In 1040 AD a Danish king by the name of Harthacnut took control of the English throne through a massive display of military force. He then sustained his power as king by re-instituting an oppressive war tax, called the “heregeld.” The heregeld drove England into poverty and, when towns around the country began to revolt against the tax, he ordered his vassals to destroy these towns and murder their own people.
Such was life in ancient England, a place many would not like to revisit, but for author Nicole Galland it is fertile creative ground. Her latest book, Godiva, picks up years after Harthacnut died. In Ms. Galland’s hands, Lady Godiva is a steamy heroine who uses her womanly wiles to help the people rather than the elite. She is a countess, married to the Earl of Mercia, and when she turns her back on the status quo, she is forced, as legend has it, to ride naked by horseback through the town of Coventry. Indeed.
“Looking at the reality of the time, the situation was not a countess standing up to her husband, but to this very weak king,” Ms. Galland said in an interview from Los Angeles where she recently relocated after living for years on the Vineyard. “Looking at it like that, it completely makes sense that a countess would do something to revolt against the heregeld.”
Ms. Galland will give a reading of her new book on Wednesday, July 10, at a Speakeasy event at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury to benefit the West Tisbury Library. The evening begins at 5:30 p.m.
According to Ms. Galland, the folk legend is rife with factual inaccuracies. She said that uncovering and sorting out these discrepancies is just part of the nature of writing historical fiction. She calls this hunt for the truth “creative archaeology.”
“You learn as much as you can about an era and you find out what could and could not have happened,” Ms. Galland said. “Then you have to look for another plausible excuse.”
But once she has the facts straight, Ms. Galland said that she is free to fill in some of the unknowable details of the story — an aspect of writing historical fiction that she said she thoroughly enjoys.
“One of the things that’s fun is that there’s this dance between the facts you have to be responsible with and what you can be creative with,” Ms. Galland said. “You have this delicious blend of something that really happened and the poetic license to give it the take that appeals to you.”
The skill of deftly mixing fact and fiction is one that Ms. Galland said she learned in her time as a stage actor and has been able to incorporate into her historical fiction writing.
“When it comes to a script, there’s certain information that you have that’s inarguable: what the character definitely says and does,” she said. “But why does the character do that? How does the character do that? That’s where I come in.”
Ms. Galland applied this skill of factual interpretation in writing the character Godiva. Although she knew the story of Godiva’s naked ride, the author said she was hard-pressed to find the character’s motivation to do such a thing. The answer, according to Ms. Galland, came in Godiva’s driven-yet-seductive personality.
But Godiva’s character wasn’t one that came naturally to Ms. Galland. In fact, she said she did not even intend to write the story of Godiva’s ride until she hit a mental block while writing her original manuscript: the story of Abbess Edgiva, Lady Godiva’s loyal friend.
As Ms. Galland was writing the story of Edgiva, she took a short break to research Lady Godiva and in a moment of inspiration discovered she could write an entirely different story.
“There was this moment that felt like the top of my head had opened up and this thing streamed in — that thing was Godiva,” she said.
As she learned more about Lady Godiva’s ride, Ms. Galland said she began to develop a personality for Godiva’s character that might justify a naked ride on horseback through Coventry.
“Sometimes writing consists not of writing but of receiving and being receptive,” she said. “The character and the story wove together nicely, but I don’t feel like I deserve any credit for having set that up.”
Tickets to the Nicole Galland Speakeasy are $25 and includes light refreshments. Call Carol Brush at 508-693-3489. Tickets will also be available at the door.