Today I'm delighted to welcome author Nicola Griffith as part of her blog tour for her latest book Hild which has recently been published here in the UK.
Yorkshire's history is stamped on its landscape, literally and figuratively, and it moulded the language that I absorbed with my mother's milk (and grandmother's whisky). A quick survey of Yorkshire place names (from natural features, to street names, to towns, to pubs) is like cutting a language core: in the sturdy bedrock of Anglo-Saxon there is the occasional gleam of Brythonic Celt heaved up from an earlier age, the pale glint of Norse, even strangely evolved fossils of Latin and Norman French. This hybrid and textured language is largely responsible for who I am. To explain, let me give you a few broad strokes of West Yorkshire history.
In the Iron Age, the place that was to be Leeds was an agriculturally various land enjoyed by the Brigantes, Brythonic Celts. In the first century the Romans arrived, and started building forts which became cities. Then they laid nature-defying roads across hill and dale between those cities, followed by armed camps to guard those roads. The Romans abandoned the region after about three hundred years and left the native Britons in charge again. Around this time, Angles, Saxons and other Germanic peoples started visiting Britain and staying, forming kingdoms and acquiring territory. A couple of hundred years later the Norse--Danes, mainly--arrived and the region lived under the Danelaw, with its own language and coinage and culture. Gradually, after battles and negotiations and marriages and so forth, the Danelaw melded with England. And then the Normans came.
By the time I showed up, 894 years after the Battle of Hastings, layer after layer of language was stamped on the place names of Yorkshire. The first street I remember living on was hilly street called Balbec Avenue. Bal is from a Celtic word for hill. Our family would drive for day trips to Otley Chevin, a big rocky outcropping overlooking an ancient market town (Otley bears the distinction of having the most pubs per capita in the British Isles). "Chevin," it turns out, descends from a word very similar to the Welsh (also a Brythonic language) cefn which means "hill." On the way to the coast for a holiday, we'd drive through Wetherby, a name that comes from wedrebi, a combination of wether, that is, neutered sheep, and -by, a Norse word for settlement. The hills were called the fells, from fjell, a Norse word for hill. York (I could write two pages on the evolution of that name) was built on the river Ouse, a name that comes from a Celtic root word, -udso, meaning water (water, in Irish—a Goedelic Celtic language—is uisc, which is the root of "whiskey"). The name of the River Esk, which bisects Whitby (a town on the North Yorkshire coast), also comes from that Celtic root word for water. The River Aire, which flows through Leeds, empties into the Ouse at Airmyn, "myn" being an Anglo-Saxon word for rivermouth. Esk, Ouse, Airmyn... I had a childish vision of waves of invaders, marching along with their Roman shields or Anglo-Saxon leaf-bladed spears or beautiful long Norse swords, coming to a river and saying arrogantly to a local fishing along the bank, "You there, what do you people call this?" and the local scratching her head and saying, "This, your honour? We call this 'water'."
I imagined the officer nodding self-importantly and reporting to his commander, later, "...and so we forded the river, which locals hereabouts call the River Water..." And, just like that, history to me was no longer what you found in history books, but was thronged with real people. Words assumed hidden power; I began to understand them as keys to the puzzle of the universe.
Words are like icebergs; nine tenths below the waterline. We don't see the entire meaning immediately but it has mass and momentum; it matters. To me there is all the difference in the world between "muscle" and "flesh," or "red" and "scarlet." Rhythm and grammar matter, too. Yorkshire syntax, more than many regions of England, shows its Celtic roots, its periphrastic, roundabout manner of speaking: "Dyuh fancy going down t'pub, then?"
I'm the product of two thousand years of history. It shows in my work.
Thanks to the lovely Emily at Little Brown I have a copy of Nicola's latest book Hild to give away to a follower, simply enter via the Rafflecopter form below. As it's a heavy hardback book I am going to have to restrict this to UK only.
'You are a prophet and seer with the brightest mind in an age. Your blood is that of the man who should have been king ...That's what the king and his lords see. And they will kill you, one day'
Britain in the seventh century - and the world is changing. Small kingdoms are merging, frequently and violently. Edwin, King of Northumbria, plots his rise to overking of all the Angles. Ruthless and unforgiving, he is prepared to use every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief. Into this brutal, vibrant court steps Hild - Edwin's youngest niece.
With her glittering mind and powerful curiosity, Hild has a unique way of reading the world. By studying nature, observing human behavior and matching cause with effect, she has developed the ability to make startlingly accurate predictions. It is a gift that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her.
It is also a valuable weapon. Hild is indispensable to Edwin - unless she should ever lead him astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, for her family, for her loved ones, and for the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can see the future and lead men like a warrior.
a Rafflecopter giveaway