Mar­vel­lous Ms Mosse

The su­per­star nov­el­ist re­turns to the HighTide Fes­ti­val

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - WORDS: Jan Ether­ing­ton

When I told peo­ple I was in­ter­view­ing Kate Mosse, for the HighTide Fes­ti­val, I had two dif­fer­ent re­ac­tions. The first, ‘Oooh, Labyrinth! Sepul­chre! I love her books!’ The sec­ond, ‘But she’s a model. What has she got to do with an arts fes­ti­val?’ Kate Mosse laughs and then tells me a won­der­ful story to il­lus­trate the prob­lem of hav­ing a sim­i­lar name to a world fa­mous su­per­model.

“My Amer­i­can agent is called Ge­orge Lu­cas, and he booked a ta­ble, at a very smart New York res­tau­rant, for the two of us. When we ar­rived, it was sur­rounded by pa­parazzi and he said, ‘Gosh, some­body fa­mous must be hav­ing lunch here to­day.’ We walked up to the desk and Ge­orge told the re­cep­tion­ist, ‘Ta­ble for Ge­orge Lu­cas and Kate Mosse.’ The stunned re­ac­tion of the maitre d’, as he looked us up and down, made us re­alise that he thought he was ex­pect­ing the cre­ator and pro­ducer of Star Wars and the fa­mous Lon­don model and had alerted the pa­parazzi. We must have been such a dis­ap­point­ment!”

Yet Kate Mosse is un­doubt­edly a su­per­star nov­el­ist, with sales of over 5 mil­lion books, in 38 lan­guages. Her fifth novel, Labyrinth, pub­lished in 2005, was set in the Langue­doc re­gion of France in the 16th cen­tury. His­tor­i­cal, su­per­nat­u­ral, gothic, labyrinthine – Kate weaves a rich ta­pes­try of prose, with all her books and draws us into an ex­tra­or­di­nary world of pas­sion, in­trigue and tan­gled webs.

It could be called the op­po­site of chick lit, be­cause it’s not in any way au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal. Yet her first book, Be­com­ing A Mother, pub­lished in 1993, was very much her story, chron­i­cling her emo­tional and phys­i­cal re­ac­tion to that very mile­stone.

Swiftly, she moved into his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, cre­at­ing whole new worlds cen­tred on the mys­te­ri­ously mag­i­cal, castel­lated city of Car­cas­sone. Her moth­erin-law re­tired there in 1989 and it wasn’t long be­fore the spell had been cast. Kate now has her own home – Madame Noubel’s House – in the shadow of the me­dieval city walls.

Ap­pro­pri­ately, in this year of the 200th an­niver­sary of the birth of Emily Bronte, Kate cites Wuther­ing Heights as her great­est in­flu­ence.

“Land­scape is so im­por­tant. That book has to be set there. The in­spi­ra­tion for all my his­tor­i­cal fic­tion comes from land­scape, that magic blend­ing of his­tory and place. I’m head over heels in love with Langue­doc. Es­sen­tially, it’s a love-let­ter to Car­cas­sone, and when I’m pre­par­ing a book I have to re-con­nect with Langue­doc. It is there that I feel most my writ­ing self.” She ‘com­part­men­talises’ her life, she says, writ­ing eight hours a day, seven days a week, be­gin­ning at 4.30 am, usu­ally from Septem­ber to May. Each novel av­er­ages 140,000 words.

“Au­thors are like mag­pies. We throw noth­ing away, we

re­mem­ber the emo­tion of things. Out of that come the sto­ries – and I’m a sto­ry­teller, not an his­to­rian. His­tory was mostly writ­ten by the rulers. My books are thor­oughly re­searched but they chart the con­se­quences of his­tory on or­di­nary peo­ple – lost women. I’m giv­ing a voice to the voice­less by telling their story.”

We talked while she was in Suf­folk, in July, con­duct­ing a panel dis­cus­sion at the Lat­i­tude Fes­ti­val, linked with her role as the founder and di­rec­tor of the Women’s Prize for Fic­tion. She chaired a brisk and stim­u­lat­ing de­bate on ‘Who owns the new fem­i­nism?’, which showed why she is in such de­mand as a com­mu­ni­ca­tor, broad­caster and in­ter­viewer.

I had seen Kate in­ter­view­ing the ac­tress Sheila Han­cock at last year’s HighTide Fes­ti­val and noted her skill at drawing out her sub­ject, and her gen­uine and knowl­edge­able in­ter­est in her in­ter­vie­wee.

Kate will visit this year’s HighTide in the mid­dle of a book tour for her lat­est work, The Burn­ing Cham­bers. It is the first of a planned, his­tor­i­cal se­ries, be­gin­ning in 1562, and chron­i­cling the French Wars of Re­li­gion, span­ning 300 years of sec­tar­ian ten­sions.

Kate, 56, was awarded the OBE in 2013. She met her charming hus­band, Greg, who pops in to say hello as we talk, when they were both at school. He ap­peared in a school play, La Vie Parisi­enne by Of­fen­bach, and she played vi­olin in the or­ches­tra. Off they went to dif­fer­ent uni­ver­si­ties, meet­ing, by chance, eight years later on a train. They have been to­gether ever since and Greg, who has taken Kate’s sur­name, runs a much ad­mired cre­ative writ­ing course at the Cri­te­rion Theatre in Lon­don.

The Mosse fam­ily live in Sus­sex, where Kate is a very hands-on ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Chich­ester Theatre. She’s also deputy chair of the Na­tional Theatre and has writ­ten a num­ber of plays, in­clud­ing Syrinx and The Taxi­der­mist’s Daugh­ter. She and Greg have two grown-up chil­dren. Martha works for Sara­bande, The Alexan­der McQueen Foun­da­tion, and Felix is a suc­cess­ful mu­si­cal theatre ac­tor.

While many nov­el­ists can be shy and re­tir­ing, Kate Mosse sparkles and her sense of hu­mour shines through. Es­pe­cially when she tells me, proudly, that she was given a Kip­per car­toon, which showed the su­per­model Kate Moss, re­clin­ing glam­orously in the back of a cab. The taxi driver turns to her and says, ‘My mum loves your books!’

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