Tamara Goranson is the author of three works of historical fiction in the Vinland Viking series publishing with Harper Collins. She holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, and she works as a therapist in private practice with Adjunct Professor status at the University of Victoria. Tamara draws on her expertise as a psychologist to explore modern day trauma themes in her novels. Her previous work, including an award-winning creative nonfiction piece, has appeared in the Island Writer magazine.
The Voyage of Freydis sings the silenced tale of Freydis Eiriksdottir, the first and only woman to lead a Viking voyage across the Atlantic in this tempestuous retelling of the Vinland Sagas set at the dawn of the 11th century.
Interviewed by Naomi Racz
Naomi Racz (NR): What was the inspiration for The Voyage of Freydis?
Tamara Goranson (TG): In 2014, I visited the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC, which had a Viking exhibit. The exhibit showed that Vikings were more than just marauding villains, they had a rich culture, family was very important to them. I visited the museum’s bookstore and ended up buying a copy of The Vinland Sagas. There are just one or two paragraphs about Freydis Eiriksdöttir, who travelled to North America in around 1000 A.D. We’ve all heard of her brother, Leif the Lucky, and her father, Eirik Eiriksson, but very little is known about Freydis. In The Vinland Sagas she is portrayed as a nefarious woman, but in my revisionist retelling, I paint her as an innocent — as the victim of a domestic violence situation.
NR: What did the research process for the book look like?
TG: I did tonnes of research. I researched women in Viking culture. They didn’t have as many rights and freedoms as we like to think. They were married at 13 and expected to bear children, many died in childbirth. One of the topics the book explores is women in the Viking Age living in domestic violence situations. I’m a clinical psychologist and I’ve worked with lots of women who are victims of abuse trauma. The characters in the book aren’t based on a specific person or even an amalgamation of people I have seen in my practice, but through my work, I know how trauma manifests and it would have manifested in the same way for Freydis as it does for many modern-day victims of spousal abuse. She experiences so much emotional distress, and her character depicts the flatness and numbness that is part of the trauma experience. Her family, her mother and brother dismiss her. She risks everything and no one believes her.
In 2015, I visited Newfoundland and the L’Anse aux Meadows where a longhouse believed to be Leif’s was discovered. There’s a reconstruction of a longhouse at the site and there are reenactors. A skald, which was a Viking storyteller, played the lyre. It was a stormy day outside, but inside the longhouse it was quiet and warm and I could see steam rising off the skald’s wool trousers. I requested the story of Freydis, which he sang, and it was incredibly moving. I travelled all along the coast of Newfoundland and visited Beothuk sites as well.
I also worked with incredible editors. I worked with an Indigenous sensitivity reader. From her I learned that the Beothuk people painted themselves with red ochre not only because they revered the colour red, but also because it was an insect repellant.
NR: Without giving too much away, the book has an ending that I’m sure many readers will find difficult. What was your motivation for ending the book in this way?
TG: Well, firstly, there’s a sequel. So I wanted readers to want to keep reading. The ending is also true to history. It was also intentional because I wanted to show how, often, victims of abuse can’t escape their trauma memories. Even if they get away, there are emotional and physical scars. Abuse memories often take a long time to heal, and the abuse victim can suffer from a post trauma response that is significant. So, it was also a symbolic ending.
NR: You mentioned your work as a psychologist, but have you also always wanted to write?
TG: I’ve been passionate about writing since I was young. It’s always been in my blood. My father was a history teacher and my mother taught the creative arts. I had an English teacher who made the class write a novel when I was in Grade 7 and every week I had to hand in ten pages. I also work as a traumatologist with expertise in treating PTSD, so I have to be careful to guard against vicarious re-traumatization. That’s a large part of why I write. I don’t escape into television. Instead, I write to release my feelings and come to terms with my patients’ experiences.
NR: What was the most challenging part of writing the novel?
TG: I wrote the novel in first person present tense, which is really challenging, especially when writing about the past. But I wanted to show that Freydis’s experiences are relevant today. I had the good fortune to work with an excellent editor who provided some thought-provoking feedback that shaped the writing and the storytelling. I also have an excellent editor at Harper Collins. It really does take a team.
NR: Do you think you’ll keep writing about the Vikings or will you branch out?
TG: There are two sequels: The Flight of Anya and The Oath of Bjorn. I could keep writing about the Eirikssons. I love the sagas and I love writing about obscure Viking women.