The Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire is slowly filling, mainly with women and some clutching books, to hear Kate Mosse talk about her latest historical novel, the final one in the Languedoc trilogy, Citadel. The stage is set with two leather chairs and with a lovely background of jazz music we await the arrival of the author.
The 'In Conversation With' is part of the DLR Library Voices series, this being the last in the series. Introducing the interviewer and author, Bert Wright describes them as self-confessed luvvies. Mia Gallagher, former writer in residence at The Pavilion, comes on stage to give us a thorough background of the work of co-founder of the Orange Prize and author Kate Mosse. Comedic in her reception of such a great introduction, Kate Mosse joins her to tell her audience how her books came about.
Visiting Carcassonne in South West France first in 1989, Mosse knew nothing of the area on arrival which she thinks was important. She told us how she fell in love with the region and that she wanted to tell not only the history of the place but also the hidden women's history. This she has told in her previous two Languedoc novels Labyrinth and Sepulchre and the end of the story has now been told in Citadel the final novel in the trilogy.
A slight figure in giant wedged heeled creepers, Mosse is however a giant storyteller. Certain periods in history 'leave her cold' she told us but other talk to her.The story of the South West is different Mosse explains; Jews were saved out of this area, 30,000 out of the 40, 000. The Cathars she says are 'bloody-minded and independently spirited.' Many women in Carcasonne were involved in the resistance and Kate has met them in person. She tells how key street in Carcasonne are named for the resistance fighters, a sign of the sense of shame of the active collaboration in World War II. The date of the deaths on street names are all the same she explains-the whole resistance were caught and murdered on the same day, but not the women. But this novel is the story of the women written out of history.
An admirer of Emily Bronte, Willa Cather and Eliot amongst others, Mosse writes about the crash of war and faith, pushing civilisation forward. The nature of the landscape is particular to the story. Mosse finds the landscape calming in relating to those who have walked the landscape before her and will walk it after. The land encourages and holds the story as we just pass through it. Her sense of knowing the past lives comes out in her ghost story The Winter Ghosts and she commented on the fine line between what's recorded as history and what's folklore. Talking of her new novel set in Roman times and in World War II she explains that to her the Second World War isn't the past but is living history, living as she does with elderly parents and also with people in Carcasonne who are in their eighties. Her knowledge of the area from her research is astounding. She explains that she spent three years researching her latest novel; book and museum research, testimonies and physical research- climbing mountains and learning to shoot a gun. Dedication indeed!
Mosse believes liberation comes from the right to read and quotes literacy rates in the UK. Texts from the past can be held and you can think of who wrote them and held it before you, however long the time period that separates us. Touching on her own childhood, she tells how her father read adventure stories to her as a child, Rider Haggard's She and King Solomon's Mines, simple tales of daring-do. And Mosse's stories are adventure stories. The adventure story, an old-fashioned genre, comes with an action plot, the idea of right of wrong and the promise of resolution- good will find its way. But Mosse hopes her tell stories have a more serious message.
Talking about the Orange Prize, now Women's Prize for Fiction, Mosse decides her final word on the subject of its validity is to ask why it is a bad thing to celebrate women's achievement. The fact is that the prize has transformed many writers' lives. She's an appealing character, chatty, comedic and unpretentious and tells her audience how on the Scott Moncrief show someone had sent a text in to the show saying "Women just write crap books-get over it"!!
Now in her fifties, what is next for her? Labyrinth has been made into a two part six hour movie for TV by Ridley Scott with a great cast due out next May. A play is on the cards, Queen of Jerusalem, written for more mature actresses, after which she will commence her next novel based closer to home, maybe Sussex where she lives when not in Carcassonne.
My thanks To Mia Gallagher.