Upon the release of her new book, Order of Darkness, author Philippa Gregory tells us a little bit more about herself. 

Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory

Books formed me

I started reading alone very young, and I can remember being four years old and having a sense of entering another world through books. EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class gave me a sense of a history that had not been told, and Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own a vision of lives that have not been allowed.

I hated History at school 

Like a lot of students I found history as it was taught at school insanely boring. My history A level topic was ‘The wars of Justinian’ so classical history and military history – the very thing to put off students.. It wasn’t until I went to Sussex University (to study English Literature), where I ended up sitting in on a history lecture, I realized history explained everything, and from that moment I’ve found it completely riveting.

I am a Republican

I am interested in the monarchs and royal court of England because that is the focus of power, politics and intrigue but I don’t think it’s a good form of government, especially today, The more I see of the lives of the British royal family the more I wish that they could be free of us, and that we could give up the prying interest that we bring to them.

I love trashy TV

I don’t watch much TV at all but I love so-called ‘reality’ shows. I find them tremendously light and entertaining. They make a great contrast to my reading which is almost always factual or literary. I’m a big fan of Dance Moms, I love the Kardashians, and I have just started watching Made in Chelsea!

I used to be a journalist

Before I got my place at Sussex University, I trained and worked as a journalist at the Portsmouth Evening News, and BBC local and national radio. It taught me to write on time every day.

I run a charity in The Gambia

During my research for A Respectable Trade, I visited The Gambia, a small country on the west coast of Africa where I met a school headmaster called Ismaila Sisay.  He told me they could dig a well at the school, to provide drinking water and irrigate a food crop, for £400.  Inspired, I made a donation.  A week later, Ismaila sent me a fax (for this was a time before email) to say the well was on stream.  But, that the school next door would like a well too!.  I started to fundraise and so far we have put more that 250 wells into schools and community gardens across Gambia, making us the biggest well providers for this small and very poor country. It’s probably the best thing I have ever done.

I love animals

When I was young I wanted to be a vet and I still love animals. I live in the country with 4 horses, including my very charming grey pony Cardagh, my beautiful affectionate dog Ben who is a handsome Rhodesian ridgeback, 3 hens who have gone completely off lay and and lots of ducks on the ponds. Every Spring I have a clutch of abandoned eggs that I hatch in my incubator and release the ducklings when they are old enough to look after themselves, and I also serve as a half-way stage for an owl sanctuary which rescues and treats injured birds of prey. and gives them to me for a ‘soft release’. At the moment I have five baby tawny owls who are going to fly away as soon as their feathers grow and a one-legged kestrel.

I can’t cook

Truly, I cant. People tend to think that successful women are good cooks as part of their life competence and people embarrass me sometimes by asking me to contribute to celebrity cook books. I don’t concentrate for long enough on what I am doing so I burn things. Over the yearsI have come to like salads and at the moment I make a lot of smoothies from vegetables and fruit which are impossible to spoil and which take seconds.

I write anywhere, all the time

I can write anywhere, and I do write anywhere. The only time I have to be in my study is when I am doing detailed research in documents or books which are not online. I actually enjoy the sensation of travelling and writing, like being on a train between London and my home in the north of England and stepping into another time and place.

I don’t recommend time travel

I have a very strict rule on this! No woman should wish to live before 1960 – life without reliable contraception was always a constant anxiety. No woman who wants political power could be happy before we got the vote in the 1920s. No woman wanting an education should live in any period before women were admitted to universities and could graduate – so the 1920s for the UK. No married woman could own her own property before 1870 – a woman’s fortune automatically became part of her husband's estate, and, if they parted for any reason he would keep all the money AND the children. In short, despite the dresses and the jewels for the upper classes the best time to be a woman in the western world is probably now. I hope it gets better in the future in terms of equality and opportunity.