FAQ 1


Questions Frequently Asked About Certain Books


Why do you include the Norse myths and the Vikings in Out of the Dark?

The easy answer is that I love the Vikings, though of course I didn't always like the way they behaved! Ever since the mid-sixties, when I heard about the Norse settlement discovered at L'Anse Aux Meadows, I'd been dying to go there, but it was so remote and so expensive to get to I didn't think I'd ever have a chance. You will know from my dedication in the book that my friends did get there before me, though, and they brought me back as much stuff as they could find on the area. I started planning the story then.

(Usually I don't plan a story until I've actually been to the area, but this time, I really wanted to.)

I got the idea for writing the book from my husband Doug who had always carved models from scratch, rather than using a kit. It was his thirteen-year-old dream to carve a village and a harbour for his model ships. He never did make the village or the harbour, but I could just see my hero wanting it as well. And where are harbours most important? Obviously, where the sea is very rough. And there was all that stuff about L'Anse aux Meadows that my friends had given me. It seemed natural to write about Ben and his carving at L'Anse aux Meadows, because Viking ships were so wonderfully constructed and really the entire source of their power in Europe and elsewhere.

One of the reconstructed Viking longhouses at L'Anse Aux Meadows, Newfoundland.
In the foreground you can see part of a reproduction of a Viking boat, turned upside down on a stand.


I didn't know how important Ben's mother was going to be to the story until I started writing. Can you believe that? My most important element, and I didn't even know she was there until she tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Ahem, excuse me, I don't want to bother you, but you darn well better get to know me, because I'm the heart of your book!" The only time that ever happened to me before was when I wrote The Third Magic and got all the way to Chapter 14 before I knew that the whole book was wrong, because a sword came into my story and I didn't know what it was until I thought and thought about it (it turned out to be King Arthur's sword) and darn it, wouldn't you know, it was the heart and soul of that story too. So I had to rewrite the whole book. Arrgh!

Well, Ben's mother didn't wait as long as the sword. She showed up in the first chapter. I knew from that point on what she was doing in my story: she was the reason Ben's heart has turned to ice; the reason he can't make friends; the reason he can't read books any more. Once I knew the mother's central role in my story, and figured out how she died, it was my job to help Ben to help himself to come to terms with his grief and his feeling that it was his fault his mother died. The carving of a beautiful ship, a Viking ship (his mom loved the Vikings as much as I do), was an act of creation for her, and he even named it for her -- so bringing her to life again in the only way he could.

I've read The Third Magic, and you described the world of Nwm so well, it felt as if I were there. At the same time, I almost wondered if you really did live in the world of Nwm before you came to live on Earth.

I'm really happy you felt as if you lived in Nwm while you were reading The Third Magic. That is a very high compliment to pay to an author. No, I didn't live in the world of Nwm really, but I did live in it in my mind for about three years. In a way it is a real world, because under another name it is the ancient Welsh Place of the Dead called Annwm (or Annfwm). The thing about Annwm was that the ancient Welsh believed it was just like their own real world except that it was a place of the dead and that magic was commonplace there. So what I did was read all the ancient Welsh myths and poetry that I could find (translated into English), and every time a bush or plant or tree or weather system or animal or insect or battle scene or food or anything ordinarily part of the ancient Welsh-person's life was mentioned, I put that thing on an index card, made notes about it, and filed the card. I incorporated these notes into my ideas about the setting for Nwm. At the same time I needed Nwm to be different from ancient Wales because for my plot I needed both the First Magic (the women, the circle) which really did exist more or less as I've described them in the ancient Welsh mythology, and the Second Magic (the men, the Line) which didn't. I invented the place where the Second Magic lived in Nwm, and invented pretty much everything about them. I had to invent so much there because I wanted Second Magic to be the opposite of First, and First Magic was distinctively pre-Celtic and so in the Welsh tradition, and Second Magic was not. So I just made a place and belief- system that were the opposite of what Wales was to the ancient Welsh, and that was the setting in which I placed the Second Magic Linesmen.

Why do you use Norse myths and sagas in particular in Out of the Dark?

I love reading the Norse myths. They're so much more interesting than the Greek and Roman myths, perhaps because the gods of the Viking world were all different from each other, but more likely because, unlike all other myths I've read, the Viking myths tell a single whole story, if you read them right. That story is the eventual doom of the gods, brought on by Loki's hatred, and the doom of the gods is, of course, Ragnarok. But the neat thing with Ragnarok is that the doom of the gods still allows for life to start over. It's really cool stuff.

Putting in the Norse myths enabled me to provide more clues about Ben's state of mind. You'll have noticed, I expect, that as he gets more and more pressured by the village of Ship Cove, more and more isolated, he is approaching his own kind of Ragnarok (where the ending of all things is turned into a beginning by the saving of two humans -- like Ben and Keith). Also, things in the Norse myths about one brother betraying another foreshadowed (ychhy word, sorry!)the growing hatred between Keith and Ben, and finally, Keith's stealing of the ship Frances. And also Ben turns to the myths for solace in his deep, deep grief, and he gets it at first, but as the story goes on and he approaches his own Ragnarok, the myths get more dangerous, such as the one where Thor fishes for whales and almost pulls up the Midgard Serpent (one of the three children of Loki who ends up destroying the known world at Ragnarok). So the myths were ways for me to help you get at the state of Ben's feelings as things get more and more dangerous for him.

As for the sagas, they were necessary because Ben wanted to identify with the real Vikings who really did inhabit L'Anse Aux Meadows; at first he identified with them without understanding the Vikings' deep weaknesses (they could only conquer, not share; they had contempt for a race of people unlike themselves; only Gudrid could see the danger in what they were doing). He had already invented Tor, Karlsefni's man, and a wood-carver like himself. Gradually, over the course of the book, Tor becomes more and more important to Ben, as he sees himself in his problems with the kids of Ship Cove as one of the Vikings in their problems with the "Skraelings". By the end of the story Ben's life and Tor's mix up so thoroughly that either he thinks he really is Tor, or by some magical force (repetition of incidents, the axe, the place, etc.) he actually becomes Tor for a brief period of time. I like to let my readers decide this for themselves.

The above picture is the actual site in Newfoundland where I decided Ben would undergo his own kind of "Ragnarok" in Out of the Dark.You can see Skin Pond, where Ben sails his model Viking knarr before it is captured by "the enemy". It was either beside this lake or another one I mentioned in the book, Black Duck Pond, that the Vikings built a second encampment. You'll notice in the background a long and skinny bit of high ground sticking up out of the bog that surrounds Skin Pond. That is what I call the "knoll" in the book. You can't see the dock in this photo because the land sticks out into the water just in front of it. The boardwalk passes beside Skin Pond near what would have been Ben's harbour for his model Viking ship and then climbs to the top of the knoll. If you look carefully you can just see a human-made structure near the right end of the knoll. This is the "viewing platform". Ben's "Viking house" is a real "cave" just to the right of that viewing platform, hidden just as I described it in the book. Everything I wrote about the bog, Skin Pond, the knoll, the dock, the Viking house, and in fact, the entire setting of the book is true.

I am one of the many kids who have read your book "Out of the Dark" for the Red Cedar Book Awards program, and I thought it was excellent. My favorite character was Ben. I like the way he develops, exploring and discovering his new home. I only have one question. How did you think of such a great plot?

Thank you very much for your letter. I'm delighted you thought "Out of the Dark was excellent. I love the Vikings, though of course I didn't always like the way they behaved! Ever since the mid-sixties, when I heard about the Norse settlement discovered at L'Anse Aux Meadows, I'd been dying to go there, but it was so remote and so expensive to get to I didn't think I'd ever have a chance. You will know from my dedication that my friends did get there before me, though, and they brought me back as much research information as they could find on the area. I started planning the story then. (Usually I don't plan a story until I've actually been to the area, but this time, I really wanted to.)

I got the idea for writing the book from my husband Doug who had always carved models from scratch, rather than using a kit. It was his dream as a thirteen-year-old to carve a village and a harbour for his model ships. He never did make the village or the harbour, but I could just see my hero wanting it as well. And where are harbours most important? Obviously, where the sea is very rough. And there was all that stuff about L'Anse Aux Meadows that my friends had given me. It seemed natural to write about Ben and his carving a Viking ship at L'Anse Aux Meadows, because Viking ships were so wonderfully constructed and really the entire source of their power in Europe and elsewhere.

I didn't know how important Ben's mother was going to be to the story until I started writing. Can you believe that? My most important element, and I didn't even know she was there until she tapped me on the shoulder and said, "Ahem, excuse me, I don't want to bother you, but you darn well better get to know me, because I'm the heart of your book!" The only time that ever happened to me before was when I wrote The Third Magic and got all the way to Chapter 14 before I knew that the whole book was wrong, because a sword came into my story and I didn't know what it was until I thought and thought about it (it turned out to be King Arthur's sword) and darn it, wouldn't you know, it was the heart and soul of that story too. So I had to rewrite the whole book. ARRGH!

Well, Ben's mother didn't wait as long as the sword. She showed up in the first chapter. I knew from that point on what she was doing in my story: she was the reason Ben's heart has turned to ice; the reason he can't make friends; the reason he can't read books anymore. Once I knew the mother's central role in my story, and figured out how she died, it was my job to help Ben to help himself to come to terms with his grief and his feeling that it was his fault his mother died. The carving of a beautiful ship, a Viking ship (his mom loved the Vikings as much as I do), was an act of creation for her and he even named it for her -- so bringing her to life again in the only way he could.

So to answer your question about how I thought of the plot: it was the combination of place (L'Anse Aux Meadows), a boy who carved model ships, and the loss of the boy's mother that worked together to make the plot. Also, of course, I tried to draw parallels between Ben as a 20th century newcomer to Newfoundland and Tor and Karlsefni etc. as 10th century newcomers to Newfoundland. Neither Ben nor the Vikings found it to be a very hospitable place, and for both him and the Vikings the reasons were due to what was in their own hearts.

Hope I haven't made it all seem too complicated!

I'm glad you liked Ben as a character. I loved him very much, myself. (For that matter, I still do!) It was as if he was my own kid all the time I was writing the story, so that when he did mean, stuck-up things I wished he hadn't, and when I got into his mind and understood why he did them I cried for him and understood. To me Ben seems very real, even alive, and in odd moments when I'm daydreaming or lying awake at night he comes and visits me in my mind. Some kids have asked me whether I'd write a sequel to Out of the Dark, but I think Ben's story is now his own. I've helped him to grow and change so that he can live his life happily from now on. That's all any mom (author) can do.


Did you go to Guernsey when you wrote Witchery Hill and are there really witch's seats on the chimneys? Was there really a Trepied tomb? What about the books of magic spells?

Yes, I went to Guernsey. Yes, there really are witch's seats on some of the chimneys of the older houses on the island. Here is a picture of one. Sorry it's so hard to see. In the big picture it's on the chimney that is two to the right of the one the white line points to. That is, the witch's seat is on the brown chimney with the orange pointy cap that is on the orange roof of the white house. The leaves at the top of the tree are just underneath it.



There really is a Trepied tomb. I was unable to get a decent photo of it, but here is a sketch of it.



Witches did indeed hold sabbats for centuries on top of Trepied tomb, and in fact, when I was in Guernsey I was told that they still do.

As for the books of magic spells, yes, Le Petit Albert and Le Grand Albert really exist, and there is a legend that one of the only six copies in existence of Le Grand Albert is on Guernsey, and that you can't get rid of it if you somehow get hold of it. I made up Le Vieux Albert , though.


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