by Mary Jo
One of the pleasures of large book signings is that an author usually ends up sitting next to strangers. Over the course of two or three hours, much fun and talk occurs. This happened to me at the Romance Writers of Australia conference when alphabetical order placed me next to Eliza Redgold, a delightful author and academic who looks like one of our romance heroines. <G> In July, St. Martin's Press released her new novel, Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva.
The cover is stunning and the book kept me enthralled for much of the long flight home from Down Under, so I invited Eliza to visit the Word Wenches. Happily, she said yes.
MJP: To begin with, who is Eliza Redgold?
ER: Eliza Redgold is based upon the old, Gaelic meaning of my given name, Dr. Elizabeth Reid Boyd. English folklore has it that if you help a fairy, you will be rewarded with red gold. I was born in Irvine, Scotland on Marymass Day and currently live in Australia.
MJP: Naturally, as soon as I read that, I had to go online to find out what Marymass Day is! The holiday commemorates a visit Mary Queen of Scots made to Irvine, and there is a parade complete with the Queen and the four Marys who were famously her attendants. Eliza, from what I found online, the festival is in August but the date isn't fixed?
ER: Yes, it changes. My grandmother went off to watch the parade, and when she came back, I'd been born!
MJP: Obviously you didn't want to miss the fun. <G> What else can you tell us about yourself?
ER: I’m an author, academic and unashamed romantic. I’ve presented academic papers on women and romance and am a contributor to the Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction. I’ve researched Godiva in my academic life and am giving a paper soon at an American Cultural Association conference about Godiva’s importance to women and her return to popular culture. She’s a legend!
MJP: Godiva is heiress to Coventry, the Middle Lands, the heartland of Anglo-Saxon England. The city has a rich history, though Godiva's ride is probably the best known fact of Coventry's history. In more recent history, Coventry is known for the massive destruction by Nazi firebombing in 1940 as they sought to destroy the city's vital war industries. The beautiful 14th century cathedral was largely destroyed. After the war, the ruins were preserved as a monument (picture on the left) while a striking modern cathedral was built next door. (On the right.) The old and new cathedral drew me to Coventry on my first visit to England many years ago, and the images are with me still. (Please forgive the personal digression!)
Eliza, in Naked, you create a wonderful sense of the time and place. Can you tell us about your research?
ER: To look for Lady Godiva I made a trip to Coventry, England. It was difficult to find remnants of Godiva’s life, but I definitely experienced a strange feeling near the place where Godiva and Leofric are believed to be buried. Their spirits are in the air.
It was in Coventry I became convinced there was an untold story. In most of the Godiva stories, Leofric of Mercia is definitely the villain of the piece, ready to impose heavy taxes and to force his wife to carry out her daring ride. Yet by the end of his life, I discovered historical documents reveal Lord Leofric was a changed man. I became determined to clear Lord Leofric’s name. I fell a bit in love with him – and I know some readers have too. But he’s a challenge! You’ll have to decide for yourself.
MJP: What’s next for Eliza Redgold?
ER: As both an academic in gender studies and a novelist, I’m passionate about the telling of the tales of women. My ‘Romance your Senses’ series of short contemporary romances are published by Harlequin Escape and (MIRA) Australia.
A pair of my Victorian romances are about to be published by Harlequin Historical. Enticing Benedict Cole (November 2015 release) is about an artist, a lady and a secret love.
MJP: Your writing in Naked is wonderfully poetic and evocative. Can you give us an excerpt?
ER: Here's a quote:
The gleeman took up his place in front of the fire and began to sing.
In a low tone no one else could hear my mother murmured to me. “This Witan council is important, Godiva. We won’t be gone too long and I want to be with your father. That’s how you know the man you love. The days are longer when you’re apart.”
Her attention moved to Edmund, deep in conversation with my father. “It’s a Saxon noblewoman’s right to choose the man she wishes to marry.”
Many girls were married much younger than me. I’d been given time.
Now Edmund wanted my answer.
"As heiress to the Middle Lands, you must choose wisely.” From her belt my mother took some silver keys. “We’ll talk more when I return. We charge the care of Coventry to you while we are gone. Hang these from your belt and let them remind you of your duty to our people.”
Cool and heavy. The keys had hung around my mother’s waist for as long as I could remember. “I’ll wear them, Moder. I promise.”
For a moment I wondered if I ought to tell her of Aine’s foreknowledge. But she turned away to speak to my father.
The gleeman began to beguile me. When I was small I’d fallen asleep at the table listening to the tale of Beowulf, lulled by its rowing rhythm. As my mother carried me to the bower I’d awoken from a dream filled with warriors, battling the monster Grendel.
“Were they real?” I’d asked, half asleep, my arms twining her neck.
“Were who real, my sweet heart?”
“Beowulf. The heroes of the past.”
“They’re as real as you would have them be, Godiva. As real as love or courage or honor or kindness. Though we can’t see these things, they are all that matter.”
Her words floated back to me as the gleeman sang.
From down the table, Edmund smiled.
In a flash I knew what my answer would be.
I’ve also got some other Legendary Ladies calling out to have their stories told. I look forward to introducing them to you.
Thanks so much for having me on Word Wenches. It’s a real privilege – and one of my favorite sites.
MJP: Thanks so much for visiting the Word Wenches, Eliza. I look forward to future Legendary Ladies from you!
In the meantime, Eliza will give away a copy of NAKED to someone who comments between now and midnight Tuesday. What are your thoughts about Godiva? To be honest, I hadn't thought a lot about her until I read Eliza's book, but now I'm enthralled!