MEET THE AUTHOR: PHILIPPA GREGORY
As a feminist and an historian it only made sense that best-selling author Philippa Gregory would end up exploring the little-known stories of women in history.
In her latest novel, she sets her sights on Richard III’s wife Anne Neville.
Gregory studied 18th century history at university and went on to specialise in women’s history. Her fascination with women’s lives in the Middle Ages led to her writing her bestselling Tudor series, including the novel The Other Boleyn Girl which has since been made into a movie. Currently, Gregory is working on another fascinating dynasty from this period, the Plantagenets.
The Hoopla’s Meredith Jaffé spoke to Philippa Gregory about the secret to writing bestselling historical novels.
To celebrate the launch of The Kingmaker’s Daughter, you could win a trip to the historic United Kingdom! Purchase a copy of the book and ENTER HERE!
What struck me very early on with The Kingmaker’s Daughter is that on one hand the women in this story are pawns and yet there are some female characters that wield quite a significant amount of power. What is it about the women of these historical times that fascinates you as a writer?
Well I’m a feminist and a historian and I’m a feminist historian so of course I’m going to be interested in women in history. What’s really interesting is the way women are able to act in these periods, where they have no formal power whatsoever, in fact they have no rights, they barely have a position in society.
They can get a position by marriage, which is what we see most of these women do, but even that is not in their choosing. They are put into marriages by their fathers, so they’re born as the property of a father and then they are handed over as a property to a husband. But what is really interesting in this society, which was by definition hugely patriarchal, is to see what women can and do do with the opportunities that are available to them. I always find that very inspiring because what you can see is that women in our society women are often disadvantaged but when you look at the mediaeval world you see women hopelessly, tremendously, enormously disadvantaged and yet they still manage to do things.
You steer clear of that Olde Englande type detail that often interrupts the modern reader. Is that something you deliberately set out to do or is that just a consequence of being a modern storyteller?
No it’s very much part of my own individual style, which I’ve honed now over 20 years of writing historical fiction. I took a decision in my first book that I wouldn’t ever attempt historical type dialogue because we simply don’t know how people spoke. And actually, if you rendered it in anyway authentically, nobody would understand what you were saying. What people say at the time is that a man from Warwickshire, in central England, could not possibly understand a man from Devon from the far west. In any case, almost everybody at the court speaks French, and they sometimes speak Latin to each other on formal occasions, so it would be a nonsensical device.
It’s a modern story in the sense that you’ve made the story so incredibly accessible that I didn’t feel like I was particularly reading historical fiction. The themes and the problems rang true to me today.
I would hate for anybody to feel that they were particularly reading historical fiction. It seems to me that a good historical novel has to be both accurate history and a really readable novel. It’s got to be both. You should be able to read it if you know nothing and care nothing for history and if you’re never going to read any of the history round it, and still enjoy it as a story of individuals under certain pressures wending their way through their lives.
In that sense, it’s timeless because it’s a novel about the development of individuals in their circumstances. The circumstances are, of course, the history but that shouldn’t be an obstacle, that should be an enhancement to the story.
How do you go from the historical facts to supposition? What kind of choices do you have to make for the betterment of the story that are not necessarily completely true to historical or generally accepted facts of a period?
First of all, you have this difficulty that there are some controversial facts of the period. It’s not a period so well researched that there’s a general agreement among historians as to what happened. A classic example (that occurs in The Kingmaker’s Daughter) is the death of the princes in the tower.
Nobody knows when they died, how they died, if they were killed and if they were killed, who killed them? We don’t even have a body. So in a sense, that’s absolutely an example that if you were writing a history you would make your calculations clear to the reader. You would say, I think it was so and so and this is why I think it was so and so.
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