10 Reasons To Love: Nicola Griffith

30th Sep 2014

10 Reasons To Love: Nicola Griffith
Happy Birthday Nicola Griffith! We count down ten reasons to love the multiple Lammy Award winning author with a passion for etymology. She's also touring the UK in early October 2014 and talking about her latest book 'Hild'...

1. Notoriety

As writers go, Nicola Griffith is pretty renowned.  She made the front cover of the Wall Street Journal in 1998 after she immigrated to the States. 

They described her life pre-America as having been “a waitress in England, a tree surgeon, a bouncer, an alcohol-and-drugs counselor. With a shaved head and big boots, she sang in a lesbian band. She also wrote science-fiction stories.”

2. And Now We Are Going to Have a Party: Liner Notes from a Writer’s Early Life

Her autobiography talks about her childhood in a Catholic Leeds family, and how she reacted when she knew she “was a dyke”:

3. 1993

After she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1993, she decided to focus on writing.  That same year, her very first novel – Ammonite – was published.

4. Kick-Arse Heroines

Nicola Griffith is also well-known for her complex, kick-arse female characters.  From Aud (Blue Place), her tough Norwegian ex-cop, to anthropologist Marghe Taishan (Ammonite), she delves into the psyche of these women, helping us identify with them and their issues.

5. Her Lambda Awards…

The Lambda Literary Awards (or the ‘Lammys’ as they’re affectionately referred to by their recipients) are annually awarded to works that celebrate or explore LGBT themes.  Griffith has won not one, not two, but six of these prodigious awards:

The Award for Lesbian science fiction, fantasy or horror

The Award for Science fiction, fantasy or horror – twice!

The Award for Lesbian Mystery

The Award for Lesbian Memoir/Biography

And finally, the Jim Duggins Outstanding Mid-Career Novelists’ Prize, which is awarded to one male and one female writer every year.

Impressive or what?

6. …And More!

But she’s not just received acknowledgement in LGBT circles; she won the James Tiptree Jr. Award for her very first novel Ammonite and a World Fantasy Award for Bending the Landscape: Fantasy, edited with Stephen Pagel.

7. On Writing Characters

Perhaps best summarised in her own words:

“My writing reflects my perspective: people are just people, no matter what their age/sex/sexual preference/colour/physical ability (etc.). We all do glorious–and supremely stupid–things.”

8. Her love of “Old” Languages

There’s something quite wonderful about a writer’s love of words, and Nicola Griffith is no different.  She reads bilingual versions of both Old English and Old Welsh poetry, and the research and the discussions that she has on Gemaecca about etymology, language and “the slow, rich rolling rhythms of another time and place” are simply fascinating.

9. The Writing of ‘Hild’

“This is the novel that I’ve been aiming for my whole life”

Hild is the incredible retelling of the life of St Hild of Whitby – or at least, the girl who will become her.  It’s set in the Dark Ages and is the perfect balance of research and heart-wrenching prose, made even more incredible by the fact that she wrote it in three months whilst her mother was dying.

She puts it best when she describes how it felt, especially when trying to get over writer’s block:

“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.”

10. Her Upcoming British Tour

And then Nicola Griffith is made even more wonderful by the fact that she is spending the first ten days of October here in the UK, talking all about Hild.

[Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons]


  • Michaela says:

    I <3 Nicola Griffith as much as anyone, but even a cursory look at her research blog would indicate she did not write it "in three months while her mother was dying". There are posts covering a few years as she writes and revises the manuscript.

    • Marie-Claire Conlin says:

      Hi Michaela,

      Here’s a link to a guest post Nicola did for Ali:


      In it, she says:

      ‘Fast forward 20 years. I was waiting for the proofs of Always, the third Aud novel. My mother was dying. I was going crazy. So I did what I’ve always done when I can’t sit still: I just started to write. In a blaze of energy I wrote a memoir. I wrote the whole thing, soup to nuts, in three months; there was no time to be precious or step around the truth. As I wrote the introduction, I found myself talking about history and language and landscape and how I was shaped as a writer by all three. It became clear that this story about an extraordinary woman called Hild was where I’d been going for years, where I’d always been going, I’d just been too afraid of failure—failing at this thing I’d been aiming for all my life—to admit it. So the day before my birthday I thought: Enough. I would celebrate by having begun. So I sat down, opened a new document. And there she was, lying under a tree, listening. She was three years old…’

      We took this to mean the writing that would become Hild, although you’re right in that it probably didn’t include the time dedicated to revisions.