I’ve a crick in my neck,
And tend to fall on my head,
My trouser-snake is soft,
And my hearing’s gone away.
Thinking about a talk I will be giving to the Tenby Historical Society on 23 June about Vikings in Pembrokeshire, I was reminded of Judith Jesch’s translation of this lament on old age by the 10th century Viking skald (or poet) Egil Skallagrimsson.
My second novel, The Viking Hostage, imagines a viking settlement on Caldey Island off the coast at Tenby. I was talking yesterday with a TV researcher about why contemporary people from the Welsh coast, might like the idea of having Viking DNA, despite the popular image of Vikings as brutal raiders and slavers (see the first idea for the cover of my novel above). We can’t help but be impressed by the adventurous spirit of the Vikings and their achievements as seaborne explorers. I’m intrigued by the way they might have seen the map of the world, inside out as it were, from the perspective of the oceans and rivers that were their roads. One of their ‘roads’ skirted through the Scottish islands and came down past the Isle of Man, threaded between Ireland and Wales, and moved on towards France. I tried to write about Vikings as fully rounded people, rather than two-dimensional villains: as tender and funny, as well as fearsome pagan warriors. 8th to 11th century Scandinavia (the Viking Age) was a rich and complex culture as the recent British Museum exhibition demonstrated. There is evidence that Viking women were on some of the ships. Vikings were also traders, farmers and mercenaries, integrating with the other cultures they encountered. Evidence about the Vikings in Wales is in place names especially islands and coastal ports; in the Icelandic Sagas; in recent archaeological evidence, for instance at Anglesey; and in the Welsh Annals written at St David’s Cathedral where they had good cause to moan about them since Vikings raided the cathedral eleven times.
See Judith Jesch’s Viking Poetry of Love and War (2013) published by the British Museum; Mark Redknap, Vikings in Wales: An Archaeological Quest (2000); Gareth Williams and Peter Pentz’s Vikings: Life and Legends (2014); and the Vikings television drama series. The book cover idea above is from a 19th century French painting by Evariste Vital Luminais. France was another place where there was also good reason to think of Vikings with less than fondness. My novel, The Viking Hostage, set in France and Wales, is published by Impress Books.