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