Below is the Q&A I had the immense pleasure of taking part in, hosted by Alex from Spells & Spaceships, and in conversation with Joshua Gillingham, the author of the Ten-Trees Saga and creater of the Althingi Universe.
Hi everyone, it is my pleasure today to introduce a Q&A with Kaitlin Felix, who has an awesome new Norse novel to reveal to you very soon!
Check out the Q&A below between Kaitlin and Josh Gillingham (author of The Gatewatch and joint editor of Althingi: The Crescent and the Northern Star). Kaitlin’s short story features in the Althingi anthology, receiving high praise.
Kaitlin has included a mood board below too to show you the sort of vibe you’ll be experiencing when her book is released!
JG: Congratulations, Kaitlin, on your upcoming release! Ran’s Daughters is set to be published through Outland Entertainment in Fall 2023. How exciting! Is this the first book that you’ve written?
KF: Thanks for having me on the blog, Alex and for the Q&A Josh! This is so exciting. Ran’s Daughters is actually my fifth full-length novel, but will be my first published one, so I feel very fortunate to bring it to readers and fans of my shorter works.
JG: Many writers say that actually writing a book is akin to torture. How do you persevere through the hard times and what were some of your favorite moments while writing Ran’s Daughters?
KF: With every new story, it’s a different experience. Ran’s Daughters is no exception. My process has been grueling this time around, not specifically in the writing of it, but because certain events in my life and family affected my creativity and focus for long periods.
I was diagnosed with ADHD last year, and had also just finished drafting an historical fantasy during the height of the pandemic, so I came into this sort of depleted already.
I can’t remember who said this now, but an author shared once that each book is harder than the last, and I’ve certainly found that to be true. Every time you finish a book, your skillset grows. Those skills help you become more aware of shortcomings, and perfectionism emerges more often. Never a good idea to let perfectionism steer the ship! It doesn’t make a good navigator. You also need an adventure, a sense of wonder. Follow your instincts, listen to your perfectionism, but don’t let it take control.
Fortunately, I did have many wonderful moments to temper the not-so-wonderful. This past summer, I took a week-long writing retreat in Scotland, my favourite place in the entire world. I stayed with a lovely couple in their Bed & Breakfast (shoutout to Ronnie and Lesley of the Pitlochry Derrybeg BnB!)
I wrote 10,000 words that week, enjoyed many peaceful walks, ate delicious food and drank many glasses of wine, not to mention whisky! I will be returning for my next retreat, whenever that should happen.
Overall, this book has been a joy to write, and has forced me to grow and adapt, which can only benefit me in the long run. I want to say a special thank you to you, my editor, and my publisher, Outland Entertainment, for their extraordinary patience with me as I needed more time to write this book. I am so grateful for your support in particular, Joshua. It means the world to me.
JG: Ran’s Daughters features an all female crew of a Viking ship led by the gritty, hard-ass captain, Gyda the Grim. What do most people get wrong about the women in the Viking Age and what do you hope to highlight about their experiences through this story?
KF: Gyda and her crew of Daughters are in many ways an idealized image of what women could do in the Viking Age, but they’re also very much as accurate an image as I could portray while remaining true to the excitement of the story.
While I don’t think there is an historical equivalent to a ship’s crew of only women, I did my best to show their lives in the everyday, in the mundane and in their relationships.
Gyda Fiskwif is a trader and owns her knarr, or cargo ship, which she bought with the silver her deceased husband left for her. She is a free agent, but she is also at the mercy of the men around her. This plays out over the course of the story, particularly in the question of the cost of ambition as a woman.
I also chose to portray diversity in gender expression and sexuality. I wanted every character to have the flexibility to show their identity and their surroundings as seen through that identity. Fortunately, there are many scholarly works and articles nowadays that highlight this topic. Even the wide range of Norse history, texts, and mythology can show the range of expression.
In general, women in the Viking Age had many rights that women in other cultures did not enjoy, and vice versa. Viking women could divorce their husbands, influence their surroundings and steer campaigns of bloody vengeance, run households, gain wealth, and so much more. There is even archaeological evidence that some individuals did indeed go a-Viking. Which makes my shieldmaiden-heart so happy. Life could be as exciting as it could be brutal. And many of them achieved so much while also parenting and running households!
But it must be known that women were also subject to the often strict expectations of their society and the men who lead it. This is also true of the men themselves. Everyone had certain roles they were expected to perform, and deviating from them carried social consequences. I hope I have done an adequate job of showing a glimpse of how that could play out in peoples’ lives.
JG: We first learned about Gyda the Grim’s origin story through Wave Runners, your contribution to the in-world anthology Althingi: The Crescent & the Northern Star. I’m sure fans of the anthology will want to know: does Ran’s Daughters serve as a prequel or a follow up to her adventures there? And can we expect to see more from some of the characters we met there?
KF: Ran’s Daughters opens nearly a year after the events of Wave Runners. Please read the short story first! Spoilers to follow:
The plot of the novel follows Gyda and the Daughters as they navigate the consequences of Gyda’s actions in Wave Runners – specifically her killing the youngest son of the powerful Jarl of Dyflin, or Dublin as it is known now.
We meet new characters and travel to new places, but the ripples of Wave Runners are felt throughout the story. And, without giving spoilers, I have a surprise or two up my sleeve for keen-eyed readers.
JG: The cast of your tale is a colourful and cunning assortment of memorable figures, but who in your mind stands out as your favorite to write if you had to pick one?
KF: Oh, I’d definitely have to pick Sigtryggr, the roguish king of Jorvik, and Ruarc, an original character who is Irish and Norse. They both surprised me when they emerged on the page, and I’ve loved exploring their personalities and inner workings. I would love to write more about both of them, though they are very different people.
Sigtryggr, or Sitric, is an historical figure of the early 10th century, and a fascinating individual. There’s not a great amount of material on his youth, but we know that he was likely fairly young when he reigned as king in Northumbria in the 920s. He carried the byname Caech, which means “squinty,” “one-eyed,” or “blind.” I have given him a battle injury to reflect this.
In reality, Sigtryggr reigned as king for only 6 years, and died “at an immature age,” according to the Annals of Ulster. He accomplished much in that time, and certainly carried the legacy of his purported grandfather, Ivarr the Boneless.
Of course, I took many liberties in the creation of his character and deviated from history, as many authors must do sometimes.
JG: Of course, I must ask: what are you reading right now? And what would you recommend to readers who love tales of Viking women ahead of the launch of Ran’s Daughters?
KF: Tell me I’m not the only one who finds it difficult to read during the drafting process! I have a stack of books from author friends I’ve been dying to read and just haven’t had the time to get to. I’m always striving to read something, even if it’s incrementally or one page before crashing into bed.
Actually, I just finished God of Vengeance by Giles Kristian, because his prose always inspires me. He’s a vivid, visceral writer, and I appreciate that very much. The more brutal, the better, and I put a lot of that into my writing as well.
I also have been reading Thilde Kold-Holdt’s books, which just received its third installation, Slaughtered Gods. I am very behind in my progress due to time constraints, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the story.
There are so many books about Viking women I could recommend! There is a huge range of diverse authors within Norse historical fiction, and I consider many of them my peers and friends. Too many to name here, but if I had to name one author who writes wonderful, complex Viking women, I’d have to say Genevieve Gornichec. Also because she’s a friend and we do writing sprints together on occasion!
She released her debut, The Witch’s Heart, in 2021, which is the story of Angrboda, Loki, and their three peculiar children: Fenrir, Jormungandr, and Hel. Genevieve also just announced her upcoming novel, The Weaver and the Witch Queen, which I had the privilege of beta reading. It’s amazing, and you’ll all be blown away.
Next up for me is Shauna Lawless’ The Children of Gods and Fighting Men, Cat Rector’s The Goddess of Nothing At All, and Lyra Wolf’s Truth and Other Lies.
JG: Last, but not least, where can readers find updates about the publication of Ran’s Daughters? And where can they find you?
KF: I post updates on my website, www.katifelix.com, and there is also a form to sign up for the Wave Runners newsletter!
I can be found on Twitter @KatiFelix and on Instagram @kfelix_writes. I’m far more active on Twitter, but as there’s some uncertainty whether there will even be a Twitter soon, Instagram or my website are the best places to find me.
Prologue for Rán’s Daughters
By Kaitlin Felix
It is well known that when a child on the shore waves to their parent as they stand in the beast-prow of a ship of oak, journeying from the home-fjord to a far land and plunder beyond reckoning, that child goes away from the sight wishing to one day sail the swan-road after them. Often, they do. Still more often, they die in the doing.
Thus, it should also be known that such aspiring sea-striders must learn.
Cracked hands and sun-baked skin teach the lesson of how salt and heat can dry you like jerky, and kill if left too long without fresh water. Broken backs and snapped oars teach how the god Njörd wrestles with rowers, hoping to drown them, and so muscles must strengthen until arms and necks are as corded as the ropes that lash the sail and the hull of the vessel cuts through waves like a thief’s knife through purse strings.
The most important lesson a child must learn before anything else is that an ocean storm can be worse than battle. Worse than standing in a broken shield-wall with your friends bleeding and dying on either side. Worse even than the splitting, gushing death of mothers when a babe comes too early or too swiftly. Worse still than drowning in a river after falling out of a fishing boat, for though that is a straw-death, the drowned can still claim the simple glory of the desire to feed their families.
But drowning in a storm is not glorious. It is the way to be forgotten. No one will remember the drowned, for there are so many it would take a skald endless nights to recite them all.
There are no sagas of drowned sailors. But what child thinks of that?
Sometimes, a few hardened voyagers return to the home-fjord with tales of adventure, of the letting of blood and of bright, shining silver. And those are the tales that are most dangerous, for children will dream despite the danger, and dreams of that kind do not fade with time.
It had proved thus for Gyda Fiskwif years before, when she had been that child waving to a parent who never came home. So it would prove again for years onward, until the burning of the world at Ragnarök.
Continued in Rán’s Daughters by Kaitlin Felix.
Coming to bookstores everywhere Fall 2023!