Derbyshire Booker prize-winner chats with the Derby Telegraph
ON the night she won the Booker Prize, someone whispered to Hilary Mantel that she had just inched ahead of Dan Brown on Amazon's bestsellers' list.
"I thought it was some sort of joke," she says.
"But I actually stayed on top of the Amazon list for quite a while. I think it was because virtually everybody had already bought the Dan Brown book," she laughs.
But, although still only available in hardback, Hilary's Booker winner Wolf Hall has sold in the kind of numbers usually associated with less literary writers, such as The Da Vinci Code author.
More than 100,000 copies had been sold by the end of November.
Hilary says: "I think that makes it the fastest-selling Booker winner in the prize's history."
That is exceptional for a 560-page historical novel set in the 1520s and charting the rise to power of Thomas Cromwell at the court of Henry VIII.
Hilary sees it as the pinnacle of what was "a very good year" but, as a child growing up in a tired corner of north Derbyshire in the 1950s, it was never even a dream.
"I wasn't someone who wanted to be a writer from childhood," she says. "I thought writers were people in another sphere."
Hilary, now 57, was born in Glossop in 1952, the eldest of three children, but was brought up in the Derbyshire mill community of Hadfield – the inspiration for the League of Gentlemen's Royston Vasey.
"Children were beaten in our village, sometimes grotesquely," she says in her book, Giving Up the Ghost, adding later: "There is little traffic, none of it fast, who would need to speed towards Hadfield?"
Attending the local Roman Catholic primary school was less of a trial than home where father Henry Thompson gave way to step-dad Jack Mantel.
"The story of my own childhood is a complicated sentence that I'm always trying to finish and put behind me," Hilary says in her memoirs.
"We parted company with my father just about the time of my 11th birthday. In some of my fiction, there's a father that walks off but, for me, that wasn't really the case. In real life, it was more complicated.
"Three years before, my mother had moved her lover into the house and Henry became more and more marginalised. "He faded from our lives and then was gone. And then came the removal van and a new life.
"There was so much going on at first that his disappearance didn't loom very large. My mother had given me to understand that he didn't care about me at all.
"Over the years, I wasn't even allowed to mention him."
So father and daughter remained estranged.
Just after Giving up the Ghost came out, Hilary discovered that Henry had died.
"He had married a widow who had six children and the eldest of the family, a girl my age, contacted me," she said.
"She had grown up knowing about me but I didn't know about her.
"So, in that way, my father came back into my life but it was too late."
Hilary wrote about Hadfield in a fictionalised way in her novel Fludd.
"When I wrote that book, I reflected on the fact that, in some ways, it was an odd little community pushed up there in the shadow of the moorlands," she says.
"It does seem to have been in many ways a singular community, quite inward looking. At Brosscroft, where I lived from age six to 10, you walked up the hill and there was nothing, just blue air and the reservoirs and moors that stretched on for mile after mile. It was a place of fantasy in a way."
Hilary went to a convent school in Cheshire at 11.
It was here she turned her back on the God that had come with her family's Irish roots.
"After I was 12, I didn't believe in him at all," she writes.
In 1970, Hilary moved south to the London School of Economics to read law before transferring to Sheffield University and marrying Gerald McEwen in 1972.
And just as her Derbyshire childhood would help define her writing style, an adult illness would also have a great effect on her life and work.
Wrongly diagnosed and treated for years, the illness was eventually discovered to be a severe form of endometriosis. The condition and surgery continues to affect her life.
"The surgery so destabilised my body that I'm still living with the consequences of that. It has been an enormously powerful factor in my life so it's a good thing I had a career that I could manage."
When I caught up with Hilary, she was browsing radio scripts for a dramatisation of Beyond Black. There's also a TV adaptation in the works.
"I have just hit a very good year when lots of things that have been dormant have started to happen," she says.
Wolf Hall, published by Fourth Estate, is priced £18.99. The paperback edition is out on March 4.