Chichester novelist Kate Mosse embarks on her biggest-ever literary endeavour with the launch of The Burning Chambers, a new sequence of novels set against the backdrop of 300 years of history, from 16th-century France to 19th-century South Africa (published by Mantle).
Kate will be launching it on Friday, May 4 at 6.30pm at a ticketed event at Chichester Waterstones, a store she opened – “the only ribbon I have ever cut!”
Tickets £3 (redeemable against the book) on 01243 773030.
Kate is loving the challenge: “It’s completely different this time, the first time ever that I have been able to plan and commit to a series of books and a publishing schedule that will last for the next eight years at least. It is biggest project I have ever done. It will be four books, possibly more.”
And while inevitably many of the details remain to be worked out for the books which are to follow, the vision was clear from the outset: “It’s essentially a Romeo and Juliet story, two families, one catholic, one Huguenot and 300 years of history, a Diaspora story.”
Nineteen-year-old Minou Joubert receives an anonymous letter at her father’s bookshop. Sealed with a distinctive family crest, it contains just five words: “She knows that you live.”
But before Minou can decipher the mysterious message, a chance encounter with a young Huguenot convert, Piet Reydon, changes the course of her life forever. For Piet has a dangerous mission of his own, and he will need Minou’s help if he is to get out of La Cité alive.
“It starts in 1562 in Carcassonne and Toulouse and it ends in Franschhoek in 1862. It starts on the eve of the Wars of Religion in France, and it is about a 300-year-feud between these two families. It is about inheritance. it is about religion and faith, and it is about betrayal. It is about the whole of the Wars of Religion, about what a civil war is like and about the lives and loves and losses of these two families.
“I know how it starts, and I know where I am heading. I know the key places and obviously the key pieces of European history, but everything about the historical fiction I write is about the stories of the ordinary people, not the kings and queens. It is about what happens to them when people in courts thousands of miles away make decisions that destroy their lives.”
Kate can pinpoint exactly where the story began for her: “It was in Franschhoek in South Africa, in the wineland district. I was there for a book festival, and I drew into the town where the book festival was happening, and I saw a name at the side of the road, Languedoc. I thought what the hell is this about. When we got into the town, the beautiful town, the main street was called Huguenot Street, and all the hotels and all the restaurants had French names. I went to the Huguenot Museum at the end of the town and discovered a beautiful painted board of names of people that had sailed to the Cape in the 17th century after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which was the final expulsion of the last protestants in France.
“It was like a finger running down my spine. I thought ‘I can’t believe this!’ It was extraordinary.
“I had the idea at the tail end of 2013 when I went back to Franschhoek, having done 18 months of research, knowing that there was a story for me there, especially knowing a little piece of history that the Dutch East India company had realised the land in the Cape was similar to the land in Languedoc in south-west France and that if they could find some French wine-makers they could start growing some wines there and would no longer have to ship wine.”
A number of families sailed out there. The key for Kate was discovering that the records for one ship were lost, even though everyone survived: “It was the moment I knew I could start writing. I knew I could put my family on that ship.”
And so it all started to fall into place.
Book one is set in Carcassonne, Toulouse and Puivert; book two is sent in Paris, London and Amsterdam; book three is partly set on the seas, but also partly set in the New World (Virginia, America) and partly in the Holy Roman Empire: book four will be set in Franschhoek.
“I know the history, but I don’t know what will happen to my people. I know where I am starting, and I know where I am ending up, but it is very exciting not to know yet what is going to happen in between.
“Before I started writing, I researched for four years, around other commitments. And now there will be a new book every other May, and the foreign editions will come out in the off-year. I will be publishing in May somewhere in the world for the next eight years, which is why I decided to get all the research for the books done before I started writing.”
The series will be a completely-new experience: “When I have finished a book before, I have always felt a little bit sad because the characters have gone. With this they are not going. They are carrying on. I have written three books that were connected before, but I never devised them as a series. But this is a pattern of books, 300 years of history to look forward to.
“And it feels liberating. It always feels wonderful when you get the first copy of your book, literally hot off the press and you smell the brand-new hardback which is just amazing. I still feel the same excitement I ever have. And I am just as nervous as ever, maybe more so because I have had an unavoidable break from writing, but that gave me time to research a lot... but I do feel like a new writer again!”
For other stories by Phil, see https://www.chichester.co.uk/author/Phil.Hewitt2