Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Author Snapshot: Philippa Gregory

Six novels after she swept us away with The Other Boleyn Girl, Philippa Gregory brings us The White Queen and the magnificent Plantagenet family.

In some regards, The White Queen isn’t new territory for Gregory, whose 14 previous novels have covered a broad swathe of history but are nonetheless bound by their author’s tight attention to detail.

In a CBC interview around the time the film version of The Other Boleyn Girl was released, Gregory said that “It gives me a real authority to talk about the period. There’s nobody going to say to me, ‘Did you know such and such?’ and I won’t know it. The pleasure for me, then, is that I can then relax and write the novel. I don’t start writing the novel until I am as confident of the historical record as if I was going to sit down and write a biography.”

One can imagine, then, the place where the research ends and the magic begins. Research will take you a long way, sure. But Gregory’s powers as a storyteller are what has entranced so many millions of fans over the years. Some of those fans will get the chance to hear Gregory up close and personal as she tours in support of The White Queen. In Canada, Gregory will be in Toronto on September 17th and in Victoria on September 28th. Event details and US tour dates are here.

A Snapshot of... Philippa Gregory

Most recent book: The White Queen
Born: Kenya
Reside: Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Birthday January 9, 1954
Web site: PhilippaGregory.com

What’s your favorite city?

You only have six hours to spend there. What do you do?

I get my hair cut, I go to the National Portrait Gallery and see the original paintings of the faces that I now know so well. I go to the London Library and read, I end up in the Berkley Hotel for the night.

What’s on your nightstand?
At the moment [The] Biophilia [Hypothesis] by Edward O. Wilson, and The Kingmaker’s Sisters, by David Baldwin.

What inspires you?

The history and the gaps in the history.

What are you working on now?
I am working on book two of the Cousins War series which will be about Margaret Beaufort, mother to Henry Tudor, and titled The Red Queen. I hope it will come out next year.

Tell us about your process.
I write on a laptop wherever I happen to be, I don’t need silence or study conditions, I write in airports and in my bed. I follow the historical record exactly wherever it is certain, and see my work as in a sense recreating the events that we know took place. When there is a gap in the record -- as happens so often especially for women's history -- I write the most likely, the most congruent with the facts we know, or the one that makes sense to me.

Lift your head and look around. What do you see?
I am in my study overlooking the North York Moors so I see a great side of hill with some trees, some craggy outcrops of rock and a big expanse of cloudy grey sky.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I never really wanted to be a writer, I wrote little stories from early childhood, but I did not know I would make my living from writing fiction until my first book was accepted by a publisher. Even then, I thought I would do it alongside my chosen profession of teaching history. But the history post never came up, and the next book did.

If you couldn’t write books, what would you be doing?
There are so many things I would love to do. My first love was journalism and I would love to work in radio still. I would like to teach history in a university, I would like to run a conservation sanctuary in Africa, or train horses, or run an orphanage, or be a lady of complete leisure in a big house in the country...

To date, what moment in your career has made you happiest?
I get a lot of pleasure when I have finished a book and I feel that it is as good as it can be. The Boleyn Inheritance was a very easy book to write; The Queen’s Fool, and The Constant Princess were very interesting to research and write too. I think The White Queen may be my best book and it has been endlessly fascinating to me.

For you, what is the easiest thing about being writer?
The hours and the work conditions -- just as I want.

What’s the most difficult?
I can’t honestly say anything is difficult. Sometimes the interviews are uncomfortable.

What question do you get asked about your writing most often?

Where do you get your ideas from.

What’s the question you'd like to be asked?

I like to be asked complicated questions about history by people who are genuinely interested.

Please tell us about The White Queen.
It is the story of Elizabeth Woodville whose beauty, and (according to accusations at the time) witchcraft skills seduced the 20 year old King Edward IV into marriage. An attack by the rival House of Lancaster forced him to run for his life into exile and her into hiding in sanctuary in Westminster Abbey while his cousin, Henry VI recovered the throne. But Edward’s military brilliance meant that he returned to England, recaptured the throne, in two successive set piece battles, and rescued his wife from sanctuary where she had given birth to their first son. The royal couple had ten surviving children before the King’s death when Elizabeth decided to secure the safety of her thirteen year old son by seizing power. The king’s brother, Duke Richard of York, suspecting foul play from the newly widowed queen, captured her precious son. The boy was lodged in the Tower and Elizabeth again fled into sanctuary with her remaining children -- her younger son, Richard, and her daughters.

The conventional history (commissioned by the Tudor victors) says that she handed over her children to Richard III who was Richard Duke of Gloucester. I don’t believe it. I think she smuggled him out of the country into Flanders, in the care of his aunt, the Duchess of Burgundy. Many historians agree that one of the princes may have got to safety, but we have no evidence to show it was done, nor how it was done.

In The White Queen I suggest that she sent a changeling into the Tower in her son’s place. Elizabeth survived the reign of Richard III and clearly became friends with him, releasing her daughters into his safe-keeping while she went to live in the country. The novel ends on the eve of the battle of Bosworth with Elizabeth certain that her hidden son Richard, will be the York heir.

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