“I’m a terrible person to interview!” confesses Kate Mosse to event chair Steven Gale — then proceeds to prove herself quite wrong with a fascinating and engaging talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
One of this year’s guest selectors, Mosse has been awarded the OBE for services to literature and — as she is proud to point out — to women. And Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel, her ‘Languedoc’ novels set in the Carcassonne region of south-west France, are tanglble manifestations of these services: literary adventure stories featuring women as the heroines.
Though the first two novels are set in the middle ages and nineteenth century, Citadel focuses on more recent events — specifically the 19th August 1944, when members of the Carcassonne Resistance were rounded up and executed.
With such events still existing in living memory, Mosse has been especially conscious of respecting the lives of real people. “I decided to rely on published testimony, rather than talking to people,” she says. “I have a fear of stealing people’s lives and making them my fiction.”
The majority of Mosse’s characters are therefore made up, although the heroines in Citadel are inspired by a poignant inscription on a memorial to the fallen heroes of the Resistance, which lists the names of those executed, plus ‘two unknown women’.
Despite extensive research, she doesn’t view herself as a historian, but as a novelist first and foremost. “My job is to to entertain,” she says, “to ask ‘what would it have felt like’ to be in those situations.”
And, when writing, she most enjoys breathing life into the characters then letting them tell the story, describing the magic moment when “the characters come out of the wings, stand in front of you then turn around and say ‘follow me’.”
Of the three Languedoc novels, Citadel contains the strongest romantic element. “I never wanted to write love stories,” she laughs, “I want to write about everything else. But I felt it was important to show what makes people fight: for the people they love. It’s the novel I am most proud of.”
In the Q&A which follows, Mosse hints at what she is working on next (“something big, but which is still private — but I’m very excited about it”) then goes on to give a fascinating and concise history of the Cathars, the persecuted religious movement which took root in Carcassonne.
Her explanation is both enlightening and entertaining, proving that not only is Kate Mosse an authority on her subject matter, but also an expert in the storytelling craft.
Kate Mosse was in conversation with Steven Gale at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 22 Aug.