Sebastian Faulks has, inadvertently, done all his fellow novelists a favour. His announcement at the Cheltenham Literature Festival that he has taken a self-denying ordinance when it comes to offering physical descriptions of female characters in his novels, having been criticised for doing so in his 2018 novel Paris Echo, has pointed up the absurdity of some of the prohibitions currently facing writers in terms of what they can and can’t write about. ‘Novelists’, as Muriel Spark used to say, ‘are liars’. We make things up. We imagine and create people who live only in our books and, we hope, our readers’ minds. We have a licence to invent.
Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy is written in the third person, but everything is seen from Cromwell’s point of view. Her Cromwell is completely credible. In these novels we have a woman of today creating a man and his world, the horrible court of Henry VIII, more than