Kate Mosse – Answers for Fran
France Booktours March 2014
A Special Interview with author: Kate Mosse
When deciding on the time period why did you focus on the Second World War and the French Resistance?
The subject chose me, rather than the other way around. In 1989, we bought a tiny house in Carcassonne, southwest France. I knew nothing about that part of France, but I fell head over heels in love with the Languedoc and its history. Living there for part of each year, it’s impossible not to notice that most of the streets in the main town have been renamed in honour of resistance fighters who gave their lives during World War II. After a while, I noticed each of the dates of death on those street signs was the same – 19 August 1944. Later still, I learnt that all the Carcassonne Resistance had been murdered on that one same day, but the women who died had never been identified. Citadel, I suppose, is my search in fiction for the story of what happened that day and the novel is dedicated to the two unknown women. The shadow of World War II is everywhere in France and, even now, there are old feuds in some villages between those whose families collaborated with the Nazis and those who fought against the Occupation. In some ways, it’s the novel I’ve been waiting to write for the past twenty-five years.
2. Sandrine was a naïve 18 year old with a strong personality: How did you create her? What qualities did she have that made her able to handle being part of the Citadel?
My children and their friends are now grown up, but I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the past years in the company of teenagers, both girls and boys. It seems to me that young women and men often possess a very clear and true moral sense, they are courageous and principled, though as you say, often naive. Sandrine, the ‘hero’ of Citadel, has been sheltered from the worst of the war. Carcassonne wasn’t occupied until November 1942, and in those days, there was little accurate information, plenty of propaganda, so Sandrine is not really aware of what is going on in other parts of France. Citadel is, in some ways, a coming of age novel, where Sandrine – and those around her – discover who they really are, find reserves of bravery and courage inside themselves, and decides that it is her duty to fight to save those she loves and a way of life she believes is worth preserving. I also enjoyed writing her experience of falling in love, with Raoul of course, and her journey from the little sister to the leader of the group.
3 When you flashback to the fourth century you introduce a monk: Tell everyone about him and the role he plays in this novel.
I don’t want to give too much away, but my French novels all have some element of time slip – ie two periods of narrative happening live on the page for the reader. With Arinius the Monk, I wanted to tell the story of the very earliest beginnings of Carcassonne in the 4th century, but I also wanted to reinforce the point that the history of Languedoc had been for centuries one of invasion, subjugation, collaboration, assimilation, peace cohabitation or rebellion. Finally, I love the idea that a sacred text – the Codex – has the power to influence our behaviour more than a thousand years later. As an author (and a person!), I believe the things that connect people together – across ages, periods of history, race, faith, language – are more significant and multiple than those that divide us, so I like writing characters in different eras who are clearly linked by emotion and character across the ages.
4 What is the importance of the Codex?
It is an early Christian text with particular power, a document that was considered heretical and therefore dangerous by the early church, and so ordered to be burnt. Again, the fact that books were being burnt in the 4th century in Languedoc, as they were under the Nazis in the 20th century – and, sadly, are still in some parts of the world – I found both poignant and depressing.
5 Who is Baillard? Why does he want to find the missing Codex and how does Sandrine become involved in it by chance?
I suppose, Audric Baillard is the ‘conscience’ of the Languedoc. He belongs to the land and will always protect it, always protect the heritage of the South, someone who looks beyond day-to-day politics or fashions, to a greater good, a greater sense of person. Baillard represents all the best qualities of the region – honour, gentleness, strength, knowledge, principle, love – a Languedocien Everyman, if you will. He made his first appearance in Labyrinth (the brilliant John Hurt plays him in the movie adaptation). The time slip elements of the story go back to 13th century France and the Crusade against a sect of Christians called the Cathars, but in the 2005 sections we learn that Baillard has a significant WWII story too. I’ve had thousands of questions, letters, emails asking about his back-story, so I had a great time writing Citadel. I’m really fond of Baillard!
6 Why did the French police arrest Max? Why were they able to send people away and not tell anyone where they were?
Well, the vile and shocking victimisation and subsequent genocide of Jewish people in France – and in Europe beyond – is obviously too big a subject for this sort of literary Q&A. But it was important to me to highlight the fact that, in Carcassonne – as all over the South – neighbours lived happily side by side, their religion or ethnicity utterly irrelevant in terms of equality of rights or citizenship. Then, when France was defeated by the Axis forces – and then ruled from Berlin – everything changed. In Carcassonne, as most places, there was very little information and no one knew quite what was going on. People couldn’t believe that the law would be broken and that their Jewish friends would disappear without trace or justification. I wanted to try to capture that sense of disbelief, highlight how most French people were appalled by what was happening, not least because it is one of the reasons girls and women like Sandrine joined the Resistance. They were not prepared to accept the injustice, the racism of the new – imposed – status quo.
7. How does Sandrine grow as a person, young adult and fighter from the beginning when we meet her in Chapter One until the very end?
That is the substance of the novel, the heart of the story if you like. Sandrine is a normal, self absorbed seventeen year old when the novel begins in June 1942. Over the course of Citadel, she becomes the sort of woman any of us would be proud to know. She discovers she has courage, that she has a clear sense of what is right and wrong and, finally, learns she has the strength to lead others. Of all my female characters, Sandrine is my favourite, so you will realise how very hard the ending was to write!!!
8 What message do you want readers to come away with?
I’m a novelist, not an historian, so although the real history is crucial and my inspiration, of course what I most want is for readers to enjoy Citadel. I want them to connect with the characters and, through them, the history. I want them to laugh and cry, be desperate to turn the pages to find out what happens! Fiction is entertainment first and foremost, everything else follows behind.
On the other hand, if readers are looking for a message, I suppose it would be that we should learn from history – remember that what has happened once, might happen again. Also – and this is crucial – that women’s stories are often left out of the history books. Women fought alongside men in the Resistance, though they were not honoured in the same way once the war was over. We will never know who the two unknown women who died in 19 August were, but I knew that I could write a novel about the sort of women they must have been and the sort of men who must have loved and looked out for them.
9 I realize that it took you five years to research and write this novel: What documents did you start with and did anyone provide help?
Books, books and more books. Sandrine and her band of women are imagined characters, so I didn’t use, quote, real letters or photographs, for fear of my characters becoming no more than fictionalised versions of true people. I did, however, talk informally to local Carcassonnais friends about the experiences of their parents and grandparents, just to capture that sense of atmosphere in Carcassonne at the time. To find out what it must have been like to live in such fear, all the time dreading the knock of the soldiers at the door. I read dozens of memoirs and biographies, and hundreds of books of history – I list the key texts at the back of Citadel, precisely so that any readers wanting to know more, can do research for themselves. I haunted museums and libraries – particularly those dedicated to the Resistance or the Jewish deportations – and obviously I did lots of physical research (visiting the villages and towns, working out how long it takes to climb that mountain or ford that river). For Citadel, in particular, I was taught to shoot, since I felt that was important to have a real understanding of the feel of weapons and the techniques of firing different kinds of guns. Finally, yes, I do all my research myself. Nuggets of information often feed directly into the story or the plot, so I prefer to know that I have all my material at my fingertips.
10 What is next for you?
I’m part way through my next novel The Taxidermist’s Daughter, a psychological Gothic thriller set in England in 1912. A creepy abandoned house, the flood waters rising ever high, a principled heroine and an odd workshop full of stuffed animals and birds …. It’s a cross between Psycho and Eliot’s novel The Mill on the Floss, and I’m having great fun!
11 Where can readers learn more about your first two novels in this trilogy?
Both Labyrinth and Sepulchre are published in the US by Penguin/Berkley – I moved to Morrow for Citadel to follow my brilliant editor to her new job – and are available in all good independent and high street bookstores (see my website www.katemosse.co.uk for booksellers where you live), as well as online retailers. Ridley Scott’s television film adaptation of Labyrinth will be on American screens in the early summer, which is great.