Part one of The Hanged God trilogy, Thilde Kold Holdt’s epic fantasy is Northern Wrath is out now. Full of Norse myths, compelling characters, war and treason – we had to speak to Thilde to find out more about her novel…
When/where did you first get the idea for Northern Wrath?
A writer I once knew used to say that the best ideas came to her when she was washing up. Something about that repetitive task made her mind wander. I thought that was a strange way to get ideas, until that fateful summer when suddenly, I understood…
I was working at a boulangerie in Southern France, spending my mornings making coffees and my afternoons scooping ice-creams. One slow afternoon I was standing in the back of the shop, cleaning an intricate crystal ash-tray with a hundred small nooks. Truly a terribly uninspired task. As I slaved over the sink, elbows deep in bubbles, I thought about my Scandinavian up-bringing and then, a scene came to me.
A scene that never made it into the actual trilogy, mind you, but a scene that birthed the novel’s two protagonists. I saw a young stubborn girl slaving at a tavern to earn enough wages to survive a three-yeared winter. What was odd about this scene was that the girl was human but all the clients were giants, Jotnar, who treated her like the human scum she was. By the time I finished cleaning the ash-tray, the scene had progressed to a full-on fight with the young girl standing up to giants five times her own size, using god-like ruses to win over them and then marching out into the snow leaving a bloody trail. This was Hilda. And then, as the giants groaned from their wounds, the door to the tavern swung open and the girl’s childhood friend walked inside. He had searched the nine worlds for her and, at last, he knew that he was close to finding her. That was Einer. As such the story began to form in my head as I wound back the clock to discover the beginning of these two characters. Their journeys would take them far beyond the mortal world of Midgard, into the company of goods and giants, but how had it begun?
Did you have many inspirations when writing Northern Wrath and if so, what were they?
Honestly, I took my inspiration for Northern Wrath almost exclusively from real history and Norse beliefs. My main inspiration was the research I did. I especially relied on the Poetic Edda, which tells the naughty stories of the Norse gods and which, more importantly, gives a real insight into the culture of the Vikings. A culture that I had grown up within.
I was born in Denmark but moved to France with my family at a young age, and so, being a Viking became a defining identity. I vividly remember the wild Yule parties, the songs as we danced around the Yule tree. The fire that always burned at the corner of the home. The naughty humour and the emphasis on stories. There was a warrior’s spirited approach to most things in life, and stories of the Norse gods were dotted throughout my childhood. All of those childhood associations to the place where I was born came together to serve as the basis for Northern Wrath.
How much research did you do before writing Northern Wrath?
Tons and tons and tons. It started easy enough. Reading all the books about Vikings I could get my hands on, and then it slowly developed. I wrote a research paper on iron age Scandinavian law texts. I frequented museums and Viking markets and then, one day, I joined the 60-person crew of a Viking warship. During non-pandemic summers, I still spend a few weeks aboard the warship.
Why did you decide/want to write in the fantasy genre?
I grew up reading and loving fantasy. As a kid I had The Hobbit read aloud to me so many times that my dad eventually bought an audiobook CD (this is pre-digital times) that he could play. I still vividly remember sections of that audiobook. To me, fantasy was what initially drew me to books so it’s not surprising that it’s also what initially drew me to writing. It’s a genre that has given me such a wealth of experiences as a reader that I wanted to add my own voice and cultural understanding to the mix.
How do you go about developing your characters and how do you find their ‘voice’?
When I started this story, I began with the world. What were the characteristics of this world? What was the culture and belief-system that comes with it? Then, out of the world, the characters were born, and the circumstances of their upbringing were what distinguishes them from one another and ultimately forms their voice.
To take an example, Finn is a character who grew up as a poor farmer and no matter how much gold and fame he gains, it is never enough because he cannot shake the thought that he is going to go hungry and that he has less than others. Meanwhile, Hilda grew up with a story-teller as a father, hearing all about the gods. Her mission in life, to be acknowledged by her gods, is born out of that particular upbringing, which in turn is born out of the characteristics of the world.
To me, the world comes first, then the character who inhabits it.
Northern Wrath is part one of The Hanged Trilogy – have you started writing books two and three and (without any spoilers!) what can readers expect from the rest of the trilogy?
The entire trilogy has been fully penned. In the next two volumes, you can expect to dwell further into the nine worlds, get closer to the gods, goddesses and giants and above all, you would be wise to expect blood.
Apart from The Hanged Trilogy, what’s next for you?
Next for me is my current writing project, which is a new trilogy set in 7th Century Korea, which is another place and time that’s dear to my heart. The novel is called The Bone Snatcher and there are kings and spirits and sages and war and, finally, dragons. It’s shaping up to be another epic tale.
What are you reading right now?
Right now I’m reading the Wheel Of Time for the first time. A series I put off for years because I felt like I needed to be in the right mindset for it, and I’m glad I waited until a time when I could fully appreciate it. When I’m not reading the Wheel Of Time, I’m reading the Obelisk Gate, the second volume in The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin.
Thilde Kold Holdt’s Northern Wrath is out now from Solaris.