I am sitting in the spectacular Living Worlds gallery in Manchester Museum. It is one of those cold autumnal nights where darkness is drawing in, winter coats have come out of hibernation and everything is a little bit eerie.
Taxidermy items bear down on the audience. The bold neon lights above them scream words like ‘bodies’ and the staircase is highlighted by a mixture of shadow and stark yellow light. It’s all so wonderfully macabre and the perfect setting for international best-selling author Kate Mosse (author of the Languedoc Trilogy – Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel) to talk about her new gothic thriller, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.
After being introduced by Katie Popperwell who is hosting the event for the Manchester Literature Festival, Mosse begins by reading the suitably creepy opening passage. She reads as you might hope, slowly and lyrically, like she’s painting a picture. We’re all spell-bound by Mosse’s ghostly tale.
These events are among the most enjoyable for Mosse, and it’s evident from the way she chats happily to Popperwell in the Q&A session that she’s an author who values and welcomes interaction with her readers.
“Who is to say who is right and wrong regarding the novel?” she says. For Mosse, it seems that once a novel is ‘out there’ it is owned by each and every one of us and open for interpretation.
The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a move away from the meticulously researched historical novels that have made her so famous, and back towards the folklore of a childhood spent on the Fishbourne marshes.
Listening to Mosse talk is like listening to a friend. On the subject of Fishbourne she is animated, providing amusing anecdotes about her childhood such as walking forlornly across the marshes, clutching a novel and waiting for someone to notice.
She recants the time her mother-in-law read the first draft of The Taxidermist’s Daughter from cover to cover, consumed in the language and scenery because in it she recognised herself, her home town and her history. When asked later what she had thought of the story, Mosse’s mother-in-law replied that it was wonderful but she had absolutely no idea what had happened in the narrative.
The change in genre was a deliberate move on Mosse’s part. “Sometimes you can be so haunted by history that you need to take a break from the archives and the awful things that people do to each other.”
Mosse’s previous novels are heavy in both subject matter and volume. Each book was so painstakingly and carefully researched that it comes as no surprise that she should want a break. “So I wrote a horrible revenge thriller instead,” she jokes.
Pitched to her publisher as “Mill on the Floss meets Psycho,” Mosse’s latest offering is by no means a side note to her previous literary works. She tells Popperwell: “The question behind the novel is the idea of what happens [to a person] when the law is not on your side even if you know you have been wronged.”
Mosse hasn’t written a run-of-the-mill gothic novel. A long-time lover of gothic fiction, particularly the notion that “if you run from the fire or the avalanche, you will run straight into the arms of the person with the axe”, Mosse’s central characters have invariably been feisty females. “There are so many drippy women in gothic fiction, too much ghastly sexual violence for entertainment value,” she says. “And always a hero with whiskers to save the day.”
In creating Connie, the protagonist in The Taxidermist’s Daughter, Mosse has stayed true to form; she says she was interested in writing a woman who was capable of saving herself. This turning of the gothic genre on its head is reason enough to read the novel.
The night ends with Popperwell highlighting Mosse’s excellent work with the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction Prize.
The most important thing for Mosse, however, is not the increased sales in women’s fiction since the prize was first set up in the early 90s (although this is spectacular), but rather the plurality of voices it has promoted, with winners coming from all over the world and, in particular, those who hail from countries where women’s voices were once silenced.
As I leave the museum, my inner fan-girl sated and the queue for book-signing already forming underneath the huge stuffed polar bear, it is evident that the literature-loving public remain as enamoured with Kate Mosse as they were when Labyrinth was published ten years ago, perhaps even more so.
To read Northern Soul’s interview with Kate Mosse, click here
The Manchester Literature Festival is on until October 25, 2015. Click here for more details.