Fanning the Flames of History: The Burning Chambers by Kate Mosse
After the phenomenal success of her 2005 multi-million copy bestseller Labyrinth, and the novels, Sepulchre and Citadel, that completed the Languedoc trilogy, Kate Mosse returns to her trademark historical adventure stories with The Burning Chambers. Mosse describes her new novel as a Romeo and Juliet story set against the backdrop of the wars of religion in France. But The Burning Chambers is also the start of an ambitious project that will see a quartet of novels released over the next eight years, spanning a 300 year period of history and taking readers from 16th century France to 19th century South Africa. A daunting prospect? Not a bit.
Talking to Kate Mosse about this new series of novels, it is clear that she is an author brimming with passion for her subject and characters, and rediscovering the joy in her writing. “It feels as dear to me as Labyrinth –as exciting as writing the big first historical novel. This is the first time in my career when I’ve had the luxury to plan 300 years of the same characters and their descendants. It feels rather nice to know where I’m going. I feel very free.”
As a historical novelist myself, I’m always fascinated by the point of inspiration for the author. Mosse is very clear on this, describing herself as a writer of landscape. “For me it is always an emotional connection with place and a period of history. It really does feel that the voices and the ghosts of the landscape speak to me.” It is no great surprise then to learn that the starting point for The Burning Chambers came unexpectedly at a book festival in South Africa in 2012 where Mosse discovered a fascinating historical link between the wine district of her beloved Languedoc and the wine region of Franschhoek where the book festival was being held. She was, however, initially cautious about tackling this place and period of history. “I thought, don’t get drawn into this Kate. South Africa is not your place. The seventeenth century is not your period of history.” But, as ideas do, this one kept nagging at her. “I started to research the Dutch East India Company and out of that came this incredible connection between the two countries, and the story of the Huguenot diaspora, and my characters Minou and Piet arrived to tell the story for me.”
Mosse is an author immersed in her craft and talks about researching with her feet. “The real research is being there, walking the paths, climbing the mountain, getting a sense of where the shadow falls when the sun goes down.” However, when she became a carer for her parents for many years and couldn’t travel as frequently, she embarked on an extended period of desk research, during which she learned the historical period of this ambitious quartet. “Writers’ lives ebb and flow. It doesn’t always all go well. I didn’t expect to become a carer, and during that time I couldn’t be a full time writer. When I did come back to writing full time, I felt very lucky. I still have a story I want to tell and I’m ready. I appreciated it all the more.”
With the undeniably epic scope of this work, I was intrigued to know if Mosse approaches her writing, and especially a series such as this, as a plotter or a pantser. “For me, with adventure stories, I need to be discovering things as I write, otherwise the freshness goes away. I don’t have it all plotted out at all. I know the type of story and I know my characters and then I start writing and see where they take me. The sense of surprise helps motivate me to write. In big projects you need adrenaline for yourself as well as for the reader.” On a personal note, and as a fellow pantser, I’m delighted to hear that an author as successful as Kate Mosse still makes it up as she goes along!
Finally, I asked Kate what advice she would offer to other writers. Without missing a beat, she says three words: “Write every day.” She explains how so often, writers, “trick themselves into thinking that unless you are working on ‘the novel’ it’s not worth it. Five minutes is better than no minutes. Get your muscles used to writing, get over the fear of the blank page. It’s about training yourself for the moments when you are free to sit and work on the novel. Write things that have nothing to do with your book … get used to words, write anything, then you’ll be ready.”
With her position as founder and director of the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and her involvement in curating an anthology of short stories inspired by Wuthering Heights to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte’s 200th birthday, Kate Mosse is as busy and as passionate about her work as ever.
The Burning Chambers is an unashamedly ambitious, epic adventure of a novel which, as always with Mosse’s writing, evokes a sense of place and tension brilliantly. Fans of her Languedoc trilogy will devour all 600 pages of this wonderful novel, and will be ready and waiting for the next instalment, The City of Tears, in 2020. No pressure, Kate!
(c) Hazel Gaynor
Hazel Gaynor is a New York Times, USA Today and Irish Times bestselling, award-winning author, who lives in County Kildare with her husband and two children. Her 2014 debut historical novel The Girl Who Came Home—A Novel of the Titanic hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists, and went on to win the 2015 Historical Novel of the Year award from the Romantic Novelists’ Association in London. Her second novel A Memory of Violets, was also a New York Times bestseller, and her third, The Girl from The Savoy was an Irish Times and Globe & Mail bestseller. The book was also a finalist for the 2016 BGE Irish Book Awards. The Cottingley Secret, her fourth novel, released in August 2017 has already been a Top 10 bestseller in Canada. All Hazel’s novels have been received to critical-acclaim and have been translated into a number of foreign languages.
About The Burning Chambers:
Bringing sixteenth-century Languedoc vividly to life, Kate Mosse’s The Burning Chambers is a gripping story of love and betrayal, mysteries and secrets; of war and adventure, conspiracies and divided loyalties . . .
Carcassonne 1562: 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 her destiny 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.
Toulouse: As the religious divide deepens in the Midi, and old friends become enemies, Minou and Piet both find themselves trapped in Toulouse, facing new dangers as sectarian tensions ignite across the city, the battle-lines are drawn in blood and the conspiracy darkens further.
Meanwhile, as a long-hidden document threatens to resurface, the mistress of Puivert is obsessed with uncovering its secret and strengthening her power . . .
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