A chapter in a children’s history book began local author John Ingham’s lifelong fascination with Vikings, the seafaring raiders and traders from Scandinavia.
“I was probably about nine or 10 years old when I read it. I just thought these wild men were far more interesting than everybody else. What really grabbed my imagination though, was what incredible globetrotters they were: we know for sure they got to Newfoundland, and at least as far east as the Caspian Sea, and as far south as Baghdad.”
Award-winning environmental journalist John, who also has a PhD in history from Durham University, continued to devour information about the Vikings, including the works of 13th Century Icelandic historian, politician and poet Snorri Sturluson, who captured stories about Norse culture in the book Prose Edda. In December 2022, John added his own Viking epic to the genre, with the publication of his novel, Blood-Eagle Saga.
Drawing inspiration from vivid descriptions of Norse legends in the narrative poems of the Poetic Edda, as well as from one of his favourite books Beowulf, Blood-Eagle Saga is written in verse, and begins with a Viking warlord sheltering in his longhouse during a Scandinavian winter. When an Icelandic skald (a storytelling poet) knocks at the door, the warlord invites him in but says that he must tell the people in the house a story in return. The stakes are high: a noose is placed around the skald’s neck and he is informed that, in order to live, his audience must like the tale he tells.
And so the skald describes a legendary adventure of mutiny, a chase across the Atlantic and a meeting with Native Americans, another of John’s interests.
“I spent two years in America as a post-grad, where I looked at native American culture and visited the sites of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and the Battle of Wounded Knee. The Vikings and the Native Americans were formidable warriors, and the book explores what happens when they clash.”
The ‘blood-eagle’ in the title of John’s book, refers to a savage method of execution that is woven into Viking mythology:
“The blood-eagle is really horrible: they would break your ribs from behind with a knife or an axe, and pull your lungs out through the opening so they resembled wings. As if that wasn’t cruel enough, you would still be alive when this was happening and, if you were a proper warrior, you would be expected to stay silent. However, nobody knows if any Vikings actually used this horrific punishment, or whether it is just something they invented to terrify their enemies!”
Myth or not, this torturous threat hangs over the plot of Blood-Eagle Saga, with readers unsure who will be the one to suffer this horrendous death.
John has lived in Bletchingley for almost 25 years and is hugely appreciative of the countryside around him:
“We’re really lucky to live somewhere as beautiful as this. I love walking, and I’m a keen bird watcher, so it’s just great to open the front door and be able to set straight off on the footpaths and bridleways around our house. It’s a really lovely part of the world, but it still has easy links to get into London.”
It was on his morning commute that John began writing Blood-Eagle Saga.
“I’m not a fan of travelling on busy trains, but I found that writing helped me blot all the noise out. It did take me a long time to finish the book, because I was too tired to write on the way home after work, and I would also get sent away on jobs from time to time, but it was something I wanted to do, and I really enjoyed the process.”
As part of his promotion of Blood-Eagle Saga, John visited Caterham Valley Library on World Book Day (2 March) to read excerpts from it.
John began working for the Daily Express in 1989. His work allowed him to highlight environmental crises and solutions across the world, and he was the recipient of awards such as the British Trust for Ornithology’s Dilys Breese Medal in 2013, and Energy and Environment Journalist of the Year at the 2021 Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards.
You can read more about John, and buy Blood-Eagle Saga on his website.