I have not only ploughed through the political history - which is indeed interesting. My library contains books on Anglo-Saxon farming, food and drink (this will come as no surprise to my readers, I'm sure) warfare, metalwork, landscapes, you name it, at it is still growing as I must confess that my interest for this period has only increased as I have worked with the novels.
And how do I work, then, is another question that is frequently put to me by readers.
Well, let me confess that one of the reasons that Cnut is so long in fulfilling his promise to Halfdan has a reason: I don't want the three hounds to settle down until the very end. A spin-off of Winston being an illuminator is that he has to travel to get to the monasteries, manors, and minsters where there's work for him, and with Halfdan not getting his reward he has but one choice: To follow his master.
This makes it plausible that they stumble on so many murders - if they had stayed in one place it would not have been realistic that a man was murdered every year.
And it allows me to move them into a new focus for treason and treachery, betrayal and scheming by the men that Cnut - with or without good reason - suspects of trying to undermine him and his grip of England.
Following the publication of The King's Hounds I received a grant from the Ministry of Culture which enabled me to go to England for research purposes. My publisher - KLIM Publishing - offered that my editor come with me and that meant not only a strengthening of our already commendable cooperation but also the beginning of a fine tradition where he and I - and in recent years even a second editor - have spent a week every spring somewhere in England.
The Anglo-Saxons did not build in stone or bricks but in wood but luckily they used stone for one purpose: The erection of churches. My starting point therefore is: Where I find a Saxon church there must have been some sort of Saxon community, let's go there.
That way we have visited Brixworth, Deerhurst, Bradford-on-Avon, Shaftesbury, to name a few, that have all worked as settings for a novel. Once there we visit libraries, museums, book shops, local antiquarian societies, every single institution or place that may hold information of the place's history in Saxon times. I also study maps, old and new, and - which is very important to me - walk the landscape crisscross in order to get it into my body, feel the grass and the slopes beneath my boots, smell the rivers and meadows, hear the birds and take in the air.
Back in Denmark I read all the books and pamphlets that I have brought home with me looking for some detail, a piece of information of a person, an incident, a building, anything out of the ordinary that may trigger my imagination and serve as a basis for a murder.
Then, in May or June, my brother - and sometimes my son - and I go to the Welsh market town of Tregaron to spend some days fishing and staying with old Welsh friends. I never catch as much as the others as my mind is not concentrated on the fly and the river but on finding a good murder. And with a good I mean a plausible one. One that the reader will believe, will accept that this man was murdered for that reason.
And there - under the blue, Welsh sky circled by soaring kites, surrounded by hills resonating with the bleating of sheep and with water up to my thighs - it comes to me. I suddenly see why, how, where and when a man was murdered sometime in the 11th century. I understand the schemes that led to his murder and the power game Halfdan, Winston and Alfilda have to understand if they want to bring the murderer to pay for his crime.
When that has happened, I begin catching trout and go home a happy man.
The rest is three to four months spent in front of my PC every morning from 9 to 12 followed by two hours of reading and correcting the morning's work and then one day I hold the newly printed volume in my hand and send it into the world hoping that you, my reader, will enjoy it.