Giles Kristian's Where Blood Runs Cold is the winner of the 2022 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. 

Erik Amdahl and his spirited daughter, Sofia, have embarked on a long-promised cross-country ski trip deep into Norway's arctic circle. For Erik, it's the chance to bond properly with his remaining daughter following a tragic accident. For Sofia, it's the proof she needs that her father does care.

Right: Giles Kristian

Then, far from home in this snowbound wilderness, with night falling and the mercury plummeting, an accident sends them in search of help - and shelter. Nearby is the home of a couple - members of Norway's indigenous Sami people - who they've met before, and who welcome them in. Erik is relieved. He believes the worst is over. He thinks that Sofia is now safe. He could not be more wrong. He and Sofia are not the old couple's only visitors that night - and soon he and Sofia will be running for their lives...

...and beneath the swirling light show of the Northern Lights, a desperate fight ensues - of man against man, of man against nature - a fight for survival that plays out across the snow and ice.

About the Author:

Family history (he is half Norwegian) and a passion for the fiction of Bernard Cornwell inspired Giles Kristian to write. Set in the Viking world, his bestselling Raven and The Rise of Sigurd trilogies have been acclaimed by his peers, reviewers and readers alike. In The Bleeding Land and Brothers' Fury, he tells the story of a family torn apart by the English Civil War. With his Sunday Times bestseller Lancelot, Giles plunged into the rich waters of the Arthurian legend. His most recent novel, Camelot, continues his epic reimagining of our greatest island 'history'. Giles Kristian lives in Leicestershire.

WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?

Giles: For me, adventure writing is the closest we can get to teleportation. People pick up an adventure novel (or indeed write one!) because they want to be transported to other times and places. They want to live for a while beyond the daily experience of their own life. One of the greatest compliments I can receive as a writer is when a reader tells me that they felt as though they were there alongside my protagonists, that they could almost smell and taste the world of the book, that they felt exhilarated or afraid or even heartbroken. As writers I suspect we try to live vicariously through our fictional adventures. Perhaps we even test our heroes as a way of testing ourselves, exploring what we might do in their shoes, or at least, what we’d like to think we would do, if we possessed their fortitude, their abilities, their courage.   

I was surprised and thrilled to be nominated for the 2022 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize, because Where Blood Runs Cold is my first contemporary novel, the rest all being historical novels. I wasn’t sure what people would think about me dipping my toe into another genre by writing what has been categorised as a thriller. However, I don't feel that this book fits the usual thriller mould. Personally, I think of thrillers as being more ‘plotty’, more convoluted than Where Blood Runs Cold. However, it certainly is an adventure story, and whilst it’s set in the modern world, technology plays very little part. My usual aims, to immerse the reader, to get their pulse racing, and to evoke the sense of place were at the forefront of my mind, so that whilst it’s my first modern tale, it is in its bones, sinew, and heart a Giles Kristian novel.    

WNSF: Are there any particular books or authors which have made a lasting impact on you?

Giles: Bernard Cornwell’s novels, particularly his Warlord Trilogy (The Winter King, Excalibur, Enemy of God) crystalised in me an ambition to write adventure novels. After reading those books, I ached to one day be able to immerse myself, and hopefully readers, too, in the past and in stories that would make them feel as Cornwell’s novels had made me feel.

WNSF: Can you tell us about any adventurous experiences in your life? Have they influenced you as a writer or your writing?

Giles: The failed ski trip that inspired Where Blood Runs Cold - see here for the whole story. 

A Viking Adventure - as part of my research for my Viking series The Rise of Sigurd, I rowed the largest replica Viking ship built in modern times, putting Draken Harald Hårfagre through early sea trials off the island of Karmøy, near Haugesund on Norway’s south-west coast.

Giles, in the red t-shirt, rowing the dragon ship Harald Hårfagre

I set God of Vengeance there, where Harald Fine Hair, first king of Norway, had his home. After that incredible experience I returned to my desk with a nose still full of the sweet, tarry scent of the pine resin that coated every inch of wood and rope aboard. My eyes were still wide with the beautiful, intricate knot-work carved on the sheer strake and prow. My mind’s horizon was all pine-bristled islands and sea, and so I poured it all into the books.

WNSF: Why did you choose to write a story set today? And the particular setting of Northern Norway?

Giles: After eleven historical novels, Where Blood Runs Cold is the first novel I’ve written which is set in the modern world. My last two historical novels, Camelot, and Lancelot, comprised nearly four hundred thousand words set in the post-Roman Arthurian world I had created. They were big books, and they took a lot out of me, emotionally, physically (because the body and mind are one) and creatively. I felt I needed to cleanse my creative palate. I wanted to write a different kind of book. In fact I needed to. And so I returned to an idea for a novel which I’d had back in 2003 following a cross country ski and igloo-building trip which I’d undertaken with my brother and some Norwegian friends in Ulvik in Vestland, Norway. 

One of the igloos Giles built and slept in

The Norwegian mountains seemed the perfect place to set an adventure story in which our heroes are chased to the edge of endurance whilst battling nature itself, both the external environmental, and the human.    

WNSF: Can you tell us about a particular relationship between two characters in your novel and how you made it feel genuine?

Giles: I’ve always been intrigued by the point at which our animal instinct to survive meets the sometimes indomitable, almost supernatural strength of the human spirit. I’m drawn to stories of people who seemingly refused to die, and I often wonder how much physical suffering I could endure, what impossible challenge I could overcome - not for myself but for those I love and who love me. Where Blood Runs Cold is a survival story, but the beating heart of that story is the relationship between a father and daughter who are pushed to the limits of physical and mental suffering. And it is in their fight against hateful men and nature itself that Erik and Sofia learn about themselves and each other.

To explore this relationship, I looked inward, and I looked at my own daughter, Freyja, confronting my own fears about being a parent and what that means when set against the inexorable marching on of time. I felt that this would give Erik and Sofia’s relationship an integrity, for this is the story of a father’s struggle to come to terms with his daughter growing up, with his own mortality, and his own weakness. Of the natural order of this, the way the strength of the parent must inevitably fade, while the child grows and thrives and comes into her own. And the story of a daughter seeking freedom whilst coming to terms with her father’s mortality and the unalterable reality of facing the world without him.

WNSF: What would you consider the upsides, and the downsides, are of being an author?

Giles: The upside is that it’s the fulfilment of an ambition I fought long and hard for. Back in 2006 I was living in Manhattan in NYC, writing advertising copy and making music for film trailers. But I wanted to be an author. I would spend hours in the local bookshop, listening to authors give talks about their books. It didn't matter what the book was about, I was just so inspired to see real writers speaking passionately about their creations. I’d wander up and down the aisles trying to imagine what it would feel like to see my own book on the shelf. I wanted to go up to the people who worked there and tell them that one day they would be stacking copies of my book. You’ll be glad to know I didn’t do this, but I did do something else which is kind of embarrassing. I got my friend, who was a graphic designer, to create book covers for my stories and print them out. I’d take the covers off Bernard Cornwell novels and put my own covers on them instead, just to imagine how it might feel to hold my own book. A real, hardback book. I wanted it so badly. The day I saw my first novel, Raven: Blood Eye, coming off the production line at the printers, I cried like a baby.

The downsides of being an author are: The weight one puts on from a job which is spent sitting for hours on end in front of a screen. And the fact that, for me at least, writing is incredibly hard. The focus required is almost beyond me, and I find the process exhausting. Nevertheless, seeing and holding the finished book makes it all worthwhile.

WNSF: What would you say is the hardest thing about writing? And the easiest?

Giles: For me, writing has become harder, not easier, with each successive book. I think this is because I’m always looking to improve my writing. I always want to do something different in each new book, and I put more pressure on myself to make sure the writing is as good as I can manage. The easiest thing about writing is coming up with the bare bones of what might be a great idea. It’s the subsequent ‘thought marathon’, creative agility and stamina to turn that idea into a book that’s the hard part.