Join us to discuss Hilary Mantel's Bring Up The Bodies, our September Book of the Month, Wednesday 26 September, 9-10pm

(139 Posts)

Our September book club choice, BRING UP THE BODIES, is shaping up to be The Book of 2012. It is Hilary Mantel's electrifying, pageturning second volume in her planned trilogy of Tudor novels, voiced by the master manipulator Thomas Cromwell. A sequel to the Booker Prize winning WOLF HALL, the story starts with Cromwell at the height of his power and influence, and Anne Boleyn beginning to lose hers. It is a fabulously famous story, yet Mantel manages to make it entirely new and fresh. Reading such expertly written historical fiction is a double delight: there are fascinating factual tidbits of Tudor life alongside brilliantly imagined inner workings of the mind. As Anne's world falls apart and the court struggles with the manic unpredictability of Henry, Mantel sustains heart-thumping suspense, even though the outcome is familiar to us all. But most gripping is the slow steady burn of Cromwell's character: an entirely bewitching, strangely seductive, Machiavellian, anti-heroic, self-made man. Mantel's abstracted narrative style, half observing from afar, half inside Cromwell's head, is a miracle: highly original, beautifully descriptive and entirely real. This is an exceptional, wonderful, revolutionary, exhilarating book that you deeply miss once finished. What a relief to know that another one will be on its way.

The book of the month page with more detail about Bring Up The Bodies is now live. You can also get a Kindle edition or a hardback copy of the novel here

We are thrilled that Hilary will be answering questions about BRING UP THE BODIES, her previous novels and her writing career in an emailed Q&A. So please put all your questions up here by 15 September, and we will send them on to Hilary. We'll publish Hilary's answers and discuss the book amongst ourselves on Wednesday 28 September, 9-10pm.

Hope you can join us...

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:04:30

OatyBeatie

I really enjoyed both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. Cromwell's combination of urbane humanity and growing ruthlessness was compelling, Henry and Anne's characters were fascinating too, and I loved the writing as much as the characterisation.

I struggled with two things though. One was the enormously conspicious "he, Cromwell" device -- your decision never to refer to Cromwell simply by name but instead always with the third-person pronoun, clarified where necessary by the addition of the name.

Was this done in order to keep the camera close to his person -- to keep the book always more intimately present with him than with other characters? It seemed such a costly way of achieving this: the repeated "he, Cromwell" became a little intrusive, and there were quite a few instances where you used "he" alone in contexts where its meaning was ambiguous between Cromwell and another character. This made me think that you might have had other, very powerful motives for using the device, motives that justfied its costliness. And one of the ways the book held my interest was by making me ask myself again and again what those motives might have been.

So I'd be very grateful if you could say a little bit about your decision always to refer to your central character as either "he" or "he, Cromwell," and never simply as "Cromwell."

The whole of the action is seen through his eyes. To put it another way, the camera is on his shoulder. It would seem false to start referring to him as ‘Cromwell’ as if he were across the room somewhere. I thought the gains of this approach outweighed the disadvantages of it. I realize not all readers agree. But the viewpoint is so intrinsic to the whole project that I had to back my own judgment. In the second book I tried to consider the readers who were unhappy, by sometimes reinforcing ‘he’ with ‘he, Cromwell.’ But then a group of readers (see below) have said that they preferred the unadorned ‘he’ of the first book. So you just can’t please everyone!

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:06:56

Hullygully

Oaty - just read your comment/question. I assumed the addition of "he" etc was in response to the carping about the plethora of Thomases in Wolf Hall and alleged "challenging" narrative style?

HullyGully, thank you! You’re right. In the third book I’d better please myself. And ‘challenging’ is what I try to be, I suppose: first of all, I’m challenging what readers think about TC, and then challenging their expectations of what you find between the pages of a novel about Tudor England; and I’m challenging myself, to find a comprehensible way of narrating complex events without selling them short. And I’m trying to raise the dead, and make them walk and talk…

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:09:16

StanleyAccrington

ooh, I loved Wolf Hall, and am a few pages in to Bring Up The Bodies.

I find it amazing that I am so gripped by a story whose ending I already know to some degree, given the basis in fact. Was it more challenging writing a novel where you are constrained by history, or was it easier having the parameters clearly defined from the outset?

I find the facts inspiring, rather than limiting. And of course, when we look at history, we often know what happened, but not why. I like trying to reconcile the many different versions of events, and I like using an unfamiliar viewpoint; when you change the place you stand to look, what you see is sometimes quite different from what you supposed. I think it’s a historian’s job to work out what happened, and a novelist’s job to try to imagine what it felt like while it was happening.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:14:37

maillotjaune

I loved Wolf Hall and BUTB but having got into the narrative style of Wolf Hall I didn't like all the "he, Cromwell" stuff.

I don't have a question but I want to say thank you to Hilary for a character on whom I have only my second literary crush ever (the first being her Danton) which is no mean feat given my Catholic education.

That’s very interesting. When I started writing A Place of Greater Safety I think Danton was very much the hero, but my own attitude to the three main characters kept swinging about and changing. And changes still.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:20:09

MooncupGoddess

Gosh what a fantastic book. Towards the end as we get an inexorable sense of the net closing in I was reminded of A Place of Greater Safety... Cromwell is riding high for now but he starts to feel the cold wind round the edge of the door. I also really liked the way that the more dubious things Cromwell does are never highlighted, one just becomes gradually aware of them, sometimes through other characters' comments.

Anyway my question is: I absolutely loved Cromwell's flashbacks to his younger days abroad. Are there any sources for this period in his life, or did you have licence to make up whatever suited the wider narrative? And was it liberating to have so much freedom, in comparison to the fall of Anne Boleyn section, which presumably required much painstaking work with the sources and subsequent scholarship?

The lucky thing (for us, not for Thomas Cromwell) is that his father Walter, being such a thug, left his mark on the records of the local law courts. Otherwise we might know nothing about such a humble family. The sources for his early life are confused and you can’t make it all fit; when someone unexpectedly becomes famous, semi-legendary stuff aggregates after the event, An Italian writer called Bandello, who gave Shakespeare a lot of his material (Romeo & Juliet, Twelfth Night etc) told stories about Cromwell in Italy. John Foxe, writing a generation later, told anecdotes about TC after he was a ‘great man;’ Foxe did know people who had known Cromwell, including some of the ‘singing children’ in his household. It seems to be accepted that he ran away from home at about 15 because he was in trouble with the law. It’s accepted that he got himself into the household of the Italian banker Frescobaldi, though no one knows how. And his uncle John really was a cook at Lambeth Palace, as I say in Wolf Hall.

I don’t feel equal to reconstructing the whole of his lost years, nor would I feel at ease with it. So I try to let memories drift up, partial and fragmentary, the way they do. My guess is — and this is something that occurred to me very early in my work on the books — is that TC’s lost years are an aspect of his power. There’s an area of darkness, into which his contemporaries project their fantasies and fears.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:22:28

hackmum

Loved both Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies and can't wait for the third one.

Two questions:

1. I saw an interview with you where you said that most biographies of Cromwell were still very unfair to him and there was yet to be a biography that did him justice. What did you think of John Schofield's 2008 biography? I'm reading it at the moment and it seems to take a much more sympathetic view of him.

2. You've obviously done a fantastic job of making Cromwell a compelling and and likeable character. But I can't help thinking to do this you've had to elide over some of the historical reality, particularly in the second book which ends with Anne Boleyn's execution. Cromwell was, after all, capable of some very brutal and ruthless behaviour. Did you feel that you were distorting the historical facts at all, and if so, did you feel uncomfortable about this? Or did you feel that Cromwell's behaviour was justified in the context of the time?

I think it was justified in the context of his personal survival, which is ultimately what counts for most of us. Again, we’re looking, in this book, from Cromwell’s viewpoint, so the angle does seem unfamiliar. And I don’t think I hold back on showing what he is capable of. I would have no motive for distorting the facts; if I found I couldn’t sympathise with Cromwell, I’d go and find someone ‘nicer’ to write about. But who would that be? The Duke of Norfolk? Anne Boleyn, who reportedly wanted Henry’s first wife and daughter murdered? True, maybe she’s been misreported. That’s always the risk. But it’s the risk with Cromwell too.

And you have to bear in mind that TC is a work in progress. The third book is yet to come. Circumstances are changing, he’s changing. Times are getting harder, and so maybe are his methods. And my view on him changes too, and will go on evolving till the last page of the last book. (And probably even afterwards.)

Most biographies have been hostile. John Scofield’s isn’t, and it’s a very fine book. You’ll also find a positive take on Cromwell in GR Elton, AG Dickens, Neville Williams. But what I’d like to see is something more accessible to the general reader. The difficulty is the hidden nature of Cromwell’s private life, and the manifold aspects of his public life. GR Elton, who was the greatest Cromwell scholar, thought he was ‘unbiographable.’ I’ve been thinking about that from the start. Are there some people about whom you can’t write a biography, but can write a persuasive novel, given you have that extra permission to speculate?

LineRunner, I agree. I thought her answer to that question was very generous and wise, one of the best we've had.

I'm interested in the discussion on being 'challenging'. I think what amazed me most about this book was my complete absorption into the action, into the mind of Cromwell and into Tudor life, whilst at the same time being aware of a very particular, original writing 'style'. Usually that might take me away from the action but in this case, I only felt closer to it. I suppose I'm saying I think Hilary has been supremely successful and I didn't find the style difficult at all - if anything, I found it far more realistic and immediate than most standard narrative techniques.

The book is entirely present tense, too, and the more archaic vocabulary and phrases also gave it such punch ('a bottle to the good' rather than drunk, etc).

I'd love to know what other people thought as to WHY this is such an extraordinary, brilliant book.

My thoughts are: absolute immersion in character; visceral imagery; clear, crisp pace; surprises to be found in a well known set of events. But most of all, the feeling of being inside someone's skin, as if you were in his brain.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:27:14

OatyBeatie

I'm going to be bad and ask a second question. Both books (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) are a tough read, despite being beautifully written and despite having such an exciting, page-turning story. I kept asking myself why the story was so challenging a read. I would read whole scenes and find it quite hard to absorb and remember what I had read, what the significance of the scene was, how it fitted with earlier scenes, how it progressed the story.

It struck me that a possible reason was that each scene wasn't selected and created just to progress the story, or just to develop characters or contexts. When scenes are written for those reasons it is relatively easy to absorb their significance, to extract and remember the essential bits of them, and move on to the next scene.

I wondered if some scenes were created for special extra sorts of reasons that are generated by the project of writing historical fiction that is based on extensive research.

I'm guessing that if you are a novelist and you read a particularly intriguing fact in the history books, or come across a particularly interesting and puzzling piece of primary material, you feel very tempted to "grow" it, to play with it and evolve it into a scene, like trying to regenerate a bit of dried-up DNA into a whole new dinosaur.

So my question is, were some elements in the books "experiments" motivated by that sense of curiousity about source material, rather than being motivated by narrower, strictly narrative demands? Do you think that could explain why the books are sometimes quite a challenging read?

I think that one factor that explains the movement of the narrative is my effort to capture the working of memory. I’d never write a scene just to squeeze in some bit of research that appealed to me. What gets on to the page is honestly the tip of the iceberg. Each scene, if you think about it, has to achieve so much. But it is true that sometimes little details grab you (the man-bags is one that seems to appeal to readers) and then I try to slide it in: if it’s piquant, or unexpected, or throws an unexpected light on characters and events. What pleases me most is when you find something so good you couldn’t invent it, and you immediately see the place it fits. The snowmen, for instance, in the shape of the papal court. They were real, but they weren’t made at TC’s house; the man who built them wrote to the king about them. I transferred their location, and what they serve to do is to lighten that dire day in his life, break the tension; to remind you that he exists as the centre of a bustling young household; to tell you what people are thinking about the pope. And to make you feel the winter cold, and see the firelight, and feel the drip of the thaw.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:28:01

OatyBeatie

I'm going to be bad and ask a second question. Both books (Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies) are a tough read, despite being beautifully written and despite having such an exciting, page-turning story. I kept asking myself why the story was so challenging a read. I would read whole scenes and find it quite hard to absorb and remember what I had read, what the significance of the scene was, how it fitted with earlier scenes, how it progressed the story.

It struck me that a possible reason was that each scene wasn't selected and created just to progress the story, or just to develop characters or contexts. When scenes are written for those reasons it is relatively easy to absorb their significance, to extract and remember the essential bits of them, and move on to the next scene.

I wondered if some scenes were created for special extra sorts of reasons that are generated by the project of writing historical fiction that is based on extensive research.

I'm guessing that if you are a novelist and you read a particularly intriguing fact in the history books, or come across a particularly interesting and puzzling piece of primary material, you feel very tempted to "grow" it, to play with it and evolve it into a scene, like trying to regenerate a bit of dried-up DNA into a whole new dinosaur.

So my question is, were some elements in the books "experiments" motivated by that sense of curiousity about source material, rather than being motivated by narrower, strictly narrative demands? Do you think that could explain why the books are sometimes quite a challenging read?

I think that one factor that explains the movement of the narrative is my effort to capture the working of memory. I’d never write a scene just to squeeze in some bit of research that appealed to me. What gets on to the page is honestly the tip of the iceberg. Each scene, if you think about it, has to achieve so much. But it is true that sometimes little details grab you (the man-bags is one that seems to appeal to readers) and then I try to slide it in: if it’s piquant, or unexpected, or throws an unexpected light on characters and events. What pleases me most is when you find something so good you couldn’t invent it, and you immediately see the place it fits. The snowmen, for instance, in the shape of the papal court. They were real, but they weren’t made at TC’s house; the man who built them wrote to the king about them. I transferred their location, and what they serve to do is to lighten that dire day in his life, break the tension; to remind you that he exists as the centre of a bustling young household; to tell you what people are thinking about the pope. And to make you feel the winter cold, and see the firelight, and feel the drip of the thaw.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:31:24

QWERTYmonster

Aaargh, so excited. Best living writer in my opinion.

Ms Mantel, can you tell us a bit about the research you did for Wolf Hall? I re-read Peter Ackroyd's biography of Thomas More after reading it, and wondered whether you had drawn much from there.

Your historical novels are so wonderfully compassionate and empathetic; can you say much about why certain historical figures (St Just in A Place of Greater Safety, and More in WH) seem to fail your 'human empathy' test? Is it to do with fanaticism?

I don’t think my portrayal of More is particularly unsympathetic. I think you must feel for him, wandering about London without his gloves: and at the end, where he’s in his prison room shut in with his lonely choices, and they take his books away and he closes the shutters and sits in the dark. But many accounts of More do soft-peddle his heresy hunting. (Some readers even think I’ve made it up.) It’s true that he was acting like a good papist of his era, and one mustn’t judge him by modern standards, but there’s something indecent in the relish with which he persecuted people whose consciences led them in a different direction from his own.

Reader’s don’t expect this portrait. They expect ‘A Man for All Seasons.’ But whatever More was, he was not a 1960s liberal. I ‘ve read many biographies, plus many of his own letters and writings, and whatever I can find on his family. I didn’t find Ackroyd’s book stood out, though as always he’s original and personal in his approach. I think research generally is a great web, where it’s impossible to separate the strands. Major figures in one biographical study crop up as minor figures in another, and you see them as part of the larger story, and discern their connections to yet a third set of characters…and so it goes. There’s the big background reading, on the continental Reformation, let’s say: and then there’s the story of a particular abbey, told through its inventories, through its legal documents. There are the big players everybody knows about, and then there are the recessed, background figures: Wolsey’s illegitimate daughter: Rafe Sadler’s happy wife: Harry Percy’s unhappy wife, who never makes it on to the page, but still I need to think about her, she’s in there changing the course of history. There are really baffling figures, like the ‘Holy Maid of Kent’ (in Wolf Hall) who seem to belong to the middle ages when everybody around her is racing into the modern world. And people who can never be more than shadowy and marginal, like Humphrey the spaniel keeper or Hugh the falconer; they were real, and I love knowing their names. The only totally invented character is Christophe, and even he has a backstory which fits neatly into a true story; he claims to be the little boy who stole Wolsey’s silver plate when the cardinal was in France. I don’t expect my reader to notice all these people; they’re like a background of whispering, but they give depths to the soundscape. Or like those little figures you see in religious or landscape paintings, dots in the distance on the hills. What happens is that for Cromwell, for a moment, on a particular day, they come sharply into focus. Then they fade.

To go back to your question of natural sympathies, I guess I’ve got more sympathy with pragmatists than dogmatists. I think on the whole they do less damage. What you’ve got to remember about More is that in Wolf Hall he’s being seen through TC’s eyes. What I think doesn’t matter very much. But here I should say something about St Just, because in A Place of Greater Safety, I’m not looking through the eyes of any particular figure, though I am trying to represent the separate reality of the three very different men who are the main characters. I wrote APOGS in the 1970s; it was essentially my first book, though not first published. I know more about St Just than I did then, but to be honest, he looks even more worrying now I have more facts about his early life. I think what’s most chilling is his proposal to separate parents and children and have the children brought up by the state. You have to remember he was very young. He didn’t live to be a husband or a father. His own childhood was no doubt very unhappy. But even so….there’s something not quite human going on here. His physical perfection somehow makes him all the more frightening. I think empathy falters where you feel a person tugging away from reality, swimming into an inner world that’s very dark, and perhaps heading ultimately to the true break with reality that is psychosis. I can’t imagine what would have happened to him if he had lived. Most people get more reasonable, accept the need for compromise. I wonder if that would have been the case; was he just posing, in which case there was hope for him, or did he really believe what he said?

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:33:16

fridascruffs

Hello HM,
I've heard that you live in the same village as me and that you were invited to speak at the village's first ever literary festival, and that no one showed because it was before the Booker and no-one knew who you were. The village has a woolly and an angel, a gracechurch and a co-op, and a hardware shop that's been around since the 1700's. I've never seen you here as far as I know so it may be not quite true. If it is, then I'm sorry no-one came and please do it again and I will send the children to play on the road so I can come and listen to you. I loved Wolf Hall and BUTB, and all your other books are on my list to read when I've got my studying out of the way.
So- my question: could you please not let Thomas have his head cut off? Just make it up. We won't mind.
I might think of a proper question soon.

I don’t live in Debenham in Suffolk, but my brother, Ian Mantel, does. He was one of the people who set up the first arts festival, so I wanted to help out. There was a respectable turnout, but it’s hard for festivals in their early years. We’ve just run a highly successful 3 day festival here in Budleigh Salterton — which is where I do live — but it’s our fourth year, we have a PR agency, and we work on it all year round. Wendy Cope was here (a sell-out, about 300 in the audience) and she said, ‘Crowds like this don’t just happen.’

Anyway, if you do see me in Debenham, please come and say hello. I can’t offer not to cut off Cromwell’s head, but I’ll be working on an ending that leaves us sad, but not miserable.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:34:22

Tschiffely

Hello Hilary, looking forward to hearing you at the fest in a couple of weeks time. What/who do you read?

Lots of history, psychology, soft science. Oliver Sacks, my great hero. Annie Proulx (short stories, not so much her novels.) Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Jane Howard. Ivy Compton Burnet. Molly Keane. William Trevor, John McGahern, lots of more modern Irish fiction. Not Dickens. Shakespeare, a lot (sorry if that sounds pious or predictable.) Poetry.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:35:19

Portofino

I was quite in love with Thomas Cromwell all the way through both books. Do you think he genuinely WAS so lovely, unbiased and really tried so hard to live up to his morals as opposed to seeking power/avoiding execution?

I think many of his actions are equivocal. That’s what makes him so fascinating. There’s genuine idealism, alongside acutely focused self-interest. I think his loyalty to Wolsey tells us a lot about what kind of man he was; that’s one of the things that made me think that he has been undeservedly vilified. He changed, of course; it’s a long career we are looking at, and it never got easier to work for Henry, only harder all the time. He was a natural negotiator, a compromiser; it’s believed that, as a lawyer, some of his early work was in arbitration. But more and more, the politics of the reign go beyond compromise; as we move into the third part of the story, England is isolated and under threat from both external and internal enemies, and the stakes are very high, decisions highly pressured. He believed in economy of means, I think, and if you were in his way he would (after fair warning) push you out of it. I think in the end he was a bit like a mafia don. It was lovely if you were on the inside track with him, but if you were outside, it was a cold and dangerous world.

Also, I wish I'd asked Hilary more questions but given that I can't, can anyone answer the following:

I don't want Cromwell to die. Why can he not just retire honourably? At one point in the book he thinks about this, about the day when Henry will turn on him, and he recalls a few courtiers who have just bowed down and left, but doesn't seem to think its possible for him - why not? Is he too greedy? Too hungry for power?

Is Jane happy about Henry's love, or not that bothered, or actively hating it but has to go along with it because of her menfolk? I still can't work her out.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:36:49

roselover

Just love love love your writings - what I think is very powerful is putting the human side of historical events that we have lived with since o level!!! I have always thought Anne Boleyn's story is haunting and you go to such levels of horror I had to stop reading at times ...... Those young men....often dismissed by history .... Love your expansion of them....... I found that the your writing about the French Revolution (previous fabulous book - called "A Place of Greater Safety" ace book) was equally human - small observations carrying that nightmare of travelling through Paris to the guillotine - the bottom line is its tragic. Don't you agree?

Questions -

1. How do you get into the mind of someone facing such horrors - you do scared .... really well....

2. Where did the idea for the image of the birds as angels/spirits of his (Cromwell's ) lost children - where did it come from - I found it moving - a very masculine angle of grief ........ Love that chapter , it left me breathless - thank you for writing it - you are amazing

I know this sounds pathetic, and also like a sales pitch, but I spent much of my childhood in a state of fear: as explained in my memoir, Giving Up The Ghost. So yes, I know it intimately. The end of Bring Up The Bodies was truly harrowing to write, because you’re dealing with multiple characters who are in a state of dread. And that was also the case with A Place of Greater Safety. People think of the victims of the guillotine as being aristocrats; they are the glamorous high-profile victims who attract the attention of romantic novelists. But in real life, a disproportionate number of the casualties were young lawyers and journalists, the people who had started the Revolution, but who failed to move nimbly enough to keep up with the drift towards Terror. Within that small world, the rate of attrition is terrifying.

The falcons, lost souls, dead children…It’s a case where a fragment of your own life seems to embed itself in your memory, and surface at the right time. About 30 years ago one of my friends made a kite and called it after his wife. I’d never known that kites had names. I was really touched by it. Well, then they got divorced. But I still liked the image of her soaring into the blue, a woman who could fly. Then, to move into the world of the Tudors: in the 16th century, it becomes such a big theological question: where are the dead? Are they shut up in the dark in purgatory, doing penance? Evangelicals like Cromwell didn’t believe in purgatory. And he loved falconry (and archery). And so you arrive at the image of the daughters, wives, sisters, flying free.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:38:14

HarderToKidnap

I am feeling borderline tearful thinking about both these books, they just affected me. I love reading, but am a total philistine - it's all about plot and character for me, I can take or leave "good" writing - but in the case of these books the writing is just sublime, I could almost feel it nourishing me. Anyway. My questions:

Cromwell always maintains his motivation for anything and everything is his loyalty to Henry and his wish to do his bidding. Even when we get to read his thoughts, he does not express any dislike or disloyalty to Henry. And yet, the Henry in BUTB (which is of course how Cromwell percieves Henry, because every character is viewed through the prism of Cromwell) is a weak, annoying, borderline lunatic, totally unlikeable and seemingly incapable of inspiring loyalty. His main good point seems to be that he is polite. Do you know what is really motivating Cromwell in BUTB, and how does he really feel about Henry?

I really love it when a reader feels so strongly, even if it’s not quite the way I feel; it shows how much our judgment is knitted up with our own personalities, how much a reader brings to a book. Here and there I feel a sneaking sympathy for Henry. I think Cromwell revered Henry simply because he was the king, the source of the law, the only source of stability and guarantee of peace. He could never talk about him in an unreserved, personal way, and I wonder if he could ever think of him just as another man. If he did, he may well have felt some contempt. But you’d do a lot to stop yourself thinking in that way, because without Henry, it’s anarchy, it’s chaos, it’s back to civil war.
But you will see their relationship evolve further in The Mirror & The Light.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:42:29

Matsikula

I haven't quite finished bring up the bodies, got lots of questions, but I'm just going to ask one.

I am fascinated by Gregory.

Clearly Cromwell wants to bring him up to have all the advantages he din't have, and also he is young, but given who his father is, he seems pretty vacuous, and almost stupid.

Was that grounded in historical accounts, or did you want to illustrate Cromwell's fatherly instinct to protect his son from cynicism?

I wish we knew a lot more about Gregory. I don’t think he was stupid at all, but he wasn’t his father, and that was the problem; I think maybe TC was expecting far too much of him. He was an ordinary boy. Liked hunting, jousting, etc. (It may not have endeared the Cromwell family to the aristocracy, that they were so good at the sport for which young noblemen trained so assiduously from their early years.) Gregory seems to have been very likeable. People refer to him as ‘the gentle and gracious Gregory’…phrases like that. It must hurt, to know that you’re not living up to what your parent wants for you. Richard and Rafe are far more like TC’s true sons. So I’ve supposed Gregory had to find a role for himself and (in my telling) he doesn’t mind being the boy who believes anything.

He’s a bit like Jane Seymour. Everything he says, you have to read twice. And in the next book the desolating scene will come, when the reader must look at the world through Gregory’s eyes, and see how he’s been almost killed with kindness; and will learn what he’s really thinking.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:43:42

OatyBeatie

One more question for Hilary:

Cromwell seems to re-evaluate his brutal father during the course of BUTB. He understands him more and perceives some strengths. And at the same time he is becoming more openly brutal himself, in a way that makes us revisit the death of Thomas More and retrospectively mistrust Cromwell's stance there.
When you wrote of this reevaluation by the son, did you conceive of it as a case of "Perhaps his dad was not as bad as the surly child Cromwell thought him to be" or a case of "Perhaps the urbane adult Cromwell was never in fact as good as the readers want him to be."

I think it’s universal, that we re-evaluate our past as we move away from it, and we see our parents in a different light as we grow older. TC is beginning to see just what it was about himself that was so annoying when he was young. He doesn’t exactly feel sympathy with his father, but he begins to understand him a bit more. And in general, as we move into the third book, some of the earlier events will have a different light cast on them, or be seen from a different angle. I think his attitude to More has already moved on, in Bring Up The Bodies. He’s surprised he misses him; he wonders where he went. Did he fall into a hole in the road?

Of course he knows, he knows all about his own part in More’s death. But More’s death was a defeat for TC, not a victory. Victory would have been the propaganda coup of getting More to recognize Henry’s second marriage. If you read More’s late letters, you see how hard TC struggled to make the end different. I’m trading all the time in what could have been, and trying to locate the turning points where history could have changed; and working with people’s shifting and ambivalent attitudes to their own past.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:45:12

Devora

I loved the book! Well up to the standard of Wolf Hall.

I didn't think Cromwell was lovely, though. The skill of the books is to get us under his skin, to understand him and the internal logic that drives his often less-than-lovely deeds. Actually, reading the books made me think of Nazi Germany and the 'banality of evil', how vast numbers of NOT evil people end up colluding with very great social evils.

Cromwell is not evil, but he is a survivor. He is fiercely loyal to 'his' people, and they in turn to him, but has a utilitarian briskness when it comes to anybody outside that circle. He does not favour gratuitous cruelty, but he is perfectly prepared to dispose of anybody who gets in his path. He is an expert technocrat - the kind of man who could have devised the most efficient methods for transporting millions of Jews to death camps, for example, without actually holding any particular ill will towards Jews.

I agree with you on his utilitarian briskness, Devora, but I’ll have to part company with you on the death camps.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:46:30

FannyBrawne

Do you think your Catholic and/or legal education has in any way influenced your "Tudor" novels?

I was taught so badly about Catholicism, in such a superstitious way and with such a low level of sophistication, that I reckon I can get into the mind of an illiterate worshipper of the 1500s. So that helps! And so does access to the very specialised way lawyers think about innocence and guilt, the way they present facts. I wish I’d taken more notice in my land law lectures, but the bit I know does help me understand the radical implications of some of the measures TC and his colleagues proposed. I’ve written quite a lot about lawyers, if you include A Place of Greater Safety.

To be serious about the first part of the question: if you’ve been brought up as a Roman Catholic, however badly, I think it does help you to understand the pre-reformation world. Notions like transubstantiation are mind-boggling to people who didn’t grow up with them. And it helps to know, as well, that Catholic teaching and practice has varied so much with the centuries, though the church tends to conceal that from lay people.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:47:35

PanicMode

We read this for our book group and actually had a small review published in Mslexia recently! The first question I was going to ask has been asked - about how much manipulation of history you had to do in order to portray a more sympathetic Cromwell. Some of our group felt it wasn't a believable portrayal of someone who would have had to be utterly ruthless to rise from such lowly origins to his position. I look forward to your answer on that one!

We disagreed about whether there should have been more of Anne Boleyn in the book - was it a conscious decision not to let her force of personality too far into the narrative?

I saw the Myslexia review. I felt your group were hoping for a different kind of book. If they want a novel about Anne Boleyn, there’s a very wide choice. I never thought for a moment about adding to that pile.

Maybe, also, the group were too keen the accept a view of Cromwell as a pantomime villain. The whole thrust of the enterprise is to persuade the reader to open her mind, and question what she thinks she knows. Just ask yourself this: when you are from a ‘lowly’ place, with no power, does ruthlessness help you? Initially? Isn’t it possible that Cromwell got on because he was an omni-competent workaholic, a self-starter with a brilliant mind and a devotion those who helped him? I don’t, ever, deny or downplay his ruthlessness. A blushing and sensitive soul probably can’t achieve what Cromwell achieved.
But. There is no cupboard in which eternal verities are kept. The ‘historical record’ is constantly being rewritten. There are a few incontrovertible facts, and a vast sea of interpretation. I am sailing that sea. I don’t have to ‘manipulate’ history. What would be the point? What would I get out of it? You may not agree with my interpretations, but I make them in good faith, and on the basis of what I have learned, rather than prejudice.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:48:47

Anagallisarvensis

Hello Hilary, I'd like to know if you have a detailed story plan before you start writing or do you have an idea of a character and let the story evolve as you write? Is it different planning a book based on real events from say writing pure fiction (such as your books Beyond Black and A change of climate)? I really enjoyed those novels as well as Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies; even though I know the Tudor period well as I studied it at A Level, it had never come alive in this way before.

I think that a story has to grow like a plant, and in its own time, rather than be made, like a machine. With historical fiction you have the facts as a guideline, but within those lines there’s a great deal of scope for how you handle the story: the pace, the emphasis, the details you will choose. You often don’t know, till you’re right in the middle of the novel, where the stress should fall. My experience of all writing is much the same, whether its memoir, pure invention, or a spin on historical events; you can only plan it so far, then it takes on what feels like a life of its own; what you’re doing is making the decisions so fast that they never bob up to the surface of consciousness. It’s like riding with soft hands; you are in control, but it’s light, it’s just a feather touch. Sometimes, I realise, you have to sweat over your writing. You have to wrestle it on to the page. But the best ideas, phrases, seem to shape themselves out of the air. Sometimes you’re grappling with apes and sometimes you’re entertaining angels.

You need to surprise yourself. The main thing I like about writing is that at the beginning of the day you never know where you’ll be by the end. Initially I set out to write Thomas Cromwell’s story in just one novel. But then the material seemed to broaden, deepen, and it became two books, now three. (No more than three: I can be pretty sure of that.) There were facets that I had not appreciated, and then again, the evolution of a human being…who can say the last word?

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:50:44

Anagallisarvensis

Hello Hilary, I'd like to know if you have a detailed story plan before you start writing or do you have an idea of a character and let the story evolve as you write? Is it different planning a book based on real events from say writing pure fiction (such as your books Beyond Black and A change of climate)? I really enjoyed those novels as well as Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies; even though I know the Tudor period well as I studied it at A Level, it had never come alive in this way before.

I think that a story has to grow like a plant, and in its own time, rather than be made, like a machine. With historical fiction you have the facts as a guideline, but within those lines there’s a great deal of scope for how you handle the story: the pace, the emphasis, the details you will choose. You often don’t know, till you’re right in the middle of the novel, where the stress should fall. My experience of all writing is much the same, whether its memoir, pure invention, or a spin on historical events; you can only plan it so far, then it takes on what feels like a life of its own; what you’re doing is making the decisions so fast that they never bob up to the surface of consciousness. It’s like riding with soft hands; you are in control, but it’s light, it’s just a feather touch. Sometimes, I realise, you have to sweat over your writing. You have to wrestle it on to the page. But the best ideas, phrases, seem to shape themselves out of the air. Sometimes you’re grappling with apes and sometimes you’re entertaining angels.

You need to surprise yourself. The main thing I like about writing is that at the beginning of the day you never know where you’ll be by the end. Initially I set out to write Thomas Cromwell’s story in just one novel. But then the material seemed to broaden, deepen, and it became two books, now three. (No more than three: I can be pretty sure of that.) There were facets that I had not appreciated, and then again, the evolution of a human being…who can say the last word?

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:52:55

culturemulcher

Can't wait to read Ms Mantel's comments as Wolf Hall soared straight in at the no.1 spot of the books-I-have-to-read-from-the-start-again-straight-after-finishing-and-can't-stop-asking-everyone-if-they've-read-it list. Bring Up The Bodies has just taken the no.2 spot.

I'd like her to know how much I enjoy her incredible writing style - it's unique. I'm very surprised that some found it a difficult read. Both books have had me reading into the early hours, unable to put them down. For me, it's a style that somehow conveys Cromwell's innermost thoughts, the objective situation and others' impressions of Cromwell all within one sentence. Incredible. Can't wait for part three.

Like others, I've been wondering how much of Cromwell's early life did she feel she invented, how much she found from her research? To be crass, could she give a percentage?

I can’t really give a percentage, but see my answer to MooncupGoddess. There are all sorts of stories on the record that hover between likely and unlikely. If I can’t give a percentage, maybe I can give a for instance? Could Thomas Cromwell cook? Well, there’s uncle John at Lambeth Palace, but there’s also the story John Foxe tells (the Book of Martyrs is more fun than it sounds) about how the young Cromwell made jellies for the pope. That one seemed to be stretching the reader’s credulity so I didn’t include it directly, but you’ll notice jellies are on the menu quite a lot: that’s my nod to a semi-mythical episode.

I’m so happy you say you will read twice. I think one of my aims is to make books that aren’t easily used up, books that yield different meanings and details on each reading. Maybe the reader finds her sympathies have changed, between one reading and the next, or that something strikes her quite differently second time around.

HilaryMantel Wed 26-Sep-12 21:53:59

culturemulcher

Oh, and second question.

I've been nursing a Cromwell crush too blush. Are you, Hilary?

Ah, that’s not my job. My job’s not to be in love with my characters, it’s to be them. At least for a few years. And some of the time. And within reason.

I haven’t cut anyone’s head off yet. But I have described elsewhere how robust I felt during the initial months of writing Wolf Hall. It was like a holiday from myself. Time off from being weak and feeble, as I usually am. If I’d known, I’d have picked healthier characters early in my writing life. The conventional wisdom is that the author puts herself into the character, but what if it’s the other way around?

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