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    • Here he is, the Great Warty one. I have a picture of him in my study, and he's watching me. Weighing me.

      I'm trying to write him; and it's hobbling me.

      In Treason's Daughter, my characters interacted with history. Where their lives brushed great events, I took great pains to get both the events, and their reactions, to feel as authentic as possible. I know there is an inherently fraudulent tango between the history and my reimagining of it: but I try to be honest, and truthful. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, there are sufficient unknown unknowns in the writing of historical fiction without introducing known unknowns.

      In The Winter Isles, my next book, although some of the characters are based on real people, they are sufficiently shrouded in myth and muddle to allow considerable leeway in my portrayal.

      SO... this means my attempt on Cromwell is my first lengthy portrait of a real, and well documented, colossus of political history. He is not even the central character – rather my existing protagonists (and a few new ones) interact with him, watch him and contemplate him.

      I am well prepared. I have read his speeches and letters and umpteen biographies. I think I have an image of him, sitting clenched-fisted in that weird half-light where my characters wait for me to write them.

      But. But. I am struggling with an un-writerly, incoherent, raging But. I don’t seem to be able to get going. I’m intimidated by him. I don’t want to get him wrong, even though I know that it is a technical impossibility to get him right. Even Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell can only be an interpretive shadow of the real thing – a puppet dancing on a wall of her making.

      My current Cromwell lumbers along like some sort of dour Golem. This is a man who came from nowhere, from nothing, to be King in all but name. A polarising man of great physical presence and charisma. My shadow-puppet, so far, is static and flat.

      The answer? Not inspiration or muses, or fannying about writing blogs about my Cromwell Block.

      Discipline. Hard work. Words on the page. More words. Some might be worth rescuing. I’ll start tomorrow. Hold on. Tomorrow is Friday. OK. I’ll definitely start on Monday, Oliver. I promise.


By Antonia Senior

Reluctantly, moodily and finally enthusiastically;  I have embraced my inner tweeter. I once dismissed Twitter as a collection of inane ravings. It is that; but it is also the place of a wondrous new balance between reader and writer. There is magic amid the dross.

Consider the problem facing reader and writer in this new digital age: finding each other. Bookshops are on the retreat, review space in newspapers is squeezed and dominated by established writers and non-fiction. The algorithms on e-book retailers do the opposite of an old-fashioned browse: they force you into narrower niches. Just because I bought one Tudor mystery does not mean I only want to buy Tudor mysteries.

To break free of the algorithms you have to know what you are looking for; but the joy of being a voracious reader is not knowing what you want until it slaps you round the chops with a fabulous hook or an exquisite phrase.

The answer, at least for now, lies in social media. The sci-fi fans are there already, talking to each other and to the writers they like. They buzz in the ether, collectively sharing the dream of a story which won’t let you sleep.

Other genres are slowly but surely building their hashtags. Book bloggers are becoming hugely influential. My debut novel Treason’s Daughter received a lovely review from the book blog, The blogger tweeted as she was reading; this led to a very strange sensation of following someone reading my work in real time.

This was my first experience of the strange shift in balance between reader and writer. I am used to reader feedback – my time as a journalist coincided with the rise of the web, and reader comments under articles. You need a thick skin to read the mad, the angry and the contemptuous comments which appear beneath comment pieces. A vehemently pro-choice comment I once wrote produced some breath-taking vitriol, for example; although not quite as vicious as the time I accidentally implied that sci-fi was a non-literary guilty pleasure. Sorry, guys. Really.

But the writer of fiction is more vulnerable, in some ways. I don’t have a newspaper masthead to cower behind. It’s just me and my story, venturing out into a harsh world, looking for – and fearing - your opinion.

What tone do I strike, out there in cyber-space? I want to flog my book, but not irritate people. I want readers to like it, and to be kind to it – but I can’t ask for kindness. As the blogger tweeted each night about her experience of reading Treason’s Daughter that day, I wanted to thank her for reading, but worried that I would look desperate. So I watched her tweets, imagined her curled up with my book, and dreamt up wry but self-deprecating replies which I never sent.

When she posted her review, the other new facet of this hanging world became clearer. Blog reviews can be more personal, more visceral – and thus more powerful for those of us who are passionate readers.  I review on my blog and for The Times. In The Times, I might say: “A powerful compelling read.” On my blog, I might say. “I was up until midnight, falling in love with this book again and again.”

Now, as I wait for Treason’s Daughter to gather readers, I hope that someone, somewhere, is being kept up at night by it. And that they will tweet me to let me know.