Vikings, Woot!

Sue-Ellen here…

I love Vikings.

Sometimes I suspect the feeling is mutual because they often pop into my books.  When they turn up, expecting to be included, I can’t resist them.  After all, they’re bold and full of life, grand storytellers, brave and daring, romantic, and, at times, pretty darn dangerous.  All good traits for potential romance novel characters.

Having them appear, looking for a story part, is like being kissed by the writing gods.

I haven’t yet refused one.

So readers can expect to find the rare Norseman (or Norsewoman) somewhere in my books’ pages.  At the least, there will be references to Viking times.

TEMPTATION OF A HIGHLAND SCOUNDREL releases on July 26th and the hero, Kendrew Mackintosh, is a Highland Warrior if ever there was one.  But he’s fiercely proud of his ancestral ties to Norsemen.  If you read SINS OF A HIGHLAND DEVIL, book one in my Highland Warriors trilogy, you’ll know that Kendrew is in touch with his inner Berserker.  He’s a wild man.  My bad boy of the trilogy.  And he knows how to flaunt and swagger.  He’s wicked with a war axe.  But he also has a heart of gold and lives by his own code of honor.  The pages of his story abound with fascinating bits of Norse myth and legend.

Some of you might wonder why I weave such things into Scottish medieval romances.

The short answer is I just love Vikings.

But there’s more to it.  Vikings have every right to be there.

The Norse ruled the Hebrides for nearly four centuries.  Some historians place the earliest invasions as far back as 100 B.C.  But the great age of Viking raids didn’t happen until many hundreds of years later.  When it came, beginning in the late 700s, the attacks were vicious and terrifying.  There isn’t any way to paint them pretty.  They were what they were.

But the Vikings weren’t just blood-thirsty sea-raiders.

They were also farmers, fishermen, shipbuilders, craftsmen, and incredibly far-traveling traders, merchants, and explorers.  Like so many people who raid, they eventually became settlers, bringing their own history, culture, and beliefs to the lands they’d once ravaged.  Through intermarriage with locals, they also brought new and fresh blood.

This is what I had in mind when creating Scandia and her star-crossed Viking love, Donar, in SINS OF A HIGHLAND DEVIL.

Their romance could well have happened.

Norse hold on the Hebrides began to crumble after the Battle of Largs in 1264.  The actual battle wasn’t a grand victory for the Scots, but the weather gods joined the fray and fierce sea storms smashed the Norse longships.  King Hakon retreated to Orkney where he died and Norway ceded the Hebrides to Scotland two years later, in 1266.

Scotland’s Northern Isles, Orkney and Shetland, remained under Norse rule much longer.  Only in the late 1460s did Scotland gain power there.

Even so, Viking influence remained strong.

Scotland brims with Norse archaeological sites.  Viking heritage can be found in place names, local customs and festivals, and myth and legend.  Who hasn’t heard of the fabulous sagas?  To say the Norse had a way with words is an understatement.

Then there’s the fascinating world of their gods or their spectacular ship burials.  I could wax poetic over how charismatic the men could be.  Or sing praises of the women who were strong, vital, and held so many rights.  Some of those rights are real eye-poppers for those who think women back then were helpless doormats.

Not Norsewomen.

They enjoyed sexual freedom unheard of in other societies.  A woman could divorce a husband if he didn’t adequately satisfy her.  Some wives  recorded as having made use of this right are also noted as walking away with their dowries returned to them.

I like to think they were also as generous, good, and big-hearted as they were free-spirited.

So I never say no when a proud Norsewoman or a fearsome, fire-in-his-eye Viking warrior appears in my office, demanding a piece of story action.  I listen when a character like Kendrew (and his heroine, Isobel) want their Norse blood playing a role in a story.

With Norse legacy still such a tangible part of today’s Highlands, imagine how strongly Kendrew and Isobel would’ve been aware of this influence?

When you read TEMPTATION OF A HIGHLAND SCOUNDREL, I hope you’ll agree the Norse myth and legend fits in well and adds excitement to the story.

Here are a few Viking fun facts:

1)     They didn’t wear horned helmets.  A Viking warrior’s head protection of choice was most often a simple helm with a nasal bar.  These helmets sometimes had mail ‘curtains’ at the back to safeguard the neck.

2)    Vikings cared about appearance.  They bathed frequently, braided their hair and beards, wore colorful clothes, and were fond of jewelry.

3)    They were world travelers.  A runic inscription at the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul shows they reached Turkey.  And archaeologists in Scandinavia have uncovered countless stashes of dirhams (Arab silver coins), proving trade with those distant lands.

4)    They could charm.  One Norse trader was so well-loved for his engaging tales about his sea-journeys, that he was always an honored guest at King Alfred’s Anglo-Saxon court.  This would have been at the height of the worst raiding years.

5)    Their powerful sagas speak for themselves.  These men had silver tongues.  As proof: they had over a dozen beautifully evocative words just to describe the wind.

There are many other fascinating bits I’d love to share.  Instead, I have a question.  Do you enjoy research?  Do you thrill to learn interesting tidbits like the ones above?  And would you, like me, rather poke around an archaeological site than spend hours shopping for shoes?



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72 responses to “Vikings, Woot!

  1. Mary Preston

    I love my history. I think I would be in Heaven to participate in an archaeological dig.

    • You’re a woman of my own heart, Mary. I’ve explored lots of archaeological sites in Scotland and always thrill to spot unexpected treats like the replica Viking longboat shown above. (I just *had* to climb up the ladder and peek inside) But it would be the BEST to participate in the dig as it happens. Wow!

  2. Oh, Sue-Ellen! How you tantalize, tease, and tempt with your Highlanders and Norsemen! This is a wonderful post which I will save to read again…and dream on ; ) Best wishes for “Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel”!

  3. Loved your Vikings, Sue-Ellen. Can you (or anyone) answer a question that’s always bugged me? Why did the Vikings raid/settle in the western part of Scotland? Why not the eastern part? Was it the ocean current? Was it simply easier to navigate from Scandinavia, across the top of Scotland (Orkney, Shetland) and around to the Hebrides? It’s always seemed to me that the shorter voyage would be to the eastern part of Scotland.

    • Great point, Karen. I’d bet their preference had something to with their huge base at nearby Dublin? Their raids were like fast and furious, like smash and grab robberies. They lost men, took ship damage, and needed a place close by to retreat to, to regroup. Heal injured men, replace lost men, repair boat damage, desposit booty, and to restock supplies.

      Journeying all the way back to their homelands would’ve taken much longer than the quick nip over ot Ireland.

      Also, the Western Isles provided endless places to lay in wait (hidden bays and such) and then flash out, without warning. Or to retreat into, if need be, for hiding to do quick repairs, etc.

      I’m guessing, basing my thoughts on everything I’d studied about them over the years. That said, their first big raid was on Lindisfarne, a tiny isle on the other side of Britain, near to Scotland’s southeastern corner. And they also dominated York (and southeastern England) for a very long time. Caithness in Scotland (northeast) also has tons of Viking history and sites.

      • PS – I forgot another point.. Vikings dealt in human cargo, took captives. There was a huge slave market in Dublin where they sold and traded these poor souls. This may have also been a consideration as they’d want to keep these people alive. Keeping alive captured, potential slaves and/or nobles intended for ransoming would be easier to do (and much less trouble to deal with) on a quick voyage to Dublin than across the treacherous North Sea or clear to Iceland,

        • If you look at the geography of Dublin, you’re stuck with the same question. Why did the Vikings go there? It’s on the other side of Scotland. What made them travel around Scotland? The picts? Legend? The current? The weather? The geography was unfriendly? All sorts of questions.

      • I knew about York, but the Irish Sea thing had me buffaloed. Also, I wonder if it has something to do with the Gulf Stream. From what I could tell from reading an ocean current map, it seems that it might have been easier to head due north, hang a left at the top of Scotland, and travel down between Scotland and Ireland.

        I guess it just looked odd (to me) for there to be settlements at York, then nothing further north, but all those other settlements on the other side of Scotland.

        • Well… I’m calling the old chicken and egg mystery. A guess would be that these areas struck them as easier to raid, claim, and settle. It’s known that difficulties (dynastic and lack of land) in their own homelands drove them to sail west. They wanted land, riches, and to make names for themselves, bold and power-hungry as they were. Also if one considers how they navigated and appreciated not getting too far from land, Ireland, Scotland’s Western and Northern Isles all offered ideal bases to explore farther destinations within a 2 days’ sailing time. But to circle back to your original question, maybe the eastern coast of England was already too populated? Yes, they raided, but they also sought land they could farm and pasture, claiming it for their own. It might’ve appealed to them to seek out places of ‘less resistance’ than the coast of eastern England?
          Just thinking out loud here….

    • Btw, why aren’t you in bed? Sleeping the sleep of a writer who just finished a book? You know I crash for 36 hours after deadline. I’m impressed you are up and about.

  4. Oh lots here to comment on. First, Aunt Mary was for taking me to Largs the last time I was there. We just ran out of time. Hopefully next time.
    I love how your characters show up and demand their parts, but even more I love how they stay around to advise later on. I have a very vivd picture of the real Sir M., not me, lounging on your window seat cuddling Em and advising you on his children. I’m sure he has already spent considerable time discussing the idea of the series with you.

    Shoes or historical sites? Historicals sites every time. I can look at shoes here at home and they add too much weight and take up too much space in my bags! My downfall is that I like to read every word on every display at what ever historical site I am visiting, museums too. By now you all know I am NOT a speed reader.

    I never had over much interest in Vikings but through you I have come to see the interconnection and am enjoying learning more. The next time I am in Scotland I will be ready to visit Largs and fully appreciate it.

    Now Tarts you know I am Sue-Ellens Sir M. SO in my best Sir M impression I am telling you if you have not read Sins of a Highland Devil get thee to thy nearest book store and purchase it. Do not hesitate, do not wait!

    • Mary M

      I second that about “Sins of a Highland Devil!” :)

    • You must get the Aunts to take you to Largs, Kathy. You’re in an ideal spot to explore tons of sites of Viking history, with Oban so close. You could visit several of the isles and see so much.

      I’m always surprised so many people don’t realize / show much interest in the strong connection between Vikings and Scottish history. It’s really fascinating.

      Thanks so much for your good words about the Vikings / Norse lore in my books. Don’t forget Olaf Big-Nose and his friends in a A Highlander’s Temptation. I really loved him. :)

      Sir M… you make a grand stand-in for him. And, yes, he’s always around, just like old Dev. He’s very pleased about my plans for his children. He’s telling me all about them.

      Shoes? No kidding. I’d go barefoot for life if doing so would mean endless access and time to archaeological sites. Who needs shoes when you can have HISTORY? Swoon….

  5. Mary M

    Good Morning! :)
    Ahhh……I love a good Viking tale and thank you Sue-Ellen for sharing some facts, too. Hands down, a historical site over shoes, period! I’m like a kid in a candy store and must confess that sometimes I can feel the energy of these places from long ago. When I was in England a few years ago, we were going to visit the Viking dig in York, but didn’t have enough time. :( If I could pick another career it would most definitely be involved with history. I love doing historical research. I had so many people ask to help me do the research when they found out that I was writing a historical romance. I laughed when I told them that was the best part, because from there the stories evolve.

    Also, I don’t know how this fits in, but my husband and I love to visit old cemeteries. All for the history which can be told on a headstone–just felt like sharing. Hmmm…now that you’ve got me thinking of Vikings, I think I’ll have to look for my dvd of “The Vikings,” with Kirk Douglas.

    • Oh Mary, I love to visit old cemetaries too. Being east coast we have a lot here. Funny thing, when I was doing tours here in Plymouth I would take groups to Burial Hill and we would always stop at the grave of Thomas Faunce. He was the one who identified Plymouth Rock as Plymouth Rock and he has a wonderful headstone that is a terrific example of the artwork of the period. It was only about 6 or 7 years ago I learned that Thomas Faunce was my husbans uncle with about 8 or 9 greats in front of uncle.

      • I LOVE the connection to Thomas Faunce, Kathy. That’s so neat. :)

        • I used to do tours after dark up there also. One tourist asked me if I was ever afraid. I looked at him asked why should I? there are only friends and relatives up there! The more genealogy I do the more it is relatives. :)

          • This is why we get on so well, Kathy. I love that you look on those sleeping there as friends and family. They are truly, in your case. Even for those without blood ties, they certainly deserve respect and peace, never fear.

            • I think I emailed you a while back about an experience I had while i had some down time at my old job. I was on line searching the cemetery listings around Campbelltown, Scotland looking for relatives. As I was reading the listed inscriptions and al of a sudden I could smell pine and here wind in the trees and aslo had a sense of the sea near by. It was so peaceful. My body may have been in a Qunicy, MA office building but I was in Scotland!

        • And, yes, I had to look up Thomas Faunce. Too cool, Kathy.

          • I knew you would what to know more. His sister Mercy married Nathanial Holmes and that is who Phil is decended from.

            I’m glad your both on here early. Imight just go to bed early tonight.

      • Mary M

        Wow, Kathy….very interesting. I visited Plymouth five years ago, but never had a chance to go to Burial Hill. I loved Plymouth. Wonderful people, so friendly and helpful. My husband and I were standing on a street corner looking at our map, when someone came up to us and asked if we needed help. It was a special day, one where we actually got lost getting back to our hotel. LOL!

    • Mary, next time you’re in York, you absolutely must visit the Jorvik Viking Centre. It’s incredible.
      Plus, there are always new, actual digs going on all the time in York and the area. They’re always finding something new. I haven’t been there in years and would love to get back someday.

      People asking to ‘help you research’ has me wiping laugh tears. Only a fellow research buff would understand how WRONG it is to think we’d appreciate or want such help. Hah!! The research is one of the BEST parts of writing. I live and breathe to research. Your comment really made me smile.

      I agree about headstones and also enjoy visiting burial sites. Always do so with respect along with interest. Poignant places, full of the past. And, never to be forgotten, those who were once as real and vital as we are today.

  6. Marilyn Munro

    I did very much enjoy the research my late husband and I did on finding his Scottish ancestors.It took us to the New England states but we found the connection to the Munros of Foulis castle in the highlands near Dingwall. It was a wonderful and fascinating time.

    • Morning, Marilyn. I love your connection to the Munros of Foulis as you know. :) Fascinating family history and I’m so glad you’ve been there, too. Dingwall (a Viking name if ever there was one) is so filled with colorful history. You’re blessed to have such ties.

  7. Yes, yes! Or should I say Aye! I would definitely rather do research on Vikings than shop for anything! Vikings are my passion which is one reason for my Emerald Isle trilogy. Like you, Sue-Ellen, I write about the Northmen, but in Ireland. I love the incursions they’ve had with the Irish chieftains and the many relationships/marriages they had with those kings’ daughters – sometimes for alliance…sometimes for enraging the father. Both were fun to research. haha

    Great post!!! I enjoyed this so much!!! So glad to meet a fellow Viking fanatic!!!

    • Welcome to Tartan Ink, Renee! I’m smiling as I type this because I can feel your enthusiasm for Vikings pouring off every word. I peeked at your site and can see you’re definitely passionate about Vikings and Ireland. Wonderfully rich history, for sure!

      Honestly, can you believe/understand some people don’t get excited about such things? I can never wrap my mind about that. Who can’t LOVE and be spellbound by the past? And Vikings are a topic for a thousand years and then some. We could delve into them that long and never grow bored.

      Your Emerald Isle trilogy sounds great. I hope you’ll visit us here again. :)

    • Renee,

      I just visited your website. Awesome site! Your books sound wonderful and I loved the trailers.

  8. Well, Tarts… the Deadline Dragon is huffing and puffing. Smoke rings are drifting my way, a few beginning to curl along the ceiling. So I’d best dive into my work.

    Have fun in here, okay? Vikings are NEAT, but if you’re not keen on them, then tell us this: research or shoes? (could be research on anything) I’m betting most of our Tarts will opt for research. :)

    See you later….

    • Oh, please. Shoes? Hah! Barefoot, if at all possible, please.

      I went exploring in Central America (long, ghastly, bug-ridden story), and investigated a tomb that had not yet been found. Spooky and fascinating. We did report the find and location, however.

  9. Trudy Miner

    This is not directly related but…yesterday, my neighbor, who has a summer home in Donegal, Ireland, was telling me that the only fires that are allowed are the St. John’s fires but he didn’t know what they were for. So I emailed him back and explained the little history I knew of them and that I got that history from reading historical romances!!! LOL!! And people put them down!

  10. Helen


    Yes I love finding out bits and pieces of history and found that post very interesting I also love reading about Vikings and as for shopping or digs give me the digs any day LOL

    Have Fun

  11. Lenna H

    I love tramping through archaeological and historical sites! I had to see ALL of Fort Stephens in north Oregon coast when we visited there. We poked around all the temples we could at Chichen Itza in Mexico. I had to climb all the way to the top of the great temple there. Going down wasn’t fun though–it’s steeper than it looks… When I was in Victoria BC my husband had to drag me out of the natural history museum… My parents took me through the bad lands in South Dakota and the native american indian (burial?) mounds and forts were fascinating. History comes alive in those places. They were real people just like us… I can’t wait to see the eastern United States and Europe someday. The Smithsonian, Boston, Plymouth, Washington DC, castles in England/Scotland/Austria/Italy, the fountains and cathedrals… Who cares about shoes when there is so much history to discover! I will be impossible do drag away when my time comes. I do a month of research before we ever go on vacation to someplace new so I won’t miss anything while we’re there. The internet has made that so much easier.

    Kathy I ditto your third paragraph. I read every word on the displays too, and I am NOT a speed reader either. I savor each and every word. I am a scrapbooker and I know how the writer labored over every word to say just the right thing in the fewest words. That’s why my husband had do drag me out of the Victoria BC museum. I wouldn’t quit reading the displays!!!

    Oh, and Sue-Ellen ~ YES TO VIKINGS. I have always been drawn to them and now I know why. Besides the fact that I’m 1/4 Danish. The first books as an adult I was drawn to were about Vikings, Scots, Knights and the Byzantine Empire. I’m so glad to here they pop up in with your Scots. I’m looking forward to reading your newest series. I will read SINS just before I start TEMPTATION so I can keep the stories flowing together.

    • Lenna, I am not surprised you, too would go for history. You’ve been to some fascinating places. And you’re so right, who can think of shoes with history live all around us, waiting to be explored? A gal has to have her priorities, after all. Here in the tea room, we’ll leave the frippery to others and concentrate on the good stuff. Hah!

      I’m with you and Kathy on reading display cards in historical sites. Like you, I will research before I get there. And once there, I want to know everything. That’s one reason I prefer driving my own rental car in Scotland rather than going on an organized tour. If anyone read my latest Allie Mackay title, Must Love Kilts, and remembers Wee Hughie’s whirlwind Scotland tour, you’ll know what I think of such tours! When you’re on your own, you can amble and linger and I LOVE that!

      Danish blood? No wonder you appreciate Vikings. I’m smiling now. I know the site of Viking Hedeby from my years spent in Germany. Lots and lots and lots of Viking history there. Amazing.

      I hope you’ll enjoy Sins of a Highland Devil and Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel. There’s also a strong Viking thread in A Highlander’s Temptation. And in my Allie Mackay titles, in Must Love Kilts and Tall, Dark, and Kilted. :)

      • I would love to drive myself in Scotland but am afraid I would kill someone. It’s bad enought just crossing the street in Glasgow. I use the lights unless I am with someone local. I always look the wrong way. If I could spend months I think I would adjust.

        • I know. I’m fine driving there now. But the first time was terrifying. If you recall the heroine-driving-left scenes in my Allie Mackay titles, that’s me the first time I did. Even now, I always manage to get into the passenger seat at least once. I’ll then look around, red-faced, hoping no one saw me. And don’t get me started on the HUGE and BOXY Recreational Vehicles and touring buses you meet on thread roads. There have been so many times I’ve sweat blood in such moments. But driving is the only way to get to the really good places: the wild and remote ones I love so much.

  12. Thank you all for welcoming my dear friend and adopted “little sister”, Renee Vincent! She may be my little sister (I’m at least twice her size), but I truly look up to her. She is a talented writer who infuses her romantic tales with her deep fascination for charming Irish warriors and charismatic Northmen. She is also a wonderful person, and she has helped me more than she knows as I have struggled through these last few difficult years.

    Karen and Sue-Ellen, Kathy, and all my fellow tarts, you are also very special people. You have made me feel a part of your group, and you tell such interesting stories about your lives and your hopes and dreams. Thank you very much!

  13. Diane Sallans

    to your 3 questions: Yes, Yes & Yes – I’d much rather research, learn & poke! I have to find a map & then come back & review all the information that was included in this post & the comments.
    Dr. Sue-Ellen, have you considered leading a Tart expedition, perhaps to Scotland?

    • Ah, Diane. I’m loving your comment: ‘research, learn, and poke!’ Absolutely. It doesn’t get any better than that.

      I would love to lead a Tart expedition to Scotland. Might well do so one of these years. I have friends in the travel industry stateside and in the Highlands, so it could be arranged. If ever deadlines allow and desire (of participants) was there, I’d go for it. Small, intimate, and designed to visit unique, out of the way places that pack a huge punch in specialness. And with a highlight spot or two so no one misses the traditional important sites. It could happen.

  14. Ann G.

    Sue-Ellen–I love doing research on my family tree, and I enjoy learning new things about my ancestors. On my trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City (about a year or so ago) I discovered that I have some Quaker ancestry, and another time I learned I am part German. One of my goals is to find exactly where one of my Revolutionary War ancestors came from originally.

  15. Ann G.

    Sue-Ellen–I would definitely want to visit some historical sites, rather than go shoe shopping (I have enough shoes). I’ve been to Scotland and England twice so far…and the second time wias with an Outlander group I’m in (a Yahoogroup). We attended a military tattoo at Edinburgh Castle (it was so thrilling), went to some standing stones, and generally had a great time. I would love to go back to Scotland, especially if you led a group of readers there).

  16. Ann G.

    Another thing I meant to say: During my first trip to England and Scotland, we visited Haworth, the home of the Brontes. We saw the Bronte Parsonage Museum, and visited the church and cemetary. The Brontes (all except for Anne) are buried under the floor of the church.

  17. I love it when you share these interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits… Thanks!

    • Bless you, Linda. I used to have huge pages of photos and background info on my websites for each book. Now I will post such tidbits here in the tea room, from time to time. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. :)

  18. Kathy Luehrs

    take me to the site – I would love to spend time at a medieval or viking site – reading your books is better than any history lesson I have had – Since my ancestors were also viking and celtic I enjoy reading when they are all connected

  19. Pingback: The Vikings Are Coming! | Tartan Ink

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