x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Between the pages

The writer Kate Mosse, not the other one, talks about inspirational medieval towns, the creative process and the importance of family.

Kate Mosse says tha tthe inspiration for her books has come from Carcassone, a town in France where she and her family live for half of the year.
Kate Mosse says tha tthe inspiration for her books has come from Carcassone, a town in France where she and her family live for half of the year.

Philippa Kennedy talks to Kate Mosse about inspirational medieval towns, the creative process and the importance of family Kate Mosse is quite used to having three words added to her name: "not that one". It amuses her when people ring her up to ask her to take part in some television chat show thinking she is Kate Moss. But she says that she would prefer to share a name with the supermodel than some serial killer. "It does happen every now and again. She is a very beautiful and very successful woman. It's very funny. You could share a name with someone who had done something completely appalling," she says. The 47-year-old author of the best-sellers Labyrinth and Sepulchre points to the extra "e" on the end of her own name that is so distinctive, unusual and important to her that when she and her long-time -partner, Greg, decided to have children, she asked him to take it too. "His name was Dunk," she says with a slight raising of the eyebrows, indicating that it wasn't too much of a hardship for Greg to -relinquish his surname. He changed it -officially by deed poll. "My family is very important to Greg and my surname is important to me. It's unusual, and so we were making a positive thing about it, choosing the name that suited us. It's confusing where we live in Sussex because people keep saying to my mother that they didn't know she had a son. When the registrar was marrying us, he did look a bit puzzled when he read out the names, as if he was wondering if there was anything he needed to know," she says. She and Greg have known each other for most of their lives and were teenage sweethearts. They were at school together but went their separate ways at university. The way they rekindled their relationship could have been a storyline in one of Mosse's novels, spookily fateful and almost as if it were predestined. They met on a train on Oct 18, 1986, quite by chance. Either one of them could have taken a different train at a -different time. "I was going from London to Sussex because my sister was in labour, so I could have got on any train. Greg lived in Paris and hadn't been in England for three years. He got off the plane and onto the train and sat opposite me. He didn't recognise me at first, although he denies this. I recognised him immediately. "We were both with people at the time but we knew instantly that we were going to be together. We got off the train and my lovely dad was picking me up and I said: 'Daddy can we drop Greg?' My father didn't blink an eye and just said: 'Yes. Lovely to see you again, Greg' because we had last seen each other when we were at school. It was the same reaction with his mother. They just seemed to take it for granted." The pair set up home together and had a son and a daughter. Their -daughter, Martha, is now 19 and in the middle of a gap year before heading off to university in Brighton, Sussex to study art and dance. Their son, Felix, 16, is just about to start on his A-level course and hopes to go to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (Rada) to -become an actor.   Says Mosse: "We only got married quite recently once the children were able to be part of it. When we decided to have children, Greg changed his name to mine anyway, so the whole thing is all topsy-turvy, but it works for us. "We made the decision partly -because we had got to the point where a lot of people in our generation were getting divorced and when I would say: 'This is my partner, Greg', people would say: 'Oh, is he not Martha and Felix's father?' and it was to do with family as much as anything else. Family is incredibly important to us. My mother-in-law lives with us and my parents are not far away." There was no big fuss when they actually got married. They -simply invited their close family and friends to lunch one day and in the middle of it they slipped away to the register office. "After the main course and before pudding the children, my parents and Greg's mother, Greg and I all nipped off to the register office. We came back and told everybody we got married. People knew that we were going to get married but they didn't know that they weren't -going to be involved in any way whatsoever. We didn't want presents. It wasn't changing anything. It wasn't a significant date. My mother rang up a year later and said: 'Happy anniversary, darling!' and I said: 'What?'" The Mosses now divide their time between their home in Sussex and a cottage in the historic French town of Carcassonne that has become the inspiration for Kate's bestsellers. Greg Mosse is also a writer and poet and runs the creative writing programme at West Dean College in Sussex where Kate also teaches. "I am what he calls 'his lovely assistant' and it works very well," she says. "He's a teacher and I'm a writer and that's a key thing. A lot of creative writing teaching is taught by authors who are inspiring and passionate and share their experiences, but that isn't the same as being able to teach people how to do things. That's why we work together. -People need to be taught the skill of writing. His classes are always sold out." The success of Labyrinth and -Sepulchre has given them the -financial security and freedom to be able to do things together as a family. If they suddenly want to drop -everything and head for France, they can do it, or, as in the case of their trip to Dubai in February for the Emirates Airline International Festival of Literature, they were able to come as a family. "Success is not having to have a proper job," says Mosse. "To be able to put your family at the centre of things and to be able to take four days off and come to Dubai -together is wonderful. It buys you the liberty to do what you want. "We have done everything together all of the time, which is the difference. We've been lucky that when Greg's doing something I'm able to help and vice versa.   "I can write pretty much anywhere although we have separate studies at home in Sussex. I love the idea of a room of one's own. When I'm travelling I have a tiny laptop with five hours of battery life that I only use for writing. I have a different computer for e-mails and everything else. I write very well in Carcassonne in my bedroom in the house which is a tiny two-up, two-down. Mosse, a talented violinist, considered becoming a musician but at the age of 16 she decided she wasn't good enough and went into the publishing business. She rapidly made a name for herself and became an editorial director at Random House. She was offered a big promotion and salary increase but decided to turn it down and become a full-time writer. It was a brave and scary decision but she felt she needed to make it, before she became too comfortable and dependent on the substantially -increased salary.   She was pregnant with Felix at the time and her first book, Becoming a Mother, explored the emotional side of pregnancy. She admits she "wasn't very good at being pregnant and felt like a blob". Clearly, she struck a chord with plenty of other women as the book is still selling well. Her first novel, Eskimo Kissing, was published in 1996, followed in 1998 by the biotech time-travel thriller, Crucifix Lane.   She has also always worked hard to encourage other writers. She was the co-founder of the prestigious -Orange Prize for Fiction, set up in 1996 to celebrate outstanding fiction by women from throughout the world; she established the Chichester Writing Festival with her husband; she advises Arts Council England on a range of reading, creative writing and literary initiatives and she is an ardent campaigner for literacy in the UK. She scoffs at the notion that books may one day be replaced by computers. "I think it's all silly scaremongering - the idea that books will disappear," she says. "It's as silly as saying conversation will disappear because we have -invented the telephone. People will always want to hold a book in their hand on the beach or in the bath or the plane. I'm a great fan of the -eBook because when I'm touring, the -suitcase is just too heavy, but I would never sit and read an eBook at home." As an accomplished broadcaster, she has always been able to augment the family coffers by hosting a -literary programme for the BBC. She is a -regular guest on BBC One's -Breakfast News and she also presents A Good Read for BBC Radio 4. "In the old days, authors were not expected to be performers. -Nowadays, authors are expected to be performers. Some of them like talking but other authors -really don't like it and I think it's really important that we separate the book from the performance of the book. Some people feel uncomfortable talking about their work." Totally at ease on a podium and with her warm, down-to-earth attitude, she is much in demand as a moderator at literary festivals and loves the opportunity to get to know other authors and meet the people who buy her books. At the Dubai literary festival, there were lengthy queues at her book-signing sessions. "I really like meeting -readers. I was thrilled when I saw my audience with so many Emirati women and men and people from other countries. You only know who your readers are when you go and see them. You learn more about yourself as a writer from your readers." She was just as excited to meet other authors and hear about their publishing and writing experiences. "On my radio programme I picked a novel by the Iranian American writer Anita Amirrezvani called The Blood of Flowers and I arrived in Dubai to find she was here too. It's a fabulously accomplished first novel," she says. As often happens in gatherings of successful authors, few of them have any idea that their novels are going to be bestsellers. "People always ask you why it -became a bestseller but the writer isn't the one to ask. You don't know why it has worked. Other people make it successful. It's the cover, it's the marketing and the timing. It's about being supported. You never think you will be able to do it again. You hope that the book is good and the right books get published. We enjoy it while we can. Each time you're grateful if it happens again." Her first bestseller, Labyrinth, was a huge international hit and won the Best Read category at the 2006 British Book Awards. When it was published as a paperback, it sold nearly two million copies and in 2007 it was named as one of the top 25 books of the past 25 years by the booksellers Waterstone's. It has been translated into 38 -languages. The first of what is described as a "timeslip" novel was bubbling around in her head for 10 years -before she began writing although the idea began to germinate long before. "The truth is that it started 20 years ago when we bought the house in Carcassonne. It's really hard to put a date on when a book really begins. Some of the most important bits of a book is the marinating in terms of getting under the skin of a place. It comes from the landscape." The same landscape inspired -Sepulchre, the second in the Languedoc Trilogy, which features an American heroine, Meredith Martin, who as a teenager was passionate about classical music and as an adult is writing a biography about Claude Debussy, allowing Mosse to -interweave two stories in different time periods. The third novel in the trilogy, -Citadel, is due to be published in the autumn of next year. Mosse has also recently finished The Winter Ghosts, an old-fashioned ghost story, to be published in the autumn. She loves the process of researching her timeslip novels and feels that no writer could fail to be -inspired by the imposing physical beauty of Carcassonne with its 13th-century medieval fortress seeped in the history of the region. Writing in both the present and the past gives her the opportunity to "use both to shine a light on the other". She believes that the appeal of her books is in a "good old-fashioned story". "There is a clear beginning, a middle and an end. There's a clear moral landscape and a sense of the restoring of order at the end so they are old-fashioned in that sense. They reach a conclusion. There is a full stop. It won't be that good, people won't have suffered along the way or be lost along the way but there will be a sense of resolution, which means the reader can shut the book and feel satisfied." pkennedy@thenational.ae