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"What if you visited the 18th century and never came back?"
has a fine profile
of Hilary Mantel, who just won her second Booker Prize for Bring Up the Bodies
, the sequel to Wolf Hall
, which also won the Booker. She discusses the danger of immersing oneself in the distant past in order to create compelling historical fiction:
"You try to abandon your analytical self, your grounding in the everyday. I'm a very organised and rational and linear thinker and you have to stop all that to write a novel...I used to think when I set out that doing the research was enough, but then the gaps would emerge that could only be filled by imagination. And imagination only comes when you privilege the subconscious, when you make delay and procrastination work for you. For me – I'm a now, now kind of person – that was hard."
This subject interests me greatly (and I wish the article had continued this thread, instead of moving into a more general profile), partly because I've experienced this myself. Though I haven't written much historical fiction, I'm often obsessed with history in general. And, unfortunately, the history I'm drawn to hasn't been heavily researched. Instead of, say, the Civil War or the Great Depression, I find myself delving into more arcane topics - early 20th Century river resorts in my hometown, a distant relative's long-gone mansion on Lake Geneva, my grandfather's vagabond business career - on which I can find only sketchy and fleeting information. Online I find the smallest scraps and vaguest hints, which instead of satisfying my curiosity merely compels me to seek out ever more obscure and fruitless sources. Then I finally have to snap myself out of my reverie and get back to my life. But with a writer like Mantel, that is
her life - she has to stay in that past to make her historical fiction come alive. I can just safely walk away from the past. She can't walk away from it, at least not until the book is done. I'm not sure that I envy her.
October 19, 2012 in Books | Permalink