There has been a ruffling of feathers amongst the authors of historical fiction since Claire Armistead's piece in The Guardian suggested that Hilary Mantel, speaking at The Oxford Literary Festival, 'appeared to let slip the dogs of war against her fellow historical novelists'. Armistead's inflammatory article, it turns out, was based on a single comment about bibliographies, in a talk rich with fascinating detail about Mantel's writing, Cromwell, history and the imagination.
Armistead's piece had many of my historical novelist friends mounting their own defence of their use of bibliographies in their work and their reasons for doing so: all legitimate. Personally, with regards to my own work, I felt Mantel had hit the nail on the head. My first two novels included vast and unwieldy bibliographies precisely because I felt I needed to prove the depth of my research – was a little ' apologetic' and 'cringing', if you like. As my confidence has grown I have felt more able to allow my fiction to stand alone.
What Armistead didn't mention is that those present were offered a tantalising glimpse of the long awaited third book in Mantel's Cromwell trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, which she made clear is still very much unfinished. She read the opening passage, which returns to the ending of Bring up the Bodies and the execution of Anne Boleyn but with a different emphasis, looking towards the fallout for Cromwell's part in the downfall of the Queen. It points to a satisfying intention to book-end The Mirror and the Light with execution scenes, as surely it will end with Cromwell's.
I for one am eagerly anticipating part three and will leave you with this line to whet your appetites: 'The blade cut through her neck with a sigh, easier than scissors through silk.'
Elizabeth Fremantle is the author of four Tudor set novels. Her latest, The Girl in the Glass Tower, is published by Penguin. You can find out about her work on elizabethfremantle.com