Philippa Gregory “What is so wonderful about fiction, especially if you write it as I do, in the first person, is that you are there. In a sense it’s not as though I’ve taken the history and given it to the reader. It’s as if I’ve taken the reader and put them into the history… If a historical novel is successful then the reader isn’t saying ‘Hang on a minute, I know this,’ or ‘I’ll look this up’, they are caught up in the narrative.’”
[in an interview with ‘The Bookseller’ magazine, May 5, 2017]
All great novels take the reader and put them into a world, a world they come to care about. Writing tension into a novel about any historical event is a challenge, when the ending of the event is well known. Philippa Gregory has made an art of this but she also chooses her history cleverly. Many of her main characters are women whose history is not so well known to non-history buffs, even if the larger political events of the day are. So the tension does remain.
Her remark about viewpoint is spot-on. The author’s choice about third person or first person is key to the reader’s understanding of, and appreciation of character and plot. For me this is clear in Three Sisters, Three Queens, where she tells the story solely through the first person viewpoint of Queen Mary, sister of Henry VIII. This has advantages and disadvantages, I knew exactly what Mary was thinking but didn’t know whether to trust her reading of events. When writing my own novels, I use third person multiple viewpoints. But I am writing about totally fictional stories, not historical events. The lesson for authors is that choosing the viewpoint to tell a story is not an arbitrary decision; it can sometimes be dependent on genre, or be a personal decision for the author about how events and characters are portrayed.
‘The Last Tudor’ by Philippa Gregory [UK: Simon and Schuster]
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