Author of the Month: Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory was chosen to tie in with the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.  We wanted an accessible author who has a royal theme in their work, as well as having a good backlist.

Philippa Gregory is a world renowned historical novelist and a recognised authority on women’s history.  She has written 27 novels – her 27th, Dawnlands, will be published in November 2022 as well as 3 books for children.

As well as being a full time writer, she enjoys riding, walking, skiing and gardening.  She  also runs a charity which builds wells in The Gambia and teaches children how to cultivate their own food. The well digging side of the charity stopped during the pandemic to focus on a public health initiative.

We were lucky enough to chat to Philippa Gregory on one of our previous podcast episodes. You can listen to that here: https://pod.fo/e/e0f93.

“If it means something, take it to heart. If it means nothing, it’s nothing. Let it go.”
― Philippa Gregory, The Other Boleyn Girl

Robert Harris

Robert Harris studied English at Cambridge University before joining the BBC as a television correspondent. His career in the media included writing as a columnist for the London Sunday Times and Daily Telegraph and Political Editor of The Observer before he became a full-time writer.

Since his debut novel Fatherland which was published in 1992, Robert Harris has used fiction to re-write the history of the present. From the outset he has invited serious consideration of contemporary politics in a well-crafted package that entertains and rewards his readers. The success of Fatherland, which imagines in world in which Hitler was triumphant, allowed Harris to make the transition to full-time writer.

Enigma, which was released as a film in 2001 starring Kate Winslet, takes its inspiration from the brilliant individuals who worked to crack the German U-boat code at Bletchley Park during the second world war.

His third novel, Archangel, is set in contemporary Moscow and features Fluke Kelso a historian on the hunt for Joseph Stalin’s secret papers. The book, which was made into a mini-series, starring Daniel Craig, by the BBC takes the young scholar to the remote sea port of Archangel in search of the Soviet dictator’s final secret.

Pompeii (2003) was the first of Harris’ novels to be set in ancient times but draws direct comparisons between the Roman Empire and the United States. His portrait of local corruption makes for such compelling reading that the ‘finale’ is almost a surprise.

Following the publication of Pompeii Harris returned to the Roman era to write Imperium, this first of his trilogy about Cicero – the great statesman and orator. Taking the form of biographies, written by Tiro – Cicero’s assistant and confidante, the books map out Cicero’s attempts to win control of Ancient Rome.

Alongside his novels Harris has also written several well-researched non-fiction titles including Selling Hitler: The Story of the Hitler Diaries (1986), which documented the fiasco following the sudden appearance of the so called ‘Hitler diaries’ in 1983.

Visit our online catalogue for the entire Robert Harris collection, or see displays in your local library.

Tracy Chevalier

American-English author Tracy Chevalier was able to become a full-time writer after her second novel, The Girl with a Pearl Earring, became a best-seller and the inspiration for the film of the same name starring Scarlett Johanssen and Colin Firth. She credits her time working as reference book editor for the skills of research, accuracy and editing as part of the writing process, which help her craft historically accurate novels that draw their readers into the story and keep them enthralled.

Her most recent novel, A Single Thread, is set in Winchester and tells the story of a single woman who carves a place for herself amongst the bells and embroidered cushions of Winchester Cathedral.

The Virgin Blue

Midwife Isabelle du Moulin is marked as different, by both her red hair and her love for the Virgin Mary in her rich blue robes. As religious fervour sweeps 16th-century France, Isabelle’s striking likeness to the Madonna puts her in danger when her village is enraptured by new Protestant doctrine.

Four centuries later, Ella Turner moves to the French village of Lisle-sur-Tarn and finds her dreams are haunted by the colour blue. Ella hopes to become both a midwife and a mother, but her plans unravel as she discovers her link to Isabelle, and her ancestor’s shocking fate.

Girl with a Pearl Earring

Those eyes are fixed on someone. But who? What is she thinking as she stares out from one of the world’s best-loved paintings?

Johannes Vermeer can spot exceptional beauty. When servant girl Griet catches his eye, she soon becomes both student and muse. But then he gives her his wife’s pearl earrings to wear for a portrait, and a scandal erupts that could threaten Griet’s future… Vivid and captivating, this timeless modern classic has become a successful film and an international bestseller, with over 5 million copies sold.

Falling Angels

Queen Victoria is dead. In January 1901, the day after her passing, two very different families visit neighbouring graves in a London cemetery. The traditional Waterhouses revere the late Queen where the Colemans have a more modern outlook, but both families are appalled by the friendship that springs up between their respective daughters.

As the girls grow up, their world changes almost beyond measure: cars are replacing horses, electric lighting is taking over from gas, and emancipation is fast approaching, to the delight of some and the dismay of others…

Burning Bright

1792. Uprooted from their quiet Dorset village to the riotous streets of London, young Jem Kellaway and his family feel very far from home. They struggle to find their place in this tumultuous city, still alive with the repercussions of the blood-splattered French Revolution.

Luckily, streetwise Maggie Butterfield is on hand to show Jem the ropes. Together they encounter the neighbour they’ve been warned about: radical poet and artist William Blake. Jem and Maggie’s passage from innocence to experience becomes the very stuff of poetic inspiration…

A Single Thread

Violet is 38. The First World War took everything from her. Her brother, her fiance – and her future. She is now considered a ‘surplus woman’.

But Violet is also fiercely independent and determined. Escaping her suffocating mother, she moves to Winchester to start a new life -a change that will require courage, resilience and acts of quiet rebellion. And when whispers of another world war surface, she must live with a secret that could change everything…

Reader, I Married Him

A collection of short stories celebrating Charlotte Bronte, the twenty-one stories in Reader, I Married Him – one of the most celebrated lines in fiction – are inspired by Jane Eyre and shaped by its perennially fascinating themes of love, compromise and self-determination.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

About the book

Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was villified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey’s novel The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king’s reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the terrible injustice done to him by the Tudor dynasty. Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, recuperating from a broken leg, becomes fascinated with a contemporary portrait of Richard III that bears no resemblance to the Wicked Uncle of history. Could such a sensitive, noble face actually belong to one of the world’s most heinous villains – a venomous hunchback who may have killed his brother’s children to make his crown secure? Or could Richard have been the victim, turned into a monster by the the Tudors?  Grant determines to find out once and for all, with the help of the British Museum and an American scholar, what kind of man Richard III really was and who killed the Princes in the Tower.

Reviewed by Sutton Scotney

His parking fee must have been horrendous!! Very interesting read. Thoroughly enjoyed it. A good way to learn history”

star rating ****

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Sword and Scimitar by Simon Scarrow

About the book

1565, Malta: a vital outpost between the divided nations of Europe and the relentlessly expanding Ottoman Empire. Faced with ferocious attack by a vast Turkish fleet, the knights of the Order of St John fear annihilation. Amongst those called to assist is disgraced veteran Sir Thomas Barrett. Loyalty and instinct compel him to put the Order above all other concerns, yet his allegiance is divided. At Queen Elizabeth’s command, he must search for a hidden scroll, guarded by the knights, that threatens her reign.

As Sir Thomas confronts the past that cost him his honour and a secret that has long lain buried, a vast enemy army arrives to lay siege to the island…

 

Reviewed by Cliffhangers

appreciation of the insight into this part of Malta’s history. Good feedback from the majority of members although too violent in it’s detail for some”

star rating ***

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An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

About the book

Paris, 1895: an army officer, Georges Picquart, watches a convicted spy, Alfred Dreyfus, being publicly humiliated in front of a baying crowd. Dreyfus is exiled for life to Devil’s Island; Picquart is promoted to run the intelligence unit that tracked him down. But when Picquart discovers that secrets are still being handed over to the Germans, he is drawn into a dangerous labyrinth of deceit and corruption that threatens not just his honour but his life…

Reviewed by Enjoying Books

“This erudite author writes beautifully. A true story of the Dreyfus Affair, told through the character of Picquart. It gathers momentum as you are drawn into the awful miscarriage of justice”

star rating ***

 

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The Observations by Jane Harris

About the book

Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley – the wide-eyed Irish heroine of The Observations – takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer, but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts. And it seems that Arabella has a few secrets of her own – including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances.

 

Reviewed by Sheet WI

“Rather overlong and the blurb was not entirely accurate. The expectation and reality were different”

star rating: none given

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The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst

In the late summer of 1913, George Sawle brings his Cambridge friend Cecil Valance, a charismatic young poet, to visit his family home. Filled with intimacies and confusions, the weekend will link the families for ever, having the most lasting impact on George’s sixteen-year-old sister Daphne.

As the decades pass, Daphne and those around her endure startling changes in fortune and circumstance, reputations rise and fall, secrets are revealed and hidden and the events of that long-ago summer become part of a legendary story, told and interpreted in different ways by successive generations.

Powerful, absorbing and richly comic, The Stranger’s Child is a masterly exploration of English culture, taste and attitudes over a century of change.

 

Reviewed by Perspectives

“7 members read / partially read this book. 6 thought it well written, interesting, challenging but overall unenamoured. 1 member loved it!”

star rating ***

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The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory

About the book

 The fourth in the ‘Cousins’ War’ series

Anne Neville and her sister Isabel are daughters of the most powerful magnate in 15th century England. Ever ruthless, always plotting, in the absence of a son and heir, Warwick sets about using his daughters as pawns in his political games. Anne grows from a delightful child brought up at the court of Edward IV and his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, intimacy and friendship with the family of Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Her life is overturned when her father turns on his former allies, escapes England and invades with an enemy army. Widowed at 14, fatherless, with her mother locked in sanctuary, and her sister a vengeful enemy, Anne faces the world alone. But fortune’s wheel turns once again. Anne plots her escape from her sister’s house, finds herself a husband in the handsome young Duke of Gloucester, and marries without permission, in secret. But danger still follows her. She finds that she has a mortal enemy in the most beautiful queen in England. Anne has to protect herself and her precious only son from the treacherous royal court, the deadly royal rival, and even from the driving ambition of her husband – Richard III.

Reviewed by CC Readers

“An absorbing book – well written, good characterisation, a little long and a more complex family tree would have been helpful. It stimulated our interest in the period. Overall – good”

star rating ***

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The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

About the book

The second book in the’ Cousins’ War’ series, brings to life the story of Margaret Beaufort, a shadowy and mysterious character in the first book of the series – The White Queen – but who now takes centre stage in the bitter struggle of The War of the Roses. The Red Queen tells the story of the child-bride of Edmund Tudor, who, although widowed in her early teens, uses her determination of character and wily plotting to infiltrate the house of York under the guise of loyal friend and servant, undermine the support for Richard III and ultimately ensure that her only son, Henry Tudor, triumphs as King of England. Through collaboration with the dowager Queen Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret agrees a betrothal between Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter, thereby uniting the families and resolving the Cousins War once and for all by founding of the Tudor dynasty.

Reviewed by Blank Books

“There was a difference of opinion about the Red Queen. Some disliked her, others found her interesting and her qualities of drive and strength were unwavering. This book provokes much discussion”

star rating ** ½

 

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