I’m sitting at my desk in pyjamas and waiting for the call to connect. It’s a Tuesday morning, the dog is staring at me from the doorway, and it’s all a little bit nerve-wracking.
At the other end is Kate Mosse, the international best-selling author of the Languedoc Trilogy. This trilogy has sold more than five million copies in 42 languages. In short, she’s a literary powerhouse, not least because she’s the founder and chair of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, as well as being a journalist and broadcaster.
She answers with a cheery “hello” and I garble my introduction, the sign of a true fan-girl.
“I am on the road in traffic as we speak,” she informs me. “So this is a great time to talk.”
Mosse is currently in the middle of the book tour for her latest novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.
“Every time you do an event and meet readers, you learn something about the books you’ve written,” she says. “And their reactions tell you something more about who you are as a writer.”
In the run-up to publication, Mosse’s team came up with an unusual promotional technique dubbed ‘taxidermyselfie’ where fans could upload pictures with taxidermy items.
Was she was surprised by how many people got involved?
“I was astonished. It’s just a bit of fun and a way that – as readers – we can engage with the book even before we’ve read it. It’s the community of reading, and just finding different ways to celebrate a book that people are reading and enjoying.”
Set in Sussex, the novel marks a move away from Carcassonne (the geographical inspiration and setting for Mosse’s Languedoc novels) and towards the Fishbourne marshes where she grew up. Had she always intended to write about her home town?
“All of my fiction comes absolutely out of the idea that you can only tell this story set in one particular place. The Taxidermist’s Daughter is absolutely set in the Fishbourne marshes where I grew up, where I walk now I live back in Sussex, and all the stories I knew about Sussex as a child. But it’s partly just because I’ve been more based in England.”
Landscape plays a huge part in Mosse’s writing. I was interested to find out if she had a tendency to write about the place she was living because it came naturally to her.
“It’s more to do with the story,” she says. “I had an idea that between the big history books, I just wanted a bit of fun, and I know it sounds ridiculous to describe a revenge thriller as fun, but I wanted to let my imagination go wild and not spend years in the archives researching before I could start to write. It made sense that I would write something inspired by local history and landscape, and it came out of the fact that I love gothic fiction.”
And what’s more Gothic than a decaying museum full of stuffed crows, ravens, and rooks?
“There was an old taxidermist museum in Sussex when I was growing up and so when I was walking on Fishbourne marshes I suddenly thought ah, ‘what about a thriller that is inspired by that taxidermist museum?'”
In common with gothic novels such as Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, The Taxidermist’s Daughter portrays some pretty feisty female characters who are “slightly out of their time, because they have ambitions and desires that are restricted for the time period they are in”.
Set in 1912, one the main characters, Connie, is the sort of tough female character we have come to expect from Mosse.
“I am interested in all the parts of women’s lives that are not about finding a husband. There’s a great deal of fantastic romantic fiction written, but as with men, there are many stories that are not told.”
This year is a landmark for Mosse. Come November, the author will celebrate 20 years of the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction by hosting a star-studded event at the Piccadilly Theatre in London. Two decades ago the majority of novels were published by women and bought by women, yet no books short-listed for literary prizes were by women.
“There was this huge disparity so we set up the prize out of curiosity. We just couldn’t have imagined how big it would become. I still feel the same way I did 20 years ago which is that women celebrating other women is really important.”
The issue of women in publishing is still up for debate. Does she think that female authors still experience gender inequality when it comes to reviews, media coverage, and prize short-listings?
“Women and men should be standing side by side. We should always think ‘where are the women?’ and sometimes ‘where are the men?’ For me it really is as simple as that, [the arts] should reflect all people that exist, and that means women and men on equal visibility terms and equal representational terms.”
She adds: “I love the fact that the prize existing means that every year there is a debate about gender representation in all fields of the arts and education and politics as well. And because the prize is there it gives a springboard for those conversations.
“We should all be talking and thinking all of the time. It doesn’t have to be critical, it just has to be the spirit of debate and, the truth is, the more different voices are involved – and I particularly feel strongly about the field of diversity – the richer we are as audiences, viewers and readers. We all benefit when there are a wider range of people whose voices are heard.”
So after a busy year, what’s next?
“I will be back to my pyjama-wearing-never-going-out-self, and I will be researching the new series of books called The Burning Chambers Trilogy which is a big project. It starts in my beloved Carcassonne in the 16th century. It’s back to the archives and never leaving the house again.”
It seems remiss, given I am an aspiring author, not to ask Mosse for her advice for those of us who’d like to pen a novel one day.
“It’s going to sound rather flippant but I mean it really seriously, you need to write. The thing is we all have time to write every single day. It might just be a sentence, it may not be the great novel that you know you’ve got in you, but writing is like getting fit, you should be doing your exercises every day, you warm up before you start trying to run a marathon and writing is the same. Write every single day.”
Kate Mosse will be at the Manchester Literature Festival on October 16, 2015. More info here: www.manchesterliteraturefestival.co.uk/events/kate-mosse-36730