I went to Iceland in October and I came back a changed writer. Before I write about the single most magical place on the planet I’ve visited and what happened, we need some backstory.
I’m not a particularly well travelled person. I’m also not someone with an enormous wunderlust who is always destination dreaming. I do have a list, a short list, dominated by places I want to go in order to do certain things rather than just seeing places. Iceland was top of that list. And anyway, my travel dreams are usually about places that don’t exist, where sorcery is real and you can find goblins and flying reptiles in deserts protected by shape shifters. In other words, BA doesn’t fly there. But Iceland is different. Iceland I have dreamed about for years in both waking and sleeping dreams. It’s my go to place for landscape images and of elements of nature when I’m thinking about where to set a scene or build the countryside of Barclan and the other kingdoms. It’s one of the few places where, when I read about it, see images, or watch programmes about it on television, I get that little flutter of longing deep in my chest. It also has nordic and germanic mythology wrapped around its coastline which I personally love.
So why hadn’t I gone before? I can’t answer that. Honestly I don’t know. The point is, I did go. And it wasn’t just any old trip. I went to Iceland on a yoga retreat organised by Reclaim Yourself with a bunch of about 17 strangers from all over the world and my aunt who is best described as a feminist pagan extrovert, essential if you are an extrovert IT nerd who happens to write books but isn’t great in big groups. The trip was more than I could have hoped for. By noon on day one I realised that I was seeing and experiencing the places I had written into Hummingbird, and Giant’s Echo which is being edited at the moment, and book 3 which is 27 pages so far.
Hummingbird opens with the cosmology of the Gods creating the world and I think Iceland is where all four of them stood as they sang their songs of creation and brought the world to be. The Godafoss waterfall is, I’m sure, where Evram beat her tiny hummingbird wings, bent her head, and began her song of weeping. It’s where her teardrops formed a puddle, then a trickle, then a mighty river that crashes and roars and pours across the faceless world giving it emotion and sound and a feeling that you can only describe as alive.
There is so much I could write about in this blog post, a lot of specific experiences, but I want to keep it general because for each thing that I did or saw, I keep coming back to my Goddess. An’dorna the giantess who clapped her great hands and cracked the world. She who stamped her feet and raised mountains and whose voice made the earth quake and the land fall away to be filled by the sea. The Goddess who went to sleep after the songs had ended, and became a mountain herself.
Each night I kept my curtains open, my eyes open and my mind open and rested my weary head on a soft pillow, staring at my giant stone Goddess asleep in the mountains that kept guard over the valley. At night I stayed awake and felt a deep sense of belonging; to the dark, to the quiet, to the stillness. I felt vulnerable and small when the sun rose and I watched the way the light, moving faster than anything in our universe, could only manage a sluggish crawl up the mountain face illuminating peaks where the snow never melts. An’dorna, asleep so close to me, this Goddess I’ve created in my mind was never my creation. She is just a name I’ve given to let my mind wrap around how humbling it is to look at something truly timeless.
When I wrote about Xynel and Shaa I was thinking about how in nature unity, chaos and destruction are all words we’ve created to describe what happens around us because we fear what we see. We have created entire civilisations, buildings, financial institutions, weapons of war, religions, rules and science to make us feel in control and safe. We’ll do anything to take away that yoke of vulnerability that we feel because deep down we know we really are nothing in the grand scale of time. Whether we are or are not alone in the universe, we are frightened. I made Shaa a grotesque hunchback who’s reflection is that of absolute beauty because I wanted a very simple way of having an actual being that is the extreme of how we as people see the world. Things, ideas, concepts, even other people are either something we like or something we don’t. I gave Shaa both those elements and then I made him the unifying God because he had to step back and see himself before he could influence the others. Xynel was the beautiful corruption, the phantom. She is the mean, nasty, horrible comments we sometimes say to ourselves but never say out loud. And she’s what we do say aloud when we cause pain and upset. She’s the feelings that we pretend we don’t have and the guilt that we trap ourselves in because we feel like with everything we’ve built we’ve elevated ourselves above mere animal. But we are what we are. She is what she is. A force of nature who blows away and destroys that which is so carefully created, crafted and planned. And that was everywhere in Iceland. I stood on pseudo-craters blown out by water and molten rock. Lava fields with conglomerations that look like troll heads from the right angle. A world that is beautiful because it is sharp and can cut you. Land that is black hard rock which sparkles and shines if it catches the sun because nothing is what it seems if you just bend down and take a closer look. I stood next to a chimney spewing gas that smelled like eggs and corpses, and was choked on the scent of the world forming literally at my feet. I pictured Shaa breathing his unifying breath as Xynel stood in the smoke, her phantom form shimmering in and out of view. The sound coming from the natural vents is as loud as a jet engine, you have to shout to be heard. I imagined that in-between the deafening rumble of the world forming, I could hear the faint echo’s of An’dorna’s claps that shook and shattered and shaped the world.
How am I a changed writer? I care more because I met the Gods I created.
I care about my Gods. I care about my kings and queens and sorcerers and soldiers. I care about the world I’ve created. I want to give them richer experiences because I’ve stood at the spot where the world was made. And I’ve sat with An’dorna and watched time pass under her gaze. I’ve seen the hazy figure of Xynel challenging Shaa on the planes where the world is still being born from their song of chaos. I felt the spray from the water Evram cried onto the world.
I came back with a sense or calm about writing book 3. Normally my writing habit is organic and haphazard and a little bit frantic. I keep notes and track details but I don’t sit and plan the story through, it evolves. That approach isn’t going to work for book 3. I changed in Iceland when I saw my fantasy world in-front of my eyes. Now, the trick is to write my world so you can see it as clearly as I can.