Friday, April 27, 2018

France et Moi with author Kate Mosse

Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week, as part of the online excitement to coincide with the release of her new novel The Burning Chambers, I am talking to author Kate Mosse about what France means to her. I will be reviewing The Burning Chambers here on release day, next Thursday.
France et Moi interview Kate Mosse French Village Diaries The Burning Chambers
Kate Mosse photo Ruth Crafer

Kate Mosse is an international No 1 bestselling author of non fiction, plays and six novels, including The Languedoc Trilogy which has sold eight million copies in 37 languages. The Founder Director of the Women’s Prize and Deputy Chair of the National Theatre, she divides her time between Chichester in West Sussex and Carcassonne, Aude.

1. I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say it, strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?

Kate: The smell of fresh bread, croissants & pains au chocolat being baked, fresh every morning; the elegance of the pace of life; the markets in each town & village square filled with flowers, local olives, fruit, vegetables – from huge bunches of garlic to bright red radishes; the woven wicker shopping baskets – paniers – used by women and men of all ages; the vanilla scent of Gauloises; the shared spaces (from old men playing boules to women greeting one another with a kiss in the local shop). Oh, and carrottes râpées from Casino!

2. What is your first memory of a trip to France?

Kate: Although we had family camping trips to Brittany in the summer, it’s a winter school orchestra trip to Northern France in the early 1970s that sticks vividly in my mind.  A rattling coach from the ferry, the windows steamed up, driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe as we came into Paris. A refectory-style meal with mushroom vol-au-vents, baskets of baguette put automatically on the table, cheese that wasn’t cheddar and strong, hard-hitting coffee.  It’s a cliché, but it was difference in both the food and the attitude to it that made France so special.  A night in a terrible hostel, with strange long bolsters instead of pillows, then on to Chartres and a first sight of that incredible cathedral, a ship of stone rising up out of the countryside and, of course, the labyrinth!

3. With plenty of space and lovely scenery, France is a great place to explore. If you were to take a day off from writing, where would you go to get away?

Kate: Although I enjoy returning to Chartres & spend a fair bit of time in Paris, my heart belongs to the south west. My husband & I bought a tiny house in the shadow of the walls of the medieval Cite of Carcassonne in 1989 and I fell head-over-heels with the imposing beauty of the towers & turrets, the glimpses of the white wall of the Pyrenees in the distance from the Pont Vieux, the huge Midi skies.  Taking a break from my desk, I still like nothing more than to climb up the steps (some 90 of them!) into the Citadel itself for a cup of coffee or glass of blanquette in Place Marcou.   For a proper day off, though, I’d head to the magnificent, brilliantly seductive city of Toulouse.  La ville rose is elegant, bustling, with astonishing architecture and fantastic restaurants, especially in the quartier Daurade.  A picnic of bread and cheese on the banks of the Garonne, washed down with a little chilled local rose, watching the sun go down over the quartier Saint-Cyprien on the other side of the water is hard to beat.

4. You are taking us back to Languedoc in your new novel – The Burning Chambers. What is it about the history of this area that inspires your writing?

France et Moi interview Kate Mosse French Village Diaries The Burning Chambers
The Burning Chambers, Kate Mosse
Kate: The Burning Chambers – the first in a sequence of historical novels set against the backdrop of the French Wars of Religion and telling the interconnected stories of two families and a feud spanning three hundred years of history – is set in Carcassonne, Toulouse and the small village of Puivert in the foothills of the Pyrenees.  In Languedoc, there’s a perfect combination of history and spirit of place – the garrigue and the vines, the endless Midi skies, the rivers, woods and the mountains, the extremes of blazing heat & fearsome cold in the winter.  There’s also the way that layers of recorded history – Roman, Visigoth, Crusader and now, of course, the Civil Wars in the 16th and 17th century – are all still visible today.  With The Burning Chambers, it was a question of listening to the echoes of the past, then imagining the women and men who might have lived in Carcassonne and Toulouse in 1562 on the outbreak of the wars that were to rip France in two, and wondering what they might have felt.  Research and many visits to museums, libraries and monuments followed, until little by little, the novel started to take shape.

5. France has some beautiful cities and there are a few that constantly battle to be my favourite. Which is your favourite French city, and why? 

Kate: Carcassonne!  Of course. Though, I love Toulouse and Paris, also I’ve had many wonderful visits to Limoges and Orleans.  It’s always about the history!

6. Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10am on a sunny morning watching the world go by.  What do you order from the waiter?

Kate: Un café alongé … a double espresso, with a dollop of hot water, croissant rather than pain au chocolat.  If I’m sitting at Bar Félix in Place Carnot in the Bastide Saint-Louis (the main town as opposed to the medieval Cite of Carcassonne) and I stay there long enough, a salad of chèvre chaud au miel. I’ll be listening to the bells of the many churches and the cathedral as time goes by ….

7. What is your favourite thing to buy in a boulangerie/patisserie?

Kate: I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I adore bread.   So, for taking home, the couronne – a sour crusty round loaf which goes perfectly with any salad, soup or cheese.  If I’m out-and-about, then a sandwich emmental beurre.

8. France has many different cheeses, but which French cheese are you? 

Kate: Without doubt, tomme des Pyrenées.   With its waxy black rind and creamy insides (like a milder, softer gruyère), it’s my favourite cheese (and hard to get in England …)

9. Every region in France has its own culinary speciality.  Do you have a favourite regional dish?

Kate: I’m vegetarian, so I can’t eat the most popular local Languedocien dish of cassoulet – goose fat, sausage, duck, beans – but I do make sure that all our guests try it at least once. For myself, I love a local goat’s cheese with beautiful honey from a nearby farm, the perfect combination of sweet and sour.

10. Can you describe your perfect French apéro for us, including the drinks, the nibbles, the location and the company?

Kate: On the terrace of our little house in Carcassonne below the Cite walls as the sun goes down, the backdrop of the grey stone walls of the Chateau Comtal, the green gardens & apple trees of the neighbours’ allotments, the Tour Pinte stretching up into the pink dusk sky.   My husband and our grown-up children will be there, and perhaps a few close friends.  We’ll drink rosé from a large jug with plenty of ice, or possibly a blanquette de Limoux, black and green olives bought from the market in the Bastide and maïs grillé (roasted & salted sweet corn) rather than nuts.

About The Burning Chambers

The Burning Chambers is the first in a sequence of historical novels set against the backdrop of the French Wars of Religion in the 16th and 17th centuries.  A Romeo & Juliet story, it tells the story of a Catholic girl, Minou, her Huguenot lover, Piet, and a feud between two families stretching over three hundred years.  Betrayal and intrigue, a missing will and a stolen relic, it is a diaspora story and the action ranges from Languedoc and Paris in the 16th century, to London and Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries, and finally to the New World and the Cape in the 19th.   The series begins and ends in the small town of Franschhoek in 1862, where several Huguenot families had fled persecution to begin a new life, discover that old sins have long shadows.  I’m having a wonderful time researching and writing the novels, so I hope readers will take Minou and Piet to their hearts.

Thank you for taking the time to give some lovely answers to my questions about France and you. Once I’d started The Burning Chambers, I couldn’t put it down and I just know your readers are going to love it as much as The Languedoc Trilogy. I become quite attached to Minou and Piet, was often on the edge of my seat as the action took hold, and can’t wait for their family journey to unfold through the centuries.

The Burning Chambers will be released on 3rd May in hardback, audiobook and ebook format and links to Amazon can be found below. Join me back here next Thursday when I will be sharing my review. 

You can visit Kate's website here.

You might also like to read about the day I met Kate in person at the Charroux Lit Fest 2015 here.

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