An evening with Philippa Gregory

Philippa-Gregory pic

“I’ve been with Henry the Eighth longer than any of his wives.”

       Just one of the light-hearted moments during Philippa Gregory’s entertaining, educational and most enjoyable talk in Chorleywood this month. And yes, she worked her magic again because I came home determined to carry on writing, after a bit of a blip, wondering where I was going and was it all worth it. But Philippa convinced me that writing historical fiction is what I want to do.

       So much of what she said resonated with me. She said that wherever she goes, she always wants to know more about the place, its history, the people who lived there. Tick, definitely me.

       As a historical novelist, she said she spends six months researching her character and only when she hears that character’s voice, does she start writing. And it’s the historical details that make it so fascinating, making the reader feel as though they are there.

Extraordinary difference       

       She writes in the first person and present tense, saying that is now HER domaine! Tick, that’s me. I switched from third person past after reading three of her books one summer. As she explained, it narrows her gaze to the here and now and prevents her from knowing what’s going to happen in the future. She said it makes an extraordinary difference to her writing. Hopefully, mine too.

She’s incredibly passionate about her characters and she became quite agitated when quoting some of the source material on Margaret, Queen of Scotland. History hasn’t been kind to this lady but her corner is now being fought by Philippa Gregory.

Some of Philippa’s writing tips:

  • Write a novel that has a coherent drive – a really good story
  • As a historical novelist, you can pluck from history what’s of interest to you and the inner world of a character is made up
  • Court records are now available online
  • You must take your characters immensely seriously
  • It’s only after the first draft that I discover what the novel is about
  • Writing novels is a technical process as well as a creative one
  • If my main character needs to know about something, such as alchemy, then I need to know it too.

            I won’t give too much away about her talk because I thoroughly recommend any writer going to see her. She’s a lively, funny, enthusiastic speaker, accompanied by a professional slide and video show. She neatly deflected the cries of a baby (Don’t go! I’m a new, besotted grandmother!) and happily signs hundreds of books at the end of the evening.

            Well done to Chorleywood Bookshop for putting on another enjoyable author evening. Here’s the link to their website for details of more such evenings. Look at the Competitions page for the Chorleywood festival short story competition and at the Books page for details of Philippa Gregory’s new novel.

            So, for me, back to researching and writing. And you too, I hope.

Happy Writing!



2 Comments on “

  1. Thank you, Jackie. I look forward to you writing int he first person. It’s very different! I agree with what you say about author talks.


  2. Great review Linda. I have read a couple of Philippa’s historical novels and it was interesting to read how she achieves the high levels of reality in both time and place. Use of first person is something I would like to try next time! It is motivating to listen to someone who writes so successfully in the same genre as yourself. Great list of tips even for a non-historical writer like myself. Thanks. Jackie


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