Phillippa Gregory: 'My husband doesn't particularly like my orphan ducklings'


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The Independent Online

All my novels are essentially about falling in love and getting a house Well, that's what my husband told me a few years ago. It sounds like a very material view of the world but the house symbolises so much of where our fortunes are sited. For me, growing up, I always wanted a safe home, which was hard for my mother to provide after she was widowed and left with two children to raise on her own.

Everyone knows about Anne Boleyn So for The Other Boleyn Girl, I found an unknown female protagonist, Mary Boleyn, who no one had written about before, and it was a step-change in my career. [Released in 2001, it has sold more than 3 million copies.] It still sells in countries such as Korea and Japan, as it's a universal story about how to be a woman.

A novel has more depth than a film can ever have So it was gratifying to see Scarlett Johansson [who played Mary Boleyn in the Hollywood adaptation] demanding more complexity from the screenplay so it would be more like the novel. She'd come to me with the book wanting to know whether bits were true, then she'd go to the screenwriter and say, "This bit [in the book] is great, why isn't it in the screenplay?" It was funny to see but must have been irritating for the screenwriter.

Breaking my back in two places taught me about myself I came off a horse on my farm and as I hit the ground I heard two large cracks and felt a lot of pain. It was one of those moments when you find out whether you're someone who lies down and dies in a ditch, or someone who digs deep and – in my case literally – walks home. I have a sense of mortality now, though, and I'm not the same rider I was.

When government spokesmen use overwrought language, it's because they're about to lie When people use words such as "concurrently" instead of "at the same time", or say, "I myself", I just go, "Agh!". We have such a fabulous language with such simple, meaningful, words that there's no need to complicate it.

I'm agitated about the plight of the Chagos Islanders They were evicted from their homeland in the Indian Ocean by the British in the 1970s so an airbase could be built there. Part of their religious belief is that your home is where your umbilical cord is buried; it symbolises the tie between them and their land; they have a word in their language which means "suicidal despair homesickness". We're honour-bound to pay them compensation and return those who want to go back.

I adore my orphan ducklings I have a small box of them in our study, with a heat lamp to keep them warm and a dish of water which the little ducklings fling themselves in and out of like a pond. My husband doesn't particularly like them as they have this strong, damp smell that fills the study.

Philippa Gregory, 58, is a novelist. 'The Kingmaker's Daughters' (£18.99, Simon & Schuster) is out on Thursday