The last time award-winning author Kate Mosse appeared at the Borders Book Festival, in 2013, she asked its organisers to invite her back the next time she had a “big historical novel” out, so she was delighted to get an invitation to return to Melrose this weekend.
She’s back at the event to promote The Burning Chambers, the first in a planned quartet of books.
It follows in the mighty footsteps of her most successful book, the multi-million-selling Labyrinth, published in 2005 as the first instalment in her Languedoc trilogy.
Labyrinth won the prize for best book at the British Book Awards in 2006 and went on to be named one of Waterstone’s top 25 works of the past quarter-century.
That’s a hard act to follow, but Sussex-born Kate is relishing the challenge after long periods of research in the French hilltop town of Carcassonne and in Toulouse in France’s southern Occitane region.
The Burning Chambers and the three books to follow will represent a near-decade’s work.
However, the time spent researching the period in which the novel is set has intensified her commitment to the project.
She said: “Labyrinth was a love letter to Carcassonne and The Burning Chambers is a love letter to Carcassone and Toulouse. I was walking around Carcassone, walking around Toulouse, but imagining 16th century people beside me.
“I’m not a historian, I’m a storyteller. I need to know the world before I start writing. Do the men have beards? Do the women have shoes or boots? I need to know all that stuff before I write.”
The 56-year-old added: “I knew I wanted to tell 300 years of history, that it would be a Romeo-and-Juliet story, a Catholic and Protestant family having a feud that goes on for generations, and I knew I wanted to tell the story of the expulsions of the Huguenots from France and their journey to Amsterdam, to London and across the seas to Africa, so I had all this in my mind, but once I started the detailed research, I kept finding out so many extraordinary stories I didn’t know anything about and realised that I needed just a few more pages to tell that story.
“It’s an eight-year project. The City of Tears, which is number two, will be published in hardback in the UK in 2020.
“It doesn’t feel like a big commitment – it feels more of a wonderful safety net in a funny kind of way that I have this big project.
“I’ve not done a big historical novel for some time, and this feels like Labyrinth again, being at the beginning of a big new series, having fallen in love with the Huguenots’ story, having done four years of research and then starting to write. It’s the first in a series of four, so having come away from my desk after all that time to talk about The Burning Chambers and get the reaction of readers is really lovely because it has been a private thing for so long, and now it feels like it is out there in the world.
“Of course, in a few months I will want to be back at my desk writing the next book.
“That’s the enjoyable thing about being a writer now. You can have all the solitude and then you can be out and about enjoying all the fun of publicity.”
She’s excited to be returning to the Melrose festival again next month, adding: “It’s totally one of my favourite festivals. I love it. It’s just amazing.
“It’s been along time since I was there, and I asked them when I next had a big historical book, they must remember me, and when that invitation came through, it didn’t matter what I had to do – I had to go there. It’s a fun festival of book-lovers.”
Tickets to see Kate Mosse and Damian Barr on Sunday, June 17, from 8.30pm to 10pm, cost £20 and include sampling of three wines shortlisted by sponsor Corney and Barrow.
The Baillie Gifford Borders Book Festival takes place in the Harmony Garden from Thursday, June 14, to Sunday, June 17.
Tickets are available at www.bordersbookfestival.org or by calling 0131 473 2000.