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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Head first into history ... and life

“Writers displace their anxiety on to the tools of the trade. It's better to say that you haven't got the right pencil than to say you can't write, or to blame your computer for losing your chapter than face up to your feeling that it's better lost.” Hilary Mantel

Born on this day in 1952, Mantel is a leading writer of historical fiction and the first woman to win the prestigious Booker Prize twice – for the first two novels in her fictional trilogy of Thomas Cromwell’s rise and fall in the court of Henry VIII.  The first, 2009’s Wolf Hall, not only won a basketfull of writing awards but also has been adapted as both a stage play and a BBC Masterpiece Theater production. 

The second, Bring Up the Bodies, has been a multiple writing award-winner and is in production for a BBC show.  Her anxiously awaited third installment, The Mirror and the Light, is in progress.  The trilogy’s broad-based success comes from Mantel’s ability to reach out to readers of all ages.  History offers us vicarious experience,” she said.   “(And) it allows the youngest student to possess the ground equally with his (or her) elders.”         

Mantel has established herself as a great historical writer and a great biographer and autobiographer.  Many of her top tales are based on her real-life experiences, including the terrific Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, which drew on time she lived in Saudi Arabia and is a great exploration of the tensions that can arise between Islamic culture and liberal Westerners.

A prolific writer, she said she has the perfect formula for overcoming writer’s block, and prescribes it to all who seek the writing life.  “If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to music, meditate, exercise,” she advised.  “Whatever you do, don't just stick there scowling at the problem.  Don't make telephone calls or go to a party; (because) if you do, other people's words will pour in where your own lost words should be.”

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