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Dame Hilary Mantel hailed as ‘one of the greatest writers of our time’

The British writer was best known for the Wolf Hall trilogy, which won two Booker Prizes.

Hilary Mantel death
Hilary Mantel death

Dame Hilary Mantel has been hailed as “one of the greatest writers of our time” following the news of her death aged 70.

The British writer was best known for the Wolf Hall trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, which brought international acclaim and won two Booker Prizes.

Leading British authors and literary institutions were among those to pay tribute after her publisher HarperCollins announced in a statement that she died on Thursday “suddenly yet peacefully”, surrounded by close family and friends.

HarperCollins added: “Hilary Mantel was one of the greatest English novelists of this century and her beloved works are considered modern classics. She will be greatly missed.”

Harry Potter author JK Rowling said “We’ve lost a genius” as she paid tribute to the late author on Twitter.

Bernardine Evaristo, president of the Royal Society of Literature, said she was “so sorry” to hear the news and that she felt we have been “so lucky to have such a massive talent in our midst”.

The Booker Prize-winning author added in a post on Twitter: “I met her a few times and she was always so warm, down-to-earth and welcoming. RIP #HilaryMantel.”

Dame Hilary won the Booker Prize first for her 2009 novel Wolf Hall and again for its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, in 2012.

She concluded her Wolf Hall trilogy in 2020 with the publication of The Mirror & The Light to critical acclaim, winning the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, which she first won for Wolf Hall.

The trilogy, which charts the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in the court of King Henry VIII, has been translated into 41 languages, with sales of more than five million worldwide, HarperCollins said.

It was later adapted for the stage and screen, with the BBC developing the story into a TV series which was first broadcast on BBC Two in 2015, starring Sir Mark Rylance as Cromwell.

The series was a critical success and won a string of awards including three Bafta awards and a Golden Globe.

The Royal Shakespeare Company also put on productions of the first two books in 2013, and in 2021 The Mirror & The Light was staged in London, having been adapted by Dame Hilary, with Ben Miles playing Cromwell.

Wolf Hall Bringing Up The Bodies Press Launch
Ben Miles (Yui Mok/PA)

Miles, who also worked with Dame Hilary on the playscript for the third instalment, said in a statement to the PA news agency: “She was an extraordinary woman. A good friend and a close colleague.

“I feel so honoured to have known her and to have contributed in a small way to the work of one of the greatest writers of our time.

“I shall dearly miss her kindness, her humour and her gentle tenacity. The indisputable genius of her words remains as some small consolation to this tragic loss.”

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted “it is impossible to overstate the significance of the literary legacy Hilary Mantel leaves behind”.

She added: “Her brilliant Wolf Hall trilogy was the crowning achievement in an outstanding body of work. Rest in peace.”

Bill Hamilton, Dame Hilary’s agent at literary agency AM Heath, said it had been the “greatest privilege” to work with her.

He said: “Her wit, stylistic daring, creative ambition and phenomenal historical insight mark her out as one of the greatest novelists of our time.

“She will be remembered for her enormous generosity to other budding writers, her capacity to electrify a live audience, and the huge array of her journalism and criticism, producing some of the finest commentary on issues and books.

“Emails from Hilary were sprinkled with bon mots and jokes as she observed the world with relish and pounced on the lazy or absurd and nailed cruelty and prejudice.

“There was always a slight aura of otherworldliness about her, as she saw and felt things us ordinary mortals missed, but when she perceived the need for confrontation she would fearlessly go into battle.

“And all of that against the backdrop of chronic health problems, which she dealt with so stoically.

“We will miss her immeasurably, but as a shining light for writers and readers she leaves an extraordinary legacy. Our thoughts go out to her beloved husband Gerald, family and friends.”

The Booker Prizes tweeted that they were “deeply saddened” to hear of the death of the late author and sent their “sincere condolences” to her family, friends and colleagues.

Nicholas Pearson, the author’s long-term editor, said the news of Dame Hilary’s death was “devastating” for all those who knew and worked with her as he hailed her “unique outlook on the world”.

Pearson added: “As a person, Hilary was kind and generous and loving, always a great champion of other writers. She was a joy to work with…

“That we won’t have the pleasure of any more of her words is unbearable. What we do have is a body of work that will be read for generations. We must be grateful for that. I will miss her and my thoughts are with her husband Gerald.”

Hilary Mantel death
Dame Hilary Mantel was made a CBE in 2006 and a dame in 2014 (Philip Toscano/PA)

Dame Hilary also published a number of other novels and short story collections throughout the years, including the Every Day Is Mother’s Day series and a memoir, Giving Up The Ghost, in 2003.

In 1990, the author was elected as a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was made a CBE in 2006 and a dame in 2014.

She leaves her husband, geologist Gerald McEwen, whom she married on September 23 1972.

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