Bath Literature Festival: Audience more interested in Hilary Mantel's Booker-winning novels than 'shop-window mannequins'

An audience with the author at the Bath Literature Festival

Hilary Mantel might have felt a touch of nerves tonight as she strode out to the audience at the Independent Bath Literature Festival in her first public appearance since her comments about the Duchess of Cambridge hit the headlines.

Perhaps that was why she began talking in a near whisper – the microphone malfunction was soon rectified- and also why there was relatively little time left for the audience Q&A at the end – JK Rowling had spent far longer taking questions from the floor at the same venue just the previous night.

When the 1,600 strong audience was given a chance to speak to her, they had pressing questions to ask, all of which revolved around the machinations of the Tudor court, with no mention of modern-day princesses or “shop-window mannequins” with plastic smiles.

Earlier this week, Mantel was asked about the controversy and had taken a defiant stance, saying that she had nothing to apologise for and that the media had distorted the sympathetic context of her words. A day before her arrival in Bath, her publisher, Fourth Estate, cancelled media interviews in what appeared to be a panicked endeavour at damage limitation.

Fourth Estate needn’t have bothered. The audience at Bath showed they, at least, were far more interested in her double Booker-winning books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

Speaking about her passion for writing – particularly about the past – Mantel said her first novel at the age of 22 was “an enormous novel about the French revolution”. She described her job as a historical novelist as “talking to the dead for a living” and compared it to that of a psychic. “If you go around saying ‘I talk to dead people’, you could get sectioned. If you say you talk to the dead and get paid for it like a psychic or a writer, you are allowed to get away with it.”

She revealed that in one trip to a palm reader – as field research for a book she was writing about clairvoyance called Beyond Black – the psychic told her “Oh, dear, you haven’t got much imagination, have you?”

The reason she began writing historical fiction was because she could hinge her imagination to hard facts. “I’m Little Miss Index Card. I have a filing cabinet where my heart should be. But it’s not enough to describe the clothes worn by people in the past. They have to stop becoming costumes and become your everyday clothes… The chief pleasure is fitting the evidence and imagination together,” she said.

Mantel is currently working on the last in the Thomas Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. She revealed scant detail of her third work-in-progress, but did say that she would be exploring the “circumstances” around a Holbein painting of Cromwell that she only touched on in Wolf Hall.

While these Tudor novels are clearly political, they are not allegories for the state of modern politics, she added. “The story is political in every fibre of its being. But it really is about the people I’m writing about. It has contemporary resonances but I think the characters should be respected in their own right.”

Speaking of her early education by Catholic nuns, she said it was more a lesson in superstition than in religion. She described her first encounter with Shakespeare at the age of eight. There was a scene from Julius Caesar in a book and Mantel, thinking this was the complete works of Shakespeare, memorised the entire speech. “Shakespeare is not just an author for me. He is like a demi-god.”

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Tate Modern chief Chris Dercon, who will be leaving to run a Berlin theatre company
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Tasos: 'I rarely refuse an offer to be photographed'
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Girls on the verge of a nervous breakdown: Florence Pugh and Maisie Williams star in 'The Falling'
Film
Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence