Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Vikings’

Joe Abercrombie is a writer of fantasy novels for adults, including the First Law Trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and Last Argument of King). He has now turned his attention to ‘young adults’, with his first YA fantasy book Half a King.

On bookseller Waterstones blog he comments that after writing several fantasy novels for adults he “felt the need to try my hand at something at least slightly different”. He turned to a novel for young adults. He was influenced by Rosemary Sutcliff  whose  books were “full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever preached, or talked down to their audience”.

I was at a ‘zany zone’ with my children one day…soft play, ball bath, slides, you know the type of thing. There happened to be a boy with a malformed hand there, who was having some trouble joining in fully with the rest. I was thinking how tough that must be.  Then I started thinking how much tougher it would be in the medieval sort of world I tend to work in. Especially in a Viking or a Saxon inspired world, where fighting in the shield wall was at the heart of their culture.  Where standing strong with your brothers, and holding a shield for the man at your shoulder, was the mark of being a man. And that was the seed for Half a King.

Rosemary Sutcliff historical and children’s book and novel Blood Feud cover… My main touchstones in the young adult arena were things I read and loved when I was younger – notably Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical books (Blood Feud especially) and John Christopher’s post-apocalyptic The Sword of the Spirits. These were books full of authenticity, honesty, moral ambiguity, shocks and tough choices. These were not books that ever preached, or talked down to their audience. I started from the standpoint that young adults are, above all, adults. Just young ones. What they want to read isn’t radically different from what old adults (like me) want to read. People in that 12-18 age range are dealing with serious issues of sex, money, identity, responsibility. The last thing they want to be is talked down to. What adult does?

So my aim was not to pull the teeth of my existing style, but to modify it for a new audience, a younger adult audience, but also a wider adult audience who might have found themselves turned off by the big size of some of the fantasy out there. To write something shorter, tighter, more focused, perhaps a smidge less cynical and pessimistic. A slap in the face on every page. No wasted space. Simpler in its narrative, perhaps, but certainly not simpler in the way it was written or in the themes that it tackles. Something a little less explicit in the sex, violence and swearing but absolutely with the edges left on, with the same shades of grey, moral complexity, shocks and challenges, visceral action, and rich vein of dark humour that I fondly imagine my other books have offered. Whatever I came up with, I wanted it to retain the strength of my other work, to bring new readers to that work, and absolutely to appeal to the readers I already had.

Read Full Post »

Veronica Horwell wrote about the life and writing of historical novelist and writer for children and young adults Rosemary Sutcliff with affectionate insight in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles—“Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?”—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth—that nothing iswholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life.So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present. When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Read Full Post »

Someone recently asked me if there were other novels by Rosemary Sutcliff set in the Bronze Age , apart from Warrior Scarlet. This set me thinking. Helped by a livejournal posting I came across a while back, and based on my own reading (some of it too long ago), I came up with this list—exceluding the re-tellings such as Beowulf. I imagine regular readers here can improve it? Anything missing?

Bronze and Iron Age
The Chief’s Daughter
Shifting Sands

Warrior Scarlet
Sun Horse, Moon Horse

Ancient Greece
The Flowers of Adonis
The Truce of the Games (A Crown of Wild Olive)

Roman Britain
Song for a Dark Queen
Eagle’s Egg
The Capricorn Bracelet
The Eagle of the Ninth
The Mark of the Horse Lord
Outcast
A Circlet of Oak Leaves
The Silver Branch
Frontier Wolf

The Dark Ages
The Lantern Bearers
Sword at Sunset
The Sword and the Circle

The Light Beyond the Forest
The Road to Camlann
Dawn Wind
The Shining Company

Vikings
Sword Song
Blood Feud

Norman
The Shield Ring
Knight’s Fee
The Witch’s Brat

Elizabethan and 16th century
The Armourer’s House
The Queen Elizabeth Story
Brother Dusty-Feet
Lady In Waiting

English Civil War and 17th century
The Rider of the White Horse
Simon
Bonnie Dundee

18th century
Flame-Coloured Taffeta

19th century
Blood and Sand

(Additions  9/3/14)

Read Full Post »

Rosemary Sutcliff  was reviewed with affectionate insight by Veronica Horwell in The Guardian newspaper shortly after her death in 1992.

Rosemary Sutcliff did not spare the child, the raven and the wolf gorging on the battlefield dead. No softening, or cheapening, of violence. When you opened her books, you went easily with her into the days she described so immediately: she noticed the rhythms of rain on glass as children do, felt the same warm amazement at snow. You might not know what was this cake called a barley bannock they seemed always to eat in her books, but you recognised the domestic concentration at dinner-cooking time.

And then you would gulp her titles —’Please Miss, have you got any more by ‘er?’—past bedtime, in the last of the summer afterglow. You were caught: and she did not let you off the actual shape of life and death. The fear, the physical pain, the disappointments, the ageing, the dying. (There was an afternoon, I remember, when the brutal end of the Norseman warrior Ari Knudson of The Shield Ring bleached out the heat of a holiday sun, and another, bleaker, when nothing seemed real but the Roman legionary, turned renegade, speaking his very last Latin words and saluting The Eagle of the Ninth before fading into another misty life.)

She did not assume you were ever too young to know the powerful, if frightening, truth – that nothing is wholly new, even the brief freshness of a new generation; that continual change, but also repetition, are history. We do not tell children these things so much now: we do not recount the generations. But reading her, you waited excitedly for that Roman ring with a dolphin cut in its emerald which runs in a thread of lineal descent from book to book, from life to life. So history was lives? It was always different, always the same, and the pattern only visible after? Those who read Sutcliff don’t recall formally learning about the gods Adonis, Mithras, Lugh of the Shining Spear and the Christos: we seem always to have known them. Years of art history never made as clear as she did, in two pages, the difference in the souls of cultures between the rigid ornament of Rome and the Celtic patterns that flow and whorl like life itself. You had access through her, as never since through the heritage industry, into time past when it was time present.

When the archaeologist Catherine Hills once noted that the battered Roman eagle found at Silchester was probably awaiting the contempt of the scrap furnace, she did sadly, almost apologetically. For her, as for the rest of us, he seemed a talisman of the knowledge of that departed civilisation, restored to his story by Sutcliff. And the Sutcliff story was, as legends are, almost closer to a truth.

Source: The Guardian, 3 August 1992. Used with the author’s permission

Read Full Post »

It has always annoyed me that Bernard Cornwell and his publishers considered it acceptable to call his 2008 novel of Saxon England ‘Sword Song’, when that had been the title Rosemary Sutcliff had chosen for her final historical novel ten years earlier! It shows a disappointing lack of respect by one writer of another in the same genre, historical fiction.

Rosemary Sutcliff’s Sword Song was  a novel set in Viking times. It was in handwritten manuscript form on her desk when she died. I recall transcribing it from her elphin-scrawl handwriting. It was intriguing painstakingly to follow the story of Bjarni as he was cast out of the Norse settlement in the Angles’ Land for an act of oath-breaking, to spend five years sailing the west coast of Scotland and witnessing the feuds of the clan chiefs living there.

I was pleased that in The Times newspaper, in August 1997, Sarah Johnson  called the opening of Sword Song a ‘stunner’: ‘beat that Melvin Burgess!’ she wrote. However she found the story ‘meandering’. But I loved that meandering, in and out of the Dublin slave market, for example.

 Rosemary Sutcliff’s … posthumously published Dark Ages saga Sword Song is packed with precisely described Viking sea battles and sacrifices in a linguistic smorgasbord of thongs, thralls and fiery-bearded men. I was never a Sutcliff fan as a child, tiring too quickly of the sun glinting off the halberds of people with names that sound like Haggis Bogtrotterson, but the opening of Sword Song is a stunner: a sixteen-year-old boy is exiled from his settlement for the manslaughter of a monk who had kicked his dog. Beat that, Melvin Burgess.

Regrettably, the story quavers thereafter, meandering around the coast of Britain as young Bjarni sells his fighting skills to one fiery-beardy after another, but the dense historical detail and rich colours are all still there.

Source: The Times, August 23, 1997

Read Full Post »

Rosemary Sutcliff Blood Feud coverSutcliff’s gift is to recreate an era, in this case the 10th-century voyages of the Northmen and the rise of Byzantium, so convincingly that her readers accept without question the different mores of another time. The violence of the blood feud between two families set off by an accidental killing seems inevitable. No writing down here, no anachronisms, just a glorious sense of history, a sense of knowing how it was. Exciting Reading.
Source, Washington Post 

Read Full Post »

Blood Feud coverI have been researching the Rosemary Sutcliff  historical novels and retellings for children’s books which have been turned into TV and radio programmes. Sea Dragon was a version of Blood Feud made for TV in 1990. The TV series gets an average  8.1 (of 10) rating from users at ImDB. The essence of the plot is this: sold into slavery to the Northmen (Norsemen) in the tenth century, a young Englishman becomes involved in a blood feud which leads him to Constantinople and a totally different way of life.

The United States newspaper the Washington Post commented, when the book was first published in 1976, that:

Sutcliff’s gift is to recreate an era, in this case the 10th-century voyages of the Northmen and the rise of Byzantium, so convincingly that her readers accept without question the different mores of another time. The violence of the blood feud between two families set off by an accidental killing seems inevitable. No writing down here, no anachronisms, just a glorious sense of history, a sense of knowing how it was.

The Director of the TV film was Icelander Ágúst Guðmundsson; the adaptor David Joss Buckley. The lead actors were Graham McGrath (as Jestyn), Bernard Latham (as Gyrth) and Janek Lesniak (as Thormod). Other cast members were: Baard Owe as Haki; Øystein Wiik as Thraud; Pat Roach as Aslak; Trine Pallesen as Ayrun; Lisa Thorslunde as Thormod’s Mother; Eiry Palfrey as Sister Gytha; Holly Aird as Ffion; Lasse Spang Olsen as Herulf; Martin Spang Olsen as Anders; and  Anna Massey (who sadly died  in 2011) as the  Prioress.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,160 other followers