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“ My first published history book. It was extraordinary to use the material that I had researched for a novel and write it as a "straight" history. I also wrote the foreword to this collection of three historical essays about the women that have come to fascinate me: Jacquetta the Duchess of Bedford, Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen, and Margaret Beaufort, the King's Mother. ”
When this book opens in 1416, with the birth of Jacquetta of Luxembourg, Henry V is on the throne and England is at war with France in a series of conflicts that would later become known as The Hundred Years' War. Henry VI takes the throne in 1422 and begins his long reign of England through some of its most turbulent times including Joan of Arc's mission and beginning of The Wars of the Roses - though at the time it was known as The Cousins' War as the feuding families of York and Lancaster fought for power and position.
“ When I started research on Jacquetta Duchess of Bedford I found pretty much nothing. There was a chapter in a PhD thesis, and one essay. And yet this is the mother and grandmother of queens of England, and a major player at both royal courts of Lancaster and York. There was more magic in this story than any I have written since the more fictional novel The Wise Woman and this was because Jacquetta was descended from a family who claimed to have a water spirit in their family tree, and she was associated for all her life with the practise of witchcraft. I found her to be utterly fascinating, and I hope that historians go on to research her life in detail. ”
Henry VI is a child king, only nine years old, crowned before his first birthday after the death of his father Henry V on campaign. England is in the midst of the Hundred Years' War in France, however life in England is peaceful for most. Sensing an opportunity to overthrow the weakened House of Lancaster, the House of York led by Richard Duke of York claim a stronger link to the throne. This rivalry brings about a series of devastating battles which would come to be known as The Wars of The Roses and would turn neighbour against neighbour, cousin against cousin.
“ As soon as I had completed my research on The White Queen I realised that I wanted to write a companion novel about the other side, the Tudors and Margaret Beaufort the matriarch of their house. ”
Now a grown man, Henry VI has maintained his hold on the English throne, despite decades of political and military challenges by the House of York. The Hundred Years' War comes to an end in France and England is defeated, losing all of her territory except for Calais. News of defeat drives King Henry into an unresponsive stupor. His wife, the despised Margaret of Anjou, cannot keep control and their great rival Richard Duke of York becomes Protector of the Realm. England is in limbo: a king crippled by insanity, a disliked and mistrusted queen, and two great families vying for control of the kingdom. Meanwhile a third potential line of succession is emerging from the agreed marriage of the newly ennobled Edmund Tudor Earl of Richmond to the child heiress Margaret Beaufort.
“ My first book in the Order of Darkness series which proved to be a really liberating experience. It is set in 1460 and the circumstances of the novel are authentic history but the characters are completely invented and their adventures are imaginary. This gives me a chance to be more novelist than historian and I have loved this series and the way that the completely fictional characters are free to develop. ”
In Italy, the renaissance is gaining momentum and Italians are becoming increasingly interested in learning and understanding classical thinking and philosophy. Despite this growing focus on intellectual curiosity, there remains a strong loyalty to the Catholic Church and belief in magic, mysticism and superstition is rife. In order to retain its control, the Church must identify which phenomena can be rationally explained and which may really be magic.
“ The second book of the Order of Darkness series takes our travelling inquiry to a small imaginary town (very near Rimini, actually!) as a Children's Crusade arrives and hopes that the seas will part. This is where the characters of Isolde and Ishraq really start to differ as the young women encounter danger and opportunity faced with a raging sea and then the challenge of another exotic world. ”
During a time of religious fervour and superstition, the enormously powerful Catholic Church is facing its greatest threat to date. Its longstanding religious enemy, the Ottoman Empire has captured and taken control of Constantinople, overthrowing the Byzantine Empire and becoming one of the most powerful states in the world - and now a very real threat to Western Europe. Christian men and women are kidnapped by the Ottoman slaving galleys and sold as slaves, the seas are no longer safe from Ottoman raiding ships and the Ottoman armies of Sultan Mehmed II are moving ever further into central Europe.
“ The third book in the Order of Darkness series is set in the thriving city of Venice. I had the pleasure of travelling to Venice to research the book which was an immensely interesting trip. There really was no other city in Europe like Venice at the time, especially during the carnival celebrations. ”
The Venetian empire was one of the most powerful and wealthy empires in Europe. Its influence was ever increasing, as its borders expanded in all directions. At the heart of the empire is Venice, the shimmering, sparkling city of canals and fine buildings. Its inhabitants are from all over Europe and the East, and jewels, spices, gold and silver are traded daily. Everything and anything can be bought in Venice - for a price. There were rumours that scholars who studied the science of alchemy were able to make gold or silver by heating base metals over a very high heat, and that they could even create the elixir of life, which could grant immortality to the person who possessed the elixir.
“ This was my first step back in time from the Tudors. I had read that Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VII had been Richard III's lover, and this was such an extraordinary claim that I started to read about her, and from her to her mother, the almost-unknown Elizabeth Woodville. When I started to look at her there was only one reliable biography, by historian David Baldwin, and it was on his biography and my own research that I based this first book in the series that has gone on to be a major BBC TV series. ”
The country has been torn apart by the Wars of the Roses between the royal houses of York and Lancaster. The old king Henry VI and his wife Margaret of Anjou have escaped to Scotland and the Lancastrian armies have been decimated by the York forces at the Battle of Towton - the bloodiest ever fought on English soil. England has a new king on the throne: Edward IV of the House of York - young, handsome and daring.
“ Nearly named the Kingmaker's Daughters, this is the story of Isabel and Anne Neville, daughters to the Earl of Warwick who fought for both York and Lancaster, but always for himself. Anne is married to Prince Edward and could easily have been a Lancastrian Queen of England but for the fortunes of war which meant that she married Richard III and became a York Queen of England. It's a story about ambition and the price that has to be paid. ”
King Edward IV's secret marriage Elizabeth Woodville fractured his relationship with his cousin and supporter Richard Neville Earl of Warwick, who was known as 'The Kingmaker'. Warwick believed that he would be in a position to rule England through Edward; when he could not, he began to look elsewhere for power and used his daughters Isabel and Anne to create new alliances.
“ Oh! I love this book so much. This is the story of Elizabeth of York who is forced to marry Henry VII as part of the peace settlement to bring about the end of the Cousins' War. To her horror she finds her throne is threatened by a young man who is claiming to be her brother Richard, missing from the Tower of London. Half of England sides with the young man against the usurping Tudor, what should Elizabeth do? I think this is probably one of the most complex historical novels I have ever written - the merging of the personal and the political is very intense, and the blending of the historical research and the imagined psychologies has been a great joy. ”
Henry Tudor is king, snatching the crown from Richard III in a surprise victory at the Battle of Bosworth. Raised in exile in Brittany and having taken the throne with a French and Scottish force, Henry had neither the easy popularity nor the longstanding political allegiances of the House of York. As a result, he had to face repeated rebellions and threats to his throne. In an attempt to unify the warring Houses of Lancaster and York, Henry marries the York Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville.
“ The story of Katherine of Aragon who is very neglected by historians, but who was the longest-serving wife of Henry VIII, and who helped him to take the throne and learn the trade of kingship. I was fascinated by her background, I travelled to Granada to see for myself her childhood home, the beautiful Alhambra palace, and I became certain that the young woman that she became was far more interesting and active than the picture we have of her of the 'old woman' that would be replaced by the 'young mistress'. Deliberately I ended the novel at the moment of her greatest triumph when she was a successful queen militant as her mother Isabella of Spain had been. ”
Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York's son Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales is betrothed to the Spanish Princess Katherine of Aragon. But Arthur's sudden death, followed by his mother's, leaves Henry Tudor with a difficult to decision, to marry his son's wife himself or to arrange her marriage to his younger son.
“ This is a novel which changed its nature, content and significance from when I started research until publication. Right up until the last stage of copy editing I was revising and adding material and characters to this dark story. I started it, thinking that it would be a relatively simple telling of the tragic story of Margaret Pole – daughter of George Duke of Clarence and Isabel Neville. George was the brother of Edward IV, probably drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine for treason against Edward and Queen Elizabeth. As the book progressed I discovered that Margaret was a central figure in the Tudor court, and probably actively involved in the endless conspiracies against Henry VIII and his advisors. This hidden rebellion reached its peak in the uprising of the North called the Pilgrimage of Grace. The pilgrims won their aims of defending the Roman Catholic traditions and the return of the traditional advisors, but Henry reneged on his promises and sent his troops for a terrible persecution to men who held a royal pardon. Margaret, and her entire family, came under suspicion too and this novel moved far from the template of a persecuted heroine and became the story of a merciless murder of a family. Margaret's betrayer, and her defenders all come under the gaze of a king who was increasingly frightened and, I believe delusional. It's been a chilling and powerful book to write and the image of Henry VIII, composer of 'Greensleeves' beloved of primary school history, will never be the same again for me. He was a serial killer and this book traces his steps towards psychosis. ”
England is under a Tudor king. Henry VII has two sons with Elizabeth of York which should have secured his line, yet his court is still filled with fear and suspicion. Plantagenet is a dangerous name to carry and the heiress Margaret Pole is swiftly married off to a staunch Tudor supporter, but her brother Edward's claim cannot be ignored. Henry executes him on Tower Hill, leaving Margaret to face a lifetime of uncertainty.
“ 'Three Sisters, Three Queens': the title of my new book featuring Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's older sister, only came to me when I realised that the book was not just about this extraordinary woman who married three times, twice against the wishes of her family for love, ruled Scotland and raised a king; but also about her equally formidable sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon, and her sister Mary Tudor. It was extraordinary to see how the fortunes of one woman rose coincidentally with the failure of another, and how the issues of arranged marriage, widowhood, divorce and re-marriage dominated the lives of all three. I was also writing very much to the idea of sisterhood – the rivalry, love, pride and jealousy that sisters often bring to each other. I wanted this book to go to the very heart of being a sister, a queen, and sister to a great queen. ”
Katherine of Aragon, Infanta of Spain, has arrived in England to marry Arthur Prince of Wales. King Henry VII’s hugely expensive celebrations are attended by ambassadors negotiating his next diplomatic success – the marriage of Princess Margaret and James IV of Scotland. With her brother on the throne of England and herself on the throne of Scotland Margaret is to ensure a Perpetual Peace between the two endlessly warring countries – a strategy far more easily planned than enacted.
“ This has to be one of my favourite books of all time for it is the one that made my name, was adapted by the BBC and Hollywood, and established the style that has come to be my 'signature' style: the first person view of history from a lesser known, or perhaps unknown, historical character. Mary Boleyn was a great find and this novel has given rise to three biographies about her, and established her as a historical character instead of being the sister that nobody knew about. ”
King Henry VIII is married to his brother's widow, Katherine of Aragon, who has given him a daughter, Princess Mary. An attractive and charismatic king, Henry quickly created a grand and fashionable court, full of celebration and pleasure. When Katherine cannot give him the son that he needs and his lover's sister Anne Boleyn arrives at court, he decides to take action that will change England and its religion forever.
“ I remember writing this novel very vividly for a bad fall from my horse had confined me to bed for six weeks in a lot of pain, and I dived into this novel so that I could take myself somewhere else. What a world I stepped into! My Anne of Cleves, unlike the cliche of the fat Flanders mare, is a pretty courageous energetic survivor, and my Katherine Howard is not a 'slut' (as a modern historian has called her) but a young girl foolish and vain as young girls sometimes are, but dangerously ill advised and married more or less against her best interests to the most dangerous man in England. I tackle the enigma of Jane Rochford in this novel too. Nobody knows for sure why she would be complicit in the execution of two queens of England - I suggest madness, but readers must make up their own minds. ”
Just eleven days after King Henry VIII had his second wife Anne beheaded for treason, he married Jane Seymour who gave him a son, Prince Edward, but died soon after his birth. King Henry needed more sons to secure his line and safeguard the House of Tudor, he looked overseas for this next bride and picked Anne of Cleves but would soon be side-tracked by the young, vivacious Katherine Howard.
“ A book in which I released some of my thoughts and fears about magic and superstition, this remains a powerful book for me. It was set in County Durham and Moragh's cottage was my home for three years. I frightened myself in the writing of it so much that I could only write during daylight hours. But I think it is more than a scary book - I think it is also a consideration of how a woman is to be, and who should be her mentors. ”
Henry VIII has reformed the Church of England, breaking away from the authority of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Keen to reinforce his position as the new head of the church and to take advantage of the wealth of the Catholic Church, Henry began the Dissolution - the raiding and wrecking of all of the Catholic convents and monasteries in England. In this time of religious tensions and instability, belief in witchcraft and the supernatural began to spread throughout the country, causing increasing concern. As a result, King Henry decides to introduce an act of Parliament making witchcraft punishable by death - and making England a much more dangerous place for a young woman without wealth or family.
“ All of my titles are a bit of a labour of love, because I see them as a sort of cryptic message to the reader which sometimes says what the book is simply about, and sometimes says what it means. The title for this book had to reflect my real admiration for the heroine, and also the challenge she faced – not just to survive, but also to retain her courage and her power and her vision. The heroine/narrator is Kateryn Parr, Henry VIII's last and little-known queen, a woman who came to her own individual understanding of her husband, an increasingly sick and tyrannical king, and the world that she lived in. She was a leader of reform and (to me the most important) the first woman to publish her own work in print under her own name in England in English. This is so extraordinary I don't know why we aren't all taught her in schools. But what to call her fictionalised biography? Of course, I knew that she had to silence her voice and keep her writing secret during the months that Henry suspected her, and so I wanted something that would acknowledge his power over her. This is not trivial or romantic – this is tyranny to a murderous degree. And I wanted something which put her in the bitter context of all the other women who are silenced. In this way, Kateryn speaks for all who have not been allowed an education, or to speak, or to write.Then I learned that Nicholas Udall, the playwright, had possibly premiered a play before her called 'Ralph Roister Doister' – a play about a household of women with a woman head and their spirited and violent defence against an aggressive bullying man. Borrowed by Shakespeare and skewed towards male power this became 'The Taming of the Shrew' – the story of a powerful furious woman who submits to an aggressive bullying man. I had my title: ‘The Taming of the Queen’ – a novel about a woman who is silenced by male power and terrorised by male threat, but who survives to write, to make her own life, and even to love. ”
Only months after the king sentenced his fifth wife to death, he was looking for his sixth, and chose the recently-widowed, thirty-year-old Kateryn Parr, who was planning to marry the handsome bachelor Thomas Seymour. As soon as the king showed his interest in the beautiful widow she had to serve the interests of her family and agree to marry him, become Queen of England and stepmother to his children, and rule England in his absence. But the king, old, angry and in pain, was hard to please; and very soon Kateryn’s outspoken support of the Reformation put her in grave danger from the courtiers, conspiring for power.
“ Whenever people tell me their favourite of all my books, this is the one that is most often mentioned. I think people love the character of Hannah, who is invented but inspired by the existence of a real female 'Fool' who served Mary I. If you have a hardback edition you can see the royal picture which is thought to show her in a doorway in the endpapers. It is one of my favourite books and led on to The Virgin's Lover. ”
Henry VIII is dead, succeeded by his only legitimate son, nine year old Edward VI. Too young to rule, the realm is governed by a Regency Council, led by his uncle, Edward Seymour. Edward has continued his father's reformation of the church and Protestantism is becoming established, however England is still unsettled with rioting and rebellions common. Edward was close to and well loved by both of his half-sisters: the Catholic Princess Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and the Protestant Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the executed Anne Boleyn. However, he and his advisors were concerned that should he die without issue, his sister Princess Mary would return the country to Catholicism.
“ This has been a journey of discovery for me into the lives and characters of the Grey girls. I knew of Jane before I started research but I knew next to nothing about her sisters and it was a lucky guess that there was more behind the sentimental portrait of Jane that took me to the stories of the three of them. I struggled for a title until I had finished the book and then I chose this ambiguous one. Mary is the last Tudor of the Brandon branch – a fascinating and unknown character to end such a famous line – but Elizabeth is the last ruling Tudor, the throne inherited by a Stuart. She could have named Katherine as an heir and put a Tudor/Seymour boy on the throne of England and broken the jinx on Tudor male heirs. But her rivalry and paranoia was too much for her. The stories of the Grey girls show the enterprise and courage of young Elizabethan women who defied two queens, to make their own lives. Jane chose death rather than deny her faith, and her sisters conspired against the throne, pursuing their own loves and ambitions and risking their sister’s fate: execution for treason. This is the darkest portrait I have ever seen of Elizabeth – I have responded only to the facts of her treatment of her cousins, who as kinswomen and heirs should have been under her protection but found themselves at the centre of her fears. ”
“ This is an interesting book for me since the logic of the narrative and the characters involved in the story made me look at the real life evidence for the accidental death of Amy Dudley. When I was writing the novel it was widely accepted that she had broken her neck as a result of a fall. It seemed to me that murder was a far more likely cause, and you can read the novel to see who I suspect. It was very exciting when, long after publication, the original documents of her inquest were found showing that she died from blows to the head made by a weapon. Amy Dudley was indeed murdered, but we still don't know who was the murderer. ”
Upon his unexpected early death in 1553, King Edward VI nominated his cousin, a committed Protestant, Lady Jane Grey as his successor. Just nine days after she was crowned, Edward's sister Princess Mary had raised supporters and persuaded the Privy Council to switch their allegiance - declaring her the rightful queen and imprisoning Jane. Queen Mary began to reverse the Protestant reformation of her father, restoring Roman Catholic bishops and persecuting Protestants. Despite several reported pregnancies, Mary's marriage to Philip of Spain produced no children. So on her death, her sister the Protestant Princess Elizabeth succeeded her to the throne.
“ It is a challenge to write a novel about Mary Queen of Scots – so much has been written about her already – a play and an opera as well as dozens of histories. In this novel I looked at her long years of imprisonment and the extraordinary triangle that developed between her, her gaoler the Earl of Shrewsbury and his wonderful wife Bess of Hardwick. The dynamic between these three makes this novel not just a historical novel about the times but a psychological study of three people trapped together. ”
Elizabeth I has been Queen of England for ten years. She is still unmarried, despite considering several suitors and having conducted a love affair with the married Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester – whose wife had then died under suspicious circumstances. With no heir, Elizabeth refused to name a successor – leading to the dissolution of parliament and putting England in a potentially dangerous position. One possible successor to Elizabeth was her first cousin once removed – the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots, whom many English Catholics believed to be the true English heir to the throne. However Mary is under imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle after marrying her third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell – the man widely believed to have earlier murdered Mary's second husband Lord Darnley – and she appeals to her cousin Elizabeth for support.
“ My editor had suggested that I write a biography – they were hugely fashionable in this year – and I wanted to write about someone who worked with his hands. While I was puzzling about who would be the subject of a fictional biography I was given a book on plant collectors and gardeners and read of John Tradescant. It happened that I visited a garden centre, and tripped and literally fell into a tray of Tradescantia. It was enough of a hint! I started research on John Tradescant and found enough material for two books, and developed an entirely new style of writing: the fictionalised biography. ”
In 1603, at the age of 69, Queen Elizabeth died and was succeeded by her cousin King James VI of Scotland – finally uniting the crowns of Scotland and England and beginning the Stuart reign of England.
“ This was one of my favourite books to write, I researched it on a visit to Jamestown and went on to a reservation for the Pamunky (Powhatan) people. I was honoured with an invitation into a private home and had a long talk about the history of the people. This book is divided between the two terrible conflicts: colonists against indigenous peoples in America, and royalists against roundheads in England. I met the great historian of the period Christopher Hill and asked him did he think it possible that a man like John Tradescant might leave England to escape the conflict and he laughed and said that any sensible man would leave England in the middle of a civil war - so I felt very justified in my development of John's character and the two locations of this novel of a man divided between two loves. ”
Charles I is on the throne. He has dissolved parliament for the third time and resolved to rule alone. In order to manage the debts generated during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I and fund his overseas wars with Spain and France, Charles repeatedly invented new and re-established obsolete forms of taxation. This during a time when harvests were failing caused widespread poverty and social unrest. Charles had become increasingly unpopular with the English people – his friendship with the assassinated George Villiers Duke of Buckingham had alienated the noble families whilst his failure to successfully support Protestant forces during the Thirty Years' War and marriage to a Roman Catholic French Princess caused suspicion and mistrust amongst his people. As the country descended into civil war, many chose to emigrate to the recently settled American colonies in search of freedom – despite Charles's attempts to stem the flow.
“ This is my first novel, which I wrote as I completed my PhD in 18th century history and literature, when – without planning to do so – I served an apprenticeship in the 18th century novels which were being invented at that time. The oppression of women, the rebellion of the poor all came from the history of the time, the love of landscape from my own childhood and the fevered sexuality all my own imagination. I wrote Wideacre in an old ruled notebook by hand, and put on the front, 'Philippa Gregory – Best Selling Novel'. Unbelievably it was. It sold world-wide in a bidding war and I decided to become a writer. ”
The novel is set in the second part of the eighteenth century, during the time of the enclosure acts, a series of UK Acts of Parliament which enclosed open fields and common land in the country. The 'Tragedy of the Commons' removed previously existing rights of local people to carry out activities. Private ownership of land is a modern idea, and was outside the comprehension of most people. The king, or the Lord of the Manor, usually owned an estate, but the people enjoyed all sorts of rights which enabled him, or her, to graze stock, cut wood or peat, draw water or grow crops, on various plots of land at specified times of year.
“ A profoundly important book for me to write, this book tells the story of the English slave trade, the import of black people as slaves into England, an almost totally forgotten history when I started research. The great source book for me was Peter Fryer's Staying Power, in which he writes of the presence of black people in Britain from the Roman Empire onwards. It was a moment of great gladness when he wrote a generous review praising the novel. I travelled to the Gambia to research the African part of the story and while I was there met the schoolmaster who founded, with me, our charity, Gardens for the Gambia. The novel scandalised my home town of Bristol which has tried to forget the terrible legacy of slavery, and inspired many black readers to study the history of 18th century slavery in England. I wrote the screenplay for the BBC TV drama based on the book and was proud to win the Committee for Racial Equality award for best TV drama, and be runner up for a BAFTA. ”
As the 18th century draws to a close, Great Britain has become a major international power through victory over France in the Americas and the colonisation of large parts of India. In England, the Industrial Revolution is taking hold and radically changing both the environment and society. Alongside the spread of the Empire across the globe, the transatlantic trade in slaves also increased dramatically, becoming a very lucrative business for ports such as Bristol and Liverpool. The majority of the enslaved people, stolen from Africa by the British, were sold to the plantations of the European colonies, however, a number were also brought back to Britain to be kept or sold as domestic slaves. By the 1770s, some Christians were beginning to question the morality of the trade. However, the slavers would prove unwilling to give up such a profitable business without a fight.
“ This is that difficult beast: the second novel. I rewrote it through more drafts than anything since. I poured into it my thoughts about the gentrification of women, and their use as symbols of status. I still think of it as a novel which has more complexity than one might expect. I loved the heroine and especially the sequences in Bath. I went to stay in Bath to research the history of the town and uncovered a darker side to the spa which I think serves the story well, as it is so much about the shadows of regency England. ”
England is in the grip of the Industrial Revolution. The impact of the Enclosures Act and rapid growth of industry led to an increasing movement of people away from living and working in the countryside and into towns and cities. The earlier influence and status of the rich landowners was under threat from the intellectuals of the enlightenment and as a result, the rigid social hierarchies were beginning to change. Despite such changes however, women were still no closer to gaining access to legal rights or equal academic or professional opportunities. Property and money were held only by men and women were generally under the control of a man – her father and then subsequently her husband. Most women - especially those from wealthy families had few rights and fewer life choices.
“ This was the book that I was longing to write from the moment that I finished Wideacre as it was the conclusion of the story and the happy ending. I had a wonderful summer of research when I stayed with a circus for the summer season and travelled with them and worked as a circus hand so that I could understand the life. The Wiltshire sequences are set in a well-loved house near Warminster where I used to stay as a child, and the return to Wideacre took me back to my beloved Sussex. The London sequences I traced out walking around London with a valuable 18th century map as my A to Z, seeing where Meridon might live and how she would ride in the park. It was a hugely joyful book to write and I foresaw in it a happy time for myself, and the horse that I bought after writing about Meridon's beloved grey horse: my own grey horse, Comet. ”
As the nineteenth century opens, the Industrial Revolution is gaining momentum and driving significant economic and social change throughout Great Britain. This combined with the ongoing expansion of the British Empire has led to the United Kingdom becoming the richest and most powerful country in the world. As a result, it is facing threats from its old enemies - Napoleon's France and Spain. Within England, the Industrial Revolution is transforming the economy and leading to a widening gap between the rich and poor. Social dissatisfaction and unrest is increasing.
“ One of the books where the fiction foretells the fact. I wrote this novel while I was trying for my second baby and in the novel the heroine gives birth to a blond 7lb boy - so did I. ”
Great Britain is recovering from World War I and the lifting of restrictions created new sorts of night-life in London. Clubs, restaurants and dance halls catered for the new craze of jazz dancing. Wireless radio was to be the technological marvel of the decade. But is was also a period of depression, unemployment was high and mass production techniques started to replace traditional industry.
“ This was the first comical book that I ever tried to write and it came at a moment when I was feeling relaxed and joyful and ready to laugh at the New Age beliefs, many of which I sincerely embraced. It's a kind of laughing tribute. ”
“ This is a novel about feminism, about sisterhood, and about the risibly difficult path that all women have to tread carefully trying to be correct and trying to be perfect. ”
“ Still not yet completely committed to nothing but history I wrote The Little House at high speed and with a sense of the intense drama of the subject: the way that women can be rivals to the death over a man or even a child. Interestingly, I never felt that I took sides in this novel of conflict about a mother-in-law and her son's wife, but almost every reader thinks that I am on the side that she favours. Almost every reader favours the woman who is in her own position! It's a very revealing book to read and discuss. I have heard from very anxious mothers-in-law, and very angry daughters. ”
“ My first, and to date my only, book of collected short stories where I worked on the idea of describing as little as possible, so the short story is filled with emotion but very little action. The story of the title Bread and Chocolate was inspired by a baking Jesuit. (yes, really). ”
“ This is an odd novel of mine. It's partly a satire on the business of publishing which I was starting to understand by this time in my career, partly an ironic commentary on the mistakes a woman makes when she takes responsibility for everything, but it is mostly a wry musing on the nature of being a woman – whether in our world femininity is so constructed that a man could do it as well as a woman, and perhaps – more optimistically – that a real woman will find love if she dares. It was a novel which I wrote with great imaginative leaps and little planning – I remember my own shock when the shoes were stolen! It was not a scene I had planned at all, I didn't understand it then, I don't understand it now, but it has tremendous resonance for me – and of course, it gave me the last bizarre line. ”