Historical Research Series Guest - Marianne Whiting

Welcome back to another installment of the Historical Research Series. In this series, I am interviewing historical novelists about how the research that allows them to create compelling and believable stories.

Please help me welcome this week's Historical Research Series guest - Marianne Whiting.

Marianne, why don't you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in Sweden and studied History at the University of Lund. I arrived in England in 1973 to do a one-year course at Birmingham University. I’m still here and still married to the man who made me miss the boat home. I taught Humanities in Leicestershire High Schools before escaping to run a Study Support Project and then to set up a Sure Start Children’s Centre in Leicester. I now write full-time.

I began writing in earnest in 2001 and was invited to join Leicester Writers’ Club the year after. I am a member of the Historical Novel Society. I have had some success with poetry and short stories and my first novel Modern Knights Don’t Wear Armour (unpublished) won a place in the East Midland Arts Free Reading scheme. Shieldmaiden was published by Matador in 2012.

I write the sort of stories that I like to read but rarely find; historical adventure like the ones by Bernard Cornwell and Tim Severin but with a woman at the centre of the action. As a historian I enjoy the research and strive to be accurate without allowing historical detail get in the way of the action.

What is the time period/setting for your novels?

Mid-10th Century about the Viking settlers in Cumbria.
Do you have any special connection to the period? 

When I arrived in England in 1972 I found the English incredibly ignorant about their Viking ancestors. I’ve always wanted to challenge their view that the Vikings raped, pillaged and left.

What appeals to you about this period?

I’m interested in the Vikings because of the way their society was built on the need for mutual support, respect for women in a time when they generally didn’t count for much, the concept of honor and the desire to gain a reputation of fairness and wisdom in this life. Then there is, of course, the excitement and adventure.

How much time do you spend researching each book?

I’m retired and self-published so have no restrains on the amount of time I spend on research. I try not to get too carried away.

Do you tend to research before you write, or more as you write?

I already had a reasonable grasp of Viking history and culture from my Scandinavian upbringing and as a student of History so I just got started. I do my research when I need to find some specific detail. I do however confess to spending most of my holidays in search of Viking Centres and good museums.

Do you tend to use secondary or primary research sources?

I use both. There are no contemporary written sources by Vikings. The Anglo Saxon Chronicles were written by monks and they were, understandably, not keen on Vikings so the bias is pretty glaring. Other sources, such as the Icelandic Sagas, were written down from oral traditions 2-300 years after the events they describe and after Iceland had been a Christian country for a couple of centuries. Archaeology is useful but even more so is experimental archaeology where people re-create houses, ships, manufacturing methods etc. to see what works. I have found that many re-enactors are not just people who get dressed up at week-ends to beat the living daylight out of their friends but are serious academics who generously share their knowledge with others on their websites.

Any favorite sources?

The Ribe Viking Centre in Denmark, but there are lots of others to discover.

Have you ever found out after a book was published that you made an error with a historical fact?

I write about Saxons in the North of England when they were in fact Angles. My brother also claims that the Vikings never used throwing axes but I have found a source that says it’s not impossible that they did. Otherwise I have yet to discover serious errors.
Which authors in this time period do you enjoy? Or, who inspires you?

The Icelandic Sagas are great both for information and inspiration. I also like the Swedish author F.G. Bengtsson’s The Long Ships (Rode Orm). Bernard Cornwell and Robert Low write exciting but male-oriented stories. I wanted to write that sort of stories but with women as the central characters.

How can readers connect with you if they want to learn more?


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