The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Charlotte Frost

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Charlotte Frost

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Summary: An up-to-date biography of Sir William Knighton has been long-overdue and we're delighted to have been able to chat to Charlotte Frost about the work that went into writing her book.
Date: 5 July 2011
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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An up-to-date biography of Sir William Knighton has been long-overdue and we're delighted to have been able to chat to Charlotte Frost about the work that went into writing her book.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Charlotte Frost: Inquisitive people who love history, who may not have had the chance to study it formally, but who seek out aspects with which they are unfamiliar or deeper insights into periods they know well. Plus a smattering of specialists who'll go straight to my bibliography.

  • BB: Which came first – an interest in Sir William Knighton or an interest in researching history?

CF: I came across Knighton during a community history project. He was peripheral to the project, but in every other respect he was an important historical figure sorely in need of a new biography, so afterwards I went back to him and snapped him up.

  • BB: The research you did for Sir William Knighton was obviously extensive. Have you been trained to do this and did you find it difficult?

CF: I had a first degree, and picked up the rest as I went along. My mentors were the professional archivists and librarians at the resources I visited, and historians doing similar research. Knighton's biography didn't involve any statistical analysis or complicated hypothesis, just the same background reading, attention to detail and record keeping that we do when taking out a lease, claiming on insurance etc. Even so, Knighton's life, especially his medical career, did at times seem impervious to any amount of investigation.

Half-way through I grabbed the chance to take an MA, which concentrated my mind on structure. I eventually decided against an academic format for Knighton, but the MA enabled me to make that decision. I note what you say in the review, and it may be that I have not yet completed my transition to writer of popular history.

  • BB: What was the most exciting moment when you were doing your research?

CF: Sitting at a little desk at the top of the Round Tower in the Royal Archives at Windsor Castle, reading an extract from Knighton's journal in his own hand, written for his eyes only. His thoughts just flowed, mixing routine diary entries and personal expenditure with observations about acquaintances, and recording the highs and lows of his emotions. Every biographer dreams of survivals like that.

  • BB: I've always had a soft spot for George III but less of a liking for George IV. Who is your favourite personality from the Knighton era?

CF: Many of George IV's contemporaries shared your reservations about him, and Knighton suffered by association. My own favourite from the Knighton era is Henry Brougham, who as a liberal lawyer, political reformer and writer was Knighton's bitter enemy in public, but as a scientist corresponded with him on friendly terms in private. And Brougham was one of Harriette Wilson's lovers. If only I knew how to pronounce his name.

  • BB: Is writing the 'day job'? If not, do you wish that it could be?

CF: It's one of the day jobs. If it takes off, I won't complain.

  • BB: You've got one wish. What's it to be?

CF: For the world to continue to open up to me, and for continued health with which to enjoy it. That sounds revoltingly meretricious, but I really do have a fantastic life and I don't want it to change. Sorry, that's two wishes, not one.

  • BB: What are you reading at the moment? Which is the best book that you've read recently?

CF: Knighton has put me in touch with the Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer communities, and through them I've rediscovered JA and GH. I've just ordered Kirsten Ellis's biography of Lady Hester Stanhope – a Bookbag recommendation for the Regency era – and my own big discovery is Theatres of Memory and Island Stories by the historian Raphael Samuel. I feel like hugging them.

  • BB: What's next for Charlotte Frost?

CF: Just a run-of-the-mill true tale of missing diamonds, revolution, assassination, spies and arms dealing. But with lots of sums this time.

  • BB: We're looking forward to that, Charlotte and thanks for talking to us.

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