Behold! Menewood, the sequel to Hild! After a ten-year wait is will be available 3 October in hardcover, ebook, and digital audio wherever books are sold. You can pre-order now: | | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble | Phinney Books | Target

Cover of Menewood: A Novel by Nicola Griffith (MCDxFSG 3 October, 2023). Cover art by Anna and Elena Balbusso. Cover design by Na Kim.

Image description: Richly coloured cover of a novel, Menewood, by Nicola Griffith, painted predominatly in blue, gold, black, and red. The image is of a young woman—Hild, the protagonist of the novel—standing tall against an ominous backdrop of medieval warfare. Behind her in the upper left, the top corner is golden, with white-hot tipped yellow arrows arcing overhead against what might be dark mountains or forbidding trees. The arrows are, perhaps, on fire. Crows are dodging them. Below the arrows and crows a mounted warrior charges from left to right, shield glinting silver, sword raised, face hidden behind a helmet. Behind Hild to the right, against a sky full of dark cloud and smoke, the arrows fall towards a host of spears and banners. The pale blue banner in the foreground shows a stylised boar with garnet eyes. The banner behind that displays a raven. In the centre of the image, and taking up more than half of the total image area, is Hild. She looks directly at the observer with blue-green eyes filled with a weight of experience beyond her years. Her expression, partially obscured by windblown hair—pale chestnut with a slight wave—is clear and farseeing: this is a woman who makes decisions that decide lives. She wears what appears to be fishscale armour beneath a richly textured but torn and worn cloak. The cloak is mostly sky blue and held together at the breast by a great, early medieval equal-armed cross brooch of gold and garnet inlay. The belt beneath the cloak is styled somewhere between Celtic and ‘Anglo-Saxon’ interlace. In her right hand she hold a wooden quarterstaff, bound with blood-spattered iron. The cloak is overlain with other images: a red fern, a black war horse, a crow, black leaves, cloud and smoke, and bare, blood-red branches. Lettering, of textured gold in early-medieval style, is superimposed on the image. “Menewood,” centred below the cross brooch in large type. Below that, in smaller type, on the left “Author of Hild” and, on the right, “A Novel.” Below that, in large type, “Nicola Griffith.”

About Menewood

Publisher’s Description

In the much-anticipated return to the world of Hild, Nicola Griffith’s Menewood transports readers back to seventh-century Britain, a land of rival kings and religions poised for epochal change. Hild is no longer the bright child who made a place in Edwin Overking’s court with her seemingly supernatural insight. She is eighteen, honed and tested, the formidable Lady of Elmet, now building her personal stronghold in the valley of Menewood.

But old alliances are fraying. Younger rivals are snapping at Edwin’s heels. War is brewing—bitter war, winter war. Not knowing who to trust he becomes volatile and unpredictable and recalls his young advisor. Hild begins to understand the true extent of the chaos ahead, and now must navigate the turbulence and fight to protect both the kingdom and her own people.

She will face the losses and devastation of total war, and then must find a new strength, the implacable determination to forge a radically different path for herself and her people. In the valley, her last redoubt, her community slowly takes root. She trains herself and her unexpected allies in new ways of thinking. And she prepares for one last wager: risking all on a single throw for a better future…

In the last decade, Hild has become a beloved classic of epic storytelling. Menewood picks up where that journey left off, and—as we travel alongside Hild, experiencing not only her fierce joy of nature and its wild places but what it means to become a woman who wields true power—exceeds it in every way.

But What’s It Really About?

One marketing blurb I saw from my publisher calls it “Bigger, bolder, bloodier, and even more medieval than the beloved original!” And although it’s not exactly how I might characterise the book, they’re not entirely wrong.

Menewood begins in January 632 CE—the year Edwin, Penda and Cadwallon meet on (probably) Hatfield Chase1—that is, four months after the end of Hild, and covers less than four years of Hild’s life. It does’t sound like much to fill an enormous book but those years are some of the most tumultuous in the early seventh-century North. In those four years six different men could be said to claim to be—sometimes very briefly—king north of the Humber. Kings get to be kings by killing those who want to be or already are king. So, as you can imagine, those four years are, indeed, epic and intense, full of the extremes of war. If you imagine Menewood as a trilogy in one volume you might get a sense of what to expect.2

Often in war people live at the edge of human experience and I’m guessing for those in Deira and Bernicia 632-636 CE were not great years. Bede is known to be occasionally, ah, less than impartial in his assessments of kings and other potentates, but given some of the archaeological evidence of destruction in the North perhaps he was not exaggerating too much when he writes that Cadwallon, one of those (maybe, sometime) kings, was “utterly barbarous in temperament and behaviour. He was set upon exterminating the entire English race in Britain, and spared neither women nor innocent children, putting them all to horrible deaths with ruthless savagery, and continuously ravaging about the whole country.” So much so apparently, that this time “remains accursed and hateful to all good men . . . hence all those calculating the reigns of kings have agreed to expunge memory” of the whole thing from their kinglists. I doubt William the Conquer’s Harrying of the North was the first.

So in those four years Hild experiences almost every huge emotion a person can—love and lust, war and victory, grief and loss, belonging and savage joy—and does it all while guiding her people past their own fear and ambition during this terrible period. Through it all she grows and changes, coming to truly understand power and how to make, break, and shape kings.

Menewood is also full of quieter moments: peace, pleasure, contentment; forgiveness, friendship, and farewells. It is a book about life—how it feels, what it means, why it changes—set against the backdrop of total war and regime change.

If Hild was about a child relying on her agile mind and acute observations of nature and human behaviour to stay one step ahead of the whims of a volatile king, then Menewood explores a young woman becoming herself: learning to live life on her own terms, how to build and wield power—exploring and really inhabiting who she is.

Above all, Menewood is about Hild. She is on every page, the burning heart around which events turn. And, just as in the first book, Hild is most at home in nature, so the book is full of water, sky, and high wild places.

And all that is represented by the cover.

About the Cover

The Art

Hild when it came out ten years ago was (or, to me at least, felt like) a different kind of book—full of awe and magic (of nature, the landscape, and the human heart), only with no actual magic. It was (or, again, felt to be to be) about a different kind of protagonist: a bright girl then young woman who stayed one step ahead of the murderous whims of a volatile king using acute observations of nature and human behaviour to work out what might happen next.

How do you portray that on a cover? You find a different kind of artist—in this case an artistic team, Anna and Elena Balbusso—who play with time, perception and colour to create clean visions that are somehow infused with layers of wonder. For Hild, they captured Hild’s frank and open gaze perfectly. And that cover holds up well. We wanted to refresh it a little to coincide with the publication of Menewood—and we’ve adjusted the type—but the image didn’t need a single change.

Now, for Menewood, the Balbusso twins again perfectly capture who Hild has become: Against a backdrop of violence and regime change stands a young adult marked by war, honed by the responsibility of power—and vivid with life.

But What Do I Think of It?

It’s magnificent. I have quibbles, of course—it’s strange to spend 10 years getting every single material culture detail exactly right in the text only to see that when it comes to the visuals that will sell a book (which after all is what the cover of a book is for) that doesn’t really matter2—but as a cover it conveys exactly what I hoped it would.

So what did I hope for?

Long-time readers might remember that when I first talked to my editor about illustrating Hild I was adamant: no representation of Hild on the cover! And you saw how that turned out 🙂 And though my editor was right—this time—for Menewood I decided I wanted to get my dibs in early and start influencing the process from the beginning.

So this time I started the conversation early—which was easy: I simply responded at length to a very useful questionnaire. Here it is (with a couple of redactions to prevent spoilers):

1. Please describe your ideal jacket for this book

An illustration by the Balbusso twins. The Hild jacket was gorgeous, and showed Hild as a child—well-fed, healthy, unscarred by life, but carrying the kind of weight and responsibility for herself and her family no child should have to. The Menewood jacket should show Hild as an adult—a young one, yes, but very much grown up—again carrying great weight and responsibility, but this time a wider, deeper, heavier and more immediate responsibility: for an entire region, and then the fate of the whole of the north of Britain. She should look honed, fierce and focused, but also, still, a visionary. 

The perfect illustration for Menewood would, like that for Hild, be textured, vivid, luxurious and atmospheric. I see her standing in a high place—top of a hill, edge of a cliff, prow of a ship—and looking out. She should be carrying her fighting staff, wearing her slaughter seax and either her warrior jacket (a kind of gambeson) or her mantle of lynx furs. There should be indications of battle—banners? blood? smoke?—and the suggestion that she herself is not unmarked by war. And depending on what part of the book we’re referencing, she could be [redacted] and/or [redacted].

I want the colours to be rich and gorgeous, as for Hild, but perhaps in a slightly darker key. So the foiling, for example, instead of being gold could be bronze. Any birds should be flying/fleeing rather than nesting or singing. The light perhaps could be late afternoon.

But definitely Hild, marked by war, standing in a high place, in the natural landscape. And if I had my way, the Balbusso twins would illustrate every single Hild novel, ageing and complicating Hild as she grows.

2. What are some of the visual themes/key points/motifs in your book?

Nature. Hild is always outside: under the trees, by the water, climbing a hill, wading in a marsh, etc. She prefers high places and wild country. So: trees, birds, water vole, horses, sky, pond, mere, marsh, moor, mountain, swans, herons 

  • most important fauna:
    • hedgehog
    • horse
    • water vole
  • most important flora/landscape:
    • ancient oak pollard
    • Menewood beck and its valley
    • high moor

War. There is a lot of war in this book and Hild is always in the thick of it. So: blood, banners, bodies, seaxes, swords, shields, smoke. And Hild is physically scarred.

  • most important banners4:
    • Yffing (purple with boar with red eye)
    • Cath Llew (lynx)
    • Baedd Coch (red boar)
    • Butcherbird (crude picture in red of a man impaled like a shrike’s prey on a white background)
    • Iding (raven, purple on gold)
    • Gwynedd (red dragon)

3. How did the title come about? Does it relate to a passage in the book?

Menewood is the name of Hild’s valley, her personal possession, her safe place and heart-of-home; a secret, wooded valley with a system of becks and ponds, guarded at its mouth by an ancient oak pollard. Menewood is Hild’s last redoubt, her final bolthole, green and quiet and safe—for a while. And though most people familiar with Old English might want to pronounce it MEN-eh-wood I pronounce it MEEN-wood, like the part of Leeds neighbouring where I grew up. Just as Caer Loid is where the present-day ruins of Kirkstall Abbey stand, seventh-century Menewood is in present-day Meanwood Valley, with Hild’s settlement right about where the Menewood Park playground is today. 

4. Do you have any images or reference material that you would like us to consider?

For a sense of colour see anything from the Sutton Hoo ship burial or Staffordshire Hoard: gold, garnet, sapphire/blue enamel, etc.

5. Is there anything you would prefer not to see on the cover? Least favourite colour? Preference for photography over illustration or vice versa?  

  • The only person I want to see on the cover of Menewood is Hild.
  • She must not look demure or sweet in any way
  • I dislike dull and muddy colours: mustard, beige, olive, etc
  • I’d like a richly-coloured illustration, preferably by the Balbusso twins so that the figure of Hild herself looks like a sharper, more experienced, and honed version of the child on the cover of Hild

On balance, I think I got what I wanted—only better, because now the Hild of my imagination has a shape and colour in the real world. The art’s gorgeousness seemed to galvanise the publishing team—and they created a rich interior design.

But you can see that for yourself in October when the book hits shelves (pre-order info below). Or if you need a preview copy for critical and/or review and/or teaching purposes, you can find one at NetGalley or Edelweiss, or ask for one from my publicist, Molly Grote. Or you could just ask me. All contact info is here. | | Apple Books | Barnes & Noble | Phinney Books | Target

1 Let’s not fight about dates. I know the arguments, and this date has always felt the best to me. Perhaps one day I’ll write a whole blog post about why but, eh, today is not that day.

2 And in fact I had discussions with my agent and editor about cutting the book into two, or even three. My agent was keen on the two-book idea—double the sales!—my editor was neutral-tending-to-reluctant, and I was opposed. I would have made twice (at least twice) as much money from splitting it but to me it felt cynical. I imagined a reader getting to the end of Book One and feeling unsatisfied. It does end in a reasonable place—but it doesn’t feel whole. Imagine getting to the end of The Fellowship of the Ring and a) having to wait and year then b) having to shell out another chunk of change for The Two Towers. Besides, I’d planned the novel to take Hild—and, more particularly, the reader—through a very specific emotional arc, ending in triumph, joy, a life-changing choice, and the spirit of adventure. Anything else would have felt incomplete. I’m guessing it will lose me sales. In fact I know it will. (But that’s not a story for public consumption. If you find me in the bar at IMC in July, ask.) Just as I knew with Hild that if I’d listened to my editor (“Can’t Hild be just a leetle bit magic?”) I most likely would have made more money. But I have a overall plan—I know what I’m trying to achieve with these books, and this is how it has to be.

3 I lost the anachronism fight with the first book: everyone loved the mail coif; no one cared that her seax should hang sideways or that her cross was nothing like the cross described in the book. And with this one, I didn’t bother correcting the weapons, or pointing out the stirrups (or the cross again—and the cross is worth a whole blog post, one which I might actually get to). And Hild’s staff should be as tall as she is (which is very tall indeed) and very much more brutal-looking—but I count the staff we have as a win, because it started out as an enormous fifteenth-century Jeanne d’Arc-type sword.

4 Banners! Oh, I had so much fun creating images for banners and shields and so on. (Almost as much fun as I had creating maps.) None of them are as seventh-century as I’d like—the only real images we have of animals are on jewellery, and so fantastically interlaced with other creatures that it’s hard to tell what they represent. (And even when not interlaced it can be hard to tell: what is the Bamburgh Beast? What is that weird dolphin thing found on Pictish stones?) There are also illuminated manuscripts but they’re mostly from later centuries and they’re all sort of sweet-looking, even comedic; none are designed to project power or strike fear into the hearts of foes. So I just made stuff up. And, yes, that will definitely be a future blog post.

2 thoughts on “Menewood!

  1. I recently turned 75. Books have been constant companions on my journey through life. I love them. The heft, the cover art, the pages peeking from their jackets, the places they have taken me, entertained, enlightened, made me smile, made me cry, angry, hopeful. Your novels have solidly been in that mix.
    I immensely enjoyed Hild. I love “women” who move mountains. I am so looking forward to Menewood!
    (Do you know I think of you when I wrap up my garden hose or on alert as I turn a building corner?)

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