The Late Hilary Mantel on Love Letters

Hilary Mantel, author of the Wolf Hall trilogy and two times winner of the Booker Prize, died suddenly this week, from a stroke, aged 70. She had ill health most of her life, and was often in great pain which, she said, greatly reduced her career options, so she was only left with writing.

She wrote a lot more than historical novels; her oeuvre included other genres, non-fiction, essays, and plays. In her work and her lectures, she could be political, pointed and puckish, and was happy to comment on a wide range of topics, not least – of course – writing.

It is sad when any author dies when they still have so many more stories in them. She was, I understand, working on a play at the time of her death. Many people will have their favourite pieces of her writing – most of which will no doubt stand the test of time. I’m sure she’d like to be remembered, too, for some of her more light-hearted, if less well known, guidance for prospective writers. Such as her words of advice for anyone planning to pen a love letter (or two …)

First up, she warned against sending photocopies, even if you are adopting a somewhat scatter-gun approach to romance initially. Also, you should not enclose money (she didn’t give a reason why, but it should be obvious. Money off coupons however, were, in her view, acceptable).

 Perhaps surprisingly she was against sending a love letter in poetic form, describing it as “covert metrical bullying” to reach an end (think Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress). You might as well, she remarked, send a condom as it would deliver the same message – and be more useful.

Any gifts enclosed should be valuable, but not heavy, so your love interest doesn’t need help carrying the gift to the pawn shop if/when the relationship doesn’t work out.

Finally, she advised against drawing love hearts at the bottom of the letter. As she said, “Henry V111 used to do that, and look how his affairs ended up.”

The advice may not be a great deal of help to a prospective wooer in real life, but her lecture must have been great fun.

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