Giles Kristian’s bestselling Viking trilogies have been acclaimed by peers, reviewers and readers alike. Wings of the Storm, the final instalment of the Rise of Sigurd trilogy, was shortlisted for the HWA Gold Crown in 2017. His new novel, Lancelot, published this month, is an epic reimagining of the story of King Arthur’s most famous knight. You can win a signed copy in our May giveaway!
What is your earliest memory?
I remember standing in my parents’ bedroom, knowing that they were upset. The TV was talking about Elvis having died, and my dad was a huge fan. But I was only just over two years old when the King left the building, so surely I wasn’t aware of it at the time? Perhaps the news was reporting on the anniversary of his death. Then again, maybe it’s a bona fide memory from August 1977.
When and where were you happiest?
For twenty years we had a family cottage amongst the fjords on the west coast of Norway, not far from beautiful Bergen. I never felt more at peace with myself and the world than when I was there. It was life stripped back to the simple pleasures. Fishing for one’s dinner. Exploring pine-covered islands. Boat trips, log fires, board games and long walks. I’ll stop there. We don’t have that cottage anymore and I suspect tears aren’t good for my laptop.
What keeps you awake at night?
Oh, you know, the usual: existential dread, fear of disease/death/the apocalypse/old age/forgetting to pack the kids’ snacks for school. In the daylight I’m immortal. Lying in the dark at midnight I’m a coward.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Not to feed one’s delusions or anything! Actually, I can’t say I identify with anyone as such, but I am a fan of Harald Hardrada. Harald was an adventurer who lived his life to the full. He is remembered for his ill-fated invasion of England and his death at Stamford Bridge, but these events simply mark the end of an incredible life, a great journeying arc of warfare spanning thirty-five years and one which must have made Harald Sigurdsson one of the most widely travelled men of his age. What I like about Harald, other than him being the über Viking (albeit a Christian one) in terms of his wander-lust, his martial prowess and his obvious charisma, is that he had an ambition and never let go of it. 17 years after his first battle, at Stiklestad, he became sole ruler of Norway, a prize he had coveted for so many years. I also like that, as well as being the most feared warrior in Europe, Harald was a keen poet. It is said he was even composing poetry during his last battle. Ultimately, of course, his ambition got the better of him and he met a painful end, if a very fitting one for a self-respecting Viking. At the Battle of Stamford Bridge he was cut down with his loyal men all around him.
In Harald’s Saga, Snorri Sturluson says of Harald that he was: ‘So much taller and stronger than most men, and so shrewd that he won the victory wherever he fought, and so rich in gold that no-one had ever seen the like of it.’ I reckon Harald would’ve been happy with that.
Who are your heroes in real life?
Teachers amaze me, particularly primary school teachers. Their patience and tolerance thresholds would impress the Dalai Lama. I just don’t know how they do it. Teaching my little boy to read, I’d start off quietly determined, cheerfully pointing out elements of the illustration and admiring the simplicity of the storyline. Ten minutes later and my toes are clenched, my hair is standing in tormented tufts and I’m hoping the car pulling into the drive has come to cart me off to the lunatic asylum.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a soldier until I realised that I wouldn’t be able to blindly follow orders. I think too much. Always have. I wanted to be a goalkeeper for many years and had trials for Leicester City. Then I wanted to be a singer. I sang at the likes of the Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena, appeared twice on Top of the Pops and played concerts with Eric Clapton, Dame Shirley Bassey, Take That and The Spice Girls. But after four hit records, two record deals and years of touring, I returned to my deepest and most enduring ambition: to be a published novelist.
What’s the worst job you’ve done?
In light of my unorthodox working life, can I substitute this with worst gig? We once played a gig in a rough nightclub. Our opening song was a ballad, the kind you start on stools before breaking out at the key change towards the faintingly-excited fans. In theory. Only, this club was ROUGH. And we were sitting on stools on a stage which would rise up from the depths into the middle of the club. And as we began to rise through the laser-lit fog of dry ice, we were greeted not by screams of thrilled anticipation but by deafening bellows of abuse. The lads in the place, who understandably didn’t want us there singing to their girlfriends, had massed around the hole in the floor, waiting for us to emerge. It was at this point I wished we were starting our set with a more upbeat number. Anyway, it wasn’t long before one misguided youth made a grab for my leg, thinking he’d pull me off the stage. I let fly with my left foot as though I was taking a goal kick and didn’t see that chap again for a while. We finished our set and afterwards sat down for an ill-advised signing, which degenerated into a brawl. In a bust-up with the locals, there are disadvantages to being a four-piece boyband, particularly if one of the four is ‘the cute one’. We fled to the waiting tour van, its wheels screeching as a bottle of Malibu rum smashed through the window, showering us with glass. Ah, good times.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I still can’t quite believe I write stories for a living. I guess in some ways I feel unqualified. I didn’t read books as a child and I’ve never done a creative writing class. I dropped out of university after a few months and I’m not convinced I know the proper use of the semicolon. But then, once I set my mind on something, I’d like to see anyone try to stop me.
Where is your favourite historical place?
The Norwegian fjords. When I’m there, I’m in the past. I’m a hundred hopes and fears of the journey to come. A hundred joys at coming home to hearth and kin.
Which book changed your life?
When I was fourteen, I caught glandular fever. They called it kissing disease. I couldn’t possibly comment on that, but I was off school poorly for many weeks. To alleviate my boredom and no doubt to stop me watching TV, my mum bought me a fantasy novel. The front cover showed a barbarian gripping a war hammer, a dwarf armed with an axe, and a dark elf down on one knee, tracking blood in the snow. It was The Crystal Shard, the first book in the Icewind Dale Trilogy by R.A. Salvatore, and the first novel I read voluntarily. It led me to Terry Brooks, David Gemmell and, of course, Tolkien. Who knows if I’d have ended up writing novels were it not for The Crystal Shard? I suspect I got more than I’ll ever know from that fateful kiss.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
If I tell you, it’ll ruin it. I do enjoy watching YouTube videos of stupid people eating stupidly hot chillies. Oh, and turning my books face out on bookstore shelves. Obvs.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What is your greatest regret?
I stopped playing football too early. I was twenty when I moved to London. I had a record deal and lived with my bandmate, Chris, in Maida Vale. I stopped playing competitive football at that time and I wish I hadn’t. I love it so much! Also, I wish I’d read more when I was younger. I’ll never catch up now.
Which talent would you most like to have?
I wish I could play the piano. If I could play the piano, I’d be Ludovico Einaudi and you can’t prove I wouldn’t.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Philip Stevens, who plays Harald Hardrada in our short film, The Last Viking. Not only is Phil a talented actor and director, he knows me well enough to ensure that he won the Oscar so that I could tag along to the after-show party.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
Thermopylae, Greece, 480 BC. Probably best not to stay too long though.
Where would you most like to be right now?
On Kurumba island in the Maldives, reading a good book beneath a palm tree with my feet in the sand and a G&T in my hand.
What is your most treasured possession?
My original three-bar ‘lobster-tail’ pot. It’s the iconic cavalry helmet of the English (or British) Civil War. I love that I can put on a helmet which someone wore three hundred and seventy years before me in the hope it would keep him alive in battle. We’ll never know whether or not it did, but it got me in the mood for a scene or two when writing my Civil War books.
Which musicians are currently on your playlist?
Karine Polwart’s album A Pocket of Wind Resistance is a mesmerising mix of music, poetry and prose. I’ve been reminiscing recently by playing a lot of 90s alternative rock: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden. The other night at a dinner party we were passing Spotify around the table, each of us playing our song of choice very loud. I put on Jeremy by Pearl Jam. I think one other person out of ten appreciated it. Now that I think about it, everyone went home soon after.
What is your motto?
Train hard, fight easy. I don’t like being unprepared for things, be it a book talk or a turn on the karaoke. Particularly the latter. If I’m going to sing Livin’ on A Prayer, I want to know in advance, so I can wear my tight pants for the high notes.
Reaching the high notes in Livin’ on A Prayer.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Currently it’s Alicia Donadio from Justin Cronin’s series The Passage. I’d like to meet her.
What is top of your bucket list?
To spend four weeks with my family cruising around the Med on a very nice yacht.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I’m cross-dominant. If you’re right-handed, chances are you do everything with your right hand. However, cross-dominance – also known as mixed handedness – is a manifestation of motor skills where the dominance is mixed. For example, having left eye dominance while being right-handed. I write with my right hand but throw with my left. I shoot a bow left-handed but would fence with my right. When I was made, they messed up the wiring.
Author photo © Lauren Hulme