I’m delighted to have as guest blogger today the historical novelist Giles Kristian. Giles has an interest in the Anglo-Saxon period but has also strayed into the English Civil War period, one which is fairly sparsely written about in comparison to its importance in history. So, let’s see where Giles writes. Giles has returned to Anglo-Saxon times with his new book, so why not check out his new bone ‘Wings of the Storm’ (Sigurd Book 3) which came out on 1 December.
WHERE I WRITE
Hemingway and Churchill wrote standing up. That’s good enough for me, I decided, thinking of all the man-points I could earn. So I had a carpenter knock me up a little table which sits on top of my desk. Yes, I realise I lost man-points by not doing the woodwork myself. Anyway, turns out my screen was still too low, which is what happens if, like me, you’re not much of a planner. No matter, an Amazon click or two later and…problem solved.
A folding stand on top of the little table on top of the desk. It’s unlikely to feature in HOME&DESIGN magazine, but considering how expensive stand-up desks are, I think it’s a pretty neat solution. So I wrote God of Vengeance standing up. Yes, for the man-points and the additional calorie burn, but also because I had this idea that being more mobile at the keyboard might result in more vigorous and dynamic prose. It’s a journey story, physically, spiritually and emotionally, as well as brimming with general Viking-type activities – you know, rowing, fighting, carousing, pillaging etc – and it just didn’t seem fitting to me to write it sitting down in my embarrassingly comfortable chair, in my slippers. Or, was it because my kids weren’t sleeping at the time and I feared that if I sat down first thing in the morning I’d fall asleep?
That was four books ago. These days I’m mostly back in the comfortable chair. I co-wrote a book with Wilbur Smith so the man-points are in the bag. I have a writing cabin, which some might call a glorified shed (they would be wrong of course) which is made of cedar and smells delicious. The folding glass doors provide the sort of view that is to the cluttered mind what a cold beer is to a thirst. Fields, trees, sky. Plenty of space for the imagination to wander, but then there are the characters who inhabit that space. The clamorous rooks thronging the distant, skeletal beech trees. The buzzard being mobbed by a pair of crows. The stoat bounding across the grass in front of me on some secret mission. The pheasants and their ambling exodus from the distant thump of shotguns to the south. Squirrels stashing acorns like monks burying treasures at cries of ‘The Vikings are coming!’ The robin on a nearby fence post, watching over me like the soul of a deceased relative. The barn owl who, if I am really lucky, perches on a post in the boundary fence, looking for voles in the long grass.
The gardener saw a muntjac deer the other day. I hope he’ll visit today (the deer, not the gardener). The animals never seem to know I’m here and so I observe, which is as much a novelist’s job as writing. I might not know which day of the week it is sometimes, but I notice the little things; the scarlet wax caps sprouting on an old tree stump. The green moss festooning the tiers of an espaliered apple tree, which reminds me of the partially shed velvet on a stag’s antlers. The far-off spear-rattle of ash trees in the wind. For me, sprinkling these little observations into the tale is like the seasoning of a dish.
I love witnessing the seasons turn from here in my hideaway. I like autumn better than summer. The musky sweet scent of decaying leaves. Damp wood and days that never seem to get going. I find it all so atmospheric and sad and beautiful and inspiring. I’m often cold in here because the oil heater takes a while to kick in, and my hands are made even more clumsy than usual on the keys, but then it’s often cold in my stories too. On winter afternoons I like to have a candle burning on my desk, though I’ve just inherited an old oil lamp and look forward to getting that up and running. In the summer I open the doors right up. Only then my word count suffers, as I spend half my time sparring with wasps drunk on the windfall of fermenting apples and out to cause trouble.
Sometimes I find silence too heavy and so will listen to classical music or movie soundtracks. To complement the Viking writing there’s nothing better than Norwegian folk/ambient group Wardruna. They use traditional instruments such as deer-hide frame drums, goat horns and lur, as well as other sources of sound like trees, rocks, water and flaming torches. The atmosphere they create is spellbinding. As for the writer clichés, coffee is indeed my word fuel and I’m not against a glass of red if I’m working late. Perhaps on the more unusual side, when I feel I need a break I like to throw axes. It’s therapeutic. The sound and feel of those axes embedding in a log round is almost as satisfying as when, after wrestling with a defiant line of prose, you read it aloud and say, ‘Yep, that’s the one.’