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Kate Mosse on The City of Tears and Championing Women in Literature

This week's Break Out Culture guest is acclaimed writer Kate Mosse

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Kate Mosse OBE is a number one international bestselling novelist, playwright and non-fiction writer. Her books have been translated into 38 languages and published in more than 40 countries. She has written eight novels and short story collections, including the multi-million selling Languedoc Trilogy and The Taxidermist’s Daughter; and one of her gothic novels has been adapted for the stage and will premiere this April. We’re delighted to have her with us to tell us about her latest book, The City of Tears, which is the second book in The Burning Chambers series.

This interview was taken from our Break Out Culture podcast with Ed Vaizey and Charlotte Metcalf.

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Q&A with Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse

Ruth Crafer

Can you start by telling us about The Burning Chambers series itself, and your plans for it?

It’s 300 years of history. It’s a big, epic, old-fashioned story that is full of love, loss, revenge, tragedy and hope. It’s a Romeo and Juliet story, a Catholic girl and a Protestant boy, and their generations, and the enemies that they face. It starts in Carcassonne in 1562, which was The Burning Chambers, the very first novel in the series of four books, it will be. The City of Tears is the second in that series, and it will finish in Franschhoek in Southern Africa in 1862. It is one of those stories where you’re not quite sure who the goodies are or quite sure who the baddies are, but it is imagined characters against the backdrop of real history. It’s the Huguenot diaspora, and it’s a story about what it means to lose your home and find a new home. Who can you trust in the Wars of Religion?

What is your secret? You have a home in Carcassonne, does it infuse you just being there to help you bring these characters, and indeed time, alive?

All the way through researching and writing The Burning Chambers series, which I started to research back in 2010, I’ve been saying, ‘I don’t have any Huguenot heritage.’ I have discovered in the last month that in fact I do have Huguenot heritage, and I had no idea.

How did you find out?

I’m writing a massive book on women in history, and how easily women vanish from history: why women aren’t there, even when we obviously were there. I’ve used the spine of my own family, because I discovered that my great-grandmother was a really well-known novelist in her day, but has completely vanished from the record – none of her books were in print. So, I’m using my own family story as a spine to write this bigger book on women in history.

Do you think people partly love your books because your characters are deliberately very ordinary people, so everyone can relate to them?

I love a good old-fashioned story – my dad used to read me those big old adventure stories. I like the moral landscape of those, that there is a clear beginning, a clear middle, a clear end. There is the sense of justice, and the world order being restored. But it is quite deliberate to tell the stories of ordinary people, because for too much of history, it has been only the history of a tiny number of people. So kings, generals and religious leaders – they’re mostly men, obviously. But at the same time, the women who appear are the mistresses, and the queens and the courtesans. You forget that all the rest of us were there too. I’m always asking myself, as a historical novelist, who would I have been? Would I have been brave enough to stand up against this persecution? Would I have been brave enough to stand up for my neighbours?

You founded the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Do you think there’s a different way women look at history?

It [the Women’s Prize for Fiction] wasn’t about leaving men out, or denigrating the extraordinary things that have been done by men. It was more about putting a spotlight on the things that had been overlooked, the unheard voices of women. We know that it has made an enormous difference in terms of the visibility of women’s writing. I don’t have much time for people who just moan about stuff: do something about it, and see if you can just expand the stories that are being told. The Women’s Prize has done that, and put millions of books into the hands of millions of men and women who love great literature.

The City of Tears is out now (Pan Macmillan). Main image by Ruth Crafer.

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