Here’s a long and meaty conversation between me and my editor Sean McDonald (VP and Executive Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux) about the making of Hild. I talk about going to Whitby for the first time, years ago, and having the fundamental realisation that shaped my writing career and made Hild inevitable:
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.
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.
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.