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Philippa Gregory talks ‘The Kingmaker’s Daughter,’ historical British fiction

Philippa Gregory, the best-selling author of historical British fiction including “The Other Boleyn Girl,” recently published a novel called “The Kingmaker’s Daughter” (Touchstone, $26.99). It traces the life of Anne Neville through her treacherous route from daughter of the ruthless Earl of Warwick to queen to King Richard III. Gregory spoke from her farm in Yorkshire, England.

What made you choose to write about Anne Neville?

She absolutely embodies what happened to so many people in these turbulent 14 years of the War of the Roses. She’s on three different sides: York, then Lancaster, then York again. And she’s married to, or working with, the most powerful men of the period. And yet we hardly know anything about her. That makes her tremendously interesting to me, because once I put together her story, I can fictionalize it, I can bring it to life. In a way, I’m restoring a woman whom nobody knows and at least offering a version of her.

I can’t believe how many plot twists there are.

The interesting thing is, of course, they’re not my plot twists. The changing alliances that people make and the decisions and the counterplotting and the treason and the treachery — all of that’s the history.

“The Kingmaker's Daughter” by Philippa Gregory. (Touchstone)

Do you think women today can learn from the women you write about?

You can always learn from someone who endures great hardship, great changes of fortune. What you see in Anne Neville is what you see in other extraordinary women of the period. They have no good cards. They don’t even have the right to own property, so they start with nothing, and they’re going to end up with nothing. But along the line, they manage to sometimes plot and sometimes scheme and sometimes fight for a life of their own and for the right to make choices of their own.

There are times in this novel, strangely, when I was reminded of chick lit: It’s about clothes, love and power.

I think clothes and love and power are what novels are often about — whether it’s Jane Austen or Henry James. Love is some of the unconscious life of a character, so that’s got to be part of it. It’s about someone’s development, their ability to form relationships. And clothes are really important if you’re writing historical fiction; they’re part of the web and the weave of a historical novel — the textures and the colors and the landscapes. And power, of course. This is a novel about people constantly in pursuit of power.

Do you like Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies”?

I absolutely adored “Wolf Hall.” I found it riveting. “Bring Up the Bodies” I like a little less — I think I found it less subtle. What I really liked about “Wolf Hall” is this offering of Cromwell — I don’t think he’s been imagined in the same way before — and the way that you get such a thriving picture of Tudor London. It’s always wonderful to see historical fiction done superbly well.

So you don’t dress up in a long gown and headdress when go to you write your stories?

Author Philippa Gregory. (Johnny Ring)

Is this question “Are you utterly crazy?” No, I live on a farm, and most mornings I do chores, so I’m usually in Wellington boots and waterproof trousers. I look more like some kind of shabby 18th-century peasant.

Burns is editor of “Off the Page: Writers Talk About Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between.” She teaches creative writing in Britain.

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