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I had the privilege of reading Tim Hodkinson’s latest book – Sword of the War God – and absolutely loved it.

So much so, I thought I’d ask Tim some questions about his writing technique and his (many) books.

Hi Tim!
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some of my questions. Without further ado, let’s get started!

ON WRITING

 

So, first of all – I wanted to ask some questions on behalf of budding authors out there about your writing process. 

First of all, can you tell me about your publication journey so far.

So I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but reached the age of 40 and thought it was maybe time I did something about it. I finished the novel I’d been pottering about with for about 15 years and got on the treadmill of submissions to publishers and agents. After about 6 months of getting nowhere I decided to self publish it. That was Lions of the Grail, a work described by one agent as being “set during an obscure Irish war where everyone seems to be on the wrong side.’

I realise now how arrogant and naive that was. Everything in publishing takes time. Also they say you should never publish your fist novel….Anyway it’s out there now. I went on to self publish three more novels, The Waste Land, The Spear of Crow and The Undead of Belfast.

I’ve always been fascinated by vikings, however, and decided to write about them. The result was Odin’s Game. I decided to return to the submission treadmill with this one and I like to think it was because I now knew what I was doing more (or maybe I was just lucky) but this time I got offered a contract by a new imprint of Head of Zeus.

Since then they’ve published five more viking books and my new stand alone novel, Sword of the War God, and have given me a contract to write three more.

You write within the historical fiction genre. How do you go about creating your worlds? Do you do a lot of historical research?

Normally -writing about vikings – it’s not an issue for me. I studied Old Norse language and literature at university and read a lot of that sort of history for enjoyment (honestly, I’m a viking nerd 🙂 ).

The latest book was different though. It took a lot of research and often there is very little to go on. The Romans are fine – there’s almost too much information. But the Huns are different, as are the various Germanic tribes who are involved as well. It came to often reading obscure papers and the like to find out the scraps of information that have survived about them. I joined a site called academia.edu which is an absolute goldmine of information.

Then there is all the gaps that still exist when you’ve gone through what there is of the history: What was their religion like? What did they find funny? That’s where imagination has to fill in.

How important do you think getting the details right is for this genre?

I believe it’s crucial. A lot of folk who read this genre are really into the history as well, and will point it out when you get something wrong, usually on a public review on Amazon. It jolts people out of their suspension of disbelief too, which is something none of us want to do. However having said all that, for the same reason its sometimes possible to be too detailed or accurate.

I remember reading a piece by Manda Scott who said when writing her Boudicca novels she learned that there were Pelicans living in Britain at the time. She decided not to add that detail in because she thought if people read that they would be “hang on: Pelicans? That can’t be right?!” And go to check. Even if they found she was right the spell would be broken. Then there is the social attitudes of the people at the time. If we were accurate in how people thought and acted then they wouldn’t be very sympathetic to a modern reader.

Which authors have inspired you?

I suppose the usual ones of J.R.R. Tolkien, C S Lewis and H P Lovecraft. In terms of modern historical fiction, Ben Kane, Giles Kristian and Theodore Burn. I also love Steven King and Lee Child. King’s “On Writing” is pretty much my writing bible. Also Neil Gaiman – maybe some will see a little of American Gods in my latest book, if only in the inspiration. My all time favourite author is Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. I don’t think he’s appreciated nearly enough, especially in Ireland.

In terms of drafting – can you go through this process. Some writers have a first draft that is almost complete, other writers only do the bare bones of the story and their editing is a lengthy process. Where do you fall here?

I’m not really one or the other. I have learned I’m a “seat of the pants” writer. I usually have some sort of plan with the situation I’m going to throw the characters into and a few key scenes. I usually know the ending as well and roughly what the book is going to be about. Then I just start writing.

Having said that, my latest book, Sword of the War God, has a very important section that occurs during a historical battle, so the main events of those chapters had to follow the historical ones. Writing to a plan would be so much easier though but I am worried it might take the fun out of the process.

How are you managing work/life balance. When do you find time to write around work and other commitments? What is your writing routine?

I always start off well. I will have a contract for delivery at a date in the future and work out if I write, say, 500 words a day then I’ll get there. I’ll get up early and do my words but then things will come up and before I know it I will have maybe two months left and only 30k words done. Then it’s up early and bed late, and I know is I do about 1K words a day I’ll have something novel length.

Novel length doesn’t mean the story is finished however and I usually end up locked away somewhere for a few weeks working flat out on the book, which ends up well above 100k. That’s been it pretty much with every book so far, so I guess that’s my routine. Maybe if I plotted better up front I wouldn’t end up in such a rush (see previous answer on that).

 Have you ever had writers block? If you ever do, what works to get you back into the writing zone?

I don’t think I ever have. I’ve been very lucky that way. Going for a walk though usually results in enhanced creativity – I usually have one or two scenes complete in my mind by the time I get back and just need to write them down.

Do you listen to music while you write/edit? If so, what music is on your playlist.

Sometimes. Classic FM is good background music. Something like Wardruna or Turisas are great for getting in a viking frame of mind. When I’m really carried away with writing though I don’t listen to anything.

 

ON BOOKS

 

Now let’s move onto your current book – Sword of the War God
Without giving any spoilers, what can you tell us about this novel?

The book follows a group of friends from a small tribe, the Burgundars, as they live through the final tumultuous years of the Western Roman Empire and the devastating predations of Atilla the Hun. Its about how power and greed corrupts some folk and how some people can seem like gods to others.
Having nearly finished this book, I can really tell that this is such an interesting time in history with lots of well-known historical figures existing at the same time. Was this what drew you to the time period?

The first idea for the book came from reading a 12th Century old norse saga, Ynglinga Saga, which said the deities the vikings worshiped (Odin, Frey and the rest) were originally great kings who lived in Scythia in the Fifth Century whose reputation after they died grew until they seemed to be gods. I pitched a sort of Dark Age Avengers to the publishers and they said they wanted it. The book turned out to be very different though.

When I started researching the period the first thing I realised was that it was a real time of legends. Attila the Hun, General Aetius (“the last great Roman”) and a host of other characters lived then, their adventures giving birth to myths such as the Saga of the Volsungs, The Nibelungenlied, the opera’s of Richard Wagner and indirectly then to Lord of the Rings. If King Arthur existed, he and Saint Patrick all lived through those same short decades that have continued to send echoes through time all the way to today.

Why did you decide to use multi-POV to tell the story?

The story was simply too big and ranges from Rome to Britain to Scandinavia to the Balkans and Hungary. There was no practical way to tell it from one person’s point of view. I did try not to hop about too much though.

I can tell the piece is well researched – but there are also fantastical aspects – why did you decide to intertwine the two?

To make it more interesting 🙂 Also, like I said, these historical events gave rise to myths and legends which have fanatical elements like dragons and valkyries in them and I wanted to stay true to the spirit of them as much as I could. The weird thing was, as I got into the research, strange correlations started to appear. Sigurd Volsung in the legends slays a dragon. A certain type of Roman cavalry trooper at the time were called “dragons’ and flew a banner in the shape of a dragon. Brynhild in the legends was a valkyrie famous in Old Norse poetry for her “Hell Ride” – and an area at the bottom of a slope in the location of the historical battle that forms the climax of my book (the battle of the Catalaunian plains) where a cavalry charge changed the course of the fight is still known to this day as L’Enfer – Hell.

The Nibelungenlied has a main character who is a magical dwarf, called Albrech. Legendary norse sagas are full of similar creatures, and it turns out that the historical Atilla the Hun had a real dwarf as a court jester, Zerco, and he became one of the main characters in my novel. There are magic swords in the legends and the historical Atilla carried a magic sword, the Sword of the War God.

What themes (if any) are you exploring with this work?

What makes a “hero”? Is one side’s hero the other’s violent psychopath? The effect of greed (for power or gold) and violence on friendship. What makes a people and their culture? How much do both rely on past customs or can the be invented from the scraps of the past? And if so, how authentic are they? Do we make our own gods or do gods visit us? When the world is falling apart around you, what choices do we really have?

Is this going to be a series – if so, how many books are you planning? If it isn’t a series, are you working on anything new at the moment?

I’m not planning on anything: The story is pretty much done on this one. There might be a sort of “spin off” with different norse gods (Thor is obviously missing from this one).

You have written lots of other historical fiction books, including The Whale Road Chronicles. Can fans of these works expect anything new from you soon?

I’ve just finished writing book 7 of The Whale Road Chronicles, Eye of the Raven, which should be out later this year, I believe

 

ON READING

 

Who is on your current TBR list?

The Words of Kings and Prophets by Shauna Lawless. I’m looking forward to Arthur by Gile Kristian too.

What books have you enjoyed recently?

James Blunt’s “Autobiography”, Loosely based on a Made-up Story. Honestly, it’s really funny

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