Delighted to be hosting a fantastic guest post by Danny Weston as part of the Postcards To Valhalla blog tour. Read on to find out how the book’s QR codes came to be, and about the author’s own research trip to Shetland – the atmospheric setting of this thrilling YA novel.
Finding inspiration in Shetland
I decided fairly quickly in the planning process that Shetland would make the perfect setting for the book I was gestating. It’s part of Scotland for sure, but so far away, the next nearest place is Norway! I’d read some interesting things about Shetland and it had always been in my mind to visit it. Now seemed like the perfect time!
I decided that I would take a week to explore the islands of Shetland by car and that I would firm up the story as I went from place-to-place, putting the bare bones of it together along the way. The journey of my young hero, Viggo and his mum, Alison, would follow the same trajectory as the one that I was making.
They would, quite literally, be following in my footsteps.
And then it occurred to me that, for research purposes, I would inevitably be shooting video footage along the route, of all the same places that Viggo would visit on his journey. So why not have a series of QR codes placed within the text, so that readers could scan them with their phones and be transported to the locations where the relevant part of the story is based? They would, almost literally, be going deeper into the book, seeing exactly what I (and my characters) see. Think of it as the kind of bonus material you might find on a DVD.
Shetland, by the way, is an extraordinary place and it’s as much a part of the book as the characters themselves. The moment I arrived and was driving across it, I was hit with a question. ‘Where are all the trees?’
I’ve visited plenty of other Scottish islands and they’ve all had forests but, apart from a few scrawny examples in people’s gardens, Shetland has no trees at all. We tend to think of deforestation as a modern phenomenon, but five thousand years ago, the three islands had plenty of woodland. When the Vikings who lived there decided that they wanted to rear sheep in massive numbers, they simply cut all the trees down. (I shudder to think what a massive undertaking this must have been when they had nothing more sophisticated than axes and wheelbarrows!) And after that, the ever-hungry sheep ensured that nothing had a chance of growing back to replace what had been chopped down.
The other fascinating fact about Shetland is it’s only a part of Scotland because it was given as a dowry when Princess Margaret of Denmark married James III of Scotland back in the 1400s. In those days, it was customary for the father of the bride to offer a dowry to his daughter’s husband (a sort of thank you for ‘taking her off his hands’!). But the bride’s father, Christian the First, was short of cash, so he offered James ‘some islands’ in payment, and they, of course, are what’s now known as Shetland.
The Danes have been trying to get the land back ever since without success, while the Scots are adamant that they acquired them fair and square and they’re hanging onto them!