Heather Day Gilbert’s first novel, God’s Daughter, has just been published. It tells the story of Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir–daughter-in-law of Eirik the Red, who embraces Christianity and journey’s to North America.
But even as Gudrid faces down murderous crewmen, raging sickness, and hostile natives, she realizes her greatest enemy is herself–and the secrets she hides might just tear her marriage apart.
We interviewed Heather by email:
Your novel focuses on a main female character – Gudrid Thorbjarnardottir. What was the experience like for you in using historical sources to develop this character?
Since I wanted to bring the sagas to life, I focused on those for my source material, since that’s where we really get to know Gudrid. I also learned all sorts of valuable insights via Nancy Marie Brown’s The Far Traveler, a non-fiction novel about Gudrid. I appreciate all the research Brown put into her book!
When you go about writing a historical novel, the writer often has to balance the needs of being historically accurate against developing a good plot and characters that your readers will relate too. How did you approach that kind of situation with this novel?
Ah. Yes. There was a scene I really wanted to include at the start, which involved how Gudrid’s Christianity clashed with a mutinous pagan sailor…but it just dragged the first chapter down. I’ve omitted some incidents and changed a few details, but not much. Honestly, The Saga of the Greenlanders and Eirik the Red’s Saga are pretty sparse. So I definitely erred on the side of filling in that plotline by bringing Gudrid to life in my mind. But I did base my language choices on Old Norse words, as much as possible (nouns, verbs, etc, they would’ve used). And yet, as I elaborate in my Author’s Note, I also used contractions and first person, present tense to make it readable. I figure Vikings had ways of shortening their words, just like we do. And that was the point–they were similar to us in many ways.
Over the last several months you have posted a few videos on your Youtube page about the writing process, your inspiration for creating this novel, and other topics. Why did you want to make use of this kind of media?
I wanted to connect with my blog followers. I figured if they could see me (hear my accent! ha), they would feel more connected with my long and winding road to publication. If you watch those, you’ll see I’ve had three literary agents over the course of about five and a half years. I’ve struggled to get my foot in the door with the Christian book industry, but since God’s Daughter has released, I feel my true readership has found me. My books are written from a Christian worldview, but they’re not preachy in the least. I want them to reach a large audience–in particular, an audience interested in Viking history. I guess I wanted to bring Viking history into people’s lives in a memorable way, sort of like Marian Zimmer Bradley brought King Arthur to life with The Mists of Avalon.
See also this video interview of Heather
See also her article on Medievalists.net: Viking Women: Not as Different as You Might Think