Author Kate Mosse – she of the Languedoc (Labyrinth) trilogy – has just released her first collection of short stories, and they’re rather spooky.
Inspired by old folk tales, myths and the murky landscapes of Hampshire and Oxfordshire where she grew up, and the South of France where she does much of her writing, The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales is, Kate admits: “A very different sort of book from the book that I normally do.”
Filled with revenge-seeking spirits, grief-stricken women and men haunted by their destinies, the final collection is illustrated “so it looks like a beautiful old fashioned book of Edwardian ghost stories.”
Was it difficult switching from novel to short story writing? “It’s a totally different experience and discipline,” Mosse muses. “Having written Citadel, it’s the book I’m most proud of, but it was five years of writing and researching, it was very emotional.
“A ghost story is all about the moment, that sort of trickle down the back of the spine, so it’s fun. Ghost stories are fun. But at the same time they contain often very serious emotions. Almost all my protagonists in these stories are people in a vulnerable or emotionally difficult situation, either through grief, through force of circumstance, through finding themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“[I think] that in ghost stories, in a funny sort of way, you can give reign to all of our innermost fears. We all have woken up in the middle of the night with our hearts thumping and not known why, and in the morning you can’t believe you were so daft. In a ghost story you engage with those feelings but in a safe and rather exciting environment.”
Mosse, who is visiting Ely as part of the Literary Festival on Monday, has a bit of a weakness for ghoulish tales. “The great Edith Wharton called it ‘the thrill of the shudder.’ I think a ghost story is like a guilty pleasure. It’s exactly like having a perfect and exquisite chocolate rather than having a whole meal.”
When asked what her favourite story in the collection is, she’s diplomatic (“You are passionate about the story you are writing when you’re writing it,”), but can’t help highlighting the title story, The Mistletoe Bride...
A young woman vanishes on her wedding day during a game of hide and seek, and is never found. Hundreds of years later a skeleton in bridal robes is discovered in a mysterious old chest. “Those sorts of old creepy stories from my childhood have always stayed with me,” says Mosse, explaining her desire to write her own ghoulish versions.
When she’s not venturing into short fiction, Mosse is known for writing strong female characters. At Cheltenham Literature Festival recently she was asked whether or not there were enough brave female leads in adult literature, considering they’re a staple of children’s literature.
“It is an interesting thing that in children’s fiction there are equal numbers of male and female protagonists and the stories are not about love necessarily,” she ponders when questioned about her response that day. “In adult fiction there is often a sense that women will write about love and marriage and finding love and all of those things, and I think that’s wonderful, it’s just it’s not what I want to do. I want to write about all the other bits of a woman’s life.
“Each writer should just do what they want to do, but let’s have the whole gamut of experience and emotion, not just one small part of it. I write female heroes, and what I mean by that is women who are at the centre of their own story.
She adds: “And of course I would do that because I am a woman. I’m always amazed when people say why do I write female leads? And I go well, I am a woman. And do they ask men why they write men? I’m not sure they do so much…”
Feisty, eloquent and dangerously talented, we hope Mosse is just as forthright in Ely.
:: Ely Literary Festival: Kate Mosse, St Peter’s Church, Ely, Monday, October 28 at 7.30pm. Tickets £6-£7 from www.toppingbooks.co.uk