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Even Vikings Like
a Little Peace
by Anne E. Johnson
When I was about to start the research for my historical romance novelette, A Kiss at Vespers, I knew a few things for sure: I wanted it to take place in Ireland, in a monastery, and during the early Middle Ages.
I rolled up my sleeves at the research library, finding all kinds of helpful info in Conleth Manning’s Early Irish Monasteries and Tadhg O’Keeffe’s Medieval Ireland, among other sources. It wasn’t important to me to use a monastery that actually existed. In fact, I often find in writing historical fiction that approximation of what could have existed allows for much greater freedom in storytelling. Therefore, I chose elements known about real medieval Irish monasteries to create the fictional Abbey of St. Luran’s.
The most interesting item I found in my reading was the architectural layout of such early Irish monasteries. Besides the buildings used for worship, dining, and sick bay, there would be small stone huts, or clochán, arranged in a circle. These would serve as dwellings for the monks. The fact that there’s an empty clochán to temporarily house the main character, Asta, when she arrives at the monastery, becomes a central element in the story.
Once I’d built my monastery, I needed some historical context for Asta’s life before she’s shipwrecked there. I used the classic trope of a girl disguising herself as a boy in order to get onto a ship. But where was she coming from, and why was she heading to Ireland?
Trade seemed like the obvious answer: I made her father a merchant in Britain, specifically in the town of Chester, which was the base for major trading interests in the early Middle Ages. The obvious question, though, was, what about Vikings? Would there really have been any kind of safe trade to Ireland’s east coast in the early Eleventh century.
And the answer was yes! Thanks to Timothy O’Neill’s Merchants and Mariners in Medieval Ireland, I learned that, right around this time, the Vikings in the Dublin area were getting sick of marauding. They were starting to turn a little town that they’d attacked many times into a peaceful and prosperous trading center. It was the beginning of what we think of as the city of Dublin.
So now I had a perfect reason for Asta to travel to Ireland: she was bored and in love with a sailor, so she stowed away on one of her father’s trading vessels. Her father, being an innovative and informed businessman, was taking the risk of sending a ship to the burgeoning new market on Ireland’s east coast.
But, of course, that’s all just scenery. This is actually a love story about a young woman and a rather mysterious monk. That part didn’t require too much research!
* * * * *Book Blurb for A Kiss at Vespers:
In 1008 AD, Dublin is just a small town, newly opened to trade now that Viking violence there has died down. A young woman named Asta runs away from her boring life in Britain on one of her father’s trading vessels bound for Dublin, hoping that she and the sailor she loves can find a new life together. But when shipwreck takes him from her, her whole world changes. She is helped up the rocky shores of eastern Ireland by handsome and enigmatic Brother Martinus, who takes her to the Monastery of St. Luran’s to recover. Despite his vows of silence and chastity, Brother Martinus is entranced by the beautiful maiden who seems delivered to him by Providence. Their unexpected relationship causes both of them to rethink their concepts of faith and love.
* * * * *About Anne E. Johnson:
Drawing on her eclectic background, which includes degrees in classical languages and musicology, Anne E. Johnson has published in a wide variety of topics and genres. She's written non-fiction books for children with the Rosen Group and feature articles for adults in serials such as The New York Times and Stagebill Magazine.
As the author of nearly thirty published short stories, she has won writing prizes for both children's and adults' short fiction. For a complete list of her publications, please visit her website.
Anne lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband, playwright Ken Munch.
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