I’m starting a new miniseries of podcasts on my weekly 10-minute podcast site, Why I Really Like This Book, on feminist science fiction, and Ammonite is the culminating entry. I was wondering if you ever thought of writing a sequel, or had published short fiction extending the Ammonite world? I see that your new book is called Hild, which is an Ammonite name: is that connected?
No, I have no plans for a sequel to Ammonite. And no, currently there are no short stories out there. But I do have ideas for stories every now and again and suspect that one day I’ll write one of them. (I talked very recently to a newish e-only publisher who is very keen on the idea, so this could happen.)
Meanwhile, there are two audio snippets from the book available on my website. Enjoy.
I listened to your podcast about Mary Renault. I love her work, particularly Fire From Heaven. I think she’s a magnificent storyteller–and, as you point out, her work, the people, the place, is easy to fall into. I’ve read The Praise Singer–I think I’ve read all her fiction–but I don’t remember it very well. You’ve made me want to reread it, especially the oral-to-written Homer episode, so thanks for that. Thanks, too, for reintroducing me to the concept of dividing historical fiction into the categories of ‘felt past’ and ‘recovered past’. (I forget where I first read about it: a review by Tom Shippey? Sounds like the kind of thing he’d say.*) I’ll be spending some time pondering which camp Hild belongs to. I’m temped to bellow, “Both!” but perhaps that’s wishful thinking. I don’t have a firm enough grasp of how one differentiates.
Renault’s fiction, along with the Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brian and Mary Stewart’s Merlin series, was important to my development as a writer. I doubt Hild would exist without it.
Hild is the closest I’ve come to sweeping story and epic world-building since I wrote Ammonite. Both novels have female protagonists; language, too, is integral to both. But one is set in a future that will never be while the other is set in a past that actually happened. That is, the central character once existed: Hild of Whitby. It’s Whitby, of course, that provides the connection: the place where I first encountered ammonite fossils (which in turn triggered my still-evolving fascination with phi. See Always for more on that.) Whitby, too, was where I fell in love with history. So, yes, the two novels are deeply connected but not, perhaps, in the way you might think.
Is Hild an Ammonite name?? I don’t remember that. (There again, I wrote the book more than 20 years ago.) Hmm, I’ve just spent half an hour trying to check: looking for a glossary and list of characters I compiled long ago for the second edition of the novel–which, sadly, was never used, and somehow got lost in the moves from one hard drive to another over the years. A quick search through the Word document is essentially useless, because I don’t know how to persuade it to look for Hild as opposed to child or children.**
If any readers know how to make Word do that kind of search, please, share! Meanwhile, I urge you all to go to iTunes and subscribe to the Why I Really Like This Book podcast, or to check out the Facebook page. It’s good, chewy stuff.
*Turns out to be the formulation of Harold Orel in The Historical Novel from Scott to Sabatini (Macmillan 1995), which sounds like a pretty nifty book.
** It also turns out that it wasn’t Hild Kate was thinking of but Hilt, Thenike’s sister. That’s a relief. I was vaguely creeped out at the thought of not remembering one of my own characters. I imagine it’ll happen one day (especially with Hild’s cast of thousands) but, hey, today is not that day…