Kate Mosse: Things will return, though it will be a tough old road back...
"Things will return, though it will be a tough old road back. Books will always matter, will always be wanted. Novels help us to stand in other people's shoes, help us to make sense of our own lived experience and those of others." Read on for a message from multi-million, number one bestselling author of Labyrinth and The Burning Chambers, Kate Mosse. She shares about life during lockdown and her last trip to South Africa before Coronavirus was declared a global pandemic.
Hello to all my friends and readers in South Africa
Here in England, it's a beautiful Spring day. The skies are blue and the sun is high, a gentle breeze lifts the silver underside of the leaves of the olive tree. Outside my study window, it's a green and yellow and pink world, with everything coming into bloom. I'm very lucky to have a garden and space, when so many do not. Here in Sussex, in May time, lockdown is peaceful. The sound of blackbirds and blue tits rather than traffic and airplanes. Few cars, the pounding feet of the occasional jogger. It's a quieter world, a slower world now. And, in some ways it's not so different from my usual day-to-day life. At home alone for long periods of time, writing at my desk, emerging to make lunch for my 90 year-old mother-in-law (who is wonderful, and for whom I'm a carer), reading, calling a halt to the working day with a glass of wine with my husband as soon as the sun is over the yard arm.
And yet .... I should be getting ready for the publication of the second in my 'Burning Chambers' series. I should be packing a suitcase, digging out my smart clothes, preparing for being out on the road on a book tour, looking forward to seeing friends at literary festivals from Franschhoek to Paris to Edinburgh. The City of Tears - which is set predominantly in Paris and Amsterdam - will now not be published until January 2021. A story of forbidden love across the religious divide, the story of a missing child, a story of what it means to have to flee your home with only the clothes on your back, I was excited to share it with readers. But the bookshops are closed, the theatres are closed, the festivals are all being put into storage until 2021. England, South Africa, France, the Netherlands, the same story the world over.
Things will return, though it will be a tough old road back. Books will always matter, will always be wanted. Novels help us to stand in other people's shoes, help us to make sense of our own lived experience and those of others. But for now, at home in England, there's nothing for it but to get on with writing book number 3 in the series - which is set in the Canary Islands and South Africa in the 17th century. And this is where another piece of good fortune comes in. My very last trip abroad this year before Coronavirus changed everything was to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek to begin research for the new novel. I nearly didn't go - I only had a week to spare, but the thought of being back where the idea for the for an epic adventure series took hold (spanning three hundred years, a Romeo and Juliet story, a feud between two families, a story of exile and jeopardy) made me buy the ticket. In February 2020, I was standing once more in the graveyard of the Huguenot Memorial Museum in Franschhoek imagining my characters looking up at the mountains that ring the town. I was visiting the oldest wine farms, including Muratie and Constantia, I was being shown around Stellenbosch by brilliant local historians and found myself falling in love with the town. And I came home to England armed with books which now, unexpectedly, I have time enough to read: Karel Schoeman's mighty 1139 page Portrait of a Slave Society, Huguenots at the Cape by Philippa van Aardt and Elaine Ridge, The Huguenots of South Africa by Pieter Coertzen, Foot-loose in Stellenbosch by Hannes Meiring and Ters van Huyssteen. Most of all, I have a phone full of photographs of Paarl and Drakenstein, of the beautiful white buildings of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, of protea and white stinkwood trees, hadadas and Cape starlings.
So sitting at my desk in Sussex, as the sun rises on another day in lockdown, I am thousands of miles away. I am imagining the next generation of my characters walking around a very different landscape, I'm picturing them in their bonnets and britches riding through the Elephant's Pass to an unknown place they will come to call home, I can smell the scent of harness and leather, hear the rattle of the wheels of the carriage, look at the colours of the lilies and the earliest vines on sloping hillsides.
One day ....