To the Best of Our Knowledge (Audio)
[To coincide with the premiere of season four of Game of Thrones, a pretty interesting selection of interviews, including Karen Joy Fowler and George R.R. Martin.]
“Late in Nicola Griffith’s 1998 novel The Blue Place, her protagonist, Aud Torvingen, speaks rapturously about a spot on the coast of England. “Have I told you about Whitby Abbey, on the Yorkshire coast? There’s a ruin there that dates from the twelfth century, very haunting, very gothic, but the first abbey there was founded in the seventh century by Hilda. There’s a power there.” Fifteen years later, Griffith’s latest novel, Hild, explores the early life of the woman who would go on to become Hilda of Whitby.”
[I’d forgotten all about that passage in TBP. Wow. Tobias Carroll did an admirable and thorough job.]
Author’s Magazine (video)
This was taped at the height of my unwellness last month, and it shows. But if you can get past how terrible I look, what I’m saying is fine.
The language in Hild seems carefully wrought to evoke the period and setting of seventh-century Britain. Was Old English an inspiration in writing this book?
I’m grinning at the notion of “carefully” and “writing this book.” / Yes, Old English was foundational for me. Especially the poetry. I read the surviving poems, in several translations and in the original (though my OE is rubbish). It’s stirring–heroic, alliterative, elegiac. But I’m not sure how representative it is of Hild’s era. It’s written, rather than being oral, which means it came to us through the double filter of Latinised, Christian scribes. / I read a fair amount of old Welsh/British poetry, too, because Britain in Hild’s time was a seriously multi-ethnic place. Scholars argue whether that poetry was originally written in Hild’s time or centuries later, but it, too, is stirring and heroic, proud in a slightly different register. / I took the poetry, stuffed it into the black box of my writing brain, and let it ferment. And then I quailed. I was terrified of screwing it up. In the end I did what any good Anglo-Saxon would: I got drunk, laughed in the face of fear, and charged. So while the thinking beforehand and the editing afterwards were carefully considered, the writing itself was more like riding a bull.
UK Lesbian Fiction
Historical fiction is on a high at the moment, with Mantel’s Cromwell novels winning two Bookers, and many other authors – including LesFic favourites Manda Scott, Stella Duffy and Jeannette Winterson – turning their hand to history. Why the increase in popularity?
Adrienne Rich said, “We must use what we have to invent what we desire.” (What is Found There: Notebooks on Poetry and Politics) That’s what I’m doing with Hild: I’m inventing what I desire. I desire a vision of the world in which the woman I had imagined (after years of research) might have existed, in which she might have been able to live her life as a human being: as subject not object. I wanted to believe that the Hild I imagined was possible. To look at where we come from–the past–and believe we could have survived there as ourselves. By making Hild possible, I wanted to recast what people today think might be possible and so make it possible. In other words, I’m recolonising the past. Recasting it. Retelling it. And by so doing, I’m recreating the present and so steering the future.
(This one is long and juicy–the longest interview I’ve done so far.)
The Nervous Breakdown
Q: If I tried to ask Hild questions, what would happen?
A: Depends on her age. At three she’d study you silently, with great interest, but she wouldn’t see you as a real person. At eight she’d give you a fathomless look that would make you uneasy. At fourteen her eyes would be absolutely impenetrable, but by now you’d be beyond uneasy, because you’d know she was quicker on her feet than you, and more powerful. At sixteen, you’d be fascinated, but frightened: at this point she has a reputation for the uncanny, for killing people or having sex with them, and no way of predicting which. And as she’s the niece of the most powerful king in Britain, it would not pay to even try to mess with her. Towering mind, a will of adamant, and a mother who is beautiful, subtle, and ruthless. You’d have to be very, very nice to her and very, very careful.
Q: Ah. I’ll ask you things instead, then.
A: Sounds like a plan.
Q: What you want people to come away with when they close the back cover of the book? What do you want them to keep with them?
A: Everything. I want this book to feel like their own memory. I want them to shut the book and think ‘yes, that’s how it was, in that time with those people’. Almost like it really happened, like a news report. I want it to be fiction in such an immersive way, that Hild’s experience is their experience, her joys are their joys. Her lessons are their lessons. … It’s like Google Glass—an overlay on their world and an internal change. I want them to see the world differently.Kirkus
“Basically, Griffith is ‘trying to look at different ways in which women could have power and agency.’ As a seer, Hild has a substantial amount of influence over King Edwin’s decisions. History suggests that in later life, Hild sought power in the church, but the book ends with Hild as a young woman, long before that point. (Griffith plans to continue the story in at least one more volume.) It’s not entirely clear from this novel to what degree Hild’s actual spiritual beliefs will play in her decision to enter the church. […] ‘Religion is an organization. Religious is a political thing. Personal belief is personal,’ Griffith says. Hild is simply seeking knowledge and power through the channels available to her. ‘Today, [Hild would grow]…up to be a scientist.'”Riffle
What’s your latest obsession?
“Trying to keep up with inter-library loans! After a multi-year pause–I’ve discovered that while actually writing a novel research not only delays the work but endangers it; it makes me uncertain–I’ve just gone totally berserk and ordered countless academic texts I’ve had my eye on for a while. Sadly, ILL doesn’t allow loan renewal, so the books are piling up and time is running out. And still I see something in The Medieval Review and think, “Well, now, that looks interesting…”
Los Angeles Times
Q: You start with Hild at age 3 and we follow her to early adulthood. How scary was it when you sat down to begin?
I was frankly terrified. I wanted to write a novel set in the 7th century — about which most readers know nothing. I wanted to write a novel of character on an epic canvas. I wanted to write something so immersive that the reader would live Hild’s life alongside her. … Hild had to be in every scene — no relying on “Meanwhile, back in the point-of-view of a character you’d forgotten existed…” But how do you write an epic from one point of view? And at the same time how do you create a world that won’t feel too alien to most readers? The thing was impossible! / The only way to be a novelist, to think that you can create something others will give themselves up to for a dozen hours or more, is to have psychotic self-belief.
Lambda Literary Review
“Griffith explains that within the social milieu for women of Hild’s era, there were “different agencies, gender restrictions. If I am reading all the little clues correctly, the higher up status-wise you went, the more restrictive things were [for women].” / She notes that class was delineating–the lower the class status, the less distinction between the sexes. “Among subsistence farmers you’d see women and men in the fields together. But you wouldn’t be able to tell the boys from the girls. All this fancy role-playing happens higher up,” where status separates gender roles much more definitively.”
Q: You portray the natural world in 7th-century England as wild and beautiful, though man had already changed things. How much of the natural world remains in northern England?
A: You can still go on the moors and see nothing except an ancient Roman road, and heather, and sheep. Most of England, everywhere you go you see the hand of humankind, though that would have been true in Hild’s time. / One of the things that broke my heart was when I came across a book, The Birds of Yorkshire, which had to be 100 years old. I thought, “Oh, they aren’t here anymore.” These days you can’t casually knock over a nest and take the eggs for your collection — that might be half the breeding pairs of a species.
Publishers Weekly (video)
In which I explain why Patrick O’Brian is so awesome and Dickens, well, isn’t.
[An interview over coffee at the local Chocolati—fun had by all!—in which I ponder how I came to story, and how I got to where I am today.]
Well Read (video)
In which I talk on the PBS show about Hild with host Terry Tazioli, then Terry and Mary Ann Gwinn chat about the book and a suggested reading list.
Coode Street (audio)
A podcast with Jonathan Strahan, Gary Wolfe, Kelley and me, in which we talk about Hild, fantasy, historicity, reading stances, genre, and more.
In which I talk to Rafe Posey about Hild, what did/n’t change in my life after publication, voice, and more.