Lily Byrne Talks About “Ragnar the Just”

I’m excited to welcome my good friend and fellow writer Lily Byrne back to my blog today to talk about her latest, Ragnar the Just.  This third book in her Ragnar series is unique in that it is an M/M romance.  Here’s what she has to say about it….

Could you start by giving us a brief summary of Ragnar the Just?

916 A.D.   After the horror of the wolf cult last year, life has settled down in Hallby and Byrnham villages.   Or has it?   In the third book in the series, following ‘Ragnar the Murderer’ and ‘Ragnar & the Slave Girls’, the relationship between Ragnar’s former enemy, Kjartan, with another man causes more violence and chaos in the villages… leading to murder.   It remains to Ragnar and the Jarl to bring order to troubled times …

How have the lives of your characters changed since Ragnar and the Slave Girls?

Ragnar and Aelfwyn have settled down into happy married life; Bjarni and Kjartan have new wives and children on the way. All the characters are conforming to the lives society expects, but one of them is not happy with his life and chooses to do something different.

What were the Vikings’ attitudes towards homosexuality and how does that affect your story?

I must point out that I don’t write about Viking seafarers, my characters are Danish settlers in 10th century Britain, but the Norse attitudes and culture remained a strong influence in every way, not just towards homosexuality.

Norsemen were extremely homophobic (even though ‘homophobic’ wasn’t a word in the 10th century of course). They did have words for homosexuality and homosexual acts though, which means they must have known it happened.

They were paranoid about being seen as unmanly, and anyone calling them effeminate or weak could legally be challenged to a duel. There is a long list of Norse homophobic insults, most of which had to be banned from use because so many men were getting killed in duels over their manliness, which was a pointless waste of good warriors.

They thought that if a man took the ‘female role’ in sex, it meant he was weak and would be easily overcome in battle or in matters of property. It was fine for a man to take the ‘male role’ in sex but this was generally done in battles to subdue the enemy. They couldn’t imagine sex occurring between men who loved each other, it would be an insult!

However, I did discover that the Anglo Saxons were rather less violent in their dislike of homosexuality. They were more likely to ignore it; even the Christian church was more concerned with the legitimacy of babies born, rather than who was doing what to whom. It seems that only in later centuries the Church became concerned and started punishing homosexuals.

In a way, preventing homosexuality has logical grounds: if people took themselves out of the gene pool by living in same sex couples, they would not produce children and so the society would falter with fewer people in the next generation. So it was impossible for people to live in exclusive gay relationships in such societies which lived on the knife edge of survival, as it would threaten everyone’s welfare. However, there is an old Norse saying which refers to men being more likely to become gay as they got older; having had children,  it then wasn’t so important if they then went off to have homosexual relationships.

As regards my story, I thought it would interesting to explore what would happen if a group of Norsemen discovered two of their number were having a gay relationship. It’s one of those ‘what if?’ questions that writers always think up: in this case I took a really macho culture, introduced some gay characters into it and found out what would happen. Obviously I’m sympathetic to my characters though and not making fun of them!

My main source of information was the Viking Answer Lady, Gunnora Hallakarva, who is a font of knowledge about Viking life: http://vikinganswerlady.com/gayvik.shtml

What prompted you to write an M/M romance?

I have written M/M fanfic before and wanted to write an original M/M story just to see if I could do it. I like going out of my comfort zone with my writing and making myself just a bit uneasy, often focusing on subjects that are unexpected or make people think about things they haven’t before. I’ve written about a relationship between a teacher and a student; people thrown together by a death; lovers from different cultures, in this case Saxon and Viking. I didn’t intend any of my characters to be gay, I just noticed that one of them was, as he gave himself away with his behaviour. So I thought ‘what would happen if I gave him a boyfriend?’ And then the story happened…!

Ragnar the Just is releasing soon after Ragnar and the Slave Girls.  What prompted you to release the two books so close together?

Because I wrote them both in the same year, my publisher, Tim Hewtson of Taylor Street Books, said ‘let’s get them out in a couple of months.’ He’s a fast worker!

What has been your experience of writing a series?  What have you learned through the process?  What would you do differently next time?

I didn’t intend Ragnar to be a series originally, it was just because my publisher liked Ragnar the Murderer and said ‘write some more of these’. So none of them were planned, I just had fun imagining what might happen afterwards to the characters.

I think I’ve learned to plan more because next time I’d make sure the first book in the series was a real blockbuster to get everyone’s attention. Ragnar the Murderer has a quieter storyline than the next two—Tim called it Viking Romeo and Juliet—but maybe Ragnar and the Slave Girls would have been a better opener.

I definitely recommend editing as well, it’s vital and can be fun. Ragnar the Murderer wasn’t edited due to lack of finances but the others have been. My editor has spotted some hilarious mistakes in my books!

And finally, what can we expect from you next?

I think I will write one more Ragnar book in a little while, I’ve kind of decided on the storyline, its hanging about in my subconscious waiting to be written. I will have to kill off one of the major characters though…

Another thing is that my daughter wants me to write children’s books with her, so maybe we will. I get so much practice making up stories for her at bedtime I have loads going round in my head.

Thanks so much, Lily!

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