An Interview with Ian Stuart Sharpe: Vikingverse!

Ian is the author of the Vikingverse series; currently 2 novels and 3 comics. Vikingverse is a parallel timeline where the Norse rule seas and stars with restless fleets and Christianity has been put to the Viking sword. He also reached the kickstarter completion for the book he co-authored, Old Norse for Modern Times which looks amazing!

Hi Ian,

Thanks very much for coming on the blog and helping to support Norsevember!

As soon as I looked into your work, it caught my attention straight away – I love the artwork. Is the cover art all from the same artist? Do you have a favourite cover?

I’m glad you like it! The whole is the Vikingverse is a blend of ancient and modern by design. In the case of Old Norse for Modern Times, I wanted to create a pastiche of Norse art – so we started with the Torslunda plates. For those who don’t know, they are four cast bronze dies used to decorate rich helmets of the sort found at Vendel, Valsgärde, and Sutton Hoo. We’ve just updated them a little…

The comics take a different approach to creative anachronism. We use actual World War One propaganda posters and tweak them to fit a world ruled by Vikings.

The art for the two novels is actually by my publisher, Jeremy Mohler. The first cover recreates the Gosforth Cross in Cumbria, England, which is a monumental part of the plot for the All Father Paradox – pun intended. But the cover for Loki’s Wager is my favourite, partly because of the runes we added to the central stone. I challenge your readers to decipher them and not be intrigued!

Your Vikingverse work is all about an alternate history of sorts – what if Christianity hadn’t consumed the Norse world? The Norse now rule the seas and the stars. Would you put your work into a genre – is it fantasy, is it sci-fi, is it mythology, history, all of them?

The essence of the Vikingerse is it’s authenticity. The early chapters are painstaking researched – they depict a familiar medieval setting before we jump off into a modern world where the blueprint is pagan rather than Christian. It’s important that the reader can see the Point of Divergence between the parallel timelines, to be able to compare and contrast. History is, after all, just a viewpoint, a perspective on what happened in the past. And that’s the lesson of the Vikingverse – history can be rewritten, mythology is a blueprint for society and religion can be used to mould minds. 

Similar, perhaps, to Asimov’s Foundation series, the real hero of the Vikingverse is the civilization itself, the world that results from a few choice changes in the medieval period. What if the Vikings weren’t bought off outside Paris? What if Constantinople had fallen to Helgi the Seer? Imagine what might have been if Harthcnut hadn’t choked on his ale? That’s the world I wanted to explore, to hold up a mirror to our current time, and the world of Trump, Brexit and COVID.

While we’re on the subject of the Norse world and Christianity – controversial question perhaps – but does a part of you wish Scandinavia had been spared the religious upheaval in the middle ages? It would certainly be interesting to see how a society based around dying a glorious death in battle to enter Valhalla would have progressed alongside a religion teaching peace and virtue being the path to heaven, to the modern day. Where do you as a person stand, spiritually?

Actually, it’s entirely arguable that the reason why Christianity prevailed over the Norse was precisely because it was a warrior religion, built on conquest and subjugation. The Saxons, and then the Norsemen, switched “sides” at the point of a sword. Even then, many simply adopted the White Christ into their existing pantheon of spirits and ancestors. 

The contest between the two world views is a central theme of the books – the Norse were ostensibly more democratic, more egalitarian and more inclined to embrace technology than Christianity was, certainly before the “Age of Reason”. A Norse future held much more promise than a blinkered insistence on divine right. That said, I stand on the path of the interested, but agnostic, observer.

What initially attracted you to Norse mythology and history?

The back of the book blurb for Old Norse for Modern Times puts it best. “Old Norse is the language of legends and the stuff of sagas, the inspiration for Tolkien and Marvel, for award-winning manga and epic videogames. It is the language of cleverly crafted kennings, blood-curdling curses and pithy retorts to Ragnarök”.

Norse myth, legend and language is part of the very fabric of our imagination in the West. What better to conjure with?!

Did your approach differ in planning a graphic novel in comparison to The All Father Paradox and Loki’s Wager – what are the main ways you had to adjust your approach for the two types of book?

Undoubtedly. Comic book scripts are like movie scripts, full of visual descriptions of key frames. They are a controlled burst of speed, like a sprint. Novels, in comparison, are like an Iron Man Triathlon, a blur of pain and tenacity. But they allow you to tell different aspects of a story – the Jotunn War is a key part of the story of both, but is much more visceral in comic book form. You really get to see the mayhem of Norse myth writ large.

I feel like your work stands out in a genre that has shown to be much more populated than I expected before running this event. I haven’t seen any other books looking at an alternate history with a Norse future for example, nor have I seen many graphic novels with these elements. Did you set out thinking, “Right, how can I bring something new and carve out my own space here?” or did you simply have a story you always wanted to tell, and you decided to tell it?

The history books and the Icelandic sagas are full of what really happened, and, for my money, they tell it better than any modern scribe can hope to. I always wanted to tell a different story. 

I love the allure of “What If?” What if we could restart this game of cards? What if we could have a do-over on the choice of dinner? What if I hadn’t met my wife? What if my Grandfather hadn’t died in the war? It’s an intoxicating thought experiment. We all want to know what we could have done differently, how we might have learned from our mistakes.

Now, take it a bit further. What if the Vikings never lost? What if mankind had chosen to back the Allfather Odin rather than the Hvítakristr? That’s a rabbit hole worth jumping down with two feet.

Let’s talk about Old Norse for Modern Times. This looks like something a lot of readers will be extremely interested in – me included! Please tell us a little more about this book (that’s just had it’s kickstarter completion) – congrats on that. How did this project come about, what can we expect from the book, what were your experiences writing and researching it and perhaps just as importantly, when will we be able to buy it?

Well, for as long as I can remember, I’ve thought a book of Old Norse phrases would be a good idea. Not exactly necessary, mind you but…amusing. Haven’t you ever wanted to wield the silver tongue of Loki or hammer home your point like a Thundergod?

A pal of mine on Vancouver Island , Joshua Gillingham, is also a Norse novelist. We would grab coffee and chat about Vikings, and I put this idea to him in the summer of 2019. It was a question then of finding someone who actually knew Old Norse… Luckily, we were introduced to Dr. Arngrímur Vídalín, Adjunct Professor of Icelandic Literature at the University of Iceland’s School of Education. We knew he was the perfect skald right away, a man who possessed the right blend of erudition and humour. We literally couldn’t have done this without him.

As to what to expect? Who better than the Norse to tell us that Thor must be mightily pissed off (Þórr mun reiður vera) or that the fishing trip isn’t going as planned? (We’re going to need a bigger boat/ Þurfa munu vér skip stærra). And when Jǫrmungandr is finally reeled in?  Ordering the beers sounds more emphatic in Old Norse (This drink, I like it! ANOTHER! Líkar mér drykkr þessi! ANNAN!).

It will be out soon, bookmark www.vikingverse.com for news!

Finally, can you give us a Viking fact we might not know?

In mythic terms, I am partial to recurring events and cyclical motifs. For example, Heimdallr duels Loki twice – once at the Singasteinn (in the form of seals), and then again with finality  at Ragnarok.

In historical terms, it is worth reminding people that the Norse went everywhere. The great Harald Hardrada (of Stamford Bridge fame) took part in campaigns that went as far east as the Tigris River and Euphrates River where according to his skald Þjóðólfr Arnórsson he participated in the capture of eighty Arab strongholds.

Thanks for taking part in this interview Ian, it’s been a pleasure!

Check out Ian’s website here to have a look at his books, blog and updates for what else he’s working on!

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