What I’m writing about this week, #7: Berserker school

I sent off the first draft of my new Viking novel to my agent yesterday, to pass on to my publishers – hooray! – and so I thought I would tell you a bit now about the book and what to expect when it comes out in February. It is the first part, I hope, of a long series about the wars Charlemagne (below) fought with the pagans of Europe, beyond the boundaries of Christendom.

Karolus, as he is called in my book, is the young and newly crowned King of Francia – a vast territory that encompassed much of modern-day France and Germany (see map below), from Brittany to Bavaria, and from Belgium to Barcelona – and he and his bishops are determined to bring the light of Jesus Christ to the Saxons, Danes and all the other Norse peoples.

The Saxon Wars, as this conflict is known, lasted for more than 30 years and I hope that will give me a lot of scope for a good long narrative. I have described the pagan Saxons as having a very similar culture to the Danes, in that they worship Odin and Thor, Tiw and Loki, and all the rest, and have a special class of warriors called berserkir who enter a holy frenzy in battle and attack their enemies with an almost inhuman ferocity. I’d better warn you now – this book has a lot of gory violence in it. And not a lot of romance. But if you know any of my books, you will probably have guessed this already.

The beginning of the Saxon Wars is murky – there was a lot of cross-border raiding by the pagan Saxons and their Christian enemies the Franks, but the first major offensive took place in 772, when Charlemagne invaded Saxony and attacked a place called Eresburg, a pagan religious centre (on the site of modern-day Obermarsberg, in Germany) and burned an enormous and venerable sacred Saxon tree (or perhaps a wooden pillar) called the Irminsul (pic below). This sacred Saxon tree is comparable with Yggdrasil – the World Tree venerated by the Norse – which is so huge it runs through the Nine Realms of the Universe. And its destruction by Charlemagne and his armies must have been a huge psychological blow to the pagan Saxons.

My bit of historical fictionalising is to create a kind of school or academy for berserkers from across the northern lands at the holy groves of Eresburg. My two heroes – Bjarki, a huge young Danish warrior, and Tor, a skinny but ferocious shield-maiden from Svearland (Sweden) – are enrolled in this school to try and discover the spark divine madness that will turn them into these legendary berserkers. They have their own bloody adventures against the background of Charlemagne’s onslaught against the pagan world.

It has been a lot of fun to write the first book, which is probably going to be called “Fire-Born, The Last Berserker: Volume I” although this has not yet been finalised. Quite apart from delving deeply into the Norse (and Saxon) religion and culture, Charlemagne is an equally fascinating character. He is sometimes called the Father of Europe, and rightly so, because more than any other man he created Western Europe as we know it today.

He is Bjarki and Tor’s foe, and the enemy of their culture, but I hope I have drawn him as a partly sympathetic character. He truly believed in his mission to bring Christianity to the pagans. He became the Holy Roman Emperor in 800, which will be towards the end of the series, till then he is the King of the Franks and ruler of the vast realm known as Francia.

Fire-Born will be out in February next year in paperback and as an ebook. Sadly there won’t be a hardback, but there probably will be an audio book. That’s not my choice, its just the economics of the publishing industry today.

If you want to read something exciting of mine before then, I suggest you grab a copy of Robin Hood and the Caliph’s Gold from Amazon, here

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