01 June 2008

Guest Blogger: Blythe Gifford

This week we welcome the lovely and charming Blythe Gifford. I'm a little biased because she and I are members of the same RWA chapter here in the the Chicago area, but she also writes the most amazing medievals. This time around, in Innocence Unveiled, she takes us to the Low Countries...


A man of secrets...

He shares a king's blood, but his mother's shame means he'll never claim his birthright. Now, disguised as a smuggler, he is a spy in a city of enemies.

And a woman of lies...

She hides her hair under the veil of a married woman to protect her father's weaving business. Desperate for the banned wool, she opens her home to the alluring smuggler.

Sleeping under the same roof.

They fight temptation at every turn. In a town where no one feels safe, she makes him yearn for things long forbidden, but can he trust her when the truth may mean betrayal--and death?

Welcome to Unusual Historicals! So what's so unusual about INNOCENCE UNVEILED?

It's set in Ghent, Flanders. This is my third book and while I've stayed in my 14th century world, I crossed the channel from England to what was then called The Low Countries. Coupled with the change of country, I also set the book in a city instead of a castle in the country. It's an urban medieval, a rare breed.

What led you to this setting?

It was totally dictated by the story. This book was sparked by a very specific incident in 1337, reported by the chroniclers. As King Edward III was trying to gain support for his claim to the throne of France, he sent an "embassy," or diplomatic mission, to the Continent to recruit allies. Along with the diplomats traveled a number of "bachelor" knights, each wearing an eye patch and swearing not to speak until he had performed some deed of arms in France.

My hero is one of those knights, but instead of staying with the group, I imagined him riding off alone. Of course, I had to follow him.

How does the setting influence the story?

Just before the Hundred Years' War, this city was full of conflicts and factions, distrust and suspicion. It was the perfect surrounding for characters who have lies to tell and secrets to hide.

In the 14th century, Flanders was the cloth-making powerhouse of the continent. Wool from English sheep was imported by the ton, woven into cloth, and exported back to England. Because of the close economic ties between England and the Flemish cloth makers, the burghers, or the middle class, in Flanders found their economic and political interests tied to England's, while the nobles and the Count of Flanders were tied to the Court of Paris and the French king. Even language divided them, with the burghers speaking Flemish and the nobles speaking French.

It's also a very beautiful city. Many medieval buildings still line the placid canals (most, unfortunately, built just after my period) and provided real visual inspiration.

So tell us a little about your characters.

As in my previous books, one of my main characters is illegitimate; in this case, it's my hero, the secret son of an English princess. Unlike the character in THE HARLOT'S DAUGHTER, this hero is a figment of my imagination. We have no evidence that the Duchess of Brabant (an English princess) had any illegitimate children. Her husband was famous for his bastards, however, and I hope the lady will forgive my literary license. (Of course, if she HAD any illegitimate children, she would never have let us know, would she?)

My heroine is as close to the working woman of today as a 14th century woman can get. (I identified strongly with her and I hope readers do, too.) She runs a weaving business and is passionate about her work. This was not an acceptable occupation for a noblewoman at that time, so she has secrets of her own.

Since we are kicking off our month long spotlight on religious beliefs, can you tell us what role religion played in this book?

Coincidentally, a big one. (Although it is hard to write a medieval and ignore religion.) The hero's goal is to be appointed a bishop. Despite what we would expect today, you did not need lots of religious training for this post. It was as much a secular as a religious one, but nearly a prerequisite for many government positions. There were a couple of requirements, however. You had to be 30 years old and you had to be of legitimate birth. My hero has a challenge with both of these.

My heroine, meanwhile, has her own challenges with the church. She has red hair, which many in the medieval church identified with Mary Magdalene, licentiousness, and even prostitution. Coupled with my heroine's desire to work in the cloth trade, this made her an immoral woman in the eyes of many. She has to come to terms with her own passions during the course of the book.

Thanks for joining us!

Thanks for having me! If you want more information on the book or the history surrounding it, come visit www.blythegifford.com.

Credit line for Ghent photo: The Graslei in Ghent


I know you want a copy of Innocence Unveiled, available now. Leave a comment or a question for Blythe for your chance to win a copy. The drawing will be one week from today. Good luck!