I was so excited when I got the chance to interview Nicole Galland in regards to her new novel Godiva. You can check out her website for her complete bio - in a nutshell she's a Harvard graduate, from Martha's Vineyard, is a screenwriter and theater co-founder, and has written a handful of novels.
If you haven't checked out my review yesterday, pop over and read it. Stick around and enter the giveaway at the end of the post.
1) What I loved about Godiva is that it seems to be a novel about relationships: Godiva and her friend Edgiva, and Godiva and her husband Leofric. Do you think these relationships were typical or realistic for the time period?
That’s an insightful question, and two answers come to me at once.
First, yes, relationships are very important to me, I love to write about them... but they are so very context-dependent. We can’t begin to understand or know the emotional rules of engagement in an era so vastly removed from our own; we can only imagine them. I like to imagine them as being familiar to me and my readers. While it is flattering to be told that one has “captured the authentic feeling of an era,” there isn’t really any way to know if that era has been captured authentically unless the person saying so has time-traveled from that era to the present day.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying: there’s no way to know if these relationships were typical or realistic in 1046 England. They are, however, typical and realistic in Nicole Galland’s imagination ;-)
Second: to the degree that I can hazard an educated guess, it is true that women in Anglo-Saxon England had more social and personal clout/freedom/agency than their descendants over the next, oh, 900 years. So these relationships are more realistic for the late Anglo-Saxon era than for the Norman, high medieval, Renaissance, Restoration, Enlightenment, Early Modern, Victorian, etc... Than most of the eras that followed.
2) Lady Godiva is such a fascinating character. She is wealthy in her own right, married to a well-positioned man, and cleverly smart. I can see her character being loved or hated because she used her sexual appeal for political purposes. What made her character appealing to you?She came to me fully fledged, like Athena out of Zeus’s head. I almost didn’t have a say in it (she is, as you have perhaps noticed, like that). Originally, of course, I was drawn to her because she rode naked on a horse as a tax protest, which made her intriguing before I really “knew” her.
The sex-appeal-as-weapon (which as I said, was her idea! She showed up and informed me of it. Very charmingly, of course)... through most of human history, women have been valued largely as sexual objects, which means per their sex appeal. (Not that every woman who was ever made a concubine was “hot,” but the “hot” ones, the flirty ones, generally received more attention.) Even in “modern American society,” there is tremendous pressure on women to present themselves as sexually desirable. We don’t use that as a political weapon but we do use it as a social one – or rather, consumer society is set up to encourage us to do so. And so many of us have internally that message, we don’t even realize it. We mostly notice it as a sense of insecurity or low self-esteem when we are “failing” to appeal.
What I like about Godiva is that she has a clear-eyed understanding of “the male gaze,” and uses that understanding for big-picture, practical purposes. She doesn’t feel persecuted by the pressure to be pretty, nor does she feel offended by it; she accepts that this is how men work, she doesn’t hold it against them, and she doesn’t rely on her beauty to feel good about herself. It is simply a tool to be used for matters of importance to her. She’s not a spring chicken; her allure is largely in her self-confidence, and if no man ever melted under her gaze again, she’d just shrug and find some other way to get on a level playing field with them – and continue to feel good about herself. She’s above having an ego-attachment to her attractivenes; her ego is healthy independent of her attractiveness (to the point that the attractiveness is almost like a costume she likes to don), and I admire that.
3) I haven’t read many novels set during this time period, the 11th Century. I especially liked reading about the interactions between the Anglo-Saxons and the Normans and your depiction of King Edward. How did you do your research and what drew you towards writing about this time period?
When I was writing my first novel, The Fool’s Tale, I was taken in by a wonderful couple named Alan and Maureen Crumpler, in the town of Leominster, UK. (There’s a great story about meeting them on my website, somewhere. It’s one of the 10 Great Anecdotes of My Life) They told me the story of Abbess Edgiva and Earl Sweyn, which was my initial impulse to write a novel about this era. I was drawn to their story because there are two historical flavors to the events: one sees their story as an act of violence, the other as a genuine romance. I wanted to explore different ways to tell the story... But then, in my research about Leominster Abbey, I learned about Leofric (since he was the abbey’s patron) and then Godiva... And once Godiva showed up, she took control.
4) Besides being an author, you’ve also directed plays and worked in the theater. Can you envision any actors who’d play your characters?Funny you should ask, one of the books (I better not say which one) has been turned into a screenplay and is making the rounds, so there’s been a lot of talk about this. It’s hard for me to chime in on it. I see my characters as themselves, for lack of a better way to put it. I think Natalie Dormer from Game of Thrones would be an excellent Godiva when she’s older, although so, in a very different way, would Emilia Clark. Now see, that’s just because I was thinking about Game of Thrones today... Otherwise, I would not have even have been able to come up with those ideas!
5) We both agree that authors are rock stars. What authors do you think are rock stars?I’ll limit this answer to living authors, as a list of all authors through history would go on forever (although of course, Shakespeare tops the list and Tolstoy is right behind him, followed by Dr. Seuss...and for historical fiction it is absolutely Dorothy Dunnett... but after that, see, it gets tricky because there are at least 5 dozen more I could then rattle off...)
Living authors... Too many again to list, but here are a few categories, because I have wide-ranging taste:
Author who, when I hear he has a new book out, I squeal most loudly with delight: Christopher Moore
Authors who leaves me speechless with astonishment for sundry reasons: David Foster Wallace, David Mitchell, Dave Eggers
Author whose book I have read the most times in a row and I never cease to rave about: Norton Juster, who wrote The Phantom Tollbooth, my favorite book ever
Authors whose work I love so much I wish I had written it: Susan Cooper (the Dark is Rising series) and Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible)
Authors whose use of language makes me want to speak it aloud as I read it: Geraldine Brooks, Ursula LeGuin, and I know I am forgetting others because I’ve spent years of my life trying to read things I like out loud to other people.
That is a partial list... Thanks for asking me to think of them! That was fun.
Now for the giveaway!! I have a beautiful paperback copy of Godiva for one lucky winner. Just fill out the form below. The giveaway is open through October 7th and US residents only. Thanks!!
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