Man Booker Prize-winning author Hilary Mantel has defended her story about plotting to kill the late Margaret Thatcher, after it was attacked by numerous commentators.
"The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983", the title story of a new collection of short stories to be published by Fourth Estate this week, sees a woman allowing an assassin into her house, and discussing the opportunity to shoot the then Prime Minister as she leaves hospital after an eye operation.
It is inspired by Mantel's own encounter with Thatcher in Windsor in 1983, when the author saw the Prime Minister from her window and thought: "If it wasn’t me, if I was someone else, she’d be dead."
It was published online by the Guardian on Friday (19th September), after the Daily Telegraph decided not to publish the story, despite paying "a substantial sum to secure the exclusive rights", according to the Guardian.
Lord Bell told the Sunday Times that Mantel should be investigated by police over the story, a claim which was met with a firm response from free speech group English PEN.
Robert Sharp, head of campiagns at English PEN said: "'If depicting a murder in literature were equivalent to inciting murder, then Lord Bell's colleagues Lord Dobbs (Miuchael Dobbs), Baroness James (P D James) and Baroness Rendell (Ruth Rendell) would all need to be investigated by the police too. It is most disturbing when politicians and commentators in a democracy start calling for censorship on the grounds of offence or bad taste. Not only does it undermine the right to freedom of expression in the UK, it sends a very poor signal to politicians in authoritarian regimes who sue, threaten and sometimes kill writers and journalists for satirising or criticising the political class.'
In the Daily Mail, columnist Stephen Glover said: "What I object to is not Hilary Mantel’s detestation of Thatcher, warped though I believe it to be. It is the suggestion that she could, and should, have been bumped off as though she were some deranged South American dictator…"
Also in the Daily Mail, Tory MP and novelist Nadine Dorries said she was "gutted" by the story. She said: "I cannot quite believe it. I am gutted because Hilary Mantel is one of my favourite authors. It is shocking as it is so close (to Margaret Thatcher's death) and she still has living family and children. It is about a character whose demise is so recent."
Conservative MP Conor Burns told the Sunday Times: "I also never cease to be amazed by the disordered psyche of some on the left."
Mantel, who has twice won the Man Booker Prize for Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (both Fourth Estate), defended her story, which took 30 years between starting and finishing, when she appeared on BBC Radio 4's "Start the Week" today (22nd September).
She said: "I think it would be unconscionable to say this is too dark we can’t examine it. We can’t be running away from history. We have to face it head on, because the repercussions of Mrs Thatcher’s reign have fed the nation. It is still resonating… I did want to examine that interface between politics and personality which is so marked in her case. She is a marvellous person to put into fiction because of the contradictions that run straight through her personality. You always feel she was a walking argument.”
Last year, Mantel also made headlines after giving a lecture, in which she criticised the media's portrayal of the Duchess of Cambridge.
The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher will be released on Thursday (25th September).