When did you first develop a fascination for history? Was there one thing – or even book – behind it?
There’s certainly one moment that sticks in my mind, when I was seven years old. My mum was amazing at taking me to historical sites and galleries from as early as I can remember, but on this one occasion she took me to Hampton Court Palace. I walked through the kitchens up towards to Great Hall and there is a specific step that has been worn down. As I passed over it I felt a rush of thousands of people who had stepped over it before me. That was the moment history telescoped before me and I’ve never lost that fascination for the lives of those who have walked before me.
Why do you think the Vikings have such appeal for children?
The Vikings truly were exceptional. I should say that it’s a pretty catch-all term, since it covers people from many modern-day Scandinavian countries across many centuries, but in terms of their culture there are things that bind them together that make them fascinating. Firstly, their obsession with ships and sea-faring. They reached the Americas five hundred years before Columbus and settled across Russia. They had an insatiable desire to explore. Then there is their world view. They had a range of gods and goddesses who were trixy, formidable, strong, silly…. They found the mundane aspects of human life funny and celebrated bravery, boasting and boating!
Have you always wanted to write for children? What sparked the idea for stories about Alva and her family?
I have waited for over twenty years to realise my dream of writing for children. I got a bit side-tracked with my lecturing, TV and academic work, but it was the only job I wanted when I was younger. I had been so changed and inspired by books I’d read when I was young, and I believe that sparking a love of the past in children is the key to future generations of thinkers and writers on history. I was approached to be the historical researcher by OUP on a series of Viking mysteries for children, but quickly responded to say ‘I don’t want to be the researcher. I want to be the author!” They took a chance on me, but I’ve created a world I can see so clearly in my mind after decades studying it. Alva came into my imagination fully formed. She’s the heroine I wish I’d had growing up!
Riddle of the Runes is a crime mystery story – was it fun to plot the story and hide the clues for Alva andher uncle Magnus to find?
I have always been hooked onmysteries and thrillers, from an early obsession with Sherlock Holmes. There is nothing more fun that unravelling a mystery before the characters in the book manage it. That is, apart from writing the mystery! Knowing what to reveal and when is a complex skill that mystery writers possess and I’m in awe of it. Children’s minds are so elastic and capable, and I hope I’ve managed to write something that is intriguing and exciting for readers of all ages.
What is your favourite Viking artefact and why?
There are so many! But I would say that there are few things that connect you with the Viking past better than a broad sword. I had the honour of wielding one recently at the British Museum and it felt incredibly to place my hand on the exact place that a Viking warrior had once put his or hers. There are so many wonderfully enigmatic objects that include riddles and runes, which of course were the inspiration for this mystery. The Franks Casket (which is actually Anglo-Saxon, but includes Viking myths in its panels) has actually driven academics mad trying to decode the riddle of the runes!
How many stories about Alva and her family will there be? Can you tell us a bit about where her adventures will lead her?
I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that Alva will be setting sail on those famous Viking long-ships. Her adventures will take her over to Anglo-Saxon England, to Frankia, and as far as Constantinople. She will have to solve mysteries along the way, but she has an ultimate goal in mind that she simply can’t let go of…. You’ll have to wait to find out more, but I promise I’m writing fast!