Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Philippa Gregory Talk

This past Saturday I ventured forth out of my book lined cavern to see the author Philippa Gregory at the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove, Illinois. The event was hosted by Anderson's Bookshop and was a very well organized and interesting day. There was a presentation, a question and answer session, book signing and film, also an old guy playing an organ just like they did back in the theatre's Vaudeville days. Philippa Gregory rarely does many signings to promote her books, being one of those rare authors so well known they no longer really need to do publicity tours, so this was a real treat.

The event was very well structured, starting right on time (always a plus) with a little video intro of Philippa strolling through historic houses talking about her books, intercut with her books and how well they've sold. Perhaps a little bite pretentious, but then again, she does have something to boast about with her track record. Her talk was also interspersed with video readings filmed at the annual recreation of the Battle of Bosworth Field. The battle being where the Tudors beat Richard III and became rulers of England and thus helped make Philippa Gregory a lot of money. As she said, it is her belief that they will recreate this every year until Richard III wins. She started off her talk with a little history about her current book, The White Queen, the first in her new Cousins' Series. As she said, it's called the Cousins' Series because even though we view this time period as "The War of the Roses" it is actually a misnomer that has been perpetuated through the generations and originates with Sir Walter Scott. During the time that it was occurring it was referred to as the Cousins War, logically because these were all dueling relatives. The heroine, as it were, is Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner wife of Edward IV, who was the mother of the two princes lost in the tower. Philippa said it is her job to fictionally recreate this scene in not a golden haze of nostalgia but in a realistic manner, as you can imagine, she is not a fan of romantically inclined historical fiction. While Elizabeth and her King might be the impetus for Malory's Camelot, this was not a time of fairy tales but of treason and danger and court politics.

The thing I found most interesting is how she takes her research and with all this history she tells a story. Whether the story is true or not in reality, she has made decisions based on what she sees as the evidence of her research and forms her narrative. It is not possible to have a story with all the possibilities, that is not good storytelling. The example she used and which she believes the facts bear out is that Richard III was not a bad man. The facts are this, Richard was already King when the two princes he "murdered" disappeared, the princes mother entrusted her daughters to him after the princes were gone, and would she have really done this if she suspected him and I think the nail in the coffin, the Tudors were geniuses at self promotion and spin. The only painting we have of Richard III is from the Tudors and is comically exaggerated. The only reports we have of Richard III were written by Shakespeare, the Tudors court appointed playwright who wrote them the best PR possible. All knowledge we have of Richard has been filtered though the Tudors who were trying to justify their position because they never wanted the restoration of the "true line" that is the princes. In fact a far more guilty suspect in the princes disappearances is Henry VI, the victor at The Battle of Bosworth Field, who had far more reasons to want them dead. Philippa in fact believes that Henry didn't fully succeed, because why would Henry have freaked about Perkin Warbeck and his whole uprising surrounding one of the princes if he didn't know definitely that at least one prince survived.

After her prepared presentation she took questions from the audience, which she answered with wit and intelligence, even while getting a question that was not so complimentary. She was asked if she used research assistants, to which she said that 80% of the work and almost all the fun is in the research and is also where the stories emerge from and she's never handing that off to an intern, no matter how capable. Next she was asked if she had a favorite era. She said she is loving the Plantagenets, after being inundated with Tudors she said she's had enough, her and Henry are done, they have their own show after all! Of course her publishers needed to be convinced, to which she said: "They are madder, badder, sexier, more dangerous and people will love them." The next question the lady seemed to be trying to insult her in a very round about manner in how she has changed her writing style, and not for the better. To which Philippa gamely replied: "My fabled charm is about to run out." Which I think was an awesome putdown while still being wonderfully British and polite. She went on to say that she suspected her writing style has changed over time, as people themselves change, but you will never catch her writing florid prose as she hates romantic novels, unless the romance is factually supported, like with Edward and Elizabeth Woodville. She doesn't even read other historical authors because she "doesn't like how anyone does historical fiction but me." I think this is mainly due to her hatred of the romanticizing of the past but she said it is also due to the fact that if she decides to write about that time period she doesn't want to be tainted. Also everyone writes from their time, so those who wrote in the 50s are tainted just as she is by the present.

Asked about her books and any adaptations looming on the horizon, she said that The Queen's Fool is going to be a miniseries, The Boleyn Inheritance is in pre-production (lots of people having expensive lunches) for a big budget adaptation and that The Other Queen is going to be a tv movie. Can I just point out how much in royalties that's going to be!?! Asked who her favorite character was she said Hannah, from The Queen's Fool, to which I totally have to agree, I love that bookish girl who doesn't know how to be who others want her to be. For her final question she was asked about how she was able to characterize Elizabeth Woodville seeing as she has always been viewed by historians as cold and aloof. To which she replied, you mean the male historians and their misogynistic views, who I won't name (David Starky). Men have been the recorders of our history and with British history a lot of it was prudish Victorian men, women not becoming anything to be reckoned with in the field till the 1950s. So everything we have is filtered. That's why the six wives of Henry VIII are such stereotypes, the old maid (infertile Catherine), the educated Protestant (Anne, ignore the fact she was beheaded because she gave us Elizabeth who can be viewed as a man), the perfect wife (Jane, who dies in childbirth leaving a male heir and room for the next wife), the fat German (Anne of Cleaves), the slut (Catherine Howard) and the nurse (Catherine Parr). On this note the talk ended, with a very succinct reason for why she tells the stories of women, because they are not stereotypes.

The signing followed in the lobby, with the movie, The Other Boleyn Girl showing in the theatre to amuse those who were waiting for their books to be signed, and to complement the event. My ticket number was so low (35) that I got called before the credits were done rolling. I was in and out of that line in under a minute. I'd say the signing was terse, not so much a nod or an acknowledgment on her behalf, even when I made a comment about how my name was appropriate to a book staring an Elizabeth, but then again, I was done in a minute, so you have to weigh the positive and the negative. Also I got to have my other book signed without having to wait in line a second time, which was very nice. I have a feeling that before 30 minutes were up Philippa was back on her way to her hotel in Chicago. Also seeing as I wasn't invested in the movie and I could watch the movie anytime I also decided to be on my way. There are so many things to do in Illinois that can only be done in Illinois, and watching The Other Boleyn Girl wasn't one of them.

All in all a fun event and now I have some cool White Queen/Red Queen button swag to add to my Philippa Gregory The Other Boleyn Girl Contest! Which is still going on right now! You have a week left to enter! And perhaps Elizabeth Woodville will now be in with a chance of your nod for favorite British ruler?


That's cool! I definitely wouldn't mind having that book...I already entered. =)

I just wanted to stop by and say hi. I just started up a new blog for book reviews, so I'm visiting fellow book review bloggers. So far I'm just reviewing books for Thomas Nelson's book review blogger program. Any tips for me as I start out?

Thanks! =)

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