Kate Mosse, author of bestselling novel Labyrinth, talks about her life as a busy author, broadcaster and journalist.
Why do you write?
Because it’s so satisfying a thing to work at – a story, characters, to create a place and tone – and pull a novel into life. Putting the pieces together, little by little, working at it, cutting, pasting, rewriting, this is all part of the sense of achievement you feel when you type that last full stop!
What inspires you?
Almost always it’s location that comes first, a very specific backdrop – say, medieval France, the mountains of the Pyrenees, the ancient woods around Rennes-les-Bains, the Iron Age Downland in Sussex where I grew up.
Once the place is secure in my mind, then it’s simply a question of putting the actors, the characters rather, on the stage set!
What other novelists do admire?
The classics and old-style adventure novelists, such as Bronte and Rider Haggard, Edgar Allen Poe and Willa Cather. Contemporary writers, too many to mention even more than a handful, would include Graham Greene, Flannery O’Connor, Toni Morrison and Andrea Levy for their sense of character, for summoning up history Philippa Gregory, C. J. Samson and Rose Tremain, for place Chimamnda Ngozi Adichie, Sebastian Faulks, for wonderful puzzles Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Ngaio Marsh and Susan Hill.
Describe the route to your first novel being published.
I was a publisher, and working with others to set up the first Orange Prize, when I published my first two books, both non-fiction. Out of that came an approach from a fiction publisher suggesting I might try my hand at a novel! Very, very lucky indeed.
When did you first know you would be a successful writer?
You never believe it, not really. And, with each new book, you have the same fears – of getting started, that no one will read you, that this time the story, characters and setting will not work. It’s unsettling, but it keeps you on your toes!
How has your agent helped you?
I have a superb agent, Mark Lucas at LAW. The key is to have someone who knows you and what you’re trying to achieve, but who is not too much like you, has a different set of skills!
My agent is brave enough to be tough when it’s needed, always gives good advice and encouragement when that’s the order of the day, and is an excellent line-by-line editor too. Most important, he’s there to celebrate when things go well and, I know, would be just as good to commiserate with, should things go badly.
Describe a normal working day…
My working pattern varies hugely, depending on whether I’m researching and planning a novel, or actually stuck into the writing.
For me, the writing comes at the very end of the preparation and planning, which might take four or five years. When I write, I start very early in the day – maybe 4 o’clock – with a cup of strong, sweet black coffee and my tiny laptop, which I use only for fiction writing – no email, no research, no letters, just novels! I then write for, say, seven/eight hours a day, before disappearing off for a walk or a swim or anything that keeps the old bones moving. After that, a quiet evening with the family, thinking about the next chapter, and early bed … to begin again the next morning.
This is the sort of pattern for about three months, until the first draft is done, then I ease up a little. I did three drafts of both Labyrinth and Sepulchre, which took about a year in the case of the former, and about seven months in the case of the latter.
What else do you do connected with your books?
I enjoy being out and about as an author, meeting readers, doing signings, working with other writers. My husband – who is a technological wizz – maintains my website. I do lots of live events – at literary festivals such as Edinburgh and Cheltenham, author signings in bookshops, and during 2008, I did several library events as part of the National year of Reading. My husband and I also run our own literary festival – the Chichester Writing Festival – based at West Dean College, in West Sussex, where we teach Creative Writing.
Because I’m lucky enough to be published in 37 languages, I also travel a fair bit and meet readers in other countries. I also broadcast for the BBC, take part in general discussions and journalism about books and writing, and am the Co-Founder/Honorary Director of the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction.
What’s been the highlight of your career?
Without doubt, seeing Labyrinth and then Sepulchre hit the number one spot in the bestseller lists, both here and abroad. You tell yourself it doesn’t matter, it’s just a list, but nonetheless it is a wonderful feeling to see your book there, on the shelf, in that special position!
What’s your advice to an aspiring novelist?
To write! Five minutes of writing a day is better than no minutes. Too many new writers think that unless they have plenty of time, it’s not worth booting up the computer or sharpening that pencil. But think of it, instead, like practising scales on the piano before tackling that Beethoven Concerto or like warming-up in the gym – the more you prepare for writing, the better shape you’ll be in once you have time to really concentrate.
Do you ever have days when writing is a struggle?
I have days when things are not going so well, but I always keep going. It’s better to get the words down, even if you find you have nothing to say or the story isn’t moving so well, than let the blank page/screen bully you and stop you from trying. You can always rip your words up (metaphorically) the following day.
Writing is a job, a commitment, like any other. My favourite quotation is from Pablo Picasso who, at the end of this life when he was the world’s acknowledged greatest living artists, was asked why he still went to his studio every day. His answer? ‘When inspiration arrives, I want it to find me working.’ That’s it, for me. Work, work and work ….
Is there a book you would have liked to have written?
Too many to mention, but I suppose I would say that the Tolkien’s creation of an entire world, The Lord of the Rings might be the one towering achievement in fiction I most admire.
Kate Mosse is an author and broadcaster. Her bestselling novel Labyrinth (Orion 2005) sold over 2 million copies and was the biggest selling title of 2006. It has received popular and critical acclaim and has been translated into more than 30 languages. Read Kate’s blog on her official website