It may have only been three days, but an awful lot has already been written on Hilary Mantel’s record-breaking feat of winning the Man Booker Prize for two consecutive books, only three years apart. She is also the first woman, and the first Brit, to win the award twice.
As we have already begun to see, this double win looks likely to have a massive sales boost for Mantel personally. I work in a bookshop in Cardiff and, ever since the publication of Bring Up The Bodies (her latest winner) we have been selling a variety of her backlist published before Wolf Hall (her first winner).
But what does this success mean for historical fiction as a genre?
Historical fiction has not exactly been short of readers in recent times. In 2004, Alan Hollinghurst won the same award for The Line of Beauty, following on from Peter Carey’s victory in 2001 for The True History of the Kelly Gang. These books were both based in relatively recent times, but historical fiction influenced by the medieval and Renaissance world has also been pulling its weight. Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth became one of Channel 4’s most watched programmes of 2010/2011, while the cinema adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl attracted the likes of Eric Bana and Natalie Portman as stars.
Arguably, the Man Booker Prize is the biggest book brand in the world, so for an author to win twice is going to pull in new and perhaps different readers for Mantel; perhaps in the same way that the TV adaptation of Sharpe turned new readers onto Bernard Cornwell's books, and on to historical fiction in general, it will bring new buyers for the genre, previously put off by swords-and-corsets jackets (it must be said that Mantel's Cromwell novels are packaged in a way that is both beautiful in its simplicity, and tempting in its ambiguity).
When George R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series was adapted for television, fantasy sales soared for new authors like Joe Abercrombie. I would be astonished if the same did not happen for authors new to the historical fiction field, such as James Aitcheson.
James Dunn works for a bookshop in Cardiff.