Best-selling author Princess Michael of Kent heads to Harrogate History Festival

PUBLISHED: 16:13 16 October 2015 | UPDATED: 16:13 16 October 2015

Princess Michael of Kent

Princess Michael of Kent

Archant

Harrogate History Festival returns to the Old Swan Hotel, 22-25 October 2015

It was Yorkshire’s historical fiction queen Philippa Gregory who first urged her friend Princess Michael of Kent to explore the past through prose.

The royal, who lives with her husband, Prince Michael of Kent, in Kensington Palace, has enjoyed a long and successful career lecturing on historical topics, so it seemed like the next logical step. But was it difficult swapping pure historical fact for fiction?

‘I’ve interviewed other historical fiction authors who say part of the challenge is weaving fiction and narrative drive into the framework of facts,’ she said. ‘Readers of historical fiction can be exacting about the facts.

‘I am also rather obsessed with facts – as far as we know them – having begun as a pure historian. I would never invent a birth, death, marriage, divorce, murder, enslavement or anything dramatic that didn’t take place. Therefore my trilogy is true to fact except for the last few pages of the third book, where I more or less solve a murder through circumstantial evidence. I could be right, but I could also be wrong.’

Princess Michael has a long association with Yorkshire, thanks to the hospitality of her friend Philippa Gregory and some of the county’s most prominent families.

‘I love Yorkshire and have often stayed at both Castle Howard – the owners are close friends – and Harewood House with the last Earl (my husband’s first cousin). I’ve had the joy of exploring the countryside with both families and have to say that Yorkshire is an amazing place.’

She’s returning to the county this month to take part in Harrogate History Festival (see panel for details), which aims to put the past very firmly in the present through talks, readings, events and panel discussions.

She’s one of a growing band of successful historical fiction authors. Learning from the past is important, she added. ‘As a child, my historian mother told us bedtime stories from history, never fiction, saying that we must learn from the past because everything has happened before and history repeats itself constantly,’ she explained.

‘In my life, I have found this to be true, which is why I think historical writing is important in addressing our collective present and future; to learn from the past in order to avoid making the same mistakes again.’

Princess Michael’s Anjou trilogy takes place pre-Renaissance and pre-Reformation, making direct comparisons between early 15th century society and today problematic. But, while nations change beyond recognition, people, it seems, remain the same.

‘The essence of people doesn’t change: we are kind or unkind, generous or mean, brutal or gentle, value humanity more or less, respect animals and nature or not,’ she said.

‘In other words, the human race has and always has had choice, and the society in which we live our lives depends on what choices we make. I do not rewrite history; all my facts and characters are true. I invent the periphery.’

Five of her six books focus on the lives of women – was that a conscious decision?

‘I chose women largely because, as a woman, I think I understand women better than I understand men,’ she said. ‘In my experience, I think relatively few male authors write convincingly about women – it’s the old Venus and Mars syndrome I suspect.

‘In writing about my first male hero, Jacques Coeur, I’m sticking my neck out and can only hope he rings true.’

There’s a distinct sense of romance in Princess Michael’s novels, where love often impacts on or directly shapes history. Can we conclude that she’s a romantic herself?

‘Yes, I am, but I don’t believe in creating a romance where none existed in the lives of my characters,’ she said. ‘Then I would be writing pure fiction and I prefer history. There are so many true and fascinating lives I still want to explore; I prefer to leave pure fiction to other writers.’

So what’s next?

‘I have another book planned,’ said Princess Michael. ‘In fact, it’s the first book I researched but didn’t write because I found the story of my heroine too sad. Who wants to cry over a book? There’s enough in life to cry over.’ w

Princess Michael is discussing the third book in her Anjou trilogy, Quicksilver, as part of Harrogate History Festival at the Old Swan Hotel on October 24th at 8.30pm. Tickets are £11.

History lessons

A princess and a peer are among a line-up of legendary writers set to appear at the Harrogate History Festival this autumn.

Among the special guests are Princess Michael of Kent, whose books include The Queen of Four Kingdoms, and Melvyn Bragg (Lord Bragg of Wigton) whose new novel Now is the Time captures the intrigues of the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

The third Harrogate History Festival, run in association with the Historical Writers’ Association, also welcomes giant of the genre Ken Follett, who has global sales of 150 million of his epic books. Perhaps not surprisingly, his latest, Edge of Eternity, is already an international number one bestseller.

Other guests include former children’s laureate and War Horse author Michael Morpurgo, Scottish historian and broadcaster Neil Oliver, Thomas Cromwell biographer Tracy Borman who will reveal ‘the real Wolf Hall’ and Languedoc trilogy novelist Kate Mosse in conversation with the festival’s programming chair and novelist Manda Scott.

Harrogate History Festival takes place at the Old Swan Hotel from October 22nd-25th.

For tickets visit harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/history or call the box office on 01423 562303.

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