We interviewed Cicestrian, CFT biographer and international multi-million selling novelist Kate Mosse, prior to an exclusive 'home' event to celebrate her latest No1 bestseller The Burning Chambers, the first in a major quartet of novels - covering 300 years of history and set against the backdrop of the French Wars of Religion.
You’re well known as a Cicestrian but why do you feel a special connection with the Festival Theatre?
I work with other theatres – particularly on the Board of the National Theatre for eight years, and that’s been a great honour – but my heart belongs to Chichester. It’s the very first theatre I ever went to. I can still remember coming to The Italian Straw Hat with my parents when I was about six. Sarah Badel played the young ingénue and I remember thinking she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my entire life. I worked here in the 1970s as an usherette, then in the late 1990s for three years and I wrote the CFT 'biography' for its 50th anniversary in 2012. So when there was a conversation about doing some pre- and post show talks, I leapt at the chance.
The Burning Chambers is a no 1 bestseller; do you think it’s your best novel so far?
You always love the book you’re writing most at the time; and then you fall for the book that you are yet to write! The wonderful thing about readers is that people will have their own favourites. But I am thrilled with it. I had to take a break from full-time writing and because I couldn’t do all the travel and research I needed for historical fiction in France, I wrote The Taxidermist’s Daughter and The Mistletoe Bride that were set in Sussex. So The Burning Chambers felt like starting again. It’s the first in a quartet and that is a real luxury. I know what I’m doing for the next eight years – I’ve got 300 years of history to get through! So the whole experience of writing and publishing The Burning Chambers has been a real joy.
Is it true that your first visit to Carcassonne made you a writer?
I had written four books before Labyrinth. Even so, if somebody had said, what do you want to put on your passport?, I would have said 'reader' or 'publisher', not 'writer’. It was the inspiration of being in Carcassonne and the relationship with history, and my passion for both of those things, that led me to writing the Languedoc Trilogy. Who knows what would have happened if I’d never gone there? I had to go away from my Sussex home in order to learn how to write about home. I never could have done that had my imagination not been set free by Carcassonne.
What do you enjoy about literary lunches and festivals?
I love to meet real readers. I still learn more about myself as a writer from live events with readers than from critics, and I love telling the story of how The Burning Chambers came to be. At every event, someone would come up afterwards and say ‘My family are Huguenots, they came from x, y or z’. I’m fascinated by the Catholic/Huguenot conflicts of the 16th century – not the stories of the court, but of us ordinary people whose lives are destroyed by the forces of history. I’m not a Huguenot descendant myself – and it’s been so extraordinary, people who still feel a strong sense of pride that their ancestors were brave enough, resourceful enough to travel to the other side of the world in search of a better life – those who made our country, or Germany, Holland, America, South Africa, better with their skills and their energy. The Burning Chambers is a love story, an epic adventure, a story of history, but also refugee story too. So meeting readers is about that dialogue with them. You look people in the eye and sometimes they tell you what they like and sometimes what they don’t! And every tiny bit of that goes back to the next novel I write.