Monday, June 3, 2013

Iceland, Vikings and the Birth of the “Heart” Trilogy

Gullfoss, “Golden Falls”
“Where do you get your ideas from?” is a question often posed to authors. Being a sharing type, I secretly enjoy the query and confess to a small delight when my answer brings looks of surprise and raised eyebrows.

Truth to tell, the seedlings of my “Heart” trilogy took root long ago, in a chilly land far away, one that sits just beneath the Arctic Circle —  the “Land of Ice and Fire” and of sagas — Iceland.

It was there, while living on this rugged island, that my interest in the Norsemen was fired and later led to my penning three Viking-age novels: The Valiant Heart, The Defiant Heart, and The Captive Heart.

Sod-roofed farm house, Árbær Museum, Reykjavík

Incredibly, forty-one years have passed since I stepped off the plane in Keflavík, Iceland, with a two-year old daughter and five-month old baby boy in my arms. That was in June of 1972. We were joining my husband for his tour of duty at the NATO base there. Thankfully, he met us at the plane, for I found myself standing against a wall of wind, feet moving on the tarmac and going nowhere fast. And I was freezing in my summer clothing! Once inside the terminal, I flung open my suitcase and disappeared into my winter coat for the next two years.

A warm woolen Icelandic sweater lurks beneath the trench coat!
Ah, but what an adventure those years held for us. The day of our arrival, Mark drove us to the shore at Sandgerði. As we stood looking out over the ocean, the sun blazed high overhead. It was midnight! Dusk arrived in the wee hours to briefly “kiss” the horizon before lifting again for another sunny day.

Winters, of course, were quite the reverse, for Iceland’s year is divided between six months of darkness and six months of daylight. During those months we were treated to the dazzling spectacle of the Aurora Borealis as well as to “winter whiteouts.” Blizzard conditions were broadcast as “Alpha,” “Bravo,” or “Charlie” to indicate whether to take shelter quickly or to not move from a location at all.

Typical gravel road
Spring and summer were the best times to tour the island. In the early 70’s there were only two paved highways in all of Iceland — one between Keflavík and the capital city of Reykjavík and the other in the major city in north, Akureyri. We invested in a “poppy red” Land Rover, joined the Base’s “Rover’s Club” and set out in convoy to see the sights.

Rovers’ Club

Our first trip took us through the interior “moonscape” of Iceland where astronauts trained for their missions. The first night I ever camped in my life was between two glaciers — Vatnajökull and Hofsjökull. Did I mention that Vatnajökull is the world’s largest glacier with ice a mile thick? Or that our heater went out during the night? I woke up so cold that I thought I had already died! Thankfully our lamp provided enough heat to see us through the night.  

A curious thing we discovered in Iceland’s desert interior was vertical stacks of stones along the roadside, every so many kilometers. These turned out to be “guideposts,” so to speak. They lead to small refuge huts and remain visible in deep snow.

Delightful companions, greeting us one morning
A great “plus” for camping in Iceland is that there are no wild animals or slithery things to worry about.  Only gentle sheep roam about and we awoke to their company more than once.

Next blog: Continuing adventures in Iceland


  1. Wow Kathleen, that is a HUGE adventure. What a life you've experienced.
    How much has Iceland changed in the forty years since you've been there?
    The pictures are wonderful. What a treasure for you and your children to have. (Love your Poppy Red Rover!)
    Looking forward to the pancakes,

  2. I can just picture you, shivering in the cold wind but still enjoying the spectacular beauty of Iceland. The narrow roads remind me of Scotland where one tracks (yes, only one lane wide, which makes passing a bit of a challenge) abound, and of course the long summer days makes me long for Alaska and the midnight sun. Despite those similarities, your pictures made me realize that Iceland is uniquely beautiful. I need to schedule a trip there, but until that's possible, I'll just reread your wonderful Heart trilogy.