History Listening and Talking to Itself – Hilary Mantel on writing Wolf Hall

Recently I finished reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, after much prodding and poking by some very astute readers, as well as hearing some wonderful podcasts with Mantel herself ( with her very particular voice, she speaks like she is casting a spell in an Elizabethan play).

And? Not much more than I can say except – it is Bravura in every way.

Even though I am so familiar with the whole history, never for a moment did I rest in this knowledge, always  on edge to Mantel’s storyteller’s art. Mantel in The Guardian says she didn’t want to write history repeating itself, but history listening and talking to itself, and that is exactly what she has done:


After I had written the first page I was flooded by exhilaration. I am usually protective of my work, not showing it to anyone until it has been redrafted and polished. But I would have liked to walk around with an idiot grin, saying to the world: “Do you want to see my first page?” Soon the complexity of the material began to unfold. So many interpretations, so many choices, so much detail to be sifted, so much material: but then, suddenly, no material, only history’s silences, erasures. Until a late stage, what would become a trilogy was still one book. It was only when I began to explore the contest between Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More that I realised I was writing the climax of a novel, not merely another chapter. The facts of history are plain enough, but the shape of the drama was late to emerge, and the triple structure later still. In my mind, the trilogy remains one long project, with its flickering patterns of light and dark, its mirrors and shadows. What I wanted to create is a story that reflects but never repeats, a sense of history listening and talking to itself.

The rest here at The Guardian

Image: Detail of Anne Boylen Portrait ( and I wouldn’t mind those pearls, necklace and all, thank you very much)

ps am having some problems with spacing in posts with WordPress – so sorry if it is all bunched up


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