Last night, I was part of a sell-out crowd at the Tyneside Cinema, listening to Philippa Gregory dispense some fantastic pearls of wisdom. Her talk, focused on her new novel, ‘Three Sisters, Three Queens’, covered several aspects of history and her writing, but mainly on how women have been treated by the historical record (spoiler alert: on the whole, not too well…).
Starting with the idea that women have been seen as either Eve, the sinner, or Mary, the saint, and further that they were either stupid or relentlessly (and unseemingly) ambitious, we were given a range of quotes from historical texts to emphasise the point. This was interspersed with the history of the voice of ‘Three Sisters, Three Queens’, Margaret Tudor, sister to that favourite monster of ours, Henry VIII. A fascinating woman in her own right, and yet barely acknowledged in many texts.
I’m only a couple of chapters in (really needed an early night!), but so far, she’s captured the three women (Margaret Tudor, Mary Tudor and Katherine of Aragon) in their youth. Using the first person (and having just had the revision of viewpoint last week…), you really do feel close to the women in Philippa Gregory’s books. I remember reading ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ for the first time, years ago, and by the end, realising too late that of course Anne wasn’t going to be saved. That’s the book that won me my first ever writing competition, to write a review of your favourite novel, and it’s still my go-to book whenever I need to relax.
I love historical fiction, and one of the key points made last night was that whereas the historical record can give us the outer facts, only a novelist can get under the skin and uncover the inner thoughts which people may have been having.
The highlight of the evening for me, however, was when somebody asked of her, which of her characters would she most like to have a conversation with. The response? Of all the fantastic, terrifying, brave, fabulous characters Philippa Gregory has researched and written about, and she would most like to have a conversation with Richard III and Elizabeth Woodville, after the Princes in the Tower had vanished. Thankfully, she still believes Richard’s innocence, so I can carry on reading ‘Three Sisters, Three Queens’ happily!