Labyrinth is a labyrinthine work, the plotline spinning out like Ariadne’s string. Sepulchre, its successor, was similarly sepulchral in scale. This year, the release of Citadel by renowned author Kate Mosse will mark the completion of the award-winning Languedoc series. ‘The particular inspiration for Citadel’, she tells me, ‘comes from the untold history of the Nazi occupation of Carcassonne. Also, from the murder of two women, résistantes, who have never been identified. There is a body of evidence that many women were involved in active roles in the Resistance, but that when the history books were written, their contribution went largely unremarked. For me, it is the interpretation of fact through fiction that is the most satisfying part of the entire writing process.’ This ‘interpretation’ of both history and female representation is certainly something that seems present in all areas of Mosse’s work, and helps carve out her presence on the literary landscape.
As she discusses her writing process, Mosse makes it clear how much of her time and energy is spent on this process of interpretation. She describes her work as ‘Research, research, research, then a little bit of writing at the end. I hold off writing for as long as possible, reading around the subject, letting the characters and the plot come in their own time.’ It is only after a year or so of writing that Mosse puts pen to paper and ‘wrestles the ideas and characters into shape, making things work. Writing is active; it’s physical, visceral often.’ Mosse attributes her interest in strong female characters to her involvement in feminist circles whilst studying at New College, Oxford. ‘My political education began in the King’s Arms – thirty years ago, one had to go looking for different ideas, alternative philosophies. Unfashionable as it is to admit it, I loved Oxford.’
Mosse’s love of the ‘interpretation of fact through fiction’ takes another meaning when one considers her work outside of her novels. In 1991, Mosse was one of a confederacy of literati that helped establish the Orange Prize for Fiction, a prize awarded annually to female novelists, as a response to the Booker Prize shortlist released in the same year, featuring no female nominees.
‘The Orange Prize is one of the things I’m most proud of in my professional life. Although women write the majority of fiction – and some 60 per cent of novels published are by women – at the time there was a peculiar disconnect in the numbers of women shortlisted or awarded the major literary prizes. Great writing is above gender, of course it is. But marketing, the value put on work, the ways “classics” are made, is not. The Orange Prize provides a platform for talking about many of these issues that are relevant, still, about the way reputation is made and the way literature is categorised.’ The prize will this year celebrate its 21st anniversary, and continues to be viewed as a well-respected and widely-desired award. In establishing this prize, Mosse has erected a monument – as vast and grand as any sepulchre or citadel – that will ensure her marked and remembered presence on the literary landscape for many years to come.
Kate Mosse’s latest novel Citadel will be published in September.