Our Viking heritage is all around us, says Marsali Taylor, author of the Shetland-set detective novel: Death on a Longship.The Vikings ruled Shetland for over five hundred years, from their arrival in the north around 735 to the hand-over to the Scots in 1468, and their influence is everywhere you go in modern Shetland.
Look at the names on a map! Aith, or Eid, my own village, is old Norse for 'isthmus' - it occupies the land between two bays. Brae, where Death on a Longship is set, means 'broad' - it's a wide inlet. When my heroine, Cass, guides her replica longship into the Hams of Roe, she reflects that, 'This would be my big test as skipper, to bring the ship in to shore without an engine, just as the Vikings had done, and in this place too. Hams came from the old Norse ‘hamar’, a landing place. I liked that idea.' Roe (from the same Viking word as the Scots Gaelic 'ruaidh'), means 'red' - the island of Muckle Roe is the big, red island.
The Vikings didn't just leave the place names. They also left their language, and in spite of the 500 years of Scottish overlords that came after them, the Shetland dialect is still scattered with the words they spoke. In the last paragraph, I had to think for words like 'bay' and 'inlet' instead of the word that came naturally: voe, a long sea inlet. There are words for strength of wind: a grain o wind, a flan, a stour, a flying gale. There are two words for you; if you were speaking formally, you'd use the English 'you', but with a friend, you'd say 'thee' and 'thou', except that as 'th' is pronounced 'd' in Shetland, 'dee' or 'du': 'Noo dan, boy, foo's du? Is dee midder aboot?' ('Now then, boy, how are you? Is your mother about?') - and notice the grammar, foo is du? (how is you?) instead of the English how are you?
Older Shetlanders insist that if they talk broad dialect in Norway (where Vikings are originally from), they have no difficulty making themselves understood. Before the Vikings came, the Pictish Shetlanders lived in round houses. The later traditional crofthouse is long and low, with the house, barn (for hay) and byre (for animals) all in a straight line, just like the Viking house excavated at Jarlshof. They used to say, too, that there were no remains of Viking houses in Shetland - well, not where archaeologists could get at them, for canny Shetlanders weren't going to waste a good trodden floor and stones to hand. When the old crofthouse was past living in, they re-built on the same site. The Viking foundations are there, all right, but they're still being used!
The Vikings were sailors, first and foremost. When my heroine, Cass, launches her restored longship, she marvels at their boatbuilding skills: 'Ah, they were seamen, those long-dead Vikings. She breasted the waves as if she was rejoicing in the sea. We raised the yard, and the ochre and red striped cotton sail billowed out, caught the wind, and Stormfugl rose with it, the helm suddenly lightening. I looked forward at the milky horizon, at the great curve of sail above me, and sent up a thanksgiving for the day.' Go to Shetland's museum, in Lerwick, or better still, to any country regatta, and you'll see Viking boats: double-ended yoals, rowed by six men, or the light-weight flyers called Shetland Models, crewed by three, and some still with the single sail hanging from a horizontal yard, just as on a Viking ship. Even the everyday rowing skiffs are double-ended.
Like their ancestors, the Shetlanders used the sea as transport. It wasn't a barrier, it was a road. Look again at a map of the North Sea that puts Shetland in its proper place. Before cars took over, we were the centre of the northern trading universe. Those Vikings who built their house at Jarlshof were fish traders, selling provisions to the ships going on to Faroe, Iceland, Greenland, America - we know this because of the size and quantity of fish 'lug bones' found. Later, in medieval times, Shetland was the centre of the Hanseatic League, trading between north Germany, Norway, Denmark. The Dutch fishing vessels filled the muddy bay of Lerwick so thickly that you would walk across them to the island of Bressay, a mile away.
Later still came the whaling vessels, on their way to Jan Mayen island for seals, then to Baffin Bay. While the women worked the laand, Shetland men went to sea from March to September, to earn cash to pay their rent. In the two world wars, more Shetland men were lost, proportionately, than from any other county in Britain, mostly as merchant seamen. Don't under-estimate the little old man in his cap and boiler suit; in his days with 'the Merchant service' he's probably seen more foreign lands than you've ever dreamed of! And the people themselves, have they kept that Viking look? Well, yes, many have. I was in Yell recently, north of Mainland, where the Scots word 'tatties' (potatoes) comes out as the Norwegian-sounding 'tauties', and the man taking the money on the ferry could have come straight from a Viking ship: not very tall, but broad-shouldered, with red-gold hair, worn long, and a magnificent red beard. Tall, fair girls are rarer, but you still see them. If you asked a Shetlander which he felt closer to, the Norwegians or the Scots, there'd be no hesitation about the answer:
'The Scots were interlopers. The Norskies, they're our cousins.'
Death on a Longship Blurb
When she talks her way into a job skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, a place she hasn't set foot on since she ran away as a teenager to pursue her dreams of sailing. When a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass, her past and her family come under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae.
Cass must call on all her local knowledge of Shetland, the wisdom gained from years of sailing, and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear herself and her family of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.
Marsali is giving away THREE prizes; a copy of Death on a Longship at each blog stop on her tour, a 1st place grand prize giveaway at the end of the tour of some silver Viking-inspired jewelry from the Shetland Islands, and a 2nd place $15 Amazon gift card.
1) To win a book: leave a comment on this blog post to be entered to win a book (open internationally for ebook or the US, UK, and Canada for a print book). Be sure to leave your email address in the comments so we can contact you if you’re the lucky winner. This giveaway ends five days after the post goes live.
2) To win Viking-inspired Jewelry OR a $15 Amazon gift card: Click the link to go to the contest’s website and enter the Rafflecopter at the bottom of the post. A first and second place lucky winner will be selected on October 1st. First place person gets to choose which grand prize he/she wants. The second place person gets the remaining grand prize. Open to every country.
Here’s the contest’s website >
Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland’s scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.
a Rafflecopter giveaway