Man Booker winning novelist Hilary Mantel has attacked the Mail on Sunday and questioned whether its journalists must “start to feel ashamed of their paper’s attempt to bully and censor” after the newspaper attacked a BBC decision to broadcast her story about Margaret Thatcher.
The Mail on Sunday said a decision by BBC Radio 4 to broadcast short stories from Mantel’s collection The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher (Fourth Estate), including the title story, had “provoked fury” among the Conservative Party.
But Mantel hit back, telling the Guardian that the “latest nonsense from the Mail [on Sunday] is not about me or my work; it’s a skirmish in a war with the BBC” ().
Mantel continued: “A couple of days back I spoke in praise and support of the TV adaptation of 'Wolf Hall', which the BBC will show next year. Possibly this has triggered the bout of froth and bile.
“I do wonder about the journalists involved. The paper doesn’t write itself.
“Sooner or later, surely, they must start to feel ashamed of their paper’s attempt to bully and censor?”
"The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher – August 6th 1983” 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. Earlier this year the story was published by the Guardian, prompting some Tory politicians to attack Mantel.
Following the news about the book being chosen for BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime, the Mail on Sunday quoted former Tory Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit as saying: “It is a sick book from a sick mind and it’s being promoted by a sick broadcasting corporation.”
Mantel told the Guardian in response: “As for ex-politicians who have weighed in: the same tetchy commentators who made fools of themselves when my stories were first published have been persuaded to do it again. You’d think they’d learn. I was bemused when Lord Bell suggested the police should interest themselves in the case of a fictional assassination of a person who was already dead. I wouldn’t like to be the lawyer who had to frame the charges.
“I am delighted the BBC has decided to broadcast a selection of stories from the book. My title story has the form of a debate. It demonstrates how very easily history could have worked out in a different way.
“There is no need for me or any writer to justify or explain herself to people who have no interest in fiction except when it feeds their dim sense of being injured in some way.
“The story speaks for itself, and I stand behind it.”
"The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher" will be read in the week commencing 5th January.