Marvellous Ms Mosse
The superstar novelist returns to the HighTide Festival
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!’