Christina here. Lots of authors seem to listen to music while they write in order to get in the right mood – sometimes the same song over and over again to inspire a particular scene they might be working on. Many of them have specific playlists for each book with one song per chapter, which they mention either on their blogs or at the start of their books so that readers can listen along with them. I can’t do that. I need silence in order to compose my thoughts and disappear into my own little world, and music would drag me out of it because when I listen to something I really like, I get lost in that instead.
That’s not to say I don’t find music inspiring. I do, but I like to listen to it before or after I write, not during the process. And I also love to watch music videos as some of them are mini stories in their own right and they can trigger plots or characters in my head. Today I thought I would share with you some of the songs, music and/or videos that I’ve found helpful while writing my Viking stories and the reasons why.
I have to start with Led Zeppelin’s The Immigrant Song as used in the film Thor Ragnarok – Thor as portrayed by the actor Chris Hemsworth is the basis for quite a few of my heroes and in this particular scene he fights with his evil sister Hela for all he’s worth. I try to imbue my heroes with his strength, fearlessness and power, not to mention his good looks. (See halfway through this clip for the start of the song.)
Then there is Yggdrasil by Brothers of Metal. Although the costumes in the video are a bit dodgy and not exactly authentic Viking gear, and the drama slightly ridiculous, the song gives a sense of the Viking sacrificial blot ceremonies that were practised. Animals were sacrificed and the blood splashed on the participants with a little whisk made of twigs. The music also conveys the feeling of adventure inherent in the Vikings – they would travel to the ends of the earth without hesitation, and would have gone as far as to the top of the world tree, Yggdrasil, if that had been possible.
I have long been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest, held every year with entries from all the European countries as well as a few others. (I know, it can get very silly at times but there are actually some good songs occasionally!). One of my favourites was Iceland’s entry for 2013 with a singer called Eythor Ingi with the song Ég á Líf. He looked and sounded like the perfect Viking hero and was part of the reason why my hero Rurik in WHISPERS OF THE RUNES is great at singing. The fact that Eythor sings in his native Icelandic helped as well – I could really imagine what Rurik would have sounded like singing in Old Norse.
In 2018 it was Denmark’s turn to inspire me – their song Higher Ground by Rasmussen made my heart pound the way the Vikings must have felt as they set off on their raiding or trading expeditions in those sleek longships. Combined with footage from the Vikings TV series in this video – it is powerful stuff indeed!
In 2019 Norway’s KEiiNO entered with an unusual song called Spirit in the Sky, which features a Sámi man doing what is called joik or yoik. This is a traditional way of singing without words.
Improvised, it is like chanting and is supposed to imitate sounds from nature. Although the Vikings didn’t practise this, they came into contact with the Sámi people and must have heard yoiking performed. I find it fascinating and they’re singing about the northern lights which I’m sure awed people back then just as much as they do now.
A bit closer to home is Nordic Lullaby – The Wolf Song by Jonna Jinton. This is more how I imagine the Vikings would have sung themselves. I can just picture a Viking mother singing this to her tiny child to make him or her go to sleep while wolves can be heard howling in the nearby forest. (My grandmother, who was born in 1909, remembered hearing the wolves as a child, even though she lived in a small town!)
There is something slightly otherworldly about Jonna’s singing which transports me back in time, and in The Frozen Call – Ancient Nordic Chant – she also demonstrates the use of a cow horn, which is something that features in my next book, TEMPTED BY THE RUNES, although not for musical purposes. And if by any chance anyone would like to watch this intrepid lady having a bath in what we call an “isvak” in Sweden (a hole cut out of thick ice in the middle of a lake), here she is. I wouldn’t do it if you paid me! (Well, maybe for a million pounds …)
Wench Anne kindly alerted me to this video of an ancient Icelandic song performed impromptu and a capella in a German underground station by the Icelandic folk group Árstiðir – fabulous! Maybe that’s what the Vikings sounded like when they all sang together in the longhouse of an evening? Although I have a feeling they would have been rather more raucous and fuelled by ale …
When I was writing a fight scene featuring Pecheneg warriors encountered by my Vikings as they made their way towards Miklagarðr (Istanbul), I listened to this song by The HU – they are Mongolian, but it seemed wild and fitting somehow. Who knew Mongolian heavy metal was a thing?
I don’t just listen to things that specifically have to do with Vikings though – music is obviously great for inspiring all kinds of emotions. There are plenty of upbeat, happy songs for joy, soppy love songs for those special moments, and sometimes a really great power ballad can be the perfect thing to have in your head when you are writing something sad or difficult.
For me, Avenged Sevenfold’s Dear God sums up the feeling of loneliness and homesickness that people must have felt when they were far from home and missing those they’d left behind. Perhaps wondering whether they would ever see them again as travel was a risky business in the past. My characters travel far and wide in what is little more than huge rowing boats – not exactly safe!
And for hero inspiration, you can’t beat the guy in the video for Call Me When You’re Sober by Evanescence – just look at those eyes! The lady singing is gorgeous too, as are the fake “wolves”.
I apologise for torturing you if you’re not a fan of rock music which tends to be my favourite listening material, but some of these songs are more about the sentiment and melody. And I don’t just like rock, I can appreciate classical music too. For example, next week I’m travelling to Norway and Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt – In the Hall of the Mountain King will be very much on my mind as I drive through the mountains.
Finally, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is one of the most poignant pieces of music I know and I can listen to it forever. Perfect mood music!
How about you? What music would inspire you and do you have any favourite songs or pieces?