Hilary Mantel signed copies of The Mirror & The Light (Fourth Estate) for lucky fans ahead of today’s official publication as the book’s cover was beamed on to the Tower of London.
Mantel posed for the cameras and met 200 readers clutching copies of her 900-page conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy in the flagship Waterstones Piccadilly store yesterday evening (Fourth March). Downstairs in the store, there was Tudor-style music from the Amyas Ensemble while vistors took part in a fabrics workshop with one of the team’s booksellers.
One of the first to get the novel, walking away with two copies for herself and her family’s book collection, was Joanna Wormald, a freelance journalist and copy editor, who had waited for nearly three hours for the signing. She said: “Queueing outside for hours was worth it because the books are so beautiful, I love them."
She added: “I’m a big fan. I’ve been waiting for this for eight years or something like that. I was basically a child when I first started reading them and now I get to go back and rediscover everything. I think I’m going to go back and do a re-read before I start on this one.”
PR manager Drew Buckingham said he hadn’t read the previous two books, although he had watched the TV adaptations. “This will be the impetus for me to read the trilogy,” he said. “The reviews have been breathless, she’s held in very high regard by so many of the readers for the accuracy in which she’s depicted Henry VIII’s reign and time. I’ll be a newbie I guess to her work but I’m very much looking forward to tackling it.”
Pages & Co author Anna James, who had earlier presided over a lively discussion on Mantel’s work, also got her hands on a signed copy. She said: “I haven’t been so excited for a book in a really long time. I think any book that breaks out of the publishing bubble is good for everybody who is involved with books. Honestly and simply, it’s really fun to get involved with it and to see so many people excited by a new book and people caring enough about a book to come and buy it. Also, I’m really excited to just read it.”
Watching the queue of eager readers snaking around the Waterstones shop floor was Mantel’s long-time agent, Bill Hamilton of A M Heath. He likened the event to a “coronation”, saying: “For a literary novel I've never seen anything like it.”
He added: “People have waited a long time for this book and the enthusiasm from readers, the media and everyone else to finally get to read it has been fantastic.The publishers have done the most phenomenal campaign I've ever seen.”
Waterstones said pre-orders for the novel were 45% up on Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments (Chatto) by publication date, making it the biggest adult title on pre-orders since Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman (Heinemann) in 2015.
Bea Carvalho, the chain’s fiction buyer, said: “This is the book we've been asked for by our customers more than any other over the past eight years. We all know how this ends, we know the story but it’s so exciting to see how Hilary will play that out. She manages to make this story surprising so that anticipation has just been building. Everyone was just ready for it, so when we announced 10 months ago it was happening the engagement was immediate.”
On the same night, an installation was launched at the Tower of London, with the book’s jacket projected onto the White Tower.
Editor Nick Pearson said: “We've always known the trajectory of Thomas Cromwell's life and where his journey ultimately leads him—to the Tower of London, from there to Tower Hill. The genius of Hilary Mantel is to show us how he got there. On the eve of the publication of The Mirror & the Light, the triumphant conclusion to the Wolf Hall trilogy, we are thrilled to illuminate the White Tower, a fitting celebration to a writer who has lit up our imaginations.”