Hilary Mantel: ‘Human beings are such miracles, yet so defectively assembled’

What is your earliest memory?
Lying in my carriage, I watch the light break as treetops pierce in the wind.

Who was or still is your teacher?
I dedicated my first book to my friend Christian Bevington and her family. I met Christian, who recently retired as a judge, when I was 18. She was a few years older than me and in my teaching group at the London School of Economics. She gave me an example of how to approach life safely, and I keep her in mind even if I can’t always imitate her. Her constant generosity has helped me through difficult times.

What do your suits look like?
When I was young, a not-so-cute doctor called me “Little Miss Neverwell”. Now I’m a great lady, Neverwell. My health is unexpected and a daily source of stress. But I am always looking for improvement.

Tell me about an animal you loved.
In the Bevington house above I first saw Tertius and exclaimed, “This is the Prince of Cats.” He was a chocolate brown Burmese and became my watch cat when he was eight years old. Energetic, happy and attentive, he lived 22 years. When my husband and I founded a company, we took him as a role model and called it Tertius Enterprises.

Risk or caution that defines your life more?
In the little things, be very careful: “Take your raincoat. Actually, why not take two?” But for a new country or venture, you’re ready to jump in. In big decisions, you rarely have all the information you need. If you hesitate and reason for a long time, your courage fades.

What trait do you find most annoying in others?
Conservative Party.

What trait do you find most annoying in yourself?
from where we start? I use hearing aids but walk around without them, which leads to inaccurate guesses about what’s going on. I am using quotes that are not taken from dull sources and websites that no one understands. I don’t even finish my sentence. . .

What drives you?
Curiosity: the need to know how a sentence might end. Although I can’t help quoting from Belloc:
“I’m tired of love. I’m still more tired of rhyme.
But money makes me happy all the time.”

Do you believe in the afterlife?
yes. I can not imagine how it would work. However, the universe is not limited to what I can imagine.

Which is more puzzling, the presence of suffering or its frequent absence?
It does not baffle me. Humans are such miracles, and yet they are flawlessly grouped: angels and beasts, killing and saving in the same breath.

The name of your favorite river.
I saw the Thames when I was 13 years old. I wrote a poem for her. I am grateful that I do not own the manuscript. That summer I went by water from Richmond to Hampton Court. A day later, as it turns out.

What would you do differently?
Run away from some people who turn out to be “toxic”. I don’t have an inbuilt cm scale. Perhaps it should be modified.

“The Wolf Hall Picture Book” by Hilary Mantell, Ben Miles and George Miles (4th term) will be released on September 15

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