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Press release

  • 28 November 2006

Philippa and Julia go head-to-head on Tudor times

Philippa Gregory

Philippa Gregory

Historical novelist Philippa Gregory talks about her career, her books and her fond recollections as a University of Sussex student with fellow alumna, broadcaster and journalist, Julia Somerville, at Chichester Lecture Theatre on Wednesday (29 November).

The Tudor-themed event, complete with an appearance from Henry VIII and medieval minstrels, celebrates the publication of Philippa's latest novel, The Boleyn Inheritance, which delves into the fates of Henry's later wives, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

The novel follows on from Philippa's earlier success, The Other Boleyn Girl, a worldwide best-seller that has subsequently been adapted for television and is now being made into a film, starring Scarlett Johansson and Natalie Portman.

Philippa, who has a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, attributes her years as a history undergraduate at Sussex to inspiring her career choice. "Sussex made me an historian," she says. "Without the inspiration of my tutors at Sussex I would never have fallen in love with history and gone on to research and become a novelist."

A trained journalist, Philippa initially registered as an English Literature student in the school of English and American Studies in 1975. But the interdisciplinary nature of studying at Sussex led to her taking a history course and finding her true calling. "It changed my life," she says. "The tutor who inspired me the most was Maurice Hutt, who taught the Introduction to History course with great élan and impatience. He gave me a lasting sense of the importance of history and the drama of being an historian."

Others she lists as having a lasting influence on her include Alun Howkins, now Director of Graduate Studies, who introduced her to English Marxism. "I remember it as a time filled with discussion and confusion," she says. "I was intensely happy."

Following her research in 18th century at Edinburgh Philippa had hoped to become an academic. But her ambitions dashed by the Conservative Government of the time. "When I completed my PhD thesis I wanted to go on to teach history but Margaret Thatcher had frozen all the posts in 18th century history.

"I was very angry about it at the time, but as it turns out I am working in history with great joy. However, her rejection of the intellectual tradition of the universities was a great shock at the time, and was damaging to the study of history generally."

Philippa's first novel, Wideacre, was written as she completed her PhD and became an instant world-wide bestseller. On its publication she became a full-time writer, and has gone on to pen more than 20 other books, including children's fiction and contemporary novels.

Her novel, Mrs Hartley and the Growth Centre, a tale of a sensuous 45-year-old woman seeking excitement beyond her marriage to a university professor, was inspired by her undergraduate years. She describes it as, " an affectionate and ironic tribute to some of the battier notions we had at the time. The meetings of the feminists and the book-reviewing by them was surprisingly close to the real-life experience."

Philippa now lives with her husband and two children on a small farm in the north of England. Besides fiction, she is a regular contributor for print and broadcast media and is a Tudor expert for Channel 4's Time Team.

Notes for editors

  • In Conversation, Philippa Gregory and Julia Somerville, begins at 6pm in Chichester Lecture Theatre, at the University of Sussex's Falmer campus. The event is free, but  it is essential to RSVP to, or call 01273 877707
  • The event is presented in association with HarperCollins and signed copies of The Boleyn Inheritance, will be on sale. 
  • University of Sussex  press officers, Jacqui Bealing and Maggie Clune, Tel:  01273 678888,  Mobile: 07906 761437   Email:





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