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Feel free to email me: robert@robert-low.com. I'll use your comments, queries and resulting answers here.

Nearly coulda been me

I've just finished reading The Lion Rampant and wanted to drop you a wee note to say how much I enjoyed it. I'm a big reader of historical fiction, I've loved all the Oathsworn books too, but these have been a particular favourite of mine. Usually my heroes in books are Romans, Greeks or big hairy Viking types so as someone who grew up in Dumfriesshire it was wonderful to read about people who could, perhaps, be my very, very distant kin doing amazing deeds.

Good to hear from you and that you enjoyed the series!


The past is another language

I want to express my deep gratitude for the exquisite stories you have shared with us, your readers, over the years. As a stay-at-home mom I find the Oathsworn adventures strangely relaxing and a welcome change of scenery after my own daily (and sometimes nightly) struggles with a high-energy toddler.

A tiny request: please, please keep using the old Scottish dialect in your Kingdom series. I had a marvellous time trying to figure out what the characters were saying. Since English is not my first language, I welcome any opportunity to practice my language skills. Guessing the meaning of words which resemble English only slightly is a wonderful brain exercise.

So nice to be appreciated in foreign parts! My books are published in Czech, Polish, Russian, German and a few other languages, but you preferred to read them in English. Good for you! I feel that the translators who work on my books should take the credit if it is right – and the blame if it is wrong.


Master and commander

The Lion Rampant completed one of the best trilogies i have read for a very long time. I thought you navigated us through with the touch of a master storyteller, and that made Scottish history come to life. The Lion Wakes set it up (I had no trouble with the language). The Lion At Bay moved it on at a pace in the Oathsworn mode. You finished it of with a cracking final that had me falling in love with Isabel. After putting down The Lion Rampant I picked up Crowbone and realised how much i have missed the Oathsworn. I have been sitting in my hall far too long waiting for more tales of Orm Bear-Slayer and Crowbone. Will we have more Oathsworn tales or are you off into a new period of history?

Keep watching the horizon to see what I sail over it next…


I do like a happy ending...

Just finished The Lion Rampant – a great conclusion to a wonderful series. Thanks for giving Dog Boy a happy ending and Isabel a happier fate than the one she probably had in reality. Your sense of story and use of language are brilliant as ever - love the way you reposition words for maximum effect: "he harshed a reply…" "hesitating a name."

I was intrigued by your comment about Dougald of Craignish's coat of arms and wonder if you can tell me which runic symbol inspired it? I see a later variant has the coat of arms depicted as a sail on a Scottish galley. Were those birlinns the Islesmen used derived from Viking ships? The shape looks very familiar.

Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for taking the time to let me know. The Craignish Campbells' shields were based, as far as I can ascertain, on a stylised version of the valknut symbol – careful when you Google it, since a lot of these runic sites are now neo-Nazi! The later variant comes from the Galley of Lorne, symbol of Somerled of the Isles who used the birlinn to take on and defeat the Vikings in the mid-12th century. Somerled himself, of course, is 'Norse-Gaelic' which simply means half-Viking!


Bargain book...

Dearest Robert, I love your beard, I love your blog and I love your books. I tell everyone I meet to read them. I found your hardback book The Lion Wakes in a 99p shop in Haywards Heath. I was incensed – but then I realised that all publicity is good publicity, and this is a way for all to read your books in these hard times. Your books are so good I bought them all, and all my family loved them too.


Wish I'd never started...

I wish I never read that first Robert Low book. It ignited an obsession. I started out with the first Bruce book and became a fan – had to read the 2nd one right away. Read about the author's Oathsworn Series. Couldn't find The Whale Road, had to send to England for it. Loved it, and just ordered the second book from a used bookstore in UK. The remainder, it seems, I can buy easily. So what happens when I read all this guy's stuff? Anything else dealing with medieval fiction pales in comparison! So, I wish I never started Mr Low's books. Just too good. What a writer!


A darker place...

Thanks for your writings, in particular The Lion Wakes. I have been transported from this sunny Sydney to a much darker place, and have immersed myself to the detriment (or so I am told) of family and work. Please write faster!


Pause for breath...

Oh for goodness' sake, Robert! I just couldn't breathe during this latest Kingdom novel. How do you expect an old biddy like me to cope with it all? I thought, "If Isabel and Hal don't get together by the end of this, I'm taking up the challenge myself and rescuing the pair of them!"

It was a stunning read. I loved every moment. I still think Dog Boy is my absolute favourite character. I do so want him and Hob to go onto to great things together. I enjoy the Oathsworn, but the Kingdom series is its equal without any doubt. Thank you for marvellous battle scenes, wonderful characters and fantastic adventures.

I am dreadfully sorry to have been the one who restricted your breathing, though I am glad it was in such a good cause. Hopefully, you may have some literature-based respiratory problems in the future, too. Thanks for taking the time to let me know. Nothing pleases a novelist more than evidence of his ability!


Divided by a common language...

Glad to see I'm not the only one irritated by the routine "Americanisation" of books written by British authors for the US market. I was peeved the other day when reading a US edition of Evelyn Waugh's Helena, to find it had been changed in this way. I'm quite sure Waugh didn't write "theater" or "traveled"! It's a sort of arrogance and a desecration – books should be read as they were written. Why do US publishers feel that their readership can't cope with British spelling? Why do they assume that their way is the only way? Those of us brought up with "British" English don't have any problems dealing with the reverse, for goodness' sake.

I wouldn't be so annoyed if I thought that it was to appease sensibilities of reading – there is nothing worse for a reader brought up in one culture of spelling to be faced with a litany of what he/she considers to be wrongly-spelled words. However, it seems we Brits pander increasingly to a US market, since all books are routinely done this way; so British spelling is gradually subsumed. It won't be long before the actual titles reflect this. Look out for Waugh's Sword of Honor trilogy any day soon. Mind you, we'll be epubbing, so good book covers, like all that classic vinyl album art, will vanish anyway.


Hope for improvement...

I have just read your Fiddling While Hope Burns article – it's so true, and so sad. After reading it I went straight to Amazon with my head hung in shame for not doing so earlier, and rated all of your books that I have read and enjoyed over the years with five stars. I can honestly say that the Oathsworn series are the best books I have ever read and re-read. I ask with bated breath.. will Orm and Fin sale again? and will there be more Oathsworn audio books?

Thanks for that - while it's incredibly helpful to receive positive reviews on Amazon, that was not the intent of the article, to be honest! Glad you are enjoying the books all the same - and the world is not yet done with Orm and Finn.


Spaghetti Vikings...

I've acquired a Kindle and been able to read your latest Viking pleasure cruise. I really enjoyed Crowbone's saga. Full of hard-faced men that would fit right in a Sergio Leone Spagetti Western. The three-way sword-fest at the close for Odin's Daughter reminded me of Blondie, Tuco and Angel Eye's three-way shoot-out in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Your tales aren't boringly black and white. Olaf, like most of your characters, has his Good, Bad, and Ugly side. And I loved the gentle suggestion that the two monks on the Island of Mann had shared more than a love of Christ. Why couldn't Erik Bloodaxe's one-time right-hand man have been gay? Don't take too long releasing the next saga.

Interesting interpretations - I have to admit that I never thought of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly when I was writing it, at least not consciously. On the other hand, Westerns have all the themes you could want for Dark Age (or even Fantasy) drama. I have read Joe Abercrombie's Red Country and I can recognise at least two Clint Eastwood's movies in there! Glad you enjoyed Crowbone - hope you enjoy The Lion Rampant when it comes out in April.


Another lion wakes...

I'm reading the first Oathsworn novel, Whale Road, mainly on the strength of Harry Sidebottom's glowing encomium. It's certainly a ripping yarn and great fun, but one thing is troubling me like an itch. In P274 of the Harper edition we read:

'"Spears!" Einar called and they came hissing past my ear, sticking beyond us, a hedge of points.'

Then, a couple of paras later:

'The spear points did the rest. That hedge wasn't for them.'

Now, I'm baffled. If the back row throw spears over the front row then those spears rest point down with their shafts leaning back at the shieldwall. To stop cavalry you need them leaning the other way and pointed end up.

The confusion, of course, comes from my bad writing. They are not throwing the spears, but presenting them from the back row (hissing past their ears) so that they project beyond the front rank (a hedge of points). They don't kneel and the front rank have no spears – their job is to to stand firm, shields up and mailled, like a wall behind which the unarmoured spearmen can shelter. Hope this helps; I know how such things can be like a stone in the shoe of your enjoyment.


Another lion wakes...

You have awakened an interest in Scottish history for me. This is not a subject which seemed to be high on the agenda of the schools I attended through my earlier years and I feel this is as important a part of our history as any other. I enjoyed the first book, and am so looking forward to the rest of the series.

I am glad to have inspired you to further research. More power to your reading!


 

Another lion wakes...

You have awakened an interest in Scottish history for me. This is not a subject which seemed to be high on the agenda of the schools I attended through my earlier years and I feel this is as important a part of our history as any other. I enjoyed the first book, and am so looking forward to the rest of the series.

I am glad to have inspired you to further research. More power to your reading!


Living flesh

I love your writing: the dialects, cultural insights, history and thoughtful recreation of another time. You flesh out the times as well as Hilary Mantel. When will the next Lion book hit printers, or the net, and same question for another Oathsworn saga?

I am sure the paperback will be out early next year, around the same time as the last of the Kingdom trilogy, The Lion Rampant. I hope you enjoy the latter as much as you seem to have enjoyed the others – and thanks for taking the time to tell me so.


Resist the bigots

I was very glad to read your elaborate response to Kieran's prizewinning question. It is a sad truth that Germanic history, literature, and folklore are all too often linked to racist supremacists. I've actually had some people ask me why I want to study old Norse literature since I am not of Germanic descent. I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture in which Nancy Marie Brown was discussing her new book, Song of the Vikings. Sadly she had to devote a portion of her lecture to explain what supremacists have tried to do with Snorri's edda. She mentioned a racist political party that named themselves Edda. As Tolkien wrote in 1941, these supremacists are 'ruining, perverting, misapplying, and making forever accursed, that noble northern spirit'. If they had bothered to read the edda, they would have seen that Æsir is explained to have derived from Asia; and while that etymology is false, the very fact that Norsemen put it forward shows how much they disregarded these racial stigmas. Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate Kieran, and to thank you for taking a public stance against supremacists who try to misuse this literature and culture.

Thanks for that - I thought it a very interesting question. I realise that Snorri's interpretation has coloured perceptions ever since, but my own personal jury is still out on whether this was Snorri himself, eager to link his ancestors with the likes of ancient Troy, or an echo of an older belief. Whatever the reasoning, the hijacking of Norse myth, legend and symbols by any misguided bigot should be resisted all the time.


Brutal - but fascinating...

Just finished Crowbone and really enjoyed it. After reading your books I have started to study the history of the Baltic region. It's brutal, but very fascinating! The best book I have read so far is The Northern Crusades by Eric Christiansen. Olaf Tryggvason is mentioned – he was sold for a cloak when he was a young slave. Loved to have seen your lecture in your regalia. Maybe you will be attending the celebrations in 1014 in Clontarf, Dublin? We are looking forward to it.

The Northern Crusades is a fascinating read – I have it on my bookshelf and have always wanted to do something on the Scots who came for the annual Teutonic Knights crusade in the 14th century. Maybe I will get around to it. I have been to Ireland before – a show in Limerick, at Bunratty – and might make it over again for Clontarf. Of course, that is also the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn…


A brave step

I've just finished Crowbone, and hugely enjoyed it; especially how cleverly the story was woven and the progressing of the characters. It was a very brave step to move a major character into a supporting role, and the novel was, I feel, all the better for it. As with your Bruce series I feel your writing is becoming more poetic. Your books leave me with the feeling of sitting round a fire in the darkness listening to a true storyteller weave a spell.

Ah, that word 'brave'! In my experience, it usually translates as 'suicidal'… but I am glad you feel the book was all the better for the shift. Although Orm isn't over the hill yet, I wanted to give the series a new breath of young blood and some fresh legs. Glad you liked the Bruce series, too – that one seems harder for folk to get into.


Time waits for no writer

I have now a great void in my reading routine because I have now read all the books in the Oathsworn series. It is a sad fact of live that an author spends a great deal of time and effort to produce a book, whilst the reader, such as myself, devours it in a matter hours. We are then left bereft and hunger for further books in the series. If only the author were a software programme, then we would not have to wait for the next instalment – it could be created by a keystroke. This brings me onto your rant about the popular idea that people are entitled to write and publish their own work. There are libraries stuffed with crap books, shops stuffed full of crap books, not worth the paper they are printed on. I feel that professional writing is a highly specialist undertaking. So I agree with you, we don't need more writers. We need excellent professional authors, and more readers – especially those who actually like to hold a good solid printed copy of a book.

Thank you for the kind thoughts and support - I am sorry I can't write any faster! Try the Kingdom Series and see how you like them - and let me know.


The lion goes from strength to strength

I enjoyed The Lion Wakes but I thought The Lion at Bay was bigger and stronger… You really do bring the thirteenth century to life. I was sitting in Smithfield Market as I read the chapters set in London and I'm sure I saw Kirkpatrick disappear down a side alley. I hope we do not have to wait to long for the next one – and I see we have a spin-off Oathsworn to come in October. Keep them coming and I will keep buying.

You probably noticed that I tempered the accents and language just a little for this one, which I think made it more acceptable to wider audience. Glad you appreciate the nuances, though – and I hope you like Crowbone.


Strap trap

I could not put The Whale Road down, but I have a query… In YouTube videos and on your site you have discussed how Viking shields were used, centre-grip style with a strap for carrying on the shoulder. Yet, while reading The Whale Road, it seems they are strapping their arms to the back of the shield. Here are four examples:

Skapti strode to the front, swinging his shield on to his arm.

As I did, he hooked the blade behind the shield, wrenching it forward to try to break the straps.

It took Einar's shield just below the rim, a solid pine on pine wheel of wood, and split it lengthwise. With a swift shrug, Einar was out of the straps, both hands on the hilt of his sword…

He hit, we fell together in a grunting heap of dust and blood, spilled apart, lay there. My shield straps broke - mercifully - and I rolled free of it and got up, left arm dangling.

Am I simply misunderstanding the shoulder strap use? I feel as I must be mistaken somewhere as I think you of all people would know how these sort of things were.

I can see where the confusion lies! The carrying straps mentioned run from rim to rim and are used to sling the shield across the back – by far the best and easiest way to travel with it and leave your hands free. The Dane axemen need both hands for their long axes, and yet have a shield against missiles when needed. Usually you travel with the sling round your shoulders and your hand in the central grip, which takes the weight of the shield off your arm and wrist. "Swinging the shield on to his arm" means – as I have done myself many times – performing a little dip and shrug with the shoulders, which brings the shield round off your back and forward. The strap is still round your shoulders so that, if you lose your grip, it won't spill to the ground but is still hanging off you. Hence all the references to trying to hook the shield to break the strap.

The only problem with this method, as I have suffered, is if you are pulled off your feet by one of those bloody hooking axes and sent flying – then the shield goes with you, battering all over the place and tangling you up, and you are easy meat for the enemy. My straps have never conveniently broken and saved me, but I took pity on Orm and wrote that for him.

If you want out of the carry strap in a hurry, you just have to duck and shrug it over your head, as Einar does in his fight. I once did that, only to have the strap catch in the aventail of my helmet and wrench it off my head. For this and other reasons lots of my colleagues won't use straps – but they are younger and stronger than me and have smaller, lighter shields.

References to general tightening and tying is for helmets and equipment, but every reference to a 'shield strap' is to the one which helps carry the shield, not hold it to the arm.


Worlds of words

I discovered your work mainly through some comments on Joe Abercrombie's website and I am very glad that I took the initiative to order The Whale Road, and I'm currently on The White Raven. Joe mainly writes gritty, down-to-earth fantasy and he's very successful at that. Give him a try – I'm sure you'll like his works.

I have quite a good grasp of the English language for I have spent years of my life between Brighton, Surrey and Glasgow. Even though I do have to use the aid of a dictionary at times, I find your manner of writing simply brilliant! What intrigues me is for coming across a word I cannot understand, then going to find its meaning. Many of them are extremely rare words, but therein lies my delight: it feels like I'm discovering another world!

Additionally, I must also confess I love how you are able to interweave fictional characters or place with actual events; this is a talent and no mistake. Thanks for a great series, good luck to your future endeavours.

Thanks for taking the time to write, and for liking what I do. I have read Joe Abercrombie and thoroughly enjoyed his work, though I was not aware that his website included references to me! If you like history, try the new ones on Scotland's battle for independence, The Lion Wakes and The Lion At Bay. The Lion Rampant will complete this trilogy next year. But if you are less moved by the fourteenth century and want more Vikings, then look out for Crowbone this autumn.


Don't leave them in limbo

You can't do that! I've read the second instalment of the Kingdom series, hanging onto every page, losing sleep over Hal's predicaments and wondering how the hell he was going to survive… and what do you do? You leave him with his enemies, Isabel in a cage and Dog Boy thinking he'll never see anyone every again. My nerves were shot as it was, and now this! Please, please write a third instalment or this reader will never cope!

Thanks for your praise - well, sort of! And dinna fash - the third instalment is written and concerns events around Bannockburn. You can't have such a seminal battle without Hal or the Dog Boy, can you?

The fate of kings

A wee question that's always troubled me being a Scotsman and a lover of history… If William Wallace had never taken up arms against Edward in his quest to dominate Scotland, would Bruce have become king of Scots? I just wonder how our history would be now.

Good question! The thing to remember about the Scottish Wars of Independence is that they were not primarily the underdog Scots attempting to release themselves from English dominion. It was essentially a civil war, between the Balliol/Comyn faction and the Bruces. You could almost say that the Balliol/Comyn represented the old Gaelic lords (their holdings were primarily in the north, around Aberdeen, Inverness etc) and the incoming Normans were represented by the Bruces, whose holdings were mainly in Ayrshire ands the south. But even that's an over-simplification. Both lots and their supporters held lands in Scotland and England, both would have counted themselves as much Gaelic Scot as Norman French.

Wallace was the minor son of a minor lord. The evidence is that he was a bit of an outlaw even before the uprising and was the perfect choice to be launched into revolt in the south by that arch-schemer Bishop Wishart. There already was revolt in the north under Moray. If Wallace had died at Stirling instead of Moray, history might well have been different, for Moray was a more acceptable face for Guardian of Scotland, and possibly more a strategist than Wallace. There might never have been a Falkirk – but all that means is that Edward I would have won, regardless.

The bottom line was that Edward Longshanks had muscled in on a private fight and paid the price for it. He was never capable of conquering the Scots by force and the Scots were never capable of beating him in a stand-up fight. Bruce, for all his kingship, took the whole kingdom from Edward II, while he never gained as much as a yard of ground from Longshanks.

Wallace, for all his staunch fighting ability and stubborn resistance, probably did better work in France, persuading the rest of Europe of the Scottish case, than he ever did charging about the bracken being chased by the English. In the end, he was never a contender for the throne, and either Bruce or Red John Comyn would have sat on it. Bruce seems to have been the more ruthless.

 

I am writing to tell you how much I enjoy your Kingdom series. Not only does it create a vivid picture of life in the Scots Lowlands during the 13th century, it also interplays that perfectly into the wider picture of the Wars of Independence, the sovereignty rivalry and politics of the time. The battle scenes at Stirling and Falkirk represent the real twist and turns of these fights and the harsh brutality of medieval warfare, while also the countless raids and counter raids depict a far more accurate picture than I think has been represented yet within historical fiction. Just like your Oathsworn series you interweave the language and regional accents extremely well to form an accurate image of the ordinary people of the time. We briefly met on a very wet morning in the Norman encampment at the Kelmarsh Festival of History last year and my only regret is that I wasn't able to get to meet more of the authors attending.

Any tips for an aspiring historical novelist?

Thank you for the kind words – I look forward to Kelmarsh this year, mainly because my swordbrothers are back to strut their stuff at it, so I get a chance to wear my author's hat and a Viking helmet. If I can stand the strain, I will be darting back and forth between the two.

As for tips – only two…

Read. A lot.

And never give up, never give in to rejection.

 

It's nice to read the work of a fellow re-enactor! The times I have started to read a book, got to a passage describing the 'jingling' of chainmail and thought 'Well, there's another £7.99 I'm not seeing again…' are legion. But not your books – those I can pick up secure in the knowledge that I won't be wincing, unless I'm supposed to, of course.

After the painful debacle that was Braveheart it's really good to have some decent fiction covering the history of that period and our two countries – too many people today seem to get their ideas of historical truth from bad novels and worse movies. I must admit that sometimes I despair, so please keep up the good work!

Thanks for that - I like what I have done with the Wallace and Bruce story and it always pleases me when other people get it, too.

 

I was always told that the decision to betray Wallace to the English was taken by the nobility at a meeting in my home town of Rutherglen. If this is true, will any mention of wee Ruggy be made in future volumes?

Well, Ruglen WOULD say that, just as Elderslie celebrates their connection with Wallace long after it has been proved, to me and almost everyone else, that he was actually born in Ellerslie, Ayrshire. The decision to arrest Wallace, who might well have been staying in or near Rutherglen, was almost certainly taken by the Sheriff of Dumbarton, the famous Mentieth (who was a Stewart, incidentally, who changed his name and abandoned that family and was thus called False Mentieth). It may well have been made at Dumbarton Castle.

 

I am nearly finished with The White Raven and very excited to discover the conclusion and then start The Prow Beast and move on your Kingdom series. Your writing is fantastic at capturing the imagination and making the reader experience not only Orm and his thought-world, coloured by his perspective and presuppositions, but also the social, political, and historical situation of the regions the crew visit in the tenth century.

I've taken a look at your re-enactment group, the Vikings, and have been impressed by the level of scholarship in the group as a whole. My only regret is that the nearest chapter to myself is in North Carolina, a five to ten hour drive away.

The only Middle Ages group here in Nashville is the Society for Creative Anachronism, with "Creative" and "Anachronism" definitely being appropriate terms. As an aspiring teacher I would prefer to be a part of a group that is interested in educating the public and each other about the people and cultures being portrayed in addition to having fun in combat re-enactment.

I'm excited to hear that you are continuing the Oathsworn series with Crowbone. I don't know how far your publisher has you travel to promote your books, or if you fancy a holiday to Music City, but if you are ever in the area I would love to meet you. I wish you the very best and look forward reading your next book.

I am well aware of the vast distances the North American Vikings have to cope with. On my last trip there, two years ago, I went to Canada for a Viking show in Gimli, Ontario. It turned out to be a six-day roadtrip to get there – three going, three coming back. The level of commitment by the enthusiasts, therefore, is immensely high, as is their authenticity. I have nothing against authenticity by the SCA; but the trouble is, in my opinion, neither do they.

This October in the UK will see the release of a spin-off of the Oathsworn, dedicated to the growing Crowbone, and I hope you like it. Meanwhile, there is a trilogy concerning Scotland's history which you might like to try.

 

Having read all your Orm novels I have just finished reading The Lion Wakes and felt an urge to write. rarely these days does a book come along that not only is a good auld tale, but also feels poetic in a sense that the use of old language and dialect/slang feels right . Instead of making the novel harder to read I felt it gave it resonance and flow, almost a musical feel, which propelled the story. It very much brought Dickens, Scott and other classic authors to mind and i felt a sharp loss when i had finished it. I found it a very different beast to your other novels, which I hold in high regard, and was moved and impressed by the characters and story. The link I found in all your novels is that it isn't always the main character that is the most interesting or the most telling – as in real life ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.

Very insightful! I wish I had some of this on Amazon to counter the people who just don't get it and feel constrained to let everyone know. The second in the trilogy, The Lion At Bay, is out now, so I hope you get as much out of that one as you did out of Book 1. Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

January 2012

I've just finished The Lion Wakes. Very good – you've captured the time perfectly in my opinion. Like I'd know what life was like then, mind you! I read Tranter's Bruce trilogy many years ago and was struck by the realisation that the aristos of the day spoke mostly French. So I love the way you've pulled the many different languages and customs into a hugely plausible version of the Wars of Independence. As a proud Scot and not a fan of Braveheart I applaud you sir. Mair po'er te yer elba!

Thank you for your kind comments, especially concerning the use of language. As you can probably see from critics elsewhere, not all readers get it. The next one is out in February, so your timing is almost immaculate.

I am a former librarian and current history teacher who read your first novel literally without putting it down. I was from a small town in Arkansas, US, and had to rent your book through the public library in order to have it for our readers. I just purchased all four of your Oathsworn Series as a January birthday gift to myself. I have told everyone I know about you and your work. I am surprised you are not more widely known in the States. Your research and attention to detail are evident! Thanks for all of your hard work – I will be reading your next series soon.

I love hearing about where my books have reached. It amazes me just how far they travel and the diverse people who take the time and trouble to let me know how they enjoyed them. Thanks - and happy birthday!
 

I am an archaeo-osteologist, an old bone person, as I'm sure you understand without the translation. My initial training is in human osteology, but since the burials I was studying included horses, I broadened out to include zooarchaeology. I'm currently working on a project on horse burial, sacrifice and ritual in 1st millennium AD Britain. I've read Bede, Saxo Grammaticus (good fun if you haven't read him) and bits and pieces from other sagas and chronicles. I have read various places about Odin and horse sacrifices, associations with Freyr and Freya with horse ritual, and about horse fighting, but haven't yet found many original saga references. If there's any chance you could give me any of your references for your material, I'd be very grateful, particularly about horse-fighting.

Good of you to take the time to let me know you are enjoying the books - and aren't too put off by the inevitable errors that creep in, since I am neither a bone-kicker nor a historian (but a bit of both). The following are some of the references I used for horse-fighting… Chapter 23 of Reykdæla saga og Viga-Skútu describes how the horses were goaded. Eyjólf's stallion got a grip on the upper jaw of Bjarni's stallion and held on until Bjarni came up and knocked the stallion loose with his staff. Chapter 29 of Gretti's saga tells of a horse fight at Langafit. The story describes Grettir holding his stallion back by the tail during a fight while goading him with a stick. His opponent, Oddur, jabbed at Grettir with his stick during the horse fight. Later, Grettir jabbed Oddur so hard that Oddur and his horse fell into the river. Chapter 59 of Brennu-Njál's saga says that Þorgeir and Kolur threw their weight against their horse's rump when he charged, hoping to knock down Gunnar, who was goading the other horse. But Gunnar pushed back on his horse, and Þorgeir and Kolur ended up on the ground with their horse on top of them. Hope this helps.

November 2011

I have just finished reading The Lion Wakes. Once I got used to the Scots (I'm English – what do you expect!) I enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to the next book. One point that amused me no end was the cover: did you realise you have Orlando Bloom from the Siege of Jersualem in the film Kingdom of Heaven on the front? I'm going to give your Viking books a read next.

Glad you enjoyed it - hope you like the Viking ones as much. I like the new cover… and if it looks a bit like a scene from KoH, all well and good for me!

October 2011

I have just finished reading your excellent first novel. It is one of the best depictions of the 10th century I have read. It reminded me of Cecilia Holland's "The Kings in Winter" and that is high praise.

I have studied medieval history and can find no fault in your historical background, except that I wonder how many warbands would have kept going on such short commons as the Oathsworn. After all, at the end of the day it was about the gold in your armpit, as you would put it.

Your description of the way shields were used, with a leather strap over the shoulder as well as the handle behind the boss, is intriguing. Also your description of the use of outrigger oars is the first I have read, anywhere.

But you seem to have read all of the Eddas and sagas so I am going to take your word on those details. I look forward to reading more of Orm Shorthand's adventures.

High praise indeed and thank you for it - Cecilia Holland has been a favourite of mine since The Firedrake and Rakossy.

As to the warbands - you are correct. Usually, a leader of a shipload of such men would be ousted if he did not constantly feed his men with plunder, but that's the difference between the casual seasonal raider and the ones who took the hard journey down from Kiev to Byzantium. Beset by dangers on all sides, they had to be sure of each other and so they took binding oaths - they were all called 'oathsworn' - varjazi, - which was turned into varangii by the Greeks and comes down to us as Varangian.

The use of the shield is practical archaeology - you try fighting in a shieldwall for a long time and enjoy, in the moments when you can step out of the fighting, the relief to let the strap take the weight if only for a minute. The handle behind the boss is the only way to hold it, though so many folk think it is those straps you slip your arm through. Which would not permit you to let it go, or punch with it, or scythe someone with the edge...

As for the outriggers - that, I confess, is a modern theory which struck me as practical. It has been done, though on smaller boats.

 

I think I may have read the series back to front. I have just read The Prow Beast. Only by chance when browsing through a bookshop did I come across it and it took my interest. I've only just found out that it is part of four. I will be now investing in the other three books. It was a most enjoyable read. You have quite a talent. Many thanks for entertaining me with such a fascinating novel. I wish you good luck with future novels.

Thanks for that. Hope you enjoy the others, even back to front. Look out for next September, when you can get the further adventures of little Crowbone when he has grown a bit!

 

It was a real pleasure to meet you at the Lanark festival. My good wife has plastered the photos on that Facebook thing. What a surprise to meet a man who is down-to-earth and shares a passion for history and has a great talent. Iwas wondering if your publishers will ever release Crowbone? I for one would love to read it.

Good to meet you, too - Lanark is always a great venue, with lots to see and do. As for Crowbone - it will be published in 2012, I'm glad to say, and more information will appear on this website in the coming months...

August 2011

Just a line to say how much I enjoy your books. Excellent page turners, read all to quickly by me in long bum-numbing sessions. What I really enjoy is your use of descriptive similes and metaphors. "Fell like a stone through my bowels" very much akin to the saga's "A new cub in the yard" and such. I absolutely love the phrases you pepper your script with. More please!

As a Welshman, Cardiff, I was happy to read of the Welsh bowmen. Yes, the original Celts were dark and swarthy and of short stature. However, Due to raids and trade amongst Irish and Dane Many along the coast are fair (Anglo) of face, blue of eye and long in bone. More especially with all who live near harbour or coast have a hard "A"to the tongue.

I for my pains used to belong to the Sealed Knot, one of Sir Henry Slingsbury's mercenaries. I was reminded of the sheer hell and fear of close quarter combat when taking part in the siege of Wells Cathedral. Lying on my back looking up through the cross grill of my helmet against the blue of the summer sky, I became aware of the same sounds that I would have heard if it had been for real. Horses whinnying in panic. Cannon shot and musket fire. Clash of steel swords and sabres. The yelling and shrieking of men. I felt a cold chill lift the hairs on my arms… marvellous.

I think all readers would enjoy books like yours if they belonged to some reenactment society. Just wearing the clothes and handling the weapons brings it all alive.

Thank you for so much for the research and energy that I know goes into your work.

Thanks for taking the time to let me know how much you enjoy my books, especially The Lion Wakes, which is dear to my heart. Do my a favour - do the same on Amazon and offset all the ones who don't get it…

You can't mention the Scottish Wars without including Welsh, both as archers and spearmen – for a lot of the time they made up the bulk of English armies. When I wrote the character of Addaf I was wary of using Welsh, but since I have a young niece who speaks Welsh, I was fairly certain I got most of it right, save for the swearwords. You can hardly ask a 12 year-old about the riper ones, can you?

The one unseen factor in it, all the same, was when the poor actor reading the audio version had to struggle through all the Gaelic, Welsh and French I had peppered the book with!

 

It seems to me if you look at the actions of the Dunbar earls in the First War of Independence, you actually find them active on the English side while Wallace and others are fighting for Balliol.

After Bruce makes his claim to the throne it seems the Dunbar earls are rarely found in Edward's armies. Yes, Bruce was raiding Lothian and Patrick was complaining to Edward (and stating that much less revenue was coming in, thus reducing the amount which should be sent to Edward).

But you do not see the earls in the later armies, as you did in 1296; or at Falkirk , Caerlaverock, or the Galloway campaign. My thought is that perhaps, whatever you think of the Turnberry Band's purpose, the Dunbar earls were in league with Bruce, as best you could be when your major lands were that close to England. Bruce certainly didn't punish Patrick when he came over after Bannockburn, even after letting Edward II escape to Berwick. Then again perhaps Bruce was just exhibiting his sense of realpolitik!

Would there be a possibility that you might speak to the Dunbars when we come to Scotland again in 2014? I think it would be a refreshing look at Scottish history!

Thank you for the website praise – Martin Kielty, the guru who did it, will be pleased since, like a swan's legs, he rarely gets the approbation he deserves.

As regards the Earl of Dunbar… the family was strongly linked to the Comyn who were, at various times, the actual driving force of the early rebellion. However, Dunbar the town was a strategic port, hard though that is to believe today; and so the earl always had to keep one eye on Edward.

Latterly, when the Comyn became firm enemies of Bruce, all of them were in the English camp and the Earl of Dunbar stayed that way right up until the aftermath of Bannockburn.

Bruce's treatment of him is indeed realpolitik. He did the same with the Earl of Ross –and that noble was responsible, in the wake of Methven, for violating a shrine, capturing Bruce's wife, sister and brother and turning them over to the English. The wife was imprisoned for the next umpteen years, the sister hung in a cage on the walls of Roxburgh and the brother was beheaded. And yet he was forgiven, turning up at Bannockburn as a loyal vassal of the Bruce!

The one constant in the character of Bruce was that he was perfectly capable of turning on a friend or embracing an enemy when the need arose.

 

I have a keen interest in Dark Age history. I would love to get involved with some re-enactment groups but so far I have failed to find anything even close my area!! Would you know of anything close to Gloucestershire?

Also, I am currently reading the Oathsworn series and I would really like to know what disease the outcasts in the marsh (with the calluses) were suffering from?

I don't think we have a group in Gloucestershire, but we are certain to have one nearby - try this: http://www.vikingsonline.org.uk/membership/groupdb/

The disease is smallpox, known as the Red Pest and around since the time of the Egyptians. Viral and deadly – you either got it and survived (inoculation) or died. Inoculation is still the cure for it today.

 

I recently heard your talk with Giles Christianson at the Historical Writers Association event within the Festival of History at Kelmarsh. Having read Giles' two previous books I was going home with his third amongst others. After your talk I bought the Whale Road to take home also. You were kind enough to sign it – despite wanting to go to watch a Messerschmitt that had decided to grace the skies.

I just wanted wanted to say how much I adored the book, even taking into account your penchant for decimating your characters (I was glad of the warning given in your talk). I now look forward to buying the other books in the series with the unbridled joy that comes with having discovered a new writer's work.

The HWA event was a big highlight of visiting the Festival of History this year and I do hope that the two will fall together again next year.

I remember you well and am so glad you liked The Whale Road. Hope you like the others as much - let me know if you do, either here or through the HWA forum. The HWA Kelmarsh experience was brilliant for all concerned; I think and I hope we can repeat it next year, even bigger and better if that is possible. I got to see the ME-109 (and Spitfire) later, so it was a great day all round for me!

 

First may I say how much i enjoyed your talks at Kelmarsh. I hope you can do it again next year. I write in support of your usage of the Scottish dialect in The Lion Wakes – and I say this as a North London boy.

The Lion Wakes is Robert Low at his best and for me the usage of the Scottish dialect only enhanced a really good read. I also found that the supporting cast were a joy and i just loved the names of the boys from Lothian and the Border regions.

I had thought that Rory Clements' Boltfoot Cooper was one of the best names I had come across, but Bangtail Hob and Ill Made Jock are right up there with him – and the great things is they are not made up.

It is particularly gratifying to hear a North London boy tell me this! If only folk like you troubled to put this on Amazon and outweighed all the ones who only bother to review if they dislike it!

Glad you enjoyed Kelmarsh and, hopefully, we will do that again next year - it went very well, thanks to appreciative audiences such as yourself.

I am trying to kick the Oathsworn back on to rowing benches and will do before too long.

 

I am thoroughly enjoying your Oathsworn series thus far. I've noticed you use the word "mirr" frequently in the series. I tried to look the definition up online and surprisingly the only definition that I found was for the acronym for Modified Internal Rate of Return, a financial measure of an investment's attractiveness. My dad claims that mirr is a contraction for mirror, which is obviously incorrect because it makes no sense in the context. For now I have to assume that since you are Scottish that mirr means something like rain in that language. Could you explain?

Ah - you are asking the wrong question. You should be asking Google for Norse words for rain which, of course, have become Scots words for rain. We now have more words for rain than Eskimos do for snow - and all of them referring to a different state, some of them highly poetic.

Driv is a steady, light rain. Rugg is the same, only whirled about by wind. murr, of course, is also spelled as 'mirr' but pronounced the same and refers to a rain that isn't rain at all, but that fine wet mist that soaks you without it seeming to be raining at all. Haar is another term for it, but usually applied to a sea-fog.

To eesk, to neist, to fiss are all used of the same phenomenon, but almost invariably in association with the word rain and all still in use in Orkney. Then come the adjectival terms for the same: drivvy, ruggy, murry, haggery, roosty, eesky, fissowy, muggry, rimy, durry, smuggry - each applied to a day or weather of this sort.

A passing shower is termed a dister, or "a skub," and when the sky begins to clear it is said to be glettan. A glet, a lett, and a luffer are all terms for a period of intermission or a pause in the midst of wind or rain.

In some places the word rime is used in this sense: e.g. "Wait till it rimes a bit" (i.e. clears or fairs). Finally, wind-feeder is a word applied to a certain kind of rain which is supposed to be a harbinger of strong wind.

As you see, in the interests of not confusing readers further than necessary, I have been light in my raining!

I have just finished reading The Whale Road and The Wolf Sea and I am now, impatiently, waiting for confirmation that The White Raven and The Prow Beast will be delivered to me shortly. I have also placed an order for The Lion Wakes. From what I have read so far you are a more than worthy successor to the late Nigel Tranter.

I have great memories of your present location, Largs, having spent many of my childhood summers there in boats, on the pebble beaches, the parks and the Viking cinema.

Glad you are enjoying the books so far - and the comparison with Nigel Tranter, which is a huge and unwarranted compliment. I am sure you would still enjoy Largs (when the weather is fine) even if the Viking cinema is long gone. It has been replaced with the Vikingaar, a bit of a Norse experience and really quite well done and worth a visit.

April 2011

Me and my brother in law both love your books and can't wait for the new Kingdom Series. My brother in law is a traditional pole lathe turner and green woodworker who does day courses to pass on skills that are sadly dying out. We'd like to offer you a free course on a Viking style pole lathe, working with Matt to make your own objects and learn a traditional skill. Find out more at http://www.matt-jarvis.co.uk.

Thank you! That's a nice offer – but one I have to refuse for several reasons. One is that I am, as you suspect, busy promoting The Lion Wakes; the second is that I am writing Book 2. The third is that, in between all that, I have a schedule of Viking re-enactment events all over Scotland, England and Wales this summer which will keep me busy. The last reason is even simpler… part of the authentic camp we set up includes a travelling forge and a pole lathe. So I have on hand and all the tuition (and ripped knuckles) I can take from the 'gods of green wood' in our Vike group!

I read all the Oathsworn books a few months back and noted a reference you made to Orm being unable to get into Valhalla because he lost his fingers. I can't find anything out about that online (perhaps I cam not looking in the right place). Can you tell me what the reference is for that? Those were great books, by the way.

It's poetic licence – I needed a plot device and made it up. But it is based on agreements of payments made among members of a crew similar to the Oathsworn. You got so much for losing a finger, or fingers; but nothing for losing a hand, since it showed you weren't fighting well or hard enough. I thought that sort of attitude might well have been reflected in the Norse belief system.

Is it really the end of the road for the Oathsworn? It's the best and most enjoyable series I have ever read, and I've read a few, what with being at sea.

No – they will sail again!

I am looking to get more info on Crowbone's stories. Is there some reference material about them or collections of similar stories available out there? I think your books are some of the best Viking age novels I have read. Look forward to reading your new series.

Products of the imagination, I'm afraid, though some of them are based on folk tales from India, Japan, Germany and elsewhere. The tafl board, for example, is almost all an old Arab one. There are even ones based on Norse tales. The problem with using the genuine article for Crowbone is, one, the dearth of material; and two, the fact that the tale has to somehow fit the circumstance. I like making them up – even if I am no Aesop!

I've just finished reading The Prow Beast in the car while waiting for my lad to finish refereeing a football match, and I can honestly say the Oathsworn Series rates right up there with Cornwell's work. I am so glad to hear they may sail again. In a funny way they remind me a bit of Del Boy and Rodney Trotter – finding their fortune then losing it all again!

I can't help thinking Pinleg is still alive and will find his brothers. I hope Finn finally works out the secret of the weather hat – I had a niggling feeling all through The Prow Beast that he'd work it out in his death throes with a spear in his belly! Glad I was wrong on that. His tale about how he has no fear was very touching, and you certainly know how to kill a man off in style. More than once through the series I had something in my eyes that made them water a bit!

Looking forward to the new series. All the best with everything you write – may your pen be your sword for many years to come.

Thanks for the kind words! You mean to tell me you were not on the touchline, cheering your boy's refereeing? I am at one and the same time flattered and appalled! Del Boy and Rodney – it wouldn't be the first time that I have used the Trotters' name doing re-enactment skits, actually. As for the rest of your points… wait and see. The Oathsworn will sail again.

Just finished The Whale Road and The Wolf Sea. I loved them, and I'm really excited about reading more of your stuff including the Kingdom Series. You are a breath of fresh air – seriously. I have been a bit discouraged about my own writing lately and looking for a reminder as to why I write. You truly inspire me!

I love your believable characters with all their strengths, flaws, foul language, and sometimes ambiguous motivations. I especially love everyone's vulnerability and the way you skilfully shift the focus of dramatic tension from "the fear of death" to "the fear of dying badly". I also dig your organic method of replenishing the ranks and the sense of continuity that it grows into a very long and bloody career. It really makes me feel like I am just another blade alongside the Oathsworn.

Even though the Oathsworn cross paths with the high and mighty, they don't meet every single significant person of the age, which is a common flaw in historical fiction.

And thank you for not making Orm the Special Chosen One of Destiny who wins because he is supposed to win. Sure, he may be "chosen", but for what exactly and by Whom? And the haunting and understated pain of Orm realising he can never enter Valhalla without his fingers is exquisite!

You did a beautiful job with the supernatural elements nicely skirting the edge of plausibility. I have been a pragmatic heathen for ten years now and the more magic I experience the harder it is to prove. You captured that paradox perfectly. I will definitely miss Sighvat's insights.

PS You mentioned that you played Runequest. Have you been approached about putting The Oathsworn into a setting for an RPG? Me and my friend are just finishing a versatile generic system which would fit well with your style of gritty cinematic realism. I would love to take a crack at it in the future. But, first, I want to read the next two books!

More power to you for taking the time to write and let me know your enjoyment of my first two books. I hope the rest provide as much entertainment. Good comments, too – and it is always nice for a writer to see that someone has picked up on the point. As for RPGs: no, no-one has suggested it, though a New Zealander is doing The Whale Road, or part of it, as a graphic novel for his PhD, which is cool. An RPG of the Oathsworn would be good – though I think, if it was accurate and unfudged, a great many of the PCs wouldn't last more than a couple of sessions!


Nice one on the blog, the books and your thoughts.

Your riposte to the attacks on historical fiction were nicely done, especially your reference to "Brondstedt's Sixties book" and Wellington's comment on Waterloo. I've always found historical fiction to be a dirty little secret, no matter how much 'serious' reading I do. Nevertheless you and Bernard Cornwell continue to embody what is essentially the point of historical and archaeological studies: asking the question, "Is how our predecessors acted and lived?"

To say that has no place in culture is not only to blinker the imagination and hamper any 'serious' investigations, but to predispose historians into thinking that our ancestors were entirely different to us. Is there such thing as time-snobbery? Do they really think in such black-and-white terms?

In addition I was warmed by your respectful yet bloody apt comments on Gaelic, Scots and double signage. Have you been to Ireland? We have a similar constitutionally enforced department and movement (an obscure oxymoron) to maintain and develop Gaeilge which was the sire of your Gaelic. We spend close on one billion euros per annum on maintaining a language that we all study from four years to seventeen years of age – yet less than 1% of us use in any form! A language should be maintained, but there is a reasonable limit beyond which someone has to talk about the elephant or sacred cow in the room.

A refreshing sight to see - some comments on the blogs as well as the books! Thanks for that and your craic is good.

January 2011

I enjoyed your rant about library closures. I saw the TV version of Eamonn Butler's opinions and was as disgusted as you. He also went on to say that the advent of the Kindle and the IPad mean books can be better delivered. Since when do library users own IPads and Kindles? Has he seen a modern young child's book? How can that be delivered on a Kindle? What about old books? What about new books? most aren't even available digitally. I bet the dried up, crusty old suit only reads the FT so please send him one of your books and change his life!

I don't think he would enjoy any of my books – and, anyway, he is firmly convinced authors are out to preserve libraries for their own vile financial ends. But fight for your local library.

I'm just down the road from you in West Kilbride. Thought I'd let you know how much I'm enjoying the fourth outing of Orm and The Oathsworn. The book is beautifully written and a real treat to look forward to at the end of a busy day. If I ever bump in to you in Largs I'll buy you a pint in The George.

I am sure I have seen your van! Glad you enjoyed the books - and I will hold you to that pint.

Two weeks ago I finished your last book in the Oathsworn series. It was as always a pleasure to read it. I was very sad when Botolf died, but it was masterly written and told: his dreams of flying and then the jump of the slope and the black wings. Amazing. I had the feeling Odin looked over your shoulder back then when you wrote the chapter!

Meanwhile I have to say that you are under the top writers when it comes to historical fiction or writing itself. Your Oathsworn series even kicked Cornwell's King Arthur and the Uhtred series from their place. I mean it: after reading Severin, Scarrow, Sidebottom, Cornwell, Kristian, Manfredi and several others I have to say your writing style is in a class of its own.

Glad you enjoyed The Prow Beast. I will be revisiting the Oathsworn, but meanwhile you have a new trilogy to enjoy as of April 14, when The Lion Wakes comes out. Thanks for taking the time to write.

January 2011

I just want to say thank you for the magnificent ride that is the Oathsworn. i have just finished all four one after the other – I dont want to pick a favorite because all four are incredible, almost thrill-a-minute rollercoasters. The feel of the tales seems as authentic as any 21st-century dweller can hope to capture. I could almost intimately feel the grit and smell and the hardships. I'm glad didn't feel the cold and the hunger!
I felt quite saddened at the words ''fourth and final installment'' on the inside cover after reading the last chapter.

I just have to let you know how much I enjoyed the Oathsworn series. I think I fell in love with Orm Bearslayer and his crew. I laughed, cried and was thrilled by their adventures, and that kept me eager for more. I think books like these keep us all young at heart and send us on adventures we can only dream of now.

As my granny used to say, "more please!" It's not often that you find a series actually getting better and better. I loved the Prow Beast and can't wait to hear about Orm again sometime.

Thank you all for taking the time to write - as you can see from this page, there is a consensus about bringing the Oathsworn back to life - so I think I can see them sailing again. Watch out for that growing lad Crowbone…

I have just come across the Oathsworn series which I am much enjoying. I am particularly interested in the references to pagan religions and I wonder if I could pick your brains? I am analysing three of the grail stories. I started with The High History of the Holy Grail translated by Sebastian Evans, went onto the Didot Perceval and am now struggling with the first one by Chretien De Troyes and the three continuators. I believe I have found good evidence of what I some call the yonic symbol, that is the female trinity of maiden, mother and crone. I understand this to be associated with "the goddess" and the seasonal cycle of fertility. I have come across bits of this symbol in various sources but particularly in The Crone by Barbara G Walker, which is a serious and controversial study of this part of the trinity. However, I have been challenged by historians on Arthurnet, particularly one individual who insists that this symbol was manufactured in the early 20th Century. Do you happen to know anything about this symbol by whatever name it may go?

Your unholy trinity of women is as old as time. The three Muses of Greek mythology - Melete (practice) Mneme (Memory) and Aoide (Song) grew into the Parcae (Fates) of Rome, who were Nona, Decima and Morta, respectively the Spinner, the Measurer and the Cutter of the Thread of Life. These became the three Norns of the Norse (Wyrd, Verthandi and Skuld – Fate, Now and Future). In the end, Shakespeare made them into the three witches of Macbeth. Be careful with the Maiden, Mother and Crone image, all the same: a lot of what is now accepted by Neopagans as ancient lore on that was, in fact, the creation of novelist Robert Graves (he who gave us all I Claudius)!


September 2010

Just finished The Prow Beast and as with most of the other readers who have posted comments on your bulletin board, I could not put it down! It was a fantastic read, as were the other books in the series, with real characters that you can bring to reality in your minds eye and action all the way; thoroughly entertaining and one of the best reads I have had this year. Please don’t kill off the Oathsworn as they are quickly becoming a legend in this period as well as their own!

Don't worry too much about the Oathsworn; they are not all dead yet. I hope you enjoy the new trilogy as much.

I just wanted to say how much I am enjoying your books. I am an aspiring writer and your work is a fresh inspiration to me. You unquestionably rank among the
top writers today. Keep them coming.

I have just stumbled upon your 'oathsworn' series; what a fantastic read! As a viking reenactor since 1983 (and Jomsviking since 1992) I do like historical accuracy, which your books have in spades – many thanks!

Many thanks for the praise – hope you don't mind what I did with the Jomsvikings in The Prow Beast, all the same!
Robert Low

I have purchased all your books to date except the last at a bookstore here in British Columbia, and what I find annoying is that they brought in your first three novels but not the fourth. I cant understand why, if they ordered the first three, they didn't order the fourth? If it makes any difference to you I love the Oathsworn and their trials and tribulations. At my age, 63, through your books I do the things I would love to have done back then!

Just back from Canada (Okotosk, near Calgary) and the Gimli festival in Manitoba. I heard the same complaints from folk there, too. The pub dates are, of course, different in the UK and everything in North America seems to come out some months later. I imagine tour bookstore is a little reluctant to take hardback copies of The Prow Beast when the paperback is due out in the UK and available online. But thanks for your kind comments - we are of an age, and I am finding all these younglings more and more of a fighting handful every year. Soon I am going to have to admit defeat and hang up my baldrick!

I just want to thank you for writing the saga of Orm and his fellows. It has really sparked my lust for reading. I really like the historic feeling in the books. Its a great mix of history and fiction. One of the best tings about the books is the way you describe the little things. Like the small preparations before a raid, or the cooking by the fire. I can really picture the smells, the sights and filth of the people and places of the time. You describe it all with stunning realism. This is some of the best books i have read. And as a norwegian reader you described the viking life for me better than anything before. Thank you again, and keep on writing!

A great boost to my confidence to have a Norwegian tell me that I bring his history to life for him. I hope you enjoy the new trilogy, on the Scottish Wars, as much.

At three o'clock this morning I finished your book "The Whale Road". I was exhausted, happy and astonished after the enthralling and amazing journey I had the joy to follow in your book. At first it was a bit difficult to follow your style of writing and the all the Viking expressions - I am a non-native English speaker - but after about 30 pages I was pulled away by the drag of the story.

I am a fan of Harry Sidebottom and Bernard Cornwell, but where they write about the big historical picture, you are showing the day-to-day life of your characters, which is much more lively and coloured than their books. I love the harsh, ugly and coloured words your characters use, and the arguments they get into, be it human ones or the ones about religion.

As my friends gathered for a roleplaying session on Friday evening I read them aloud the part where Orm asks the Oathsworn where Gudleif is. My friends roared with laughter. Hild was also one of the scariest characters I read about in a long time. We are even thinking about running a Viking based RPG game in the future. Please excuse my bad English.

Your English is excellent - a lot better than any efforts I could make at your own language. I am delighted you enjoyed The Whale Road and I know you will love the others, too, since they are all better than that, my first book. Let me know what you think. Good luck with the RPG. I was a big fan of Runequest back in The Day, particularly their Viking expansion.

Over many years of reading novels I've come to realise that the most important thing for me is whether or not I care about the characters. They don't have to be angels – in fact they can be downright devils, just so long as I'm made to care. And your characters made me care. The Bearslayer got me straight away and of course when we find out he hasn't killed the bear, it makes him even more alive. I was so pleased to find you've written some more on a similar subject.  Many people in our sanitised world probably regard the Vikings with horror, whereas for example the Romans are held in esteem. Yet as far as I'm aware the Vikings never really yearned for the claustrophobic ego-trip of an empire (except maybe William if we still can called him a Norseman). The British aped the Romans; they would have done well to follow the Viking model which I sense would have been more natural to them.

I would like to claim that the Norse never really went for empire out of some radical sense of 'sod that' but it has more to do with a lack of resources and central authority. When both were sufficient, you can see an Empire of the North forming, with one ruler controlling large portions of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. What usually followed was an inability to hang on to it for longer than a hard man's prime, thanks to all the unruly wannabes who were his subjects. That, at least, is very Viking!

Are there any thoughts about putting The Oathsworn on the silver screen? There hasn't been a great historical epic adventure/war movie in some time.

I am at once attracted and repelled by the thought of a film – there are no plans but getting the Oathsworn into live action is a dream, tempered by the nightmare that had been made of every other Viking movie I have ever seen...

I have been intrigued with history, more importantly the history of Vikings and the sort, for as long as I can remember. Out of whim I bought The Whale Road and could not be happier with my investment. Your style of writing, character development, and realism in your stories have me turning page after page every night. I'm now starting The White Raven and will be very excited, yet sad, to read The Prow Beast.

I would not be too sad at reaching The Prow Beast – the Oathsworn are not done sailing yet – and I hope you enjoy it as much as the others.

July 2010

I'm 25 years old – but, I'm ashamed to say, have just recently begun writing books. I chose your Oathsworn series to start me off. I was a little anxious as I thought the books might be a bit complex for a beginner – but now that I'm on the second book I simply had to tell you how fantastic and gripping your books are. You're a genius! I can't put them down. I suppose what I'm trying to say is: thank you. At last I can appreciate reading a good book.

Never be ashamed to admit that you can read! I am delighted that I have been the author to introduce you to the sheer delight of books. Keep going... there are loads more books out there by authors every bit as good as me. And some, whisper it, who might be better on a good day...

I saw an advert for the prow beast on the History Channel and was happy to find it was the fourth in a series. I've now read them all and I'm happy to say Orm is up there with Cornwell's Uhtred. Your writing us up there with Cornwell and Pressfield, Iggulden and Sidebottom. Please keep it up – and don't be in a rush to kill Horshead off!

That's a rare crew to be among - thank you for the honour. And don't worry, Horsehead is not dead yet!

Thanks for another great read with The Prow Beast. I thought iw was going to be the end of the whale road for Orm until his Lazarusesque moment at the very end. Was that outcome in mind when you started the fourth book? You and Bernard Cornwell seem to have it in for the clergy of the time. Not that I'm a fan either, but were they really so despised and feared or both by Vikings and other non Christians? 

I honestly did not know how The Prow Beast was going to end myself, right up to the last minute. Then the ending popped up, clear as you like, and just fitted so well I knew it was right. I actually have no qualms about killing off anyone in my books – even the teller of the tale! There is a spin-off book about Crowbone and Orm and Finn. But that will come after my trilogy on Wallace and Bruce, so expect no more Vikings before 2014.

As for the clergy – well, it is a historical attitude, not my own or Bernard's. Blame Charlemagne. In making his Frankish and very Christian empire, he forcibly converted all the eastern pagans, especially in present day Belgium, Holland and north Germany. He even baptised pagans just so he could kill them and send them to God rather than the Devil. The legacy of that era haunted all those who fled into Denmark and then Scandinavia. So the truth is that the Vikings were more afraid of Christians than vice-versa – they believed a Christian was getting ready to top you when they dipped you in holy water!

I've just about finished The White Raven and pre-ordered The Prow Beast from US Amazon. It seems they don't know when the book will be available for distribution in the States. Can you enlighten some of us?

Turns out that HarperCollins have not yet completed the sale of the US rights. In theory, this means you can't buy it via Amazon US – but you can still get it from Amazon UK. Or Canada. This will be remedied very soon. I hope it doesn't spoil your enjoyment.

May 2010

Your series of books are inspirational and you have definitely become one of my favourite authors - beating Cornwell by a hair's breadth and just behind Phil Rickman. Now that I’ve finished The Prow Beast I have decided to re-read the series again. Please don't leave us hanging on a limb without another Orm tale. He seems to be almost back where he started, so could he not regain his fair fame and live again with Finn and Crowbone into yet more fantastic exploits? I love the authenticity of your writing and the way you have of really giving your characters depth and life. I look forward to reading your coming Kingdom trilogy and becoming equally enthralled.

I have read and enjoyed all your Viking books but I was hoping for more before our hero ended back home. There must have been some interesting story lines with his trip home…?

Rumours of the demise of the Oathsworn are premature - I will return to them sometime in the future, after my new trilogy on the Scottish Wars with Wallace and Bruce. There is a book, written and delivered, detailing the further adventures of Crowbone, but Harper are reluctant to publish it over the top of the new trilogy, so you may not see it until 2014, sadly.

I absolutely love the series and with each passing book mourn the loss of another crew member! I am two thirds of the way through The Prow Beast and you have bested yourself once again. Being Scottish, I eagerly look for to your Scottish series of Robert the Bruce and the adventures awaiting that series!

I was always a believer in bowing out when you are on a high - but the lure of the Oathsworn will drag me back, I know it will. Not, however, before three books on Wallace and Bruce, which I also hope you will love.

April 2010

I have been eagerly awaiting the launch of the Prow Beast and am about to re-read the first three books in the series. I am looking forward to seeing if the saga goes full circle and Orm ends up in the same position as Einar when they first met in the Whale Road – and if he recognises that. Please could you let me know if there are any book signings planned as part of the launch.

Delighted to hear that you consider the series good enough to re-read – hope you enjoy The Prow Beast as much and I leave it to you to discover if Orm and Einar are connected at the end. Book signings - depends where you are. I have just come back from London, I have signed several hundred here in Glasgow for dealers, but the days of bookshop signings are few and far between - mainly because there are fewer bookshops. Only Waterstones seems to be in operation these days and I will be slipping quietly into the Glasgow branches to sign some copies for them to put stickers on. Most of my sales are through Amazon and, believe it or not, Tesco!

G'day from Down Under! I've just finished The White Raven and now wait for the next soft-cover in the series, out in August. Thanks so much for the first three books in the Oathsworn saga - brilliant stuff and the best read I've had for years and years. I've been waiting for Killer-Styr (from the Laxerdale Saga) or Styr Thorgrimmson (from another Icelandic saga) to show up and perform some incredibly heroic feat, so I'm recovering from the introduction to poor old Stoor, Klerkon's thrall, who doesn't come off as well as I'd like. Alas we appear to be name-related, since my folk were named Sture until the 1700s.

Greetings to you and thanks for taking the time to email - glad you are enjoying the books so far. Sorry about Stoor - but he isn't a Styr from the sagas. He's based on a Norwegian re-enactor who tried to do a fancy two-weapon hand display a-la Indiana Jones movie - and succeeded only in whacking himself above the eye. Cue blood, hospital and stitches. Made us laugh though!

Well I've finished the Prow Beast, my favourite Oathsworn of the series, and I've posted a suitably glowing review on Amazon! It might just be the fevered ravings of a 40-plus aged mind but I'm sure I remember reading that you had a Crowbone book written? Is there any chance of it coming to print? I fully intend to buy the Wallace/Bruce story but I amm not sure I can face my midlife crisis without another Viking saga in the next year or two. I like Giles Kristian and the living legend that is Cornwell but they don't make me feel I'm actually there in the same way Orm and Finn do. Surely HarperCollins can allow you to have a double presence on the book shelves next year? Lastly, thanks to the site's contributors I recently looked up and bought The Longships by Bengsston. Great stuff! I've ordered a Poul Anderson too.

I have just finished reading The Prow Beast. Magnificent – congratulations! It has been an undiluted pleasure reading the trials and tribulations of the Oathsworn – but now I’m going through what I imagine is akin to cold turkey. Please tell me that you have plans for number five. Orm is still wet behind the years after all! Nobody I have read (Iggulden and Cornwell to name a couple) capture the camaraderie and nature of man as you have. The peaks and troughs of life, the sheer delight of existing after hardship, simply staying alive... the banter, humour, characterisation, vulnerability etc... I can go on and on...

There is indeed a Crowbone book, written and delivered, but HarperCollins are still considering what to do with it, considering that the new Kingdom trilogy is coming out next year. If it makes financial and marketing sense to them, the world will get it sooner - if not, you may have to wait until 2015! Actually, in the terms of the age he lives in, Orm is almost past his prime and Finn is already old - but I suspect there is life left in the pair of them, and others, for a while yet...

I have just finished the Prow Beast after receiving it from the UK. Bloody fantastic! It is the best yet by far. I was so excited by it and could not put it down. You have captured a tale that will stand the test of time and be read for decades. I was in deadly fear that Orm and the old Oathsworn were all going to die by the end of the siege but was elated and saddened to find they were destined to survive but without so much of their past. Someday, I hope you will return to it and write a fifth volume. They deserve an epitaph. I heard a rumour that you might be coming to Canada this summer, and if this is the case, I will no doubt cross blades with you and get my four volumes hopefully autographed. Till then, have a great spring!

Always nice to get praise from re-enactors - a bit like comics making the band laugh! I am coming to Gimli this summer, so you will get a chance to cross blades - I will glady sign your copies, too... but only providing you let me win!

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