Hilary Mantel

Second Booker Win

BBC News, 18 October 2012

Hilary Mantel has won the 2012 Man Booker Prize for her novel Bring Up the Bodies. She is the first British author to win the prize twice.


By Robert McCrum
Newsweek, May 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Hilary Mantel won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for her historical novel Wolf Hall. That novel and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, recall Tudor England's great marital and state drama, the many wives of Henry VIII, and the Protestant Reformation. The first presents Thomas More as a religious fanatic viewed through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell. The second novel narrates the fall of Anne Boleyn. Each volume is spellbinding.

Success came late for Mantel. Born in Manchester in 1952, for much of her life she had to fight illness. Despite this, her prose is sharp and bracing, shorn of sentiment or whimsy. For months in 2010, she suffered a medical nightmare. High on morphine after a botched operation, she found that illness stripped her back to an authentic self. "I live in two simultaneous realities," she wrote, "one serene, one ghastly beyond bearing."

Convalescent in 2011, Mantel wrote Bring Up the Bodies. This new installment carries Cromwell's story forward to a cathartic climax. When she reached the indictment and execution of Anne Boleyn, she said to herself, "I don't think the reader will want to turn the page after the death of Anne Boleyn. It's too shocking."

When Mantel considers her own life story, she says, "I always tumble from disaster to disaster." She was 11 when her father left home and the lodger, Jack Mantel, took his place. At about the same time, she lost her faith. In 1970 she began to study law at the London School of Economics, but transferred to the University of Sheffield and graduated in 1973.

She married Gerald McEwen, a geologist whose work took the young couple first to Botswana and then Saudi Arabia. Then she began work on a novel about Robespierre and the French Revolution. She contracted a form of endometriosis that led to surgery, steroid treatment, and obesity. Her novel was comprehensively rejected by London publishers. She wrote another novel, for the women's market, published it in 1985, and then wrote another. More novels followed.

Her French Revolution novel, A Place of Greater Safety, was finally published in 1992 and won a major award. With new self-confidence, she wrote a powerful memoir, Giving Up the Ghost (2003).

Mantel's project is to write a trilogy about one of the most fascinating and turbulent moments of English history. She will return to work on The Mirror and the Light. Cromwell's execution in 1540 was a notably hideous public butchery, but an opportunity she relishes. Hilary Mantel is no slouch.

'If I'm suffering, I can make that pay'

Stuart Jeffries
The Guardian, 17 October 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Mantel is a forbiddingly analytical woman with a vocation that involves stepping into the uncontrolled and the unknown. "I used to think when I set out that doing the research was enough, but then the gaps would emerge that could only be filled by imagination. And imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious, when you make delay and procrastination work for you."

In the late 1970s, Mantel wrote her first book, an 800-page novel set during the French revolution called A Place of Greater Safety. She wrote much of this novel in Botswana. There she discovered that she had endometriosis, a condition that means uterine cells move to other parts of the body. Those errant cells bleed and cause painful scar tissue.

She returned to England, hoping to publish the book and get treatment. "I came to a crisis in my life," says Mantel. Her book was rejected by a publisher and she emerged from hospital minus "ovaries, womb, bits of bowel". After the hospital operation, she was prescribed hormones that made her gain weight fast. She has never lost it.

In 2009 when she published Wolf Hall, Mantel became the woman who made historical fiction respectable again. The novel reportedly made £5.4 million after it won the Booker, and sales of Mantel's back list rose ninefold. "The practical difference the money has made is that I can support myself by fiction. That is what I have been trying to do throughout my life."

Did she never think of the risks of historical fiction to mental wellbeing? "I think I work pretty well with my subconscious. I can channel it." How? "If I'm suffering I can make that pay. If I'm feeling really bad, then I can make my characters feel really bad."

'Back to the Middle Ages'

The Telegraph, 18 October 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Hilary Mantel, 60, recalls that Thomas Cromwell tried to pass a Poor Law in 1536 and reflects on the parallels with modern Britain: "We have reached a period where we are going back to the Middle Ages, where poverty is once again being viewed as a moral failing or a weakness, and relief by the state is a privilege and not a right."

The BBC is turning the first part of Mantel's trilogy, Wolf Hall, into a lavish costume drama, to be broadcast in six episodes next year. The second part, Bring Up the Bodies, had sold 106,000 copies before the Booker win. Mantel plans to devote next year to finishing the third part, The Mirror and the Light.

Stranger Than Fiction

Hilary Mantel
Financial Times, 19 October 2012

Edited by Andy Ross

Like Thomas Cromwell, I've always been very ambitious and I came from a low place. When I began to take the whole thing seriously and read into it, I found a man very different from what I imagined. You get this impression of Cromwell as very dour and forbidding. He wasn't like that.

Cromwell was astonishingly radical in this thinking. When the House of Commons threw out his poor law, they threw out the idea that the state might have a responsibility to the casualties of an economic system. They said no to the idea of the state creating work, because it would have meant income tax, and they are turning their backs on what we know is the future.

I try to make sure that everything I make up could plausibly have happened. I don’t introduce impossibilities. I hate pastiche, and I had to negotiate some things. I'm more interested in what they meant and what they were saying than exactly the way they said it.

It really is primitive stuff, men and women and fights to the death, love and violence, all the big mythical themes. I'm just swept up in the power of the story. As the cliché goes, it's stranger than fiction: you wouldn't dare make this stuff up.

AR This all sounds quite good: Maybe I should read Mantel.