'I had never even wanted to be a writer'
When Kate Mosse complained about the lack of good pregnancy books she ended up being asked to write one - the first step to becoming a bestseller
It is difficult to know where to begin when talking to Kate Mosse, bestselling novelist, cofounder of the prestigious Orange Prize for Fiction and outspoken ambassador for literacy.
Should one start with the books? Mosse is the author of the internationally popular Languedoc trilogy, which began with the fantasy time-slip novel Labyrinth and concludes with Citadel, which has been high in the fiction charts since its publication.
Or maybe our conversation should begin with the broader question of the status of women writers in the 21st century, an issue on which she has been a tireless commentator for almost 20 years.
At times Mosse seems so prolific in both areas of her professional life that you assume she must be two people, but, standing rail thin and impeccably attired at the end of a three-week publicity tour, Mosse is the type of person who is energised rather than exhausted by her various commitments, which dovetail neatly for her into a single obsession: a belief in the importance of literature.
In fact the two potential narratives of Mosse’s professional life can be traced back to the same point of origin: the first months of 1996, when the Orange Prize was launched “to celebrate writing by women” and Mosse’s first novel, Eskimo Kissing, was published. The timing of these two events was more coincidental than strategic. Mosse had been working in publishing since graduating from Oxford, and the Orange Prize had been in inception for nearly five years.
Mosse’s burgeoning career as a writer, on the other hand, was practically accidental. Having complained to an editor friend about the lack of good pregnancy books when she was expecting her first child, she found herself with a contract to write one, and a second book, on the Royal Opera House in London, followed. “But I found that what I was really interested in, in both those nonfiction books,” Mosse says, “was the people behind the stories I collected.”
Suddenly, she was a novelist “when I had never even wanted to be a writer. But the funny thing was when I told friends they weren’t at all surprised. They said, ‘Well, of course! You were always writing these dreadful plays,’ and apparently I used to make them be in them.
“I didn’t remember any of this, yet it must have been true. So I suppose you could say the story of myself is not 100 per cent accurate.”
It is not quite accurate either to look to Mosse’s first two novels, Eskimo Kissing and Crucifix Lane, for the seeds of the historical fantasies with which she would make her name. The books are out of print, and Mosse insists they will remain so.
“They didn’t sell very well, because they are not very good,” she says with the self-flagellating honesty that perhaps only a successful novelist can have. “And I think it would be unfair on people seeking out my early work, because my readers tend to have a certain expectation of the type of book I write, and they would only be disappointed. In those first two novels I was trying to write literary fiction, as that is what I loved to read, but I wasn’t yet comfortable in my own skin as a writer, and I was sitting on my own shoulder the whole time, trying to control the book from the outside.”