Monday, 4 June 2012

Cromwell as we don't know him

My clematis is in flower
Telling a story seems simple, doesn't it? You think of a few characters. What do they want? Why do they want it? How do they go about getting it? What stops them? What are the consequences? There you go - in a nutshell, there's the basic premise of writing a book.

 Then I find the Telegraph review section on Saturday with its article by Hilary Mantel in which she describes how the book she thought would be done and dusted in one volume turned into three. "Cromwell is a work in progress."

 I quote her: "It is the privilege of the imaginative writer not to retell but to relive. I was rigid with tension, rinsed by fear." I have been lucky enough to feel a little of what she describes, enough to know what she means, certainly; but sometimes it's more of a struggle to try and get into the mindset of a sixteenth century character.

I've seen Mantel on tv a couple of times, and she speaks to camera in a slow, measured way, in perfectly structured sentences, almost as if she wrote a speech that morning, edited several times and is now prepared to share it with viewers. Perhaps she always talks in this way, perhaps she even thinks this way. I have to confess I find her ability alarming, but I'm also totally in awe of it.

Fiction, she says, is inherently unpredictable. Even when you know the end of the story, you don't know how you're going to arrive there. There is a choice of route maps, but at a fork in the road you hesitate; the scenery is not as you imagined. And that, I suppose is where the trouble, or the delight, begins. Read the article - it is well worth it.


Anita Davison said...

I would like to read this, but the danger with a novelist's view of a character, especially an acclaimed one-is taking care not to reflect it in your own - so I'll wait until my own edits are done.

Jen Black said...

You are safe to read Mantel, Anita. I failed to mention that this Cromwell is Thomas, not Oliver!