As soon as I pulled into the crowded car park, I realised that this event, which inaugurated Philippa Gregory’s promotional tour for her latest release, The Kingmaker’s Daughter, was going to be popular. It was organised by Chorleywood Bookshop and the venue was the Royal Masonic School for Girls. Inside the Hall, I did a quick chair count and realised that there were at least three hundred people in attendance – mostly women from a wide age range.
The Hall, with its wooden panelling and heraldic stained glass windows, made an impressive backdrop for Ms. Gregory, who walked on stage in a peach-coloured sleeveless sheath dress, looking like the world’s most glamorous headmistress. She spent around forty minutes chatting to us about her latest heroine, Anne Neville. Born in 1456, Anne was the daughter of the 16th Earl of Neville, who was such a power player during the Wars of the Roses that he was known as Warwick the Kingmaker. Anne shared the fate of most noble girls of her time, which was to be married young for strategic and dynastic reasons. Due to her father’s powerful connections, she had not one but two chances to become Queen of England. (More about Anne Neville in this post for On the Tudor Trail by Anne O’Brien, author of another novel about Anne, The Virgin Widow. But watch out for spoilers for both books!)
Philippa’s talk was illustrated with slides and video clips which she interspersed with readings from The Kingmaker’s Daughter. (Later in the evening I met Morag of Chorleywood Bookshop, who commented that after hearing an author read you hear their voice when you’re reading their books – what could be better?) After the talk Philippa spent a few minutes taking questions from the audience. These are a few of the points which interested me most from the talk and the questions:
- Philippa considered making Anne and her sister Isabel joint heroines of the novel, but decided against it as there was so little known of Isabel and she would only be on the scene for part of the book. She feels it is important to give equal weight to both halves of a dual storyline – so that the reader doesn’t feel bored with one viewpoint and eager to skip it to get to the more interesting character. My take: This is easier said than done. While it’s important with a dual storyline not to give one character all the meat of the story, readers will very often prefer one viewpoint to the other, and not necessarily the same one. Character identification is so subjective and anything but predictable.
- Philippa chose to use the contemporary term, “The Cousins’ War” rather than the better-known “Wars of the Roses” because it expresses the family conflict at the heart of the period. Another popular medieval concept, the Wheel of Fortune, is a motif that she sees running throughout her Cousins’ War series of books (so far, The White Queen, about Elizabeth Woodville, mother of the Princes in the Tower; The Red Queen, about Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII; and The Lady of the Rivers, about Jacquetta, mother of Elizabeth Woodville).
- She began writing her first novel, Wideacre, during her job hunt after completing a PhD on the popular fiction of eighteenth-century circulating libraries. Happily, Wideacre was a huge success and writing then became her job. As an enthusiastic reader of eighteenth-century fiction I thought her PhD topic sounded fascinating and would love to read it, but as there were only three copies published it might take me a while to track down!
- Philippa also spoke about how she came to found her charity, Gardens for the Gambia, which was started with the aim of providing wells for rural schools in the Gambia. She personally sends enough money to build a well every month.
After taking the final question and accepting a small bouquet, Philippa was installed at a table for the book signing. Not only The Kingmaker’s Daughter but several of her other titles were on sale, and wine and soft drinks were served close by. I was one of those who took up the offer to redeem my ticket against the price of the book, and joined the end of a very long queue to have it signed. Bookshop staff efficiently patrolled the queue to write down our names on post-its stuck to our books so that Philippa wouldn’t have to ask how to spell each dedication. When I finally met her, she was gracious, relaxed and professional, just as if I was the first person in the queue instead of almost the last.
I can highly recommend this event to historical fictionistas – Philippa Gregory is an accomplished, funny and entertaining speaker. She does assume some knowledge of events covered in the book, which means that some of the content would amount to spoilers for anyone who doesn’t know the history. That said, this probably didn’t apply to the majority of the audience, many of whom would have read her three previous novels set during the Cousins’ War/War of the Roses.
Thanks to: Philippa herself, of course; Chorleywood Bookshop for organising the event; and my stepsister Emma for telling me about it, coming with me and lending me £10 cash so I could buy a copy of the book!
FTC required disclosure: I bought my own ticket to this event. As detailed above, Emma lent me the money to buy The Kingmaker’s Daughter, but I will be paying her back.