We interview R.G. Johnston, author of Vinland: The Beginning, a novel set in North America during the brief Norse settlement. The book is available through the author’s own website.
This book got its start when you visited L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, which is the only confirmed location of a Norse settlement in North America. Could you tell us about how this visit inspired your story and the influence of this place on how you described the settings found in the novel?
At the time I was actively writing but I hadn’t settled on an idea that I found inspiring. I remember standing at the tip of the peninsula (L’Anse aux Meadows) looking out to sea and the coast of Labrador. I realized that I hadn’t heard of a Canadian writer setting a novel in L’Anse aux Meadows or fictionalizing the Vinland saga for that matter. I wondered how many Canadians knew about what happened here let alone visited L’Anse aux Meadows.Since L’Anse aux Meadows is the only archaeological site in North America that definitively proves that the Norse landed here and gives validity to the Vinland sagas (I don’t think anyone can deny that it is in the region of Vinland), I felt that I had to set my story in L’Anse aux Meadows and Labrador (Markland).
It’s also a matter of regional pride. I have family ties in Newfoundland. I think it’s important to celebrate that part of their pre English and French history.
What kind of audience do you think this novel will appeal to?
I think that it will appeal to various audiences: Historical fiction readers, adventure story enthusiasts, readers of fantasy, as well as readers who are interested in the Viking era.
Icelandic sagas would have been very useful for you in preparing your novel. Are there ways you made use of the themes, characters or language found in these sagas?
The main body of my research were the Vinland sagas, but I did make use of other historical documents that referred either to the people or the places in the Vinland sagas. I didn’t want to change names or change the events depicted in the sagas. I tried to extrapolate the historical figures’ personalities based on what I had read about them. That was not always easy because they are depicted as heroic figures in the sagas. I wanted to make them a little more human than in the sagas, but keep some of their heroic qualities for my adventure story.At the same time I also wanted to keep the mystique and the story-like quality of these documents. So on the occasions where I did change the figures, as in the case of Ari, it was to reveal human flaws that we all have. Ari isn’t evil in the traditional sense of the word, he’s misguided. He does fear and does have some remorse at times in the book. I strived to make all of the characters three dimensional.
This is your first novel – now that you have finished this experience, what advice might you give to other writers who are starting out?
The advice that I always give to writers is to approach your writing with tenacity. Writing will be a different experience everyday; some days you will write two sentences other days you will write two or ten pages. Some days you’ll suck at it and other days you’ll hit the mark; you can’t always make the shot, all the time.Composing and re-writing are part of the writing process. You will learn just as much from re-writing what you wrote on the bad days of writing as what you wrote on the good days. Take it all in stride and stay inspired; don’t be too hard on yourself.
Finally, a sequel is forthcoming – can you give us a little more information about this second book and when it might be available?
My next story will be a continuation of this story; there’s still more to tell in this story. I can’t tell you when it will be completed but I can tell you that the plot line will deal more with Norse cosmology. Odin will play a principle role in the story.
We thank R.G. Johnston for answering our questions. The interview was conducted in November 2008.