Best-selling author Philippa Gregory has crafted so many wonderfully romantic adult novels, we were thrilled to catch up with her just as she’s releasing her first book in the new Order of Darkness series written for teens. With medieval intrigue and impossible romance spilling from the pages of Changeling, she gives us an insider’s peek into what we can look forward to from this sweeping new series…
So many of our teen readers are already fans of your adult books. Is there anything different for them to anticipate in your first YA series for teens, Order of Darkness?
The books have four fictional characters and so they are far more fiction than history. This gives me a chance to develop some wonderful characters: Luca, a young man who questions everything in a time when questions are heresy; Isolde, who loses her home on the death of her father and will have to fight to get it back; Frieze, Luca’s friend and comrade who has a deep empathy with animals and the natural world; and Ishraq, an Arab girl who is highly educated and highly skilled and who has to find her way between the two worlds in conflict: Christian and Muslim.
The first book in the series, Changeling, is set in 15th-century Italy. What was it about this time period that most inspired your imagination and interest?
It is set in 1453 — the year that the Ottoman Turks captured Constantinople and the whole Christian world thought that this was a sign of the “end of days,” the end of the world. It is this frightened, superstitious world that Luca is ordered to investigate by the mysterious head of a Papal Order.
Changeling revolves around a handsome monk and a beautiful abbess. Religion, witchcraft and werewolves also come into play. How do you decide what elements to write into your books when crafting a plot?
Some things are essential — Luca has to be freed from his vows so that he can travel and have adventure, Isolde has to decide to escape from her brother’s control and from her house arrest at the nunnery, but when they have their adventures I deploy anything that takes my fancy. The medieval world is filled with mysteries and extraordinary events; I am free to use all of them!
Why do you think powerful women have often been considered to be so dangerous in history, even when they had few legal rights and little or no real property?
I think that when women have legal and political rights, then they work legally and politically to gain their viewpoint and win their goals. When women are excluded from legitimate means to exercise their power then they are forced to work in underhanded and secret ways. The fear of women’s power is, I believe, actually worse when women are excluded from power. Also, this is a time when religious and superstitious explanations were offered for almost everything. People still believed that women were particularly dangerous because it was Eve’s advice to Adam that caused the fall from the Garden of Eden. Women’s fertility and even their biology were a mystery to medieval doctors and became part of the misogynous attitude of the times.
Please use one adjective to describe Isolde. Now one for Luca.
Isolde: aristocratic Luca: curious
Which character in the Order of Darkness series is the most fun to write? Why? The character that just bounced off the page and into the center of the story has been Frieze, who started his fictional life as Luca’s servant, following him for loyalty and affection but suspicious and doubtful of the quest. He just became more and more funny and his loyalty to and affection for Luca and later the two girls made him a joy to write.
What is it about history that makes for such a rich and enjoyable read?
I think it is a time when almost anything can happen — a time of great fear and disturbance but also tremendous opportunity. The superstitions and lack of science mean that people believe extraordinary things, which have become the stuff of legend, myth and fairytale, I am retelling them in a new and exciting way.
Do you have a favorite period in history? If so, why?
My favorite period is this one that I describe here in this novel and in my fictional biographies: the medieval period where there is so much happening, and the world is such an exciting and partly-undiscovered place.
If you could have dinner with anyone is history, who would it be and why?
I think dinner with Leonardo da Vinci would allow one to see the working of the mind of a genuine genius; it would be fascinating to look into his notebooks and have him explain his inventions. But if you wanted a delightful dinner companion then probably Robert Dudley, the long-term friend and possibly lover of Queen Elizabeth I. He was clearly one of the most charming, sexy and entertaining men in history.