Lewes author Rachel Burge draws on Norse legend

Lewes author Rachel Burge draws on Norse legend for her latest book, The Crooked Mask (Hot Key Books/Bonnier, £6.49 paperback, £4.49 Kindle on Amazon).

Monday, 22nd February 2021, 12:00 pm
Rachel Burge
Rachel Burge

Rachel, aged 45, said: “The Crooked Mask is the follow-up novel to The Twisted Tree, a ghost story set in the remote snows of Norway during the dark time when there are only a few hours of light each day.

“Don’t worry if you haven’t read the first book. The Crooked Mask features the same main character but is a self-contained story and can be enjoyed as a stand-alone.

“Both books are ghost stories and have some frightening moments, so are recommended for ages 12 and up to adults. Interestingly, adult readers seem to find the book much scarier than teenagers. I’ve had grown men and women tell me that they were afraid to look in the shadows after reading my stories. As a writer, that’s the best compliment there is. My aim is to keep people reading – turning the pages to read just one more chapter before bedtime, and I’m secretly thrilled to think that my writing has sent a shiver through someone or made them think twice before they turn off the light!

“Both The Twisted Tree and The Crooked Mask are set in modern times but are based on ancient Norse legend. Many authors before me have plundered Norse mythology for story ideas, including Neil Gaiman and Joanne Harris, but whereas they grew up with the tales of the Norse gods, I came to them late in the day and via an unconventional source.

“It was on a tarot course run by a lady named Maddy Elruna, who is based in Rose Hill, just outside of Lewes, that I first came up with the idea for the books.

“As well as being a gifted tarot reader, Maddy is a shaman who follows a Norse path. This means she believes in gods like Odin, Loki and Hel as real beings who she communicates with by journeying spiritually.

“As she was explaining the meaning of the tarot cards, Maddy told stories of the Norse gods and there was one in particular which really captured my imagination – The Hanged Man.

“Maddy explained how the card is associated with Odin who is the god of many things including poetry, war, wisdom and magic. One day, Odin knocked upon the door of the Norns, wanting to learn the secrets of fate. Older and more powerful than the gods, these are the three women who weave destiny in the world tree Yggdrasil.

“When the Norns wouldn’t give him the answers he sought, Odin hanged himself from the tree and was almost at the point of death when he saw the runes bubble up in the well beneath him.

“As a writer, I wondered if there could be more to the story – what if a woman helped Odin after he cut himself down from the tree and they started a new family line together. What would their modern-day descendent be like and what kind of powers might she have? It was this thought which led to the character of Martha.

“Whereas The Twisted Tree is set in an isolated cabin in the Lofoten Islands, the events of The Crooked Mask take place in a creepy, magical circus, located in the snowy forests of Northern Norway.

“For the sequel, I wanted Martha to learn more about the gods and their stories. I came up with the idea of a circus troupe who base their performances on Norse mythology.

“This allowed me to introduce the reader to a host of new gods and write a play within a play so that the themes and ideas brought to life in the performances are mirrored in the plot.

“For this book, I focused on the myth of the giant wolf, Fenrir.

“One of Loki’s three ‘monstrous’ children, Fenrir poses a terrible threat to the gods. When the Norns predict that Odin will be devoured by the wolf at Ragnarok, he takes Fenrir from his mother and decides to raise him in Asgard under the watchful eye of the gods...”