Hilary Mantel leads successful night for British writers at US book awards
guardian.co.uk, Friday 12 March 2010 12.37 GMTA strong performance for British authors in last night’s
National Book Critics’ Circle awards saw transatlantic winners make off with three out of six prizes in New York, with Hilary Mantel adding the coveted NBCC fiction award to last year’s Man Booker win for Wolf Hall.
The judges praised Mantel’s sympathetic portrayal of Thomas Cromwell – a bold re-imagining of one of British history’s most sinister characters, which has become a bestseller in the US – as “original in voice and ambitious in style”.
Speaking to the Guardian this morning, Mantel said she was “thrilled” to win an award run by professional critics with such a rigorous process of selection – books are nominated by the Association’s 600-strong membership and then read and discussed by the 24 elected members of the Association’s board. “You know that this isn’t people jumping on a bandwagon – they’re not about to be influenced by the fact that you’ve won a prize in another country.”
Mantel has been pleased by the unexpected success of Wolf Hall in the US: “Initially my US publishers were a little surprised about what I was going to do next, but they’ve been very supportive.” According to Mantel, US readers have been drawn to the book in much the same way as readers in the UK, where familiarity with Tudor history makes Cromwell’s perspective on a pivotal era in British history all the more powerful.”I was very surprised, if you look at internet sites, at how many Tudor fanatics there are in the US,” she said.
She saluted her fellow British winners – “Richard Holmes, whom I’ve admired for a very long time, and Diana Athill, who is getting her due at last” – though she rejected the suggestion that the strong showing for British writers signified any kind of trend, preferring to “give credit to the individuals”. Holmes won the non-fiction award for his exploration of science and the imagination, The Age of Wonder, cited by the judges for moving “our thoughts in a whole new direction”. Athill won the prize for autobiography for her latest volume of memoirs, Somewhere Towards the End, described by the judges as conjuring up “a robust, free-thinking, nonmawkish presence on the page”.
Blake Bailey won the award for biography with his life of John Cheever, and Eula Biss won the award for criticism with Notes from No Man’s Land. Rae Armentrout won the award for poetry with her double collection Versed.
Mantel, who was unable to travel to last night’s ceremony in New York, said that work on the sequel to Wolf Hall was coming along “very slowly”, as she sorted through “a huge mass of papers”.
“Ever since the Booker I haven’t had a couple of sequential days to write,” she said.
“I’m living in parallel worlds,” she added. “One is dealing with Wolf Hall and its success, the other is dealing with its successor.” The two books, which she had originally conceived of as one, are “one project” for Mantel. “I feel as if I’ve had my pen poised since I submitted the first manuscript.”