HIlary Mantel’s Canny Use of Backstory


I posted on Friday about how I’ve been studying Hilary Mantel’s novels, trying to learn how she works her magic. Tim Weed posted a great essay on her use of backstory and flashbacks on his essential website, Storycraft.

He says:

It struck me, as I greedily devoured Bring Up the Bodies, that much of the genius of these novels comes to us through Cromwell’s backstory. Mantel’s protagonist is compelling not only because he’s a bold man of action; it’s because he’s a thinker, a dreamer who spends many a late night running over his colorful past. Mantel gives us access to Cromwell’s rich inner life, which contributes greatly to the sense we get of full immersion in the historical period – and gives us insight, more broadly, into what it means to be human… In a sense, Cromwell’s backstory in these novels is his character, and Cromwell’s character is what makes these novels great. For a writer, that seems like something worth exploring.

Indeed it is! Weed explores Mantel’s technique by posting excerpts from the novel, then taking them apart to show their elegant construction.

Bonus: To hear from Mantel herself, watch this podcast.

HIlary Mantel’s Canny Use of Backstory

Hilary Mantel’s Rules for Writers

pendant calligraphy

I’m a huge fan of Hilary Mantel’s. I’ve re-read Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies a dozen times each, highlighting dialogue, turns of phrase, pithy descriptions, etc., studying the books line by line to see if I can figure out her writing secrets.

I plan to post other links about Mantel’s writing craft (still trying to learn her secret!), but thought I’d finish off this week with her rules for being a writer. They range from the practical (“get an accountant”) to the insightful (“concentrate your narrative energy on the point of change”) to the challenging (“be ready for anything”).


Hilary Mantel’s Rules for Writers