About The Author
Hilary Mantel is one of Britain's most admired authors of literary fiction, the winner of many awards, including the Man Booker Prize, and renowned for the consistent quality of her books despite their diverse range of settings. She was made a CBE in the 2006 Birthday Honours.
She was born in Glossop, Derbyshire and grew up in the mill village of Hadfield. Brought up Roman Catholic, she lost her faith at the age of twelve, although her secondary education took place in a convent school. She then studied law at the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield.
She began writing a novel about the French Revolution, but this was not completed and published until 1992, as A Place of Greater Safety. Her first published novel was Every Day is Mother's Day (1985), based in part on her experience as a social work assistant at a geriatric hospital; this was followed by a sequel a year later, entitled Vacant Possession.
Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, set in Saudi Arabia, was followed by the darkly comic Fludd, which made extensive use of her Catholic upbringing and won the Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. After winning the Sunday Express Book of the Year for A Place of Greater Safety, she published A Change of Climate (1994) and then An Experiment in Love(1995), which won the Hawthorden Prize.
The Giant, O'Brien (1998), based on the true story of an Irishman who came to London in the 1780s to exhibit himself in freak shows, was shortlisted for the 1998 Booker Prize.
In 2003 she published an autobiography, Giving up the Ghost, which won the MIND Book of the Year, and a collection of short stories, Learning to Talk. 2005's Beyond Black, set in the world of professional mediums, was shortlisted for the Orange Prize.
In 2009, she published Wolf Hall, to almost universally ecstatic reviews. Depicting intrigues in the court of Henry VIII, particularly the rise of Thomas Cromwell, it became the odds-on favourite when shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and did indeed go on to win. Subsequent sales of the book broke all records for the Prize.
She now publishes the long-awaited sequel, Bring up the Bodies, which focuses on the downfall of Anne Boleyn. A third book set inthe same era, provisionally entitled 'The Mirror and the Light', is in the works.
In this exclusive interview for Foyles, Hilary talks about her fascination with Thomas Cromwell and the corrupting effects of power, and you can read the first chapter here.
Questions & Answers
What is it about this period of history, and Thomas Cromwell in particular, that fascinates you?
The reign of Henry VII is so gruesomely fascinating that it's irresistible material for novelists and dramatists, offering the perfect mix of political and personal themes. But of course it's been done so often. I wouldn't have been drawn to it, except that Thomas Cromwell led me. I wanted to understand his stealthy but spectacular rise in the world, his enigmatic personality. When you look through the familiar history and personalities through Cromwell's eyes, they come up fresh and new.
Did you always plan a follow up to Wolf Hall?
I have always planned to tell Thomas Cromwell's whole story, from his obscure birth through his rise to power and his sudden fall and execution in 1540. I hope to follow Bring Up The Bodies with a third and final book, The Mirror & The Light.
How did the novelist and historian come together - or clash - in historical fiction?
I think the novelist has to build on the historian's work, and go to work at the point where the biographer stops operating. Until very recently in human history, private life was harder to access and reimagine than public life. By the nature of the thing, hard evidence about it is difficult to come by. Also, conspiracies are hard to penetrate, and the whole area of motive is a grey area; historians can always tell us what people did, but it's harder to be sure why. It's in these dubious areas that the novelist has leave to conjecture. But I think you must build your imaginative constructs on the foundation of the best evidence you can get, and that is why a writer like me owes a great debt to the historians who have mapped the terrain before her. A great part of my effort is devoted to finding out where and how historians differ and contradict each other, and trying to make those contradictions fertile.
Why did you choose to write the two books in the present tense?
For immediacy. The action unrolls, cinematically, before Cromwell's eyes.
You have written before about the corrupting effect of power. Is it ever possible to have one without the other?
It might be possible to hold power without being corrupted, but I doubt that it is possible to hold it without compromising, and often compromise is the beginning of corruption. I don't mean corruption in the sense of cronyism and taking bribes. That's familiar in most times and places, and not particularly interesting. I am more interested in how power corrodes the sense of self, and how it lays waste to the ideals and principles that actuate a career in the first instance. And I'm interested in how power subtracts the individual from history, so that the powerful person starts to consist of other people's projections. When we talk about the corrupting effect of power we are usually discussing political power, but there are other kinds. A monarch exercises a strange psychological, quasi-spiritual hold over his subjects, as a priest does over his congregation. Celebrities have this hold too, but needless to say, they are often destroyed by the worship that creates them.
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