Top Historical Fiction Author – Philippa Carr, Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy

Source: Open Road Media
Source: Open Road Media

You probably won’t know her as Eleanor Hibbert, instead you’ll know her as Philippa Carr, Victoria Holt or Jean Plaidy or one of the other pseudonyms she used, including her maiden name Eleanor Burford. As Jean Plaidy, she was selected as one the top 20 favourite historical fiction authors in last year’s survey.

Recently, Open Road Media announced the digital reissuing of Daughters of England series, written under Eleanor Hibbert’s final pen name Philippa Carr. Maggie Crawford, an editor and advisor at Open Road, has graciously provided information about Hibbert’s writing, researching and her very successful career.

How did Eleanor Hibbert begin her writing career? Did it take off immediately or did she experience a difficult start with rejections from agents and publishers?    Eleanor Hibbert started her literary career in the 1930s by emulating her literary heroes—Charles Dickens, George Eliot, and the Brontë sisters. She wrote nine long novels that were psychological studies of contemporary life. Publishers rejected all nine, so she turned to writing stories for London newspapers. It was the literary editor of the Daily Mail who advised Hibbert to forget about “serious fiction” and write something sellable, such as romantic fiction. Unfamiliar with the genre, Hibbert proceeded to read fifty romance novels! Daughter of Anna, her first published novel, came out in 1941 under the name Eleanor Burford, her maiden name. She continued to use this pseudonym into the 1960s as she wrote thirty more contemporary romance novels.

Hibbert loved history, and during the Second World War, when she and her husband were living in Cornwall near a scenic beach named Plaidy, she wrote her first historical novel under the pen name Jean Plaidy. Her first attempt at historical fiction was not a success, but once again she persisted, writing four crime novels under the pen name Elbur Ford, historical-crime novels under the pseudonym Kathleen Kellow, and five historical novels as Ellalice Tate. (The five Tate novels were later republished under the Plaidy pseudonym.) But in 1958, she published the second Jean Plaidy novel, and after that she was unstoppable, writing over one hundred more historical novels about the crowned heads of Europe.

While the Jean Plaidy novels made Hibbert a bestselling author in Great Britain, it wasn’t until 1960 that she became an international bestselling author with her first Gothic romance, Mistress of Mellyn, written under a new pseudonym, Victoria Holt. Readers thought Victoria Holt was a pseudonym for Daphne du Maurier because the novel’s atmosphere was so similar to that of Rebecca. Hibbert had shrewdly studied the market and determined that there was a wide readership for historical romantic suspense stories set in gloomy manor houses. She was right. Victoria Holt proved to be the most financially rewarding of her pseudonyms, and the one for which she was best known in the United States.

In 1972, Hibbert created her last pseudonym, Philippa Carr, returning to the subject she seemed to love best, English history, with her ambitious Daughters of England series. Beginning at the time of the Reformation with The Miracle at St. Bruno’s and ending in the final years of the Second World War with We’ll Meet Again, the series leads readers through the pageant of English history with fast-paced, suspenseful novels that also feature romance and dramatic historical episodes.

How many books did she write in total?    Eleanor Hibbert wrote over 200 novels and sold more than 100 million copies of her novels by the time she died in 1993.

Hibbert was clearly very skilled at writing historical fiction. What ingredients made her so successful?    Born and raised in London, Eleanor Hibbert grew up fascinated with the city and its 2000 years of history. She loved to explore London and she seemed to love to read as much as she loved to write. From the bibliographies in her Plaidy novels, we see that she researched her subjects extensively. She was well read in English and French political and social history as well as in biographies of prominent historical figures. I think she was so skillful at writing historical fiction because she studied a particular historical period and the major players of the time and formed her own opinions of their motivations, which she then conveyed in a realistic, dramatic narrative imbued with the colorful atmosphere of the era. The Jean Plaidy historical novels were popular among readers, yet they also received critical acclaim for their historical accuracy, authentic detail, and quality of writing.

What techniques did Eleanor Hibbert employ to write productively?    Hibbert was a force of nature. She wrote for five hours a day seven days a week, starting at 7:30 A.M. and completing approximately 5,000 words by lunchtime! She enjoyed taking two-month cruises in the winter, but she never left home without her typewriter because she said she felt miserable if she took so much as a week’s break from writing.

Hibbert wrote under different pseudonyms because she wrote different types of fiction for different audiences. Although she was a versatile writer, perhaps she suspected that readers of her Jean Plaidy novels, whose plots rarely strayed beyond historical facts and which were written in third person narration, wouldn’t enjoy her more heavily plotted, romantic, and suspenseful Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr novels, which were written in the more intimate first-person narrative voice. And no doubt her publishers wanted to market her novels to clearly defined audiences. Many of her readers never suspected her multiple identities. 

What strategies guided Hibberts’ writing career?    Persistence, paying attention to the market, writing about what fascinated her—English and European history—and consistently delivering high-quality novels to her legion of fans. I suspect that Eleanor Hibbert would advise writers of historical fiction to write about the period or periods they wish they could have lived in and to understand their characters’ motives. This type of insight enables a writer to make the characters come alive on the page.

Source: Open Road Media
Source: Open Road Media

Why has Open Road Media chosen Hibbert’s Daughters of England series for digital publication?    It is such an outstanding series of historical novels with an irresistible premise. With the Daughters of England novels, a reader can easily absorb the major currents of four hundred years of English history and experience the exciting dramas and conflicts of a significant period through the eyes of a woman of the time, one of the descendants of Damask Farland, the charismatic heroine of The Miracle of St. Bruno’s. The novels simultaneously entertain and educate, offering the reader the authoritative, authentic historical detail of a Jean Plaidy novel coupled with the suspenseful story line and intimate tone of a Victoria Holt novel. No doubt with her great love of history, Eleanor Hibbert was gratified to learn, shortly before her death in 1993, that each of the Daughters of England novels was borrowed approximately 300,000 times a year at British libraries, making Philippa Carr one of the 100 most requested authors.

Many thanks, Maggie Crawford, for providing these interesting insights into Eleanor Hibbert’s life. Like many others, I spent hours curled up with her stories being immersed in time and place as great historical events unfolded. I wish Open Road great success with the digital release of Daughters of England.

20 thoughts on “Top Historical Fiction Author – Philippa Carr, Victoria Holt, Jean Plaidy”

  1. Ha What a coincidence.. I posted my review of the first book of the Daughters of England series, The Miracle at St Bruno’s today.. What made it extra fun was the read along at the Goodreads Plaidy group. What is fun is how to name our group when she had such a large amount of pen names!

    Here is the review with information on the group as well. We’ve recently had a group read for Holt, and Carr, and we plan on reading a Plaidy novel next starting May 1.

  2. 200 novels?????!!!! That in itself is a feat to be admired. I LOVED Hibbert’s novels growing up and thought I’d read most of them, but I guess I still have some work to do… Thank you for this article. I knew little about Hibbert’s writing life.

  3. I cut my teeth on Jean Plaidy as a teenager growing up in England when her historical novels were first published (dates me a bit, doesn’t it?). So I was well aware of her other pseudonyms, although I always preferred her straight-forward historicals and gravitated to that style in my own books. However, her oeuvre is phenomenal and makes me feel like a slouch with only 5 books to my name!

  4. My goodness! 5,000 words before lunch puts my meager 1,000 per day to shame! No dithering around with that lady. And no internet or other distractions. An amazing body of work.

  5. In Carr’s last 4 “Daughters of England” books, the style of writing seems very different to me. I also noticed she changed the character’s name of Matthew Hume (married to Helena, daughter of Peter and Amaryllis Landsdon) to Martin Hume. Did someone ghost write these for her? I love this DOE series and have read it several times and have always puzzled about this. I also have read every book written under the pen name Victoria Holt and love them, reading them over and over through the years. I have read a few of the Plaidy books. Had no idea about all the other pen names, or her real name. Thanks for such interesting information!

      1. I have read sixty of her books under Jean Plaidy. Right now reading Plantagenet Saga . Strongly suggest that readers obtain and read in sequence of her books. This is an amazing trip into the past. I consult the Internet at the same time checking facts and looking at all the castles and manors that she mentions. She gets into the ‘ heads’ of the monarchy which allows you to imagine more so what went on during those times. With Jean Plaidy’s help, I now look at museum’s exhibitions with a new light. My close friend too is reading these books and feels the same. I would of loved to meet Ms Plaidy. Her writing every morning reminds me thatnEdithnWharton did the same. Another favorite author of mine. Everyone, enjoy these books!

  6. She is my absolute favorite author!!! loved all her novels, learned a lot of history, traveled to far distant places with my mind and fell in love over and over again….her books are timeless….

  7. Ive read only few of Hibbert’s novels under Victoria Holt pen name.But I am looking forward that her writings be known in my country.I am indeed fascinated with her writings.

  8. Reblogged this on Time-Worn Pages and commented:
    Jean Plaidy is one of my favorite Historical Fiction authors, and I was so excited to stumble across this piece at A Writer of History! I hope you enjoy it, as well. Remember, I’ll be publishing a piece on Constanza this weekend – Sunday, by 3PM EST (USA). 🙂 Enjoy!

  9. I read every Victoria Holt novel could get my hands on in the library and later in bookstores. I had no idea of her other names. Oh my, now I’ll have to find them as well. She was one of my inspirations to get my writing out there. I did and now have over thirty of my own. Thank you for this wonderful, enlightening post.

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