Writing Lessons

She is wearing pearls, and white brocade embroidered with stiff little sprigs of carnations. He recognises considerable expenditure; leave the pearls aside, you couldn't turn her out like that for much under thirty pounds. No wonder she moves with gingerly concern, like a child who's been told not to spill something on herself.

This is Hilary Mantel describing Jane Seymour through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell in . Page 11 in my paperback copy.

The italics are mine. I read that sentence over and over - I even took the book with me to my writers' group and read it to them. If I can write a sentence like this one, describe a character in these few words, I will know I have achieved something. I can see her, Jane, moving through the room with gingerly concern, and whatever happens to her from this point on, this is who it happens to.

Bring Up the Bodies
takes up where leaves off and is not, as yet, Jane's story. She remains, moving with gingerly concern, offstage while the Boleyn is swept aside to make room for her. And yet, because of this one line - the description of pearls and brocade are only incidental, it's entirely possible to move like this wearing a burlap sack if such is your character - she is there the entire time. She is the counterweight to Anne Boleyn. Who, if Ms. Mantel is to be believed, has never made a gingerly move in her life.

As in Wolf Hall, we are once again at Thomas Cromwell's side as he weaves his own vengeance into the task given him by his king: to rid him of his second unsatisfactory queen and make his way clear to another.

Young historians with an eye on the 16th Century should stay well away from Mantel until they are safely tenured, so persuasive is her fiction, so well does she put her Cromwell's voice in the reader's ear. The best fiction, I have come to believe, is told as if the storyteller has remembered it. And when she is done with you, it seems that you have remembered it too. So that you come away from the story thinking, why yes. It all comes back to me now. That's how it happened. That's why.

And that's the magic of Hilary Mantel. Remember old Thomas Cromwell, who was once so close to the king? I do. I knew him well.

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Ghosts of the Heart by Barbara Stoner

Ghosts of the Heart

by Barbara Stoner

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