The Last Viking Returns

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Tonya ‘Valkyrie’ McCusker launches The Last Viking Returns

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James and Norman with Malcolm, Tonya and Mary McCusker at the official launch


We had two launches for The Last Viking Returns this past week: a mini-launch at the fantastic Beaufort Street Books in Mount Lawley, then a big mammoth launch at the State Library. Tonya McCusker generously dressed up to launch our book with her daughter Mary ably assisting. Hit the jump for more photos.

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The Last Viking Returns exhibition


The State Library of Western Australia is exhibiting the artwork of The Last Viking Returns from today until September 30.

Head up to The Place on the mezzanine floor to see original sketches, storyboards and character designs as well as prints of the final artwork. You can also see research materials and Norm’s original manuscripts.

Read on for photos of the printing and hanging process …

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The Cutting Room Floor / Outtakes


 James suggested this blog, but I wasn’t so sure. It is bad enough putting your carefully selected words out there in the magical world of Children’s Book Land for every reader and their unicorn to read after the words have been polished, proofed, repolished, endlessly discussed, reedited and edited again. But raw, just as they came out of the tips of our fingers? Shudder! In the very distinct danger that I will end up looking like an illiterate fool existing on the edge of lunacy, or at least in some sort of altered reality, here are some of the scenes and paragraphs they were, often very wisely, dropped.
James can get away with it. He’s an artist, so all he needs to do is cut his ear off, or something equally eccentric, and people will nod wisely and think, artistic temperament, work in progress, isn’t the structure behind the ink interesting. Me, I just look like I have a poor relationship with grammar.

Occasionally, James would say, “Come on, you can do funnier than that,” goading me into producing a better joke, and sometimes he would just add in the better joke himself.
More often Cate Sutherland, our editor, would simply highlight a sentence in red and leave if for me to think about (reconsider) and, occasionally, I’d think of a better subplot, but rarely, as I tend to think every word I write is worth a Pulitzer Prize, at least initially. The short passage of time usually brings me crashing back to my more humble senses.

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So, in no particular order, here are some parts that never made it in the 32 pages of either The Last Viking nor The Last Viking Returns, which you can see after September 1st.

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Sunday School? What kids go to Sunday School anymore? That had to go even though I really liked the reference to Geraldine, the Vicar of Dibley. reference.

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The tame bullying here seemed out of proportion to the Gods’ retribution at the end. The nastiness needed revving up somewhat.





On the other hand, the bullies hanging poor little Knut up by his ankles was way over the top. We could imagine wholesale nightmares among the Kindy kids of Australia.

These bullies are far too frightening. By not seeing their faces, we do not know how old they are. They could be teenagers, or even be Hell’s Angels… or worse.

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ImageImageThe fire-fighters were dropped in the paddling pool / funeral sequence as they added more characters to the scene and so distracted from Knut and Nan & Pop.


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ImageThis is the initial storyboard. As you can see, the text almost swamps it. The writer may have forgotten the first rule of Picture Books 101. Let the pictures tell the story when possible.


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A 3 o’clock in the morning addition after a wild dream not even connected to the story.

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The numbers down the side are me deciding on the page breaks. I have no idea what the Stalag 13 reference is on the top. The soon-to-be-Runes along the bottom read Why are you reading this (?)
I would also have loved to have seen James’ version of a Bunyip mentioned in the last paragraphs.

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This is a prime example of the editor earning her fabulous salary. Well, it would be except Cate is in the book trade where the words fabulous and salary are never, ever found in the same sentence.

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And this following page is a section of The Last Viking Returns that did not make it to the final version as Knut didn’t quite reach the graveyard on his quest before he ran out of pages.
The 32-page picture book rule is strictly enforced across the book industry, unless you are Shaun Tan and you have just created The Arrival.

Pages 22-23.
Scene : The Recreated Village.
In the graveyard among the Runestone grave stones.
Carved on the rune gravestones are:
Here lies Harald Greentooth. He became Christian and believed he could walk on water. Seems he could not.
He lies Eric the Black. He pillaged the wrong village. Now he is plundering down under.
He lies Bjorn Berserker. He thought he was loved by everyone. He got that wrong.
This grave is saved for Sven Svenson. He will be using it just as soon as his wife catches up with him.

It changes into a dark, Tolkeinesque forest full of scary long sinister shadows. Brrrr! Scary characters straight from Lord of the Rings / Boewulf surround Knut. Knut is in the graveyard with Rune gravestones and.
Knut is all alone in Viking World, frantically searching for his twins. He was responsible for them, and now he has failed.
‘I am not lost,’ he says, trying to convince himself. ‘I am not worried. I am brave. I am Knut, a fierce Viking, afraid of nothing and no one. Nan and Pop and the twins are the ones who are lost.’
The shadows of the ogres and the building grow bigger and take on shapes.
Knut takes out his sword.
‘I will be fine,’ continues Knut, bravely. ‘I will be. I must be brave and find the twins.’

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This is another scene that did not make the cut in TLV II as it is too much of a horror story, though I may try reworking it if we do TLV Three.

Later, Nan and Knut are back in the kitchen making the pirate outfit, while Pop is reading the Norseman Times.
‘Closing our library? ‘That’s what they think!’ rants Nan. ‘Philistines! Fools!’
‘But there’s nothing you can do,’ says Pop. ‘That ICE Corporation is a world-wide giant, and we’re too little. What chance do we have?’
‘That’s nonsense, James! Of course we can do something. Remember who your ancestors were! They were afraid of nothing and no one!’
‘Just like me!’ thinks Knut, excitedly.
‘Go and make some banners, Pop. Josh will help, won’t you, Josh? And get some chains.
6. ‘We’re going to stand up to these creeps. Remember the sixties peace marches! The equal pay for women protests!’ declares Nan. We’re not too old to do it all over again!’
7.Outside the library small children are wailing and lamenting, and looking pitiful.
‘I’m terribly sorry,’ says Sam, the Children’s Librarian, ‘but story-time has been cancelled. Forever!’

8. Nan chains herself to the library railings, holding her umbrella up like a sword.



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Coming Up with a Decent Title

Deciding  on the title for our new book took some effort.  A good title has to give  a hint at what the book is about, but at the same time, be obscure enough to have a little mystery about it. That was my theory anyway.  Originally, I had wanted to call it Son of  The Last Viking, like the Saturday matinee movies I used to watch back in Narrogin when I was a kid. Son of Zorro, Son of Captain Blood and  Son of Frankenstein all came to mind, but, obviously, that couldn’t work, as the story takes place two years later, not a whole generation into the future.


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The Real Riddle of the Runes

CCF12132013_0002 The Real Riddle of the Runes.

Unless you are under about twelve  years old you probably don’t realise that the borders on many pages of  The Last Viking contain messages hidden in the Runes, the ancient magical text used by the Vikings, waiting for you to translate them, with help from the key in the endpapers.

There are quotes from famous Vikings like Nelson Mandela, and  also ancient Viking wisdom, such as, An enemy with his feet chopped off can not chase after you, or Two heads stuck on pikes cannot conspire against you. There are less fierce ones available like, Only the brave should go a-Viking. The meek and stupid should stay in bed.

James and I decided we’d continue this new tradition in the Return of the Last Viking (available in all good bookshop in October 2014 , and online :-} ),   so we’ve been trawling 1000s of quotes as possible inclusions. Deciding on suitable quotes was easy enough – who can go past that other famous Viking, Winston Churchill, for great quotes? What was difficult was cutting them down so they’d fit in the available spaces in the border. You just try cutting down his war speech, What is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Knut, our little hero, is in dire peril in this new story, and a speech such as that one suits  that page perfectly, but editing Winston’s words  down to  exactly 81 letters and spaces is almost impossible. It still has to make sense, fit to the exact letter and not result in the great leader haunting you for disrespecting  his famous words. ( What huge egos we must have to think we can do that.) I can tell you, I didn’t sleep very well last night, having nightmares about beaches, fields, landing grounds and never surrendering, and squadrons of Spitfires strafing my house.

My favourite quote about dragons was originally by GK Chesterton, then paraphrased by Neil Gaiman, then by Norman Jorgensen and finally by James Foley. As you can see we had a rather busy afternoon.  James has spent so much time with the Runes that he no longer needs the translator.

A couple of other famous Vikings we have included are John Lennon, JRR Tolkien and a real Viking with the rather fabulous name of Snorri Sturluson. I wonder if his wife gave him his first name?


Knut II: The Lost Vikings

After tinkering at the edges since last July, James and I have started working on the sequel to The Last Viking. The working title is to be The Lost Vikings [now confirmed as “The Last Viking Returns” = Ed.] and it is set a year or two in future when the twins are now old enough to be terrible toddlers.   As a setting for the story, we have created Viking World, a run-down theme park based on a cross between a recreated Viking village and a funfair with a sideshow alley, a roller coaster, a Ferris wheel, actors dressed as Vikings, a fiord, a Longhouse and a burning Longship, every afternoon at 5pm.

The minor plot running above the main story is based on a real Norse mythological legend about the God, Sigurd, and his near fatal battle fighting against a huge, fierce, fire-breathing dragon called Fafnir, who attacks Asgard and almost defeats the Gods. Phew!

Now, James and I have been getting a great deal of flack from our friends about this next part, but, in all honesty, we had to visit a funfair as part of our research to make notes and take lots of photos. As luck had it, we were both in Singapore attending the Asian Conference of Children Content, a big important conference mostly about children’s books held in the old Singapore Parliament, and as luck further had it, we had a day off between sessions. And guess where there is a huge funfair? Universal Studios in Singapore.

Like a couple of seven year olds loaded up on red cordial, we took the cable car to Sentosa Island and arrived at the gates of Universal Studios ready to research, research, research.  James is a bit of a dinosaur geek from way back, so imagine his delight when we came across Jurassic Park Ride full of enormous and scary dinosaur models that roar at you while you ride in a big rubber ring almost out of control on a recreated river running through a recreated jungle. And if I thought that was scary I hadn’t counted on the Transformers Ride, a seemingly death-inducing assault on the senses and which I didn’t have the sense not to go on.  I must say, it did cure my fear of heights, and almost everything else frightening.

My great love of old Hollywood movies was on display everywhere as well so I was just a little excited,, and bouncing about like an Energiser bunny, after catching sight of  Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Frankenstein’s Monster and a very cute Betty Boop.  I had to keep reminding myself they were only actors dressed as…er… other actors. Still, you can’t take yourself too seriously, even if you are seriously working, ( yeah right!) so we had our photos taken with most of the characters to prove to the Tax Department it was all genuine when we submit our tax deduction claims next June.

Our editor, Cate Sutherland, liked the idea for the new story when we pitched it to her over a drink at the Left Bank in Fremantle one night after work, so it’s oars out and full sail ahead to the edge of the world, where there be dragons, or a dragon called Fafnir, in this case.

Will Knut save the twins from certain peril?  Can Nan and Pop explain to their daughter what happened to the kids? Will the Gods be toasted alive by the fire-breathing dragon, and will little Knut once more have to find deep reserves of courage and defeat the bullies again? Probably not. The bullies are still smarting from their treatment at the hands of the Gods in the last book and are keeping a low profile until Book III, if there is one. But is this to be the end of the Norse Gods’ world?  Could well be. You’ll just have to wait until James colours it in.


Last Viking outpost in Fremantle

The Last Viking has set up camp at the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre for Term 4 2011 and Term 1 2012.

If you’re a teacher, bring your class to see copies of preparatory sketches, character designs, clay models, final pencil work and colour prints. Call the Centre on 9430 6869 to see if you can book a time.

If you’re a member of the public and would like to see the artwork, then the Term 1 2012 Open Day is your best bet. A date has not yet been confirmed, but when we know, we’ll post it on the blog.

The Lit Centre ladies have done an amazing job putting the exhibition together- Norm and I were ecstatic to see it, me especially. It was surreal to see my work on the walls of the Centre, where previously I’ve been able to see the work of my picture book heroes.

The Lit Centre is selling copies of The Last Viking and many other amazing books in their well-stocked bookshop. They’re also selling limited edition signed prints of Last Viking artwork, and prints from other great Aussie artists (including my favourite, Shaun Tan).

James and Norm at FCLC open day term 4 2011

James and Norm at FCLC Open Day, Term 4 2011

FCLC open day term 4 2011

FCLC open day term 4 2011

FCLC open day term 4 2011 pic5

FCLC open day term 4 2011 pic4