For The Only One in the World writers Kerry Greenwood and David Greagg share "Hidden Treasure." Here Kerry and David talked with us about their story set in 17th Century Iceland, and what they learned writing it.
What is the most unexpected tidbit you learned while researching your story?
The seriously unexpected bit was reading The Story of the Confederates and discovering how different it was from all the other sagas. We already knew that Viking women had far more in the way of equal rights than in most contemporary cultures. And we knew also that law was extremely important in medieval Iceland. As it must be; for this was a violent society with no police force or standing army.
We also knew that the rich and powerful were not above helping out the poor and despised; simply because it was the right thing to do. A notable exemplar is the story Ale-Hood, where a number of chieftains band together to prevent a much-despised merchant from being ruined owing to bad luck. None of the chieftains actually like him; but their sense of natural justice is outraged; and they ensure that Ale-Hood gets off lightly.
The Confederates is Ale-Hood retold with an entirely different slant. In all the other sagas chieftains are generally portrayed very positively. As they would have to have been; for your continued position depended entirely on the goodwill of your adherents. If they didn’t like you they could declare allegiance to somebody else.
In our story we have similar themes – law, justice, and where necessary achieving your aims with cunning and trickery – but it is the chieftains themselves who are greedy and irresponsible. Ketill is the Ale-Hood of this story: always vulnerable to rapacious neighbours. It is the sturdy, independent farmer Ófeig who achieves justice for his estranged son by a mixture of bribery and cunning. When looking for a Viking Sherlock it seemed to us that we had found our man. Holmes was no respecter of persons for their rank alone. Neither is Ófeig.
What was your favourite thing about writing a story for The Only One in the World?
Our favourite moment was subverting the literary paradigms a little. Women in the sagas can be of high status (notably Unn the Deep-Minded in Laxdæla Saga); or they can be irredeemably awful, like Gunnar’s wife Hallgerd in Njáls Saga. All too rarely do they stray outside this dichotomy; although Gudrun (the main protagonist in Laxdæla Saga) is a singular exception.
We wanted to show a woman who does wrong to her husband; but is judged very leniently. We believe we have done so in a manner which medieval Icelanders would have accepted with little demur.
What is quintessentially Viking about your Holmes or Watson?
Our Watson character is a recognisable type in the literature of the day. Like Watson, Kári is strong-minded, bold, fiercely loyal, and not terribly bright. But our Ófeig is quintessentially Holmes. He is highly intelligent, chivalrous, intellectually curious, and well-versed in law. He keeps his own counsel, and makes up his own mind on questions of morality. Where Holmes plays the violin, Ófeig plays the tagelharpa. He is not susceptible to feminine charms, and prefers intellectual stimulation. And above all, like Holmes he prefers to achieve justice by stealth wherever this works better than the normal machinery of justice.
More about Kerry and David:
Kerry Greenwood is the author of more than fifty novels, a book of short stories, six non- fiction works, and the editor of two collections of crime writing. Her beloved Phryne Fisher series has become a successful ABC TV series, ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’, which sold around the world. She is also the author of the contemporary crime series featuring Corinna Chapman, baker and reluctant investigator. In addition, Kerry is the author of several books for young adults and the Delphic Women series. When not writing, Kerry has been an advocate in magistrates’ courts for the Legal Aid Commission and, in the 2020 Australia Day Honours, was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to literature. She is not married, has no children, is the co-warden of a Found Cats’ Home and lives with an accredited wizard. In her spare time, she stares blankly out the window.
David Greagg is a wizard, and consort of Kerry Greenwood. He has published several books of his own – including a two-volume ghost-written autobiography of his cat Dougal (Dougal’s Diary and When We Were Kittens); two children’s non-fiction books (It’s True! Bourke and Wills Forgot The Frying Pan and It’s True! The Vikings Got Lost) as well as a number of fictional works in collaboration with Kerry. At various times in his life, he has been a medieval scholar, mathematician, accountant, armoured warrior, composer, conductor, impresario and tenor. At various times in the future, he will do other equally unpredictable things.