Monday, August 09, 2010

The Red Queen Blog Tour: Guest Post: History and Fiction By Philippa Gregory

Hello and happy Monday to everyone. As many of you know I am participating in "The Red Queen" blog tour this year. "The Red Queen" hit  US bookstores August 3rd and will hit UK bookstores on August 19th I am proud to announce that Philippa Gregory has decided to pay a visit with a wonderful guest post. With out further delay please welcome Philippa Gregory to Historically Obsessed.

History and Fiction 
Philippa Gregory

Which historical women do you most admire and why?

I admire women in history who have been women of independence and have tried to live their lives according to their own standards and beliefs. In some societies this is terribly difficult – such as medieval England where women had no legal rights at all but belonged to their fathers, and on marriage, to their husbands. But even in these oppressive societies we see women educating themselves, like Margaret Beaufort of The Red Queen, setting their own standards and making a difference like the extraordinary Anne Boleyn in The Other Boleyn Girl, or acting skilfully and politically like Elizabeth Woodville in The White Queen. I find these examples – though so far from our own lives today – very inspiring in terms of what it is to be a woman without power and yet to make a space for yourself in the world.

Why write fiction and not history?

For the novelist, it can be much the same process. In the absence of any biography on a new character (Jacquetta, Duchess of Bedford) I am writing the biography as straight history and then writing the fiction which turns out to be a re-imagined version of the facts. They will be published alongside each other so the research work for this novel will be exactly the same as writing a biography. Certainly fiction is not "easier". What I find, when I move from the one form to another, is that the fiction is the inner life, dialogue, things we don't know but can only suspect, things that history is not much interested in like detail, things that history does not want to know much about as we now "know" is erroneous, but at the time was taken seriously like magic and alchemy. History is not much interested in ventures which fail or are scientific cul de sacs, but these are of great interest to the novelist. Of course the novel also needs a quite different structure to a history: the arc of the story, the satisfaction of the narrative selection, and a parallel life of symbolism in metaphor and language.

What's also striking is that in recent years - perhaps since the explosion of interest in the biography in the early 80s, is that the techniques of writing history have become more and more like those of a novel, so that someone like Starkey actually describes his process as like writing a novel. Historians are allowing themselves to speculate and to imagine more, and their writing is becoming more and more like fiction.

Why read fiction and not history?

Sometimes it is an answer as simple as that a good historical novel is going to be easier and more enjoyable to read than a history for most people. The author has pinpointed the interesting events and characters and linked them together into a narrative. You don't need to know all the details of armor and weaponry to understand and enjoy a rip-roaring description of a battle. You don't need the topography of the landscape just a sense of how it feels. Many people don't like and don't want to read non-fiction; but they might like the sense that what they are reading is somehow "real". For them a good historical novel gives them the sense of being somewhere else entirely and yet also a sense of relevance.

Part 2 of this exclusive blog entry by Philippa Gregory will be published on the 26th August. 

Thank you Philippa for sharing such a wonderful piece with us,  I enjoyed it very much. One of the big reasons I love historical fiction is that it is not a bio and should never be one. I love it that most HF novels start with a bio of a person that really did grace this green earth.  It makes it very interesting that after finishing a novel I can go and look them up on the internet and compare what I read with reality. I can say some of my favorite leading ladies have shocked me into the realization that history is filled with so many scandals that really did take place that we could not even dream this stuff up.

Philippa's Website
War of the Roses Books

Amazon Books
The White Queen: A Novel (Cousins' War)The Red Queen: A Novel (The Cousins' War)
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  1. That was great, Lizzy! I'm looking forward to Part II, as well as to The Red Queen...

  2. I love Philippa Gregory! I cannot wait to get my hands on this book!

  3. Wonderful post from Ms. Gregory. Interesting her comment about people enjoying historical fiction as a way to learn something but in a fun way. That's how I started reading historical fiction years ago, and it remains my favorite genre to both read and write.

    I picked up THE RED QUEEN over the weekend, and will be looking forward to the rest of this blog entry.

  4. This is a wonderful article. Phillipa Gregory explains so well how She see fiction from straight historical which can get confusing as I agree with her so many historians are writing in a relaxed style. I am looking forward to part 2! Thanks so much Lizzy for having this.

  5. Christy, I too am also looking forward to part two.

    Chelsea, I love her too, she is one of my first historical fiction loves.

    Christine, I agree that is why I love historical fiction so so much because it is fun to learn about the history of the read. I think you will enjoy it even if Margaret is an evil unlikeable witch.

    Marilyn, very well stated it is a good point that I also have to agree with. I do not mind historical fiction haziness at time but some authors do take it too far sometimes.

  6. Oooo, I will have to read Philippa Gregory when I'm older- what she answered the quetions with was really interesting.

    Also, (I've just seen that you've had it before on your awards page) but I've just awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award on my blog!

    Congratulations on recieving it again and for having such an amazing blog! :D


  7. Stephanie, I think you will like her but not yet. Awhh your so sweet thank you I love that one it is one of my favorites besides the zombie chicken one. That one is too funny.


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