Man Booker Prize: Hilary Mantel on Her Remarkable Double Win
This week, Hilary Mantel became the first Briton to win the Man Booker prize on two occasions--for Wolf Hall in 2009 and for Bring Up The Bodies in 2012. In this exclusive blog post she talks about her surprise at winning for a second time, and the intimidating prospect of writing the third book in this prize-winning trilogy.
I'm still stunned. I went to Tuesday's award of the Man Booker Prize with no clear idea of who would win--except that it wouldn't be me. I didn't lack faith in my book, Bring Up The Bodies. It's just that I'd won so recently in 2009. And I knew that in the history of the prize, only two authors have won twice. So I expected that Wednesday morning would see me on the train home to Devon, with the trace of a good loser's smile fading from my face.
Instead I found myself in front of what felt like a thousand camera flashes, and within moments of the announcement live on radio and TV. I still felt disbelieving. Even if you don't expect to win, there's a moment of anticipation when your heart squeezes small. And often, the chairman of the judges prolongs the agony, with a long show-biz pause. But this year's chairman was brisk. He took us by surprise. Before I had taken in what was happening I was on the stage, and before I had taken a breath I was making a speech.
I know this was a strong year. I know how hard these decisions can be, because in 1990 I was a Booker judge myself. So I feel lucky, and honoured. All day I've been talking. Giving an account of myself. Talking about the disaster and discouragement I've encountered. Trying to explain the unexplainable--how I write. Trying to explain to interviewers that no writer is ever an overnight success. Fame may arrive overnight, but there's usually a story behind that story, and almost always it's a story of prolonged and strenuous effort that is largely hidden from the world. This is my story. Twelve years of work before I published. Twelve published books before one of them, Wolf Hall, shot to the top of the bestsellers' list and gained me a million readers.
I'm still not quite used to that. Previous books sold a few thousand copies only. Something in Wolf Hall struck a chord with both the critics and the public. Writing is an unpredictable business, and so is publishing. I don't think any of us realised Wolf Hall would be such a huge hit. That book was the first of a trilogy. Bring Up The Bodies, is the second. No pressure, then…
I'm not asking myself, at this stage, whether I can possibly win the prize for the third time. That would be plain greedy. All my attention, next year, will be concentrated the book itself. It has to capture and hold the first two books within it, and yet stand up as a story in itself. Technically, it will be a nightmare.
But I feel I'm writing better than at any time before. I think these novels have made me extend my range and take bold decisions. I think the material is full of possibilities. I think there is more I can do.