Janine asked Philippa Gregory:
For some reason, your books draw more controversy than most other historical fiction books. I have never been sure why, since its clear that you do a tremendous amount of research. Any ideas why this is so?
Philippa Gregory Alas, poor me! I really hate the sort of trolling that occurs from time to time, and I am amazed at the tone that people think appropriate to write about someone, or even to write to them. A lot of the most spiteful people are not trained historians – so they haven't learned the habit of detachment from the subject – they write as if they are defending an unjustly accused personal friend, whereas the reputation of these characters is something which can be rightly and carefully considered, and the people lived 500 years ago! At all the universities where I have taught or studied there is an absolute commitment to scholarly discussion which should never be personal or rude, and is supposed to get you – by the exchange of views and information – to a greater truth. So it is surprising and even shocking when people just rant. But often they forget that the books are novels, they are fiction and though based on fact they are supposed to be works of literature with their own narrative arc and language. I am not obliged to record everything that happened or even the whole of the life. The other thing that people seem to forget is that the books are almost all written from a point of view – often it's not what I think of a character, but what the narrator thinks of a character. You can see this really well in the contrast between The White Queen which was written from the point of view of Elizabeth Woodville, and The Red Queen which was written from the point of view of Margaret Beaufort. Their opinions of each other are those of rivals and sometimes friends and ultimately enemies – but I don't think of Elizabeth Woodville as a conniving sexually manipulative witch – that's Margaret Beaufort's opinion. My job is to get into her head, so as to invite the reader into her head and let the reader see the world through Margaret Beaufort's eyes with her prejudices and her mistakes. AND (as if this weren't complicated enough) Margaret Beaufort does not know all the history that I know, she does not know what happens after her death, so her account of the times is not what I would write if I were writing history. She's a fictional character in my novel and her view is a fictional account from a very limited idiosyncratic point of view. And finally – sorry for such a long answer – I think the controversy is the downside of success. More than 9 million people read my books – naturally a proportion of them won't enjoy them, or prefer one to another, or prefer the tv or the films. But on the other hand I enjoy a lot of praise and I get great reviews and I number some of the great historians of the period among my personal friends. The best response is from the readers who have been inspired to study history and read the records that I use for research so that they can find out for themselves what they think a character was like. That's so much more interesting than trying to shout other people down.
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