A huge MyBookCorner welcome to Rachel Burge. She’s author of The Twisted Tree, a YA ghost story set in Norway. The sequel, The Crooked Mask, is out on Kindle now and available in paperback on 21 January, 2021. Sarah Broadley interviews her here…
What inspired you to base your novels on Norse mythology?
I’ve always had an interest in mythology, but it was doing a tarot course with Maddy Elruna which opened my eyes to the magic and wonder of Norse legend.
As well as being a gifted tarot reader, Maddy is a shaman who follows a Norse path. While she was explaining the meaning of the cards, she told stories of the Norse gods and there was one in particular which really captured my imagination – The Hanged Man.
Maddy explained how it depicts Odin, who hung himself from the world tree, Yggdrasil. Odin the ‘Allfather’ is the god of many things, including poetry, wisdom, war and magic. In his wanderer’s guise, he travels the world seeking knowledge and even plucked out an eye to drink from Mimir’s well of wisdom.
One day, Odin knocked upon the door of the Norns, wanting to learn the secrets of fate. Older and more powerful than the gods, these are the three women who weave destiny in the great tree Yggdrasil. When the Norns wouldn’t give him the answers he sought, Odin hung himself from the tree for nine days and nights. He was nearing the point of death when he at last saw the runes bubble up in the well beneath him.
As a writer, I wondered what if there was more to the story…. what if a woman helped Odin after he cut himself down from the tree and they started a new family line together. What would their modern-day descendent be like and what kind of magical powers might she have? It was this thought which became the basis for The Twisted Tree.
What research did you do for The Crooked Mask?
In the sequel, I wanted Martha to learn more about the gods and introduce her to someone special – Loki, the infamous trickster.
I came up with the idea of a circus that bases its performances on Norse mythology as a way to introduce the reader to a host of new gods. This also allowed me to write a ‘play within a play,’ so that the themes and ideas brought to life in the circus performances are mirrored in the events of the story.
For the sequel, I focused on the myth of the giant wolf, Fenrir. One of Loki’s three ‘monstrous’ children, Fenrir poses a great threat to the gods. When the Norns predict that he will devour Odin at Ragnarok, the end of the world, Odin decides to take him from his mother and raise him in Asgard. There, the gods trick him into wearing an unbreakable chain. Fenrir, however, is not easily tricked and insists that Tyr, the god of truth and justice, put his arm in his mouth as they lay the chain on him. The result is that Tyr loses his hand.
How did you go about researching the myths?
For the sequel, I delved deeper into the original myths. I read more of the sagas (translated), spoke to modern day followers of the Norse gods, and asked Maddy to go on a shamanic journey to meet Odin and seek his wisdom. As it turns out, he had a lot of good advice!
Loki is a fascinating character and I loved learning about his various aspects. My version of him is based on one of his earliest depictions, as a jester-type figure.
Odin is a complex god, and I wanted to show him in a different aspect to the one he’s usually shown (the wanderer in a long grey cloak, carrying a walking staff). In Grímnismál, one of the poems of the Poetic Edda, he takes the name Grimnir, which means ‘Masked One.’ It was this version of him I drew upon for The Crooked Mask.
In fact, it was Maddy who conveyed a message from Odin to depict the gods as I see fit and to show them in their complexity, rather than painting them as caricatures. This advice led to me hitting upon Martha’s character arc for the sequel. Martha learns to accept that life is complicated – people are rarely simply good or bad, and neither are the gods.
You can read our review of The Crooked Mask, here.
Before writing novels, Rachel worked as a freelance feature writer and has written for a variety of websites, including BBC, Cosmo, Sky and MTV. She lives in East Sussex with her partner, son, and black Labrador, Biff. She’s on Twitter (@RachelABurge), Facebook (RachelBurgeauthor) and Instagram (rachelburgewriter). Her website is rachelburge.co.uk.