Writing is at its core a strange thing for a human to do. It is the voluntary decision to eschew real flesh-and-blood people that you may like, and even love, in favour of countless hours spent with characters. Okay, so countless hours may be an exaggeration – but they do run in the hundreds. Multiply that by three, and you have something that runs in at least the three hundreds, if not a lot more. I would casually estimate that the number of hours I spent writing the Valhalla Saga is somewhere between Thor’s Hammer Smite Me If That Is A Real Number and Slap Me Silly And Call Me Sinfjotli Why Do I Do This? This is not a post about mathematics, word count, hours or monetary gain divided by time. That is another post that no author should ever write, for that way madness lies.
No, this post is about goodbyes.
Because as humans do, you tend to get attached. Spending Sweet Odin’s Beard That’s A Lot Of Hours with someone can do that to you – and after the first million or so it ceases to be important that they don’t actually exist. You write, you write fast, you look at the page and you scrunch up your nose. ‘They wouldn’t say that,’ you mutter. ‘This is all wrong.’ The sane voice in your head – the really quiet one who usually lurks in the corner grumbling to itself while reading pension pamphlets and dishwasher instructions – screams something about it not mattering because they’re not real and no-one spoke to Vikings anyway because they were busy running away screaming. You ignore it.
You do that a lot.
Because you are busy writing. Because you think you know what happens next and you sort of do but this one time something happened that you didn’t expect and you were literally (see what I did there?) the first one to ever know that and that is an awesome feeling and so you push on to the bit that you never see coming – the end.
And then, you have to stop and think. Most of the thinking that happens at that point is related to aligning the spingwhiffle to the swamp donkey and making sure the heroine discovers that the lever in the outhouse actually controls the Lord Chamberlain’s fireplace because of that thing you definitely forgot to put into chapter three even though you knew you were going to at 7:12am while heading to work. This is all normal for writers – being a writer is sort of like signing up for a substitution scheme where you swap your brain for about 4kg of spaghetti and play Lady and the Tramp with yourself.
But one or two of the thoughts – the more insiduous ones, the ones that sort of just sneak in and lay down on the kitchen table and stay very still in order to bask in your confused surprise when you find them – say ‘That’s it, you know.’ The last time. The last chapter. Your last chance to have your well-meaning but fundamentally flawed protagonist mess up again and take the punishment you judiciously dole out. And that, like any break-up, departure or bereavement, is sad. It is a sad feeling, because a huge part of why you do this writing nonsense is that it is fun hanging out with your characters. But it’s kind of part of the contract you sign at the start – there are few successful stories out there with a beginning, a middle and an and an. (Obligatory George Martin Joke to go in here) The show must go on until it is done, and then the artists must stop performing. Believe me – they must. I will not elaborate on this, but they really must.
The one thing you can do for your heroes, your bad guys and girls, your schemers and your dreamers, your wise-cracking old fusties and doe-eyed debutantes – is to give them a proper send-off.
Path of Gods was a hard book to write – I had to tie up a number of things that I had no idea how to tie up, and I’d never finished a fantasy trilogy before, and I didn’t know if I could do it and I had definitely gotten very close to running out of ways to describe snow – but there was a moment. A moment where I realised that I would need to say goodbye to Audun and Ulfar, to their friends from Stenvik, to Valgard (the bastard), to Prince Karle and Alfgeir Bjorne, to Thora and all my other fellow travellers. So I invented, in my mind, a dial. I labelled it ‘epic’. And then, I cranked it up as far as it went.
Because that, I believe, is the only way to say goodbye to Vikings.
p.s. I wish this was all true. But it sort of isn’t. I couldn’t quite say goodbye to all of them. My next book, ‘Kin’, features a young Helga Finnsdottir, steeped in a particularly nasty murder mystery.