An evening with Philippa Gregory : The King’s Curse
British author Philippa Gregory delighted a packed auditorium last night in Toronto as she spoke about the way she writes historical fiction, her views on Henry VIII, and the travails of going on tour.
Gregory was on the last stop of a North American tour to promote her latest book The King’s Curse. The novel follows Margaret Pole, a member of the Plantagenets who sees her family fortunes fall at the end of the Wars of the Roses. She becomes a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, and follows her into the court of King Henry VIII. Gregory said that when she began writing this story, it was intended to be a sad tale, but after researching Margaret’s life, she found that “her tragic death was the least interesting thing about her.”
The author talked about how much she enjoys focusing her writing about women such as Margaret Pole, who are people we don’t know much about. However, the novel also allowed Gregory to take a new look at the character of King Henry and his “growing tyranny and growing madness.” She incorporated new research into the English ruler’s deteriorating health, including the theory that he suffered from Kells Disease (learn more about this at What went wrong with Henry VIII?).
Gregory, who has penned over 30 books, including The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen (The Cousins’ War), talked with the audience on writing about the “unsung heroines of English history.” Her legion of fans seem to agree – one of them, Meghan, commented that she enjoys the books because Gregory “takes women from obscurity and gives them a voice.”
While Gregory devotes up to a year doing research about a novel before starting to write it and reading enough material that would allow her to write a biography of her characters, she prefers writing historical fiction to non-fiction. She calls it “a very interesting way of dealing with the science of history and the art of a novel.” Moreover, it allows her to ask questions and offer her own take on the people and events in history. While she notes that a good historian needs to be even-handed, Gregory says “I like to take a side!”
This was the final night in her tour to promote The King’s Curse, and Gregory revealed that she has been feeling something similar to a curse. As the tour began, she learned that the first run of the book – 9000 copies – had to be recalled after the British publisher discovered that it was missing four lines. This was followed by a bloody nose, which led to a ruined dress, and having her assistant hospitalized for appendicitis while in Washington D.C.
Gregory also told the audience that her next book, which she has been working on for a year, will focus on Katherine Parr, the only queen of Henry VIII that she has not written about yet.