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Honorary Fellows interview seriesUncategorized

Honorary Fellow 2015 – Philippa Gregory

24 July 2015

We spoke to Cardiff University’s Honorary Fellow Philippa Gregory. Gregory is a well-known historian and writer. One of her main focuses and passions is writing about the Tudor period and The War of the Roses. She is an author of many well-known novels, including ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and ‘The White Queen’.

I spoke to Gregory after she received the Honorary Fellowship and asked her how she felt about receiving such a prestigious accolade. She explained to me that she felt it was a “great honour” to receive this recognition from Cardiff University. It was clear she had a great admiration of the students also, “I think those that chose to come and those that manage to stay have really invested a great deal of themselves in it [their course]”.

I admired Gregory for recognising the pressures that students face during their University life. It really is an outstanding achievement to graduate!

Gregory went on to explain that it was actually at University where her love of History emerged. After beginning to study English Literature at Sussex University she had a change of heart and swapped to study History, “I just had good fortune to have an inspiring historian tutor and I swapped to history. It changed my life.”

This change set the ball rolling for Philippa’s future career and her love for History, “It seemed to me then and it seems to me still that it is the explanation for everything in the present and if you understand that then you have a very good chance of understanding everything. It is that big to me, it’s everything.”

We can see that the author of such outstanding novels such as ‘The Boleyn Inheritance’ – a sequel to the film-adapted novel ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ – has a profound love of the Tudor period. Gregory notes that “it [The Tudor period] is such a key period of change, it is really were the medieval world turns into the modern world.”

Of course this change sets the course for the world we live in today “There’s obviously religious change, but also there’s this massive political change with the centralisation of power in London and the alienation in many ways of the regions. You see it in Wales and you see it in the North as well.”

As a Journalism student, researching topics is no mystery to me, however I was intrigued to know how you research for a book! Gregory explained that the best method is to read, read, read and to take advantage of the resources around you.

“I read electronically as well so I can order books that I would have had to go to all over the country to read in full. But I also go to libraries and read books that they have in their holdings, their reference books that you can’t borrow.”

“I travel very often to the places that I am going to write about. Sometimes I also talk to local historians…I do that for about a year until I have a sense of who I am going to be writing about. Then I feel ready to start.”

Although Gregory is an extremely busy woman she still finds time to give back through the charity she founded, Gardens for The Gambia. While going out to Africa to carry out research for her novel ‘A Respectable Trade’ she came across a school who were appealing for money to build a well. Gregory explained that she could see that it was a “beautiful little tiny project, which would have so much beneficial effect on the lives of the children”. It was then that Gardens for The Gambia was born. The charity has now “put wells in nearly two hundred schools in The Gambia..[and] has enormous impact”.

Before my interview with Philippa Gregory came to a close I thought it would be important to ask what advice she would give to history graduates or graduates who were interested in pursuing a career in writing. Gregory explained that reading is key, “There is no shortcut to understanding, you have to study, you have to keep reading”.

For those of you that are fans of Philippa Gregory’s writing I was just as excited to hear her future plans “I’m going on a book tour for a new book about Catherine Parr immediately at the beginning of August. I’ve got some scripts in development and I think there will be some more films and television”.