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Philippa Gregory: By the Book

What’s your idea of great summer reading?

I like to read fiction in summer, and I love a book that is set in my holiday area. I am going to the South of France in June, and I shall reread “Tender Is the Night,” by Scott Fitzgerald, which is so wrenchingly nostalgic for a geography and a time and a love so fragile that it could only exist for a moment.

What do you think makes for good historical fiction? Who are your favorite writers in the genre?

What I don’t read is historical fiction in the period that I am writing. Firstly, the characters as described by anyone else drive me mad. The idea of Katherine Howard as a sinless victim or a willful slut is so offensive. Surely we all accept by now that women are never one dimensional? Not apparently if they’re in a hood. Also, I dare not read historical fiction when I am researching the period, in case the author has inserted something wrong or something fictional that may stick in my head. But I suffer terribly from Pen Envy — when I read a good book I wish I had written it, when I read a poor book I am furious that the author has spoiled the story. That’s why I only read very, very good novelists — only with them can I sit back and enjoy the experience.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

I found Jane Wallace’s “Teaching Children to Ride” most educational, and the most helpful fact is that with young children you need two people: one to hold the pony, one to hold the rider. My grandchildren are really pleased that I read this book before I started teaching them. My own children were on and off for years.

Which classic novel did you recently read for the first time?

I recently read the entire Forsyte Saga, by John Galsworthy. I’d read the first part years ago, but I had forgotten that it goes on for generations. It was completely absorbing and a wonderful example of the narrator changing his view of a character and taking the reader with him.

Which genres…

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