AFTER THE announcement a few hours ago, the media is saying that Hilary Mantel is only the third person to win the Man Booker twice. But there is something much more curious about her win.
Yes, the press can hail her as having followed in the footsteps of JM Coetzee and Peter Carey by winning the prize twice.
But as a judge of literary prizes (I’ve been involved with at least eight) and a novelist myself, I can testify that the hardest things about writing novels are
1) Creating the main characters;
2) Creating the world in which they live;
3) Creating a language and tone for the book; and
4) Creating a storyline.
When you write a sequel to a popular book, turning it into a series, (I have three series going), the first three are already done. You only have to do part 4, the new storyline.
It’s much, much easier than creating a new novel.
So without detracting from the fact that Bringing Up the Bodies is a great book, the other authors, all of whom wrote original standalone books, arguably faced bigger challenges and pulled them off spectacularly well.
So I’d argue that in one very real sense, Hilary Mantel didn’t win two prizes for two books. It would be more accurate to say that one story won two prizes. Or perhaps her wonderfully drawn character Thomas Cromwell and his family won two prizes.
In my TV spot for BBC World this morning, I didn’t share the thought above. As with most TV news reports, we kept to the main points: some comments about the winner and my usual soapbox speech about the time having come for Asian writers to creep onto a little corner of the world stage. I guess that’s the difference between broadcast news and written news—on broadcast media time is always too tight.