This bit is about my books, and the articles I’ve written for magazines and newspapers. Occasional interviews also included here. I always love the idea of writing something new until I start trying to write it. My best work is usually done in cafes, scribbling on post-it notes and the back of used envelopes, high on caffeine and sugar. Unfortunately I can rarely read my writing afterwards, so it’s not a perfect system.
In the dying days of the eighth century, the Vikings erupted onto the international stage with brutal raids and slaughter. But this is far from the whole story of medieval Norse activities abroad. The Norse travelled to all corners of the medieval world and beyond; north to the wastelands of Arctic Scandinavia, south to the politically turbulent heartlands of medieval Christendom, west across the wild seas to Greenland and the fringes of the North American continent, and east down the Russian waterways, trading silver, skins, and slaves. Beyond the Northlands explores this world through the stories that the Norse told about themselves in their own words, through the Old Norse-Icelandic sagas. But this is a history that goes far beyond historical facts. What emerges from these tales is a mixture of realism and fantasy, quasi-historical adventures and exotic wonder-tales that rocket far beyond the horizon of reality. On the crackling brown pages of saga manuscripts, trolls, dragons, and outlandish tribes jostle for position with explorers, traders, and kings. To explore the sagas and the world that produced them, I took my own trips through the dramatic landscapes that they describe, including Greenland, Arctic Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Orkney, Rome and Istanbul. Along the way, I illuminated the saga accounts with other sources including archaeological finds, runestones, medieval world maps, encyclopaedic manuscripts, and texts from as far away as Byzantium and Baghdad. I wanted this to be a book not just about history, but about the stories people tell about themselves, their past, and their place in the world. I wanted to show how the world was experienced, remembered, and imagined by this unique culture from the outermost edge of Europe so many centuries ago.
Edited with Danielle Cudmore and Stefan Donecke
‘Turning to face north, face the north, we enter our own unconscious. Always, in retrospect, the journey north has the quality of dream.’ (Margaret Atwood, ‘True North’.)
In this interdisciplinary collection, sixteen scholars from twelve countries explore the notion of the North as a realm of the supernatural. This region has long been associated with sorcerous inhabitants, mythical tribes, metaphysical forces of good and evil, and a range of supernatural qualities. It was both the sacred abode of the gods and a feared source of menacing invaders and otherworldly beings. Whether from the perspective of traditional Jewish lore or of contemporary black metal music, few motifs in European cultural history show such longevity and broad appeal.