51. 'God's Hammer' by Eric Schumacher

Friday 24 March 2017

It is 935 A.D. and the North is in turmoil. The Norse king, Harald Fairhair, has died, leaving the High Seat of the realm to his murderous son, Erik Bloodaxe. To solidify his rule, Erik ruthlessly kills all claimants to his throne, save one: his teenage brother Hakon, who is being raised in the Christian courts of Engla-lond. Summoned by the enemies of Erik, young Hakon returns to the Viking North to face his brother and claim his birthright, only to learn that victory will demand sacrifices beyond his wildest nightmares.

Eric reached out to me to see if I'd be interested in reviewing his debut novel, God's Hammer and I was intrigued from the moment I read the synopsis. I have previously been living in the Dark Ages with my last book review, and I wasn't quite ready to let go of the era. 

To kick off my review, I asked Eric to take part in a Q + A session, and he willingly obliged. I think this will be an element of my reviews that I will continue to include, as I really feel that I and my readers get to learn more about the author which is always a bonus! 

Where did the initial concept for the book come from?

I’ve been a huge fan of Dark Age history my entire life. When I was in my late twenties, I heard about the book Heimskringla, or The Lives of the Norse Kings, a collection of sagas written by the Icelandic skald, Snorre Sturlason. In that collection was the story of Hakon the Good, or Hakon Haraldsson. I was drawn to Hakon’s story for a number of reasons. While we don't know all of the facts of Hakon's life or whether those “facts” recounted in Snorre’s saga are entirely true, we do know that even if marginally true, Hakon's story takes many of the norms of Viking literature and turns them on their head. In many ways, Hakon is the anti-Viking, yet a memorable hero nonetheless. And that's precisely what drew me to him.

Here are a few examples of what I mean:

The sagas and literature are bursting with tales of strong, fearsome Viking warriors. When Hakon returns from England to fight for the High Seat, he is approximately fourteen. In other words, his body is not fully developed. While he may have been strong or large for his age (we have no way of knowing), he is anything but the Beowulf-esque champion we think of when he think of a challenger to the throne of Norway.

What Hakon lacked in physical strength, he must surely have made up for with internal strength. During his time, the Norse worshiped the "old gods", and many stories speak of Viking raids on Christian realms and churches. Yet, along comes the story of Hakon, a lone Christian boy fighting for the throne of his "pagan" homeland. The pagans look at him askance and urge him to convert, yet Hakon holds fast to his beliefs. That type of courage, to me, is a fascinating spin on the traditional Viking yarn.

But lest we forget, Hakon is a Northman and they liked their battles. His ambition to rule his father's realm is no different than the ambition of the brother he seeks to dethrone. Only I saw Hakon as fighting two battles, one against his brother and one against himself. His faith in many ways is his greatest strength and his greatest weakness. How easy it could have been for him to shed his beliefs and earn the favor of his countrymen. But in GOD'S HAMMER, he didn't, and it plagues him.
All of this conflict and internal strife grabbed me, so much so that I wrote GOD'S HAMMER and continue to work on Hakon's tale.

Tell us about yourself, how did you come to be an author?

Someone once asked me, “How can you look at words on a screen all day long?” My response was this: "I don’t. I see images in my head and put words to those.” That is what I want to wake up and do every day.

But in the words of McCartney and Lennon, getting to that point as been a “long and winding road”. I’ve written my entire life. Even as a child, I was writing stories and loved writing assignments in school. However, I never considered writing as a career. It just never occurred to me that I could make a living at it. If it had, I would have taken different subjects and possibly gone to a different university. The idea of being an author finally struck me in my second year of business school. Of course, the timing could not have been worse. I was buried under school loans and three months away from graduation. But I decided two things at that moment: that I would try to write a novel and that to fund my endeavour, I would focus on my business career. That is one of the reasons it took me so long to complete God’s Hammer! Today, I still run my own PR agency, but I’ve gotten better at balancing the two pursuits.

Did you face any challenge when writing God's Hammer, if so what were they and how did you overcome them?

For God’s Hammer, there were three main challenges. The first was simply finding the balance between life’s pressures (work, kids, mortgage, etc) and writing. I’ve gotten better at it, but am a long way from being good at it. The second challenge was that it was my first novel. I’d written short stories and poems and plenty of business-related pieces, such as articles and press releases. But this was the first time I had undertaken something so large. Often was the time I’d pursue a path in the story only to have it end up at a dead end. Or try to weave a subplot into the tale and have it not work. And then there was the challenge of blending historical fact with an engrossing story. The two don’t always match up so well. Figuring out a way to stick to the history and tell a good story was a real puzzle, but one I thorough enjoyed.

Any writing tips for aspiring authors?

If you truly want to follow this path, write regularly, make it often, and stick with it. The “sticking with it” part, in my opinion, is one of the most important. If you’re like me, you may find it hard to carve out a regular time to write, but if you stick with it, you’ll eventually get somewhere. 

Finally - chose 5 famous figures, dead or alive to have a dinner party with?

Man, that’s a great question! There are so many historical figures I’d love to meet. But if I had to narrow it down to five, I’d say the five founders of the world’s major religions: Jesus, Abraham, Mohammed, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), and whoever first started preaching the Hindu faith. I’d love to hear them have a peaceful discussion at the table about the similarities and differences of their faiths, and share with them the impact (both good and bad) those faiths have had on the lives of people through the ages. That, I think, would be fascinating! 

Thank you Eric for such thoughtful answers, I'm sure my readers would agree that your passion for the Dark Ages and surrounding history, and love for writing comes through so very strongly, and I've enjoyed giving you a platform to promote your work on my blog! I can strongly relate to wanting to be a writer from childhood especially. There is something so magical about communicating with countless others through written text.

Purchase Eric's novel hereBe sure to check back here tomorrow to read my review in full!

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