- "It is the best fictional attempt to recreate Dark Age Britain that I have ever read." — Alex Woolf
- "I was impressed—as a fellow-writer and a Northumbrian archaeologist. It's a great piece of work." — Max Adams
|A paper kindly sent to me by Al Newham who heard of Hild via Max Adams|
|Present-day St Hilda's marked; shaded area shown in greater detail below|
|In 7th C, Arbeia was on what was essentially an island|
On To the Best of Our Knowledge I'm "Getting Medieval" with fellow writers George R.R. Martin, Karen Joy Fowler, and Bruce Holsinger, weapons expert Kelly DeVries, and more! To coincide with this weekend's premier of Game of Thrones Season 4, it's a whole hour of conversation about why we're so interested in the Middle Ages.
However, if you're in a hurry you could just listen (stream or download for later) my 11-minute segment about Hild.
|Original art by Anna and Elena Balbusso, original design by Charlotte Strick, UK design by Sian Wilson|
Over on my personal blog I've followed my annual tradition of filming the destruction of our Christmas tree. However, I thought photon torpedoes might not be the thing for medievalists. So here's something just for you:
Have a wonderful Christmas and a happy New Year.
Two pieces of news.
On Wednesday, the twentieth anniversary of our first (not legal) wedding, Kelley and I got married in the eyes of the US government.
Some more nifty blurbs for Hild:
"You will never think of them as the Dark Ages again. Griffith's command of the era is worn lightly and delivered as a deeply engaging plot. Her insight into human nature and eye for telling detail is as keen as that of the extraordinary Hild herself. The novel resonates to many of the same chords as Beowulf, the legends of King Arthur, Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones—to the extent that Hild begins to feel like the classic on which those books are based."
— Neal Stephenson
"A book that deserves a place alongside T.H. White, to say nothing of Ellis Peters. Elegantly written—and with room for a sequel."
"You could describe Hild as being like Game of Thrones without the dragons, but this is so much deeper than that, so much richer. A glorious, rich, intensely passionate walk through an entirely real landscape, Hild leads us into the dark ages and makes them light, and tense, and edgy and deeply moving. The research is pitch perfect, the characters fully alive. If it wasn't like this, it should have been—and I'm sure that it was!
— Manda Scott
"What a fabulous book! ... I fell into this world completely and was sorry to come out. Truly, truly remarkable." — Karen Joy Fowler
"Vivid, vital, and visceral, Hild's history reads like a thriller." — Val McDermid
"The historical setting feels so real that it seemed that I was walking across the living landscape of seventh-century Britain... Brilliant stuff!" — Tim Clarkson
"Hild is not just one of the best historical novels I have ever read—I think it's one of the best novels, period." — Dorothy Allison
"Griffith goes boldly into the territory, lingering over landscape, indulging the senses...in a sweeping panorama of peasants working, women weaving, children at play, and soldiers in battle." — Publishers Weekly
History, I realised, was real. Built by real people with their own dreams, disappointments, and dailyness. Not at all like the stories I’d read growing up in which people behaved as though they knew they were part of momentous events.And later in the interview, I explain why I was afraid to begin this book I knew I'd been aiming for my whole life:
I didn’t want to write about the restrictions of gender. Domesticity makes me claustrophobic. Hearth and home are all very well, but I love an epic canvas: gold and glory, politics and plotting.
To avoid that, I was tempted to take the easy way out and make Hild so singular that the restrictions didn’t apply to her. I tried everything I could think of; at one point I even had her learn and use a sword...
It didn’t work: History is made by real people; the rules always apply. I despaired of being able to reconcile that reality with what I wanted, what somewhere inside I knew was possible.Also, I give a shoutout to some of my favourite medieval websites and blogs, including The Heroic Age, The Medieval Garden Enclosed, Unlocked Wordhoard, Heavenfield, A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, Senchus, Magistra et Mater and Carla Nayland.
In the end I did what any good Anglo-Saxon would: I got drunk, laughed in the face of fear, and charged. And I discovered what poets have known for millennia, that constraint is freeing. I had nothing to lose, so I committed. The words came. It felt like magic. It was Hild’s voice.
|detail from the cover of Hild *|
"Nicola Griffith is an awe-inspiring visionary, and I am telling everyone to snatch this book up as soon as it is published. Hild is not just one of the best historical novels I have ever read—I think it's one of the best novels, period. It sings with pitch perfect emotional resonance and I damn well believe in this woman and every one she engages. I finished the book full of gratitude that it exists, and longing for more." — Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina and Cavedweller
"An enthralling tale from an extraordinarily talented writer. It drew me into the volatile, dangerous world inhabited by the real Saint Hild fourteen centuries ago. The historical setting feels so real that it seemed that I was walking across the living landscape of seventh-century Britain. The characters are utterly believable in their time and place. Historical accuracy alone would make this novel a remarkable achievement, but the author has given us a thrilling story, too. Brilliant stuff!" — Tim Clarkson, author of The Picts (2010), Columba (2012) and other works.
"What a fabulous book! Hild has all the joys of historical fiction—transportation into a strange, finely detailed world—along with complex characters and a beautiful evocation of the natural world. But the tensions of the gathering plot make Hild feel like a quick read—too quick! I fell into this world completely and was sorry to come out. Truly, truly remarkable." — Karen Joy Fowler, author of The Jane Austen Book ClubThe book is available for pre-order.
In terms of writing fiction, Irish has been the bane of my life. It's my own fault; I'm lazy--or perhaps impatient is a better word--when in the grip of the work.
Twenty years ago, when I was writing Ammonite, I created an isolated tribe based on the Mongols. I was hot on the trail of the story, and used placeholder proper nouns based on Gaelic vocabulary. I meant to do the necessary research later and swap out the placeholders for the real words.
But here's the thing about fiction. It doesn't always work according to plan. The characters took on the attributes of their names. I couldn't change the Echraidhe to, say, the Buriyads, or Uaithne for, oh I don't know, Miroslava. It was too late.
Reading through Hild again, I've discovered I'm about to commit the same mistake. Early on in the book, when Hild is about ten, she encounters an old and damaged Irishman who speaks very little Anglisc (Old English). In a cursory online search I couldn't find the Old Irish I needed so I scooped up a hodge-podge of Irish words of dubious provenance, plunked them down, and surged on.
Here's how that passage reads:
The water slapped, the canes rattled, and man, girl, and dog all looked at the sky--clouds piling together, no longer tin but lead--then each other. Hild, encouraged, stood, came closer--oh, her shoes were more mudcake than leather now--and pointed at the willow man, at his white crinkly hair, and said one of the Irish words she knew, "Bán."
And he laughed toothlessly, then loosed a torrent of Irish at her. His accent was strange. She understood three words of it, cailín, maid, Sasanach, Anglisc, and ocrach, hungry, and shook her head. "Go mall," she said, slowly, and "le do thoil," please, and he said it all again. "Go mall," she said again, "lo do thoil." And Madra tilted his head and whined, and then Bán spoke one more time in a jumbled Anglisc/British/Irish mix, and Hild listened with her whole skin, the way she listened to rooks in the field or wind in the trees. She understood, she thought. He was asking her if she was hungry.
She sat in the mud--Onnen would scold her raw--offered a fist to Madra, the first dog she had allowed near her since she watched Od eat the guts of Osric's man, and repeated back to Bán as well as she could, with the words he had used, that she, the Anglisc maid, whose name was Hild, was hungry, a little, but that when she returned she would be very well provided for. And he nodded, but shook his fingers dismissively in that Irish way, just like Fursey, and tutted, and unfastened the sack at his waist and offered her half his cheese and a bite of onion, and a dip in the coarse grey salt collected in the seam of his sack.
Just got back from a lightning visit to the UK. I spent a lot of time here:
|Bamburgh, painted by Norman MacKillop, used by permission|
Seventh century Britain is in transition. Small kingdoms are dissolving and merging. Edwin of Northumbria plots to become overking of the Angles using every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, and belief. Into this world of war and wyrd is born Hild, king's niece: a child with a glittering mind, powerful curiosity, and will of adamant. Edwin is cunning and ruthless, but Hild is matchless. She carves herself a place as his advisor, a young woman at the heart of the violence, subtlety, and mysticism of the early medieval age. But kings don't trust anyone, even nieces. And at this level, the stakes are life and death.There's a lot to be done before publication. But that's work for the future. For now, I am happy. Hild is the best thing I've ever written. I can't wait to put it in your hands. Cheers!
|Beer + Joy = Satisfaction|
I visited the UK in February and took the opportunity to fossick about in places Hild would have known.
Whitby Abbey, of course, has been familiar to me for years. Sadly, when I was there this time, it was shut (no doubt as a result of this). No way in. Even the cliff was fenced off. I held my phone up over the wall:
This paper offers two new sightings...an early-Anglo-Saxon settlement (6-7th century) from just outside the city, and an extension to the Anglo-Saxon settlement (7th-9th century) already known at Fishergate. Both these settlement occupy the same gravel terrace and are only 2km apart.I've marked them on the map below, along with the site of the previously discovered eighth-century helmet, Coppergate.
Heslington Hill appears to represent a small rural farming community that had settled on the closest upland to the Roman city by at least AD 550 and remained there into the 7th century...However:
The best evidence for subsequent Anglo-Saxon occupation (7th-9th century) has emerged outside the fortress, on the eastern bank of the River Ouse at Fishergate. Excavations undertaken by York Archaeological Trust in the 1980s...encountered remains of a settlement of late-7th to 9th-century date: boundary ditches, postholes, stakeholes and pits... The interpretation is of a pre-determined organised settlement, with rectilinear, post-built structures, property divisions and a possible road with evidence for municipal maintenance.Fishergate is on the east bank of both Ouse and Foss--and so just outside the area I'd marked out for Edwin's wic:
This interpretation emphasises the planned nature of the settlement and sees it as a royal centre established de novo on the banks of the Ouse, thriving as part of a polyfocal network of power, with political and ecclesiastical nuclei postulated in the legionary fortress (in the form of Edwin's church near the Minster...)Though they differ in that they interpret this as
...inextricably linked to wider process of social change...with the concomitant increase in social stratification...
It is particularly significant for the settlement sequence at York that Heslington was abandoned at the same time as the establishment of a new settlement on the bank of the Ouse, less than 2km to the west.I think they have a point. Most big changes comes from a series of smaller, organic changes at the wider cultural and social level. But I'm writing a novel. It makes better story sense to funnel events through the lens of a Great Man--or, rather, from the perspective of named people, in this case a Great Woman (and her mother, and her uncle, the king). I do, of course, spend a lot of time on this notion of inexorable and organic social and cultural change. Because change is what this book is about: change and the woman at its heart.
In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and Word was God...This is the essence of Hild: the ability to name that which others either don't recognise or are afraid to articulate. Language is her weapon of choice. Naming is her superpower--or one of them. John would have been her Gospel of choice.