Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The night is for the dead"

Hilary Mantel on why she became a historical novelist (this is A Place of Greater Safety, her novel of Robespierre, which I remember reading at the recommendation of my brilliant teacher Simon Schama circa 1993):
I wasn’t after quick results. I was prepared to look at all the material I could find, even though I knew it would take years, but what I wasn’t prepared for were the gaps, the erasures, the silences where there should have been evidence.

These erasures and silences made me into a novelist, but at first I found them simply disconcerting. I didn’t like making things up, which put me at a disadvantage. In the end I scrambled through to an interim position that satisfied me. I would make up a man’s inner torments, but not, for instance, the colour of his drawing room wallpaper.

Because his thoughts can only be conjectured. Even if he was a diarist or a confessional writer, he might be self-censoring. But the wallpaper – someone, somewhere, might know the pattern and colour, and if I kept on pursuing it I might find out. Then – when my character comes home weary from a 24-hour debate in the National Convention and hurls his dispatch case into a corner, I would be able to look around at the room, through his eyes. When my book eventually came out, after many years, one snide critic – who was putting me in my place, as a woman writing about men doing serious politics – complained there was a lot in it about wallpaper. Believe me, I thought, hand on heart, that there was not nearly enough.

1 comment:

  1. The entire series of Mantel's Reith Lectures is well worth listening to. To those who may find her voice a touch off-putting, don't let it bother you: the substance is excellent.

    Here's the link: