Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mary Mantel CBE (born 1952 in Glossop, Derbyshire) is a British novelist, short story writer and critic. She was the eldest of three children, and was brought up in the Derbyshire mill village of Hadfield, attending the local Roman Catholic primary school. Her family is of Irish origin but her parents, Margaret and Henry Thompson, were born in England. After losing touch with her father at the age of eleven, she took the name of her stepfather, Jack Mantel. Her family background, the mainspring of much of her fiction, is explained in her memoir, "Giving Up The Ghost".

Mantel attended Harrytown Convent in Romiley, Cheshire, and in 1970 went to the London School of Economics to read law. She transferred to Sheffield University and graduated as Bachelor of Jurisprudence in 1973. After graduating she worked in the social work department of a geriatric hospital, and then as a saleswoman. In 1974 she began writing a novel about the French Revolution, which was later published as "A Place of Greater Safety".

In 1977 she went to live in Botswana with her husband, Gerald McEwen, a geologist, whom she had married in 1972. Later they spent four years in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. During her twenties she suffered from a debilitating and painful illness. After many years’ search for a diagnosis, it was finally identified as endometriosis. The condition left her unable to have children and continued to disrupt her life and writing even after considerable surgical and medical intervention. She is now patron of the Endometriosis SHE Trust.

Her first novel, "Every Day is Mother’s Day", was published in 1985, and its sequel, "Vacant Possession", a year later. Returning to England, she became the film critic of "The Spectator" and a reviewer for a number of papers and magazines in Britain and the US. Her novel "Eight Months on Ghazzah Street", which drew on her first-hand experience in Saudi Arabia, uses the dangerous clash of values between the neighbours in a stifling city apartment block to illustrate the tensions between Islam and the liberal west. Her prize-winning novel "Fludd" is set in 1956 in a fictitious northern village called Fetherhoughton, and centres on the convent and Roman Catholic church, where a mysterious stranger brings about alchemical transformation in the lives of the downtrodden, the depressed and the despised.

"A Place of Greater Safety", published in 1993, won the Sunday Express Book of the Year award, for which her two previous books had been shortlisted. A long novel written with a close eye on historical accuracy, it traces the career of three revolutionaries, Danton, Robespierre and Camille Desmoulins, from childhood to their early deaths during the Terror of 1794. "A Change of Climate" is set in Norfolk in 1980, and concerns Ralph and Anna Eldred, parents of four children, whose family life threatens to disintegrate in the course of one summer, when memories which they have repressed fiercely for twenty years resurface to disrupt the purposive and peaceful lives they have tried to lead since a catastrophic event overtook them early in their married life. The action of the novel moves back to the late 1950s, when they worked for a missionary society in a dangerous and crowded South African township, and then follows the couple to Bechuanaland, where in the loneliness of a remote mission station an unspeakable loss occurs. The novel is about the possibility or impossibility of forgiveness, the clash of ideals and brutality, and the need to acknowledge that lives are broken before they can begin to be mended.

"An Experiment in Love", which won the Hawthornden Prize, takes place over two university terms in 1970, and follows the progress of three girls – two friends and one enemy – as they leave home for university in London. Mrs Thatcher makes a cameo appearance in a novel that explores women’s appetites and ambitions and suggests how they are often thwarted. Though Mantel has used material from her own life, it is not an autobiographical novel. Her next book, "The Giant, O’Brien", is set in the 1780s and is based on the true story of Charles O’Brien or Byrne, who came to London to exhibit himself as a freak and whose bones hang today in the Museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. The novel treats O’Brien and his antagonist, the Scots surgeon John Hunter, less as characters in history than as mythic protagonists in a dark and violent fairytale, necessary casualties of the age of Enlightenment. Mantel adapted the book for BBC Radio Four, in a play starring Lloyd Hutchinson as the Giant, Alex Norton as John Hunter, and Frances Tomelty and Deborah Finley as two of the women who cross their path.

In 2003 Mantel published her memoir, "Giving Up The Ghost", which won the MIND ‘Book of the Year’ award, and in the same year brought out a collection of short stories, "Learning To Talk". All the stories deal with childhood and, taken together, the books show how the events of a life are mediated into fiction. Her 2005 novel, "Beyond Black", was shortlisted for the Orange Prize. A scathing, very dark comedy, set in the years around the millennium, it features a professional medium, Alison Hart, whose calm and jolly exterior conceals grotesque psychic damage, and who trails around with her a troup of ‘fiends’ who are invisible but always on the verge of becoming flesh.

Mantel is now working on a long novel called "Wolf Hall", about Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, and on a short non-fiction book called "The Woman Who Died of Robespierre", about the Polish playwright Stanislawa Przybyszewska. She writes reviews and essays, mainly for "The Guardian", the "London Review of Books" and the "New York Review of Books". She lives in Surrey with her husband.


*"Every Day is Mother's Day": Chatto & Windus, 1985
*"Vacant Possession": Chatto & Windus, 1986
*"Eight Months on Ghazzah Street": Viking, 1988
*"Fludd": Viking, 1989
*"A Place of Greater Safety": Viking, 1992
*"A Change of Climate": Viking, 1994
*"An Experiment in Love": Viking, 1995
*"The Giant, O'Brien": Fourth Estate, 1998
*"Giving Up the Ghost (A Memoir)": Fourth Estate, 2003
*"Learning to Talk" (Short Stories): Fourth Estate, 2003
*"Beyond Black": Fourth Estate, 2005

Prizes and Awards

*1987, Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize
*1990, Southern Arts Literature Prize ("Fludd")
*1990, The Cheltenham Prize ("Fludd")
*1990, Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize ("Fludd")
*1992, Sunday Express Book of the Year ("A Place of Greater Safety")
*1996, Hawthornden Prize ("An Experiment in Love")
*2006, Commonwealth Writers Prize (Eurasia Region, Best Book) (shortlist) ("Beyond Black")
*2006, CBE
*2006, Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist) ("Beyond Black")


External links

* [http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/articles/050725crbo_books1 Profile in The New Yorker]
* [http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth67 Profile at the British Council of Arts]
* [http://www.nybooks.com/authors/40 Mantel archive] from "The New York Review of Books"

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