Out of the Shadows: Beowulf women to the fore!
The immediate inspiration for my novel, Faces in the Fire, came in the middle of teaching a class. I stopped short and announced, “I am going to write a book about the women of Beowulf!” A male student jumped up and shouted, “Yea, you can call it The Babes of Beowulf!” (He got points for alliteration.)
Male characters in Beowulf are fully developed, but the women get little attention in this tale of men and monsters. Freawaru, the king’s daughter, is only named once and takes no part in the action of the epic. Her story, especially, needed to be told! Thus, I chose her to become the central figure and narrator in my novel.
Behind my earlier epiphany lay a long-time interest in feminism, pagan beliefs, and Norse mythology. However, I had no direct experience of Viking-age cultures, so I began to read to establish a deep knowledge base. After retirement from teaching, a trip to Denmark and Sweden added the sensory details I needed to recreate this ancient world. I crewed on a replica of a Viking ship out of Roskilde harbor, Denmark. I climbed the royal burial mounds in Uppsala, Sweden. I visited museums, took notes, bought books. Research was great fun!
With my brain on “full,” I began to write – mostly during summers at our island cabin on Lake of the Woods, Ontario, Canada, a perfect writer’s retreat. My first draft was written in ballpoint pen on legal-sized pads of yellow paper, with subsequent drafts typed on the computer. When I grew brave enough, reading chapters out loud to my partner, Don, helped me “hear” what I’d written, and make needed changes or additions.
As the characters came alive in my head, they stepped forward and began to talk – I couldn’t shut them up! So, a lot of the novel is written in dialogue. The locales used in this first novel are based on real places I visited in Denmark. I guess one could say that “total immersion” is my technique. For the second novel in the trilogy I may have to go back to Sweden!