Au­thor Kate Mosse on why she loves Fran­schhoek, plus an ex­tract from her lat­est novel, The Burn­ing Cham­bers

Fairlady - - CONTENTS - By Suzy Bro­ken­sha

‘Iin­stantly felt as if I be­longed in Car­cas­sonne,’ says Kate Mosse. ‘It’s the place I be­came a writer. My writ­ing is a love let­ter to Car­cas­sonne.’ She and her fam­ily have had a tiny cot­tage in the tiny walled city for years, although she still lives most of the time in Sus­sex, where she was born. Just back from a long run on the moun­tain, Kate is en­er­gised and re­laxed – and sur­pris­ingly warm and en­gag­ing for an au­thor who’s been do­ing back-to-back

‘Women’s voices and rights are ac­tively be­ing rolled back. To see them hon­oured is very im­por­tant.’

in­ter­views in prepa­ra­tion for the Fran­schhoek Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val.

‘I never ex­pected to have that feel­ing of be­long­ing again, but I felt it in Fran­schhoek… some­thing about it – the light, and the moun­tains – re­minded me so much of Car­cas­sonne.’

It was when Kate was wan­der­ing around the Huguenot mu­seum (she’s ob­sessed with his­tory: ‘We know who we are be­cause of who we were,’ she says) that she saw a board with the names of the French Huguenots who had fled to Fran­schhoek to es­cape re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion in the 17th cen­tury, and re­alised the two places were con­nected.

‘If you were a French refugee fam­ily and had been dis­placed and you ar­rived in Fran­schhoek, you would have a sense that it looked like home.’

The Burn­ing Cham­bers is the first in a se­ries of four books that span 300 years of Huguenot his­tory, mov­ing from Car­cas­sonne in the 16th cen­tury to Fran­schhoek in the 19th. Hap­pily for us, it has all the el­e­ments of Kate’s pre­vi­ous, hugely suc­cess­ful work: metic­u­lous his­tor­i­cal re­search, a com­pli­cated and thor­oughly sat­is­fy­ing plot and strong, cred­i­ble fe­male char­ac­ters.

‘Women are left out of the his­tory books,’ says Kate. ‘His­tory is writ­ten by the vic­tors and is al­most al­ways about the deeds of men. But what about or­di­nary women? Their lives were made and de­stroyed by de­ci­sions taken hun­dreds of miles away. I put those women at the heart of my sto­ries.’

Kate’s re­search is ex­haus­tive – from the way the shad­ows fall in a par­tic­u­lar place to the his­tory of walled cities to the clothes her char­ac­ters would have worn – but she never al­lows it to slow the story’s pace.

‘I don’t put in the de­tails of Mi­nou’s (a pro­tag­o­nist in The Burn­ing Cham­bers) clothes to show off my re­search; I do it be­cause I need to ex­plain what she could ac­tu­ally do in them. Could she climb a tree? How far could she re­ally run in her shoes? That’s why it’s im­por­tant.’

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