cohabit on the same page.
She grew up in an Irish emigrant community in Yorkshire’s Brontë country. Her first job was with a wine merchant in London, and despite the obvious attraction of riotous tasting parties and getting paid for drinking lots of wine, she moved on to Paris where she fell under a powerful enchantment and has been wandering from French pillar to French post ever since.
Her postal address might be in South West France, but she’s rarely at home, much preferring the strange world she inhabits, where she writes the rules, creates the landscapes, the people and the magic. She also bends the rules of physics, plays Cupid and hands out happy endings to deserving characters.
Jane shares her home with husband, children, a big bad dog, and a motley crew of cats.
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A rickety wooden escalator carries a child from his safe, comfortable world of department store Christmas glitter to the midnight zone inhabited by legendary nightmares.
On the windswept east coast of Northumbria, a Saxon thegn avenges his murdered chief by selling his village to the sea wolves, and a ruthless war leader prepares for battle, gloating over the blood dream sent him by the wicce.
In Viking Sverige, Jussi and Solveig plan a future juggling bride price, parental expectations and the knarr they have yet to acquire, but their future falls beneath the shadow of the mountain.
Antar seems like the answer to Inna’s dream of escaping the bleak steading on the fjord, but her father and his chosen son-in-law have other ideas.
What links these tales is the North Sea that beats the coast, brings the cold and the long ships, laps the winter nights in snow, when the wind howls stories of trolls and giants. It brings the herring, the sea mews and the grey seals, and it joins a people with the same vision of the world—harsh, vivid and full of magic.