• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

EIBF 2023: Kate Mosse – Romance and Revenge on the Barbary Coast

ByFreddy Lowe

Aug 30, 2023
Kate Mosse sat at a book festival

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Kate Mosse and Val McDermid sat down together on the last day of the Edinburgh International Book Festival to discuss feminism, crime fiction, The Women’s Prize for Fiction, and – of course – Mosse’s newest novel, The Ghost Ship.  I was hooked onto every word.  It was a triumphant finale to the Edinburgh Book Festival.  It epitomised everything the Festival should stand for: two literary queens on stage talking everything books, speaking with such gripping clarity that you could have heard a pin drop, save for spells of uproarious laughter from the audience.

The great Val McDermid first asked Mosse about her early reading.  Mosse immediately mentioned Agatha Christie (instantly proving herself to have expert taste).  She charmingly confided how – similar to McDermid’s childhood introduction to The Murder at the Vicarage – she read The Body in the Library and then thought, “I wonder if this woman has written more books?”  The main thing she ended up learning from Christie was “to just get on and write your books.”  Waste no time with bravado or “woe is me”.  Christie understood the unromantically hard graft of writing, hence how Mosse learned the same.

Mosse also spoke briefly about The Women’s Prize for Fiction (of which she is a founder) and how the initial press coverage took exception to the prize as “anti-male”.  But Mosse protests this.  “They thought it was anti-male…instead of pro-female,” she said, explaining how she has phenomenal men in her life and has no truck with man-hating.  She created the prize not because she hates books by men (quite the opposite) but because of an absence of female writers getting the same recognition and admiration.  As her dad put it, “it’s a case of getting bigger tables and more chairs.”  Such is a slice of Kate Mosse’s admirably liberal approach and worldview.

Indeed, that was the biggest takeaway from the talk: Mosse herself.  The woman’s a class act.  Not only did she exude friendliness (she answered my Agatha Christie question very charmingly), but she didn’t just tell a story – she performed it.  With everything she said onstage, she made you hang on to every word like a suspenseful narrative.  She also has a great sense of humour.  As a writer of predominantly female characters, when she did once write a novel about a man, she described how, whilst envisioning this character, she realised, “bugger me – it’s a man!” 

Her writing process is also fascinating.  For both Mosse and McDermid – and non-writers may raise an eyebrow at this – characters come to them through voices in their heads.  For Mosse, every novel starts with place.  She will see a place, and if the voices then come to her, that is where the story begins.  McDermid quipped that if they weren’t novelists, they would both be on strong medication.

The Ghost Ship, the latest instalment in Mosse’s expansive oeuvre, opens with a pivotal moment in history: the assassination of King Henry IV of France.  “If he hadn’t been assassinated,” Mosse theorised, “we probably wouldn’t have had the French Revolution: that is how pivotal it was.”  What follows is the story of a young woman onboard the infamous pirate ‘Ghost Ship’ at a time when having women on ships was considered bad luck.  If the rave reviews and the delight of this final Book Festival event are anything to go by, it is certainly one to look out for.

‘The Ghost Ship’ is available from all major book retailers.

Image “Kate Mosse 2008 empik” by Patryk Korzeniecki (Patrol110) is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

By Freddy Lowe

Former Literature Editor Writer and Editor for the 2023 Edinburgh Fringe Writer and Editor for the 2023 Edinburgh International Book Festival