When I think about my first visit to Iceland, I remember riding a stocky Icelandic horse along a meandering fjord framed by mountains in Akureyri. I also recall spending a sunny but chilly morning in Isafjordur at an outdoor café eating delicious cake and drinking coffee while watching a lively, happy group of preschoolers as they played in the town square wearing galoshes and brightly colored knitted caps. Throughout my trip, the spectacular, otherworldly landscape of geysers, mountains, and barren lands of Iceland delivered one surprising and beautiful vista after another.
But the part of my first visit that inspired me most was seeing Thingvellir: site of the great crevasse in the rock where the Parliamentary Althing was held each summer until 1798. I learned about the judgment process, the job of the Law speaker, and saw both Gallows Rock and the Drowning Pool. The fierce eddy of the Drowning Pool had been altered since two women were drowned there in 1705, but the placard with the names and dates of those who died there was very real and I felt like a story about these remarkable events needed to be told.
That same trip also took me to the Western coast of Norway and Scotland and I began to understand the far-reaching influence and migration of the Nordic people throughout northern Europe and the North Sea islands. Being of Norwegian heritage, the connection intrigued me. When I returned home, I began researching the history of Iceland around the time of the last drownings and learned that was also a time when a worldwide pandemic of smallpox struck both Norway and Iceland. A story began to take form in my mind.
Having worked in school libraries, I thought about the appeal of the Young Adult book format – short chapters with a bit of a cliff-hanger at the end of each. And ever since reading Pippi Longstocking as a child, a strong female protagonist has been my favorite. So, Lara of the North was born.
The story begins with 15-year-old Lara living in Iceland, but I also wanted to incorporate what I learned about my family in Norway.. So Lara became fugitive from Iceland and was determined to reconnect and take refuge with her extended family in Norway. Then the problem of how to get her across the ocean from Iceland to Norway presented itself. I read accounts of people who made the journey in small boats, but they had help and navigational equipment. I looked at a map and saw that the Faroe Islands are located between Iceland and Norway.
After taking another trip, this time to the Faroe Islands and the eastern side of Iceland, I could see that a detour to the Faroe Islands was an answer and also provided some additional interesting details and characters in Lara’s story.
I posted photos I took in each country by my writing table to immerse myself in the landscapes and cultures. I also included in the narrative many of the things I learned while visiting and researching the three countries, like the smallpox pandemic that had devastating consequences for all three countries. At one point, one of my beloved characters died of smallpox and I had to close my laptop and cry for a bit. Of course, I knew it was going to happen, and it was necessary to move the story forward, but still – I felt the loss.
Because hidden folk narratives are strong in the Nordic countries, a mysterious creature plays an important role in Lara’s story. Along Lara’s journey, different characters appeared and as they developed, I felt great satisfaction when villains met their match or demise and heroes were vindicated, including Lara. It’s a story of murder, adventure, danger, romance, loss, friendship, and ultimately, of love.
If you’ve been to Iceland, you will recognize some of the features of the landscape in the story. If you haven’t, I hope you’ll be inclined to travel there. I believe that the history and culture of Iceland will inspire you as it did me.
Amy Henrickson’s most recent book, Lara of the North, is set in Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and Norway between the years of 1705 – 1708. Research for this book took her to all three countries where the people, culture, landscape, and history captured her imagination and fueled her writing. Henrickson recently became a business member of INLUS after meeting President Sunna Olafson Furstenau at the Norsk Hostfest in Minot, ND. You can follow Ms Hen’s Pen on Instagram and Facebook. Her website is www.mshenspen.com. Email Amy at MsHensPen@gmail.com. She’d love to hear from you.