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In Conversation with Hilary Mantel

Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL has twice been awarded the Booker Prize, the first for the 2009 novel Wolf Hall and the second for the 2012 novel Bring Up the Bodies. She is the first woman to receive the award twice.

Hilary joined us in March 2016 to talk about her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, exploring Cromwell’s role as Henry’s trusted advisor and drawing parallels with the role of lawyers today. She was joined by actor Ben Miles who played Thomas Cromwell in the RSC version of Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies.

Mishcon Academy
In Conversation with Hilary Mantel

Anthony Julius
Deputy Chairman, Mishcon de Reya

We’ve had the huge privilege of hosting Hilary Mantel and Ben Miles talking to us and reading from the extraordinary trilogy concerning the life of Thomas Cromwell.

Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL
Author

There was a sort of dark area, a moving black area, at the centre of Henry’s reign, or the way we narrate it to ourselves, and that moving area of darkness is Thomas Cromwell who for ten years is at the centre of policy making of government and vital to Henry’s story.

Anthony Julius
Deputy Chairman, Mishcon de Reya

Hilary is a guest of the firm because of Alison Levitt’s doing, so we are very grateful to her too.  And this is an event, along with other events, the Academy is putting on for the benefit of the firm.

Alison Levitt QC
Partner, Mishcon de Reya

When I was fifteen years old a friend of my mother’s came to stay with us for a while and she was a very nice young woman, I liked her a lot, I felt I could talk to her really easily.  She and my mother had studied law together at university but what this young woman really wanted to be was a writer and while she was staying with us she was submitting short stories to magazines and things like that.  If we fast-forward to the 6 October 2009, I was almost exploding with pride to watch the same woman receive the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall.

Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL
Author

“There was no block, the man from Calais did not use one.  She had been required to kneel upright with no support.  One of her women bound a cloth across her eyes.  She did not see the sword, not even its shadow and the blade went through her neck with a sigh easier than scissors through silk.”

Well, I put a book together rather like a collage, I don’t begin and write through sequentially and obviously there’s a difference between history as narrative and the order in which you might choose to tell it as a novelist.

Ben Miles
Actor

“In his chamber the air is sharply scented – juniper, cinnamon.  He takes off his orange coat.  In the dimness of the room shuttered against the afternoon it blazes as if he handled fire.”

Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL
Author

The way you would choose to place your emphasis, omitting or eliding one episode, stressing another, you might linger for ten pages on the events of five minutes and then you might elide a month in the space between lines.

Ben Miles
Actor

“He tests the blade against his thumb.  It’s not the knife he made for himself when he was a boy, that was a good blade and he misses it every day.  ‘Go and get Ambassador Chapuys’ he says to Richard.  ‘My compliments to him and may I give him supper.  If he says no tell him I feel a rage for diplomacy, say I must have a treaty before sunset and if he won’t come I’ll fetch in the French Ambassador instead’.”

Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL
Author

These are not of arrangement, and it doesn’t always present itself in the best way first go through, so I like to leave things for as far as I can and I work intensively on one part of the book and then move on writing, always in scenes, and try to leave it as a kind of loose-leaf arrangement that I can shuffle then in the final months, weeks, make the decisions that set it into place.  The idea is not to write yourself into a cul-de-sac, always be able to turn around and manoeuvre and have a rethink.

Anthony Julius
Deputy Chairman, Mishcon de Reya

We had readings which addressed sex and death, all we needed was birth and that would have completed the cycle of life, perhaps we’ll arrange that the next event of the Academy.

In March 2016, Dame Hilary Mantel DBE FRSL joined us to talk about her Thomas Cromwell trilogy.