[Today, we sit down for an interview with Ian Stuart Sharpe, author of the alternate history series, Vikingverse. Here, Sharpe discusses his personal spirituality, his reasons for writing an alternate history, and the (huge) amount of research that goes into writing such a thing.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual path? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Ian Stuart Sharpe: I am a product of the Anglican Church and all the benign befuddlement that entails. I think that part of me is represented by Churchwarden Michaels in the books — the kind of hapless, blinkered faith that has nothing really to do with God at all. The sort of spirituality that is embarrassed by the very notion that higher powers exist, and that certainly doesn’t want to go around inconveniencing them. But, as I have grown older — and dare I say it, wiser, there is another, more rigorous side that is much more like Idunn Lind, the novel’s voice of reason. A kind of optimistic nihilism: the view that, once one accepts that life lacks any intrinsic meaning or value, one can find joy and contentment by attributing my own sense of meaning or value to existence. Now transplanted to the West Coast of Canada, I believe in Mother Jǫrð — because I see her power and beauty every day.
ev0ke: You have released two books in the alternate history Vikingverse series. First, congratulations! Second, why did you decide to write an alternate history? What drew you to that genre?
ISS: Well, firstly, thanks very much. As to the second part of the question, hasn’t everyone wanted to rewrite history? Turn back the clock? Have a do-over? In my case, I wanted to hold a mirror up to the present day, and take a long hard look at all our cherished institutions and ingrained behaviours, because a big theme of the novels is simply, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. That seems to me to be the essence of the Norse Ragnarok. Because the Norse gods are born in our image, they join us in routinely blowing everything up, seemingly out of caprice. The Twilight of the Gods just keeps coming out of sheer folly.
Nowadays, when you look at a world where the best solution our elders offer is thoughts and prayers — and at worst, propaganda and tantrums — where a deadly pandemic acts as a mask for spousal abuse and looting, an alternate history gives you a sense of perspective.
ev0ke: Considering just how vast human history is, why did you elect to focus on the Norse?
ISS: When I started the first novel, I was undergoing my own personal Ragnarok — a collapsing company, the end of a career chapter — and it struck me as a great metaphor. The crucial thing in creating an alternate timeline is authenticity, but it is also important to allow for a juxtaposition, and because the Norse world has always been a kissing-cousin to Anglo-Saxon and insular Christendom, it is just similar enough for people to latch onto. But I also wrote about Vikings simply because they have been demonised, treated as a handy scapegoat by history, and the record needed addressing.
There is a great essay by the esteemed historian Arnold Toynbee that speaks to the Birthright of the Abortive Scandinavian civilization. In a few short pages, he details what might have been.
ev0ke: Why did you select the Saxon Wars of the eighth century as your breakaway point?
ISS: People forget that Christianity hasn’t always been about turning the other cheek. For much of its early history, it was a warrior religion, a mantle of conquerors. Whole tribes, whole cultures, were massacred by kings who claimed land and riches in Christ’s name. Chief among them was Charlemagne, who is often praised as the “Father of Europe.” But people forget he was the “Butcher of the Saxons,” as well. In The All Father Paradox, I wanted to ensure one “Father” was replaced by another, and see what was sired as a result.
ev0ke: What was your favorite event or person to “tweak” in your alternate timeline? Was it book titles like Alice in Wonderland or historical events like the war between the Rus/Russians and the Tatars?
ISS: I have a soft spot for all of them. I like having fun with well known figures like Charles Darwin/Karl Dyrrvin and his Survival of the Fittest/Misfits. But if I had to choose one, it would be “Man with the Little Clock.” In our history, he is a name — a mere mention in a 13th century Arabic manuscript. But I was able to give him a personality and a backstory and explore the Andalusian culture. The Muslims had a very interesting and different perspective on the Vikings and it was a joy to explore.
ev0ke: Can you give us any hints as to what will happen in the third book? And when will it be available?
ISS: The first book was very much anchored on the Völuspá, the Norse prophecy of the Seeress. In the second book, readers unwittingly explored Hrafnagaldur Óðins or Odin’s Raven-Song, another Icelandic poem as well as the story of Loki’s Flyting. I try to find a key text as a mirror for each novel, to underpin the mythos. So, without giving too much away I’ll just mention one word:
ev0ke: How much research has gone into the Vikingverse series? Lots of trips to the library? Long hours online?
ISS: Oh, I have read Icelandic sagas, biographies of 13th century scientists, tomes of Arabic grammar, textbooks on Gamma ray bursts — the list is both eclectic and long. The whole point of the Vikingverse is that everything is connected, and all these disparate elements have common threads. I predominantly research online, but always have a physical book or two on the bedside table — Mongolian horse-archer tactics are surprisingly soporific.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your books?
ISS: The books are published by Outland Entertainment, and distributed by the Independent Publisher Group — so in theory, in bookstores everywhere (although in practice, you’ll have to ask). Otherwise, they are on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, on iBooks, or available as Audio Books on Audible. Fans should check out Vikingverse.com to buy them direct.
ev0ke: What advice would you offer to authors who are just starting out? Things they absolutely must do? Mistakes to avoid?
ISS: There are two types of writers: plotters who have a tight plan; and pantsers, who make it up as they go along. My advice is that perfect planning prevents poor performance — and that means never, ever start a novel using the device of Benedictine Monks who have taken a vow of silence. It makes writing dialogue extremely difficult .…
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
ISS: The Vikingverse is a multimedia project. We’ve Kickstarted some comics focusing on the Jötunn War, because a war story is enriched by compelling artwork — we are onto our fourth issue now. And this summer, I’ve a new project involving collaboration with the Icelandic Professor who has translated Alice in Wonderland into Old Norse. More will become clear in due course! Keep watching @vikingverse on social media for news.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]