Friday, November 18, 2011

Hild and Cromwell

I've said before how Hild was originally intended to be a single novel. In the writing, that all changed. Yesterday I saw this article in the Guardian about Hilary Mantel, author of Wolf Hall. I'm guessing she knows what I'm talking about:

"Initially I had set out to tell the story of Cromwell's career between Thomas More's death in the summer of 1535 and his own death five years later," Mantel said, speaking to the Guardian about why her view of the structure of the story changed. "I didn't see the project as a trilogy because I thought the difficulties of carrying the backstory into a third novel would be too great. But all my thinking changed in the last month; it shows how hard it is to make predictions about how a novel will evolve.

I certainly know what she means. When I got halfway through Hild, I saw that Hild's life falls naturally into three parts, each with a quite different arc, length, and tone. So I cut the story short (if you can call 200,000 words short), and plan to pick it up in Book Two. This book, tentative title Menewood (though that's bound to change) will be short and brutal, the pivot around which all else turns.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I read this paragraph from the same Guardian article:

"When I came to write about the destruction of Anne Boleyn (a destruction which took place, essentially, over a period of three weeks) the process of writing and the writing itself took on an alarming intensity, and by the time Anne was dead I felt I had passed through a moral ordeal. I can only guess that the effect on the reader will be the same; the events are so brutal that you don't want to take a breath and turn the page, you want to close the book.

I don't know Mantel. But one day I'd like to sit down with her and have a drink. "Oh, and wasn't that realization a bastard? Didn't you just want to kill someone?" "Ha!" she'll say. "But then of course we did. Several someones. Horribly."

It's that willingness to enter the world of your own fiction, with all its surprises and horrors and joys, and to then recreate it for your readers, that makes great novels so vivid. It's the author's willingness to really go there, and to open the door for others, that makes story, place, and people so believable. That believability is what makes other creative artists think, Oh, I want to play there with those people! In other words, it's what TV producers are looking for.

Hilary Mantel just agreed to let HBO turn her novels about Cromwell into a series. I'm excited. And, y'know, thinking about Hild and TV. She, too, was a powerful advisor to kings. She, too, got mixed up in religious change. She, too, had a glittering, matchless mind...

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