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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Interview With Philippa Gregory From the UK 6/30/08


Philippa Gregory: 'SJP's my biggest fan'Monday, June 30, 2008


Author Philippa Gregory, 54, wrote historical blockbuster The Other Boleyn Girl – about Mary and Anne Boleyn vying for Henry VIII's attention – adapted into a film starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. She has written several sequels including forthcoming The Other Queen, about Mary Queen of Scots. The Other Boleyn Girl is out now on DVD.


Natalie Portman has called the film ‘a catfight movie’. Is that a fair description?Yes, it takes place in a clearly historical setting which makes it more than a straight catfight but it’s about two beautiful women competing for one powerful, handsome man. The novel made more of the historical context and supporting characters but you can’t do that in a movie. I had 500 pages rather than an hour-and-a-half.


What are the challenges of writing popular historical fiction?You take material which is strange to the reader but have to make them feel comfortable with it. Research is the first thing I do and is the most important element. Readers should read it as if it was a modern novel. There shouldn’t be a moment where they think: ‘Crikey, I wonder what a porringer is?’ They should feel like they’re there.


What is a porringer?It’s a dish used for serving food at the table. It’s like a big bowl, but don’t let that worry you.


What are the key ingredients for a popular historical novel?I have to have a story people think they know but told from a different point of view. I need a fascinating female character and I like underdog stories. You’ll have someone changing and developing psychologically, which means a crisis or romantic relationship but that isn’t essential. I don’t write romantic fiction.


Are you stuck in a Tudor rut?I’ve just written about Mary Queen of Scots, who was a Stewart, and my next three books are about the Plantagenets who came before the Tudors. I’m fascinated by that late medieval period. It’s a time when England becomes recognisable. Some of the families alive then are alive now, some of their descendents are still in the same houses, but in other ways it’s totally unrecognisable. There were only two roads in the whole country that were in any way reliable.


In the film, Anne Boleyn is seen considering committing incest with her brother. Historians say the charge was a stitch-up. What’s your verdict?

At the very least the historical record is possibly true. They were both charged and found guilty of having an incestuous relationship. I believe it was a show trial but, as the novel is written from her sister’s point of view, who saw her tried, found guilty and executed for it, she might have believed it actually happened.


Geri Halliwell is a fan. Is she a typical reader?I’ve sold 6million books, so that includes all sorts of people. I’ve had a letter from a soldier in the US army in Iraq who likes to read the battle sequences in my books. [US fashion designer] Vera Wang and Sarah Jessica Parker are fans. Geri Halliwell is obviously an intelligent young woman reading for pleasure, so in that regard she is a typical reader.


Geri has also set herself up as a children’s author. You’ve done that, too. Is it difficult?


Writing good children’s fiction is incredibly difficult. It’s possible to get published because you’re a celebrity but the proof is in the material between the covers, not in getting the publishing deal. Writing is an accessible art form. No one would say: ‘I fancy being a ballet dancer this summer.’ I should imagine she realises if she wants to do it well, she’ll have to work very hard.


What advice to you have for aspiring authors?

Don’t write it as if it’s a lottery ticket that you hope will make money. Write it as a work of art you can devote yourself to. Then, even if it isn’t published, you’ll have written a fine novel you can be proud of. Given how hard it is, how long it takes and how high the standard is – you’re working in the same medium as Jane Austen – you should do the very best you can.

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