Where did I get the idea for The Runes of Odin, my first YA fantasy novel? Generally with any story, I have an idea for the setting first, and then work out who could / would live in such a place, how the environment has shaped them, what challenges them, what the character wants.
With Runes, it was almost as though the setting and the characters, Lena and Calum, arrived simultaneously in my thoughts. I have always been interested in cultural clashes, ever since I first learned some words of German in grade 2, and other in Italian in grade 3... and then lived in Germany as an exchange student when I was 16. I have travelled a lot, Europe, Asia, South America, but it’s only by living in a place for a while that I feel any real change. The old clichés of expanding horizons through travel I think only really sticks if you dive in and stay long enough to try to become as much of a local as you can. It’s through that struggle that you are challenged, linguistically, socially, culturally; that you are forced to re-evaluate your own assumptions by seeing the world not only through the eyes of other people, but people who have been shaped by an environment very different to your own. Everyone has a home that serves as their foundation, but what if you learn to love another place long enough for it to become ‘home’. How does that change you?
With Runes, I wanted to look at two characters who were already outsiders, who were displaced from a young age and had fewer ties to their current ‘homes’ than others. Of course, I wanted them to eventually meet (in fact, their meeting and getting to know each other is the essence of the book and the trilogy), but I wanted them to first show the reader their worlds through their own eyes, get the reader to sympathise with both sides of the impending conflict. No blacks and whites, just greys, mixed sympathies and the power of learning that your enemy is a real person with their own real fears.
A setting of northern Scotland or Ireland and the historical raids, invasions and settlement by the Norse (Vikings) and other northern peoples has always been of interest. How better for two impressionable young people to meet from opposite sides of a cultural divide?
The late German grandfather of the exchange family I lived with was a soldier on the Russian front during World War II. He was an amazingly generous man and wanted nothing more than for his family to know and love the people of other countries and cultures. He reasoned that if we all understood one another then there would be no wars. This then was the theme for my novels: learning to love the enemy by breaking down cultural walls. Learning to see the beauty in others’ ways of life.
And having fun with it all with adventure, and mythology, and above all, the Runes.