Nicola Griffith is the author of Hild, a historical fiction novel about Hild of Whitby. Hild is not a romance, but it does have many romantic elements as well as a large and vibrant cast of women. Nicola shared her perspectives on the importance of detail in historical fiction, writing about women in the Middle Ages, and Hild’s complicated romantic life. There are some spoilers here, specifically relating to romance.
On writing about women in the Middle Ages:
There’s this idea that women in the Middle Ages were just chattel. But you know – who wrote these histories? Basically, if you look at Bede as the first English historian, he was writing with a very particular perspective. Women were not important to him. They gave birth to dynasties and that was their role.
To me, that's not how the world works. Women are human beings. We do not exist as markers on a board. People have to interact with the world on their own terms. And one of the things I enjoyed doing was giving each of these women their own playground. They all have their own perspectives and agendas.
There’s a very high level of specific detail in Hild. Why was including that level of detail so important to you?
Because I think having that level of detail is what makes it feel real. There’s no generic-ness. Everything is very specific, and I think specificity is what makes reality.
I was interested in the romantic elements of Hild as they pertained to Hild and Glwadus and Hild and Cian. For most of the book I thought that the main romance would be between Hild and Glwadus, Hild's slave. Was that intentional on your part?
I wanted to make Hild a real person, and I think that real people feel for more than one person. I’ve always written about women having sex and falling in love with women. So it was a challenge to have her care for a man, especially with the additional complication.
It wasn’t always comfortable to read, but I thought it was realistic and powerful to read the way Hild worked through the power dynamic between herself and Glwadus.
I was determined to not take the easy way out. I’m so tired of the slave narratives where people are all, “I just love my master”. I fucking hate that. I think it’s nasty. If a human being owns another human being, it’s basically wrong, except that’s what Hild grew up with. I mean, she literally didn’t know any different. And of course, her mum set her up for this. But Hild gradually realizes that because she can do what she wants, she has to draw her own boundaries. She has to figure out who she wants to be – how that will work. And yeah, there are some difficult moments there.
Speaking of difficult relationships, Hild resists having a relationship with cian for a long time but she is very drawn to him and he to her. What is it draws them together even though they have many reasons to stay apart?
Shared experience. And that magic that is love/lust. Somebody’s smell. The way they move. They way they fit together. I don’t know how you describe that. You could talk about it in terms of biochemistry. You could talk about it in terms of “I like the way you laugh”.
She trusts him. She feels as though they are, on some level, they are equals because they know each other. They’ve known each other since they were little. And yet they’re different. Man/woman – different. But also because they were raised next to each other but with different status. It was easier for him to decide to pursue a relationship with him after he gained a higher status as foster son of the Theign. At that point he becomes – not her equal, but certainly someone who could play in the same ballpark.
You can find CarrieS’s review of Hild at Geek Girl in Love.