For the love of Lavenham

PUBLISHED: 12:31 03 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:31 03 November 2015

Kate Mosse (photo by Mark Rusher)

Kate Mosse (photo by Mark Rusher)


Best selling author Kate Mosse tells Dave Gooderham why she jumped at the chance to return to the village’s literary festival, where she’ll share the stage with Sheila Hancock

Kate MosseKate Mosse

Lavenham Literary Festival Friday November 13 - Sunday November 15. For a full line-up of festival authors go to

Kate Mosse didn’t have to think twice when she was asked to return to Lavenham Literary Festival.

The author of the smash hit book Labyrinth and the acclaimed collection of short stories, The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales, is currently in the middle of promoting her latest work of fiction, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.

A prolific figure on the festival circuit – last year she appeared at an estimated 120 different venues – Kate still agreed to being a headline author at Lavenham this year. She first appeared there two years ago and recalls: “I had a lovely time -– it was a great festival. The size of the audience was impressive and they’re clearly passionate readers. It’s great when you’re surrounded by people who have actually put their hand in their pocket and bought your book.

“As you get older, you start getting a little tougher in deciding where you want to go. But I had no hesitation in saying yes to Lavenham again.”

Kate is one of nine authors appearing at Lavenham for the three-day festival, Friday-Sunday November 13-15.

Now in its fourth year, the festival will also feature appearances from Sheila Hancock, Toby Buchan and Andrew Lownie who will be speaking with Peter Guttridge about his book, Stalin’s Englishman, the biography of Cambridge spy Guy Burgess.

The line-up is completed by John Higgs, Rachel Joyce and Tracy Borman while Tom Holland is the guest speaker of the festival dinner.

Kate will be appearing in Lavenham between 5pm and 6pm on Saturday November 14, and again on Sunday morning between 10am and 11am, when she will be interviewing Sheila Hancock about her new book, Miss Carter’s War.

“Sheila is an old friend,” says Kate. “When I was a baby in the publishing world, the first book I was let loose with on my own was Sheila’s Ramblings of an Actress.

“I stayed in touch with her ever since, and one of the greatest pleasures of my publishing life was when Sheila presented me with my Best Book award at the British Book Awards in 2006. We both burst into tears.

“She is a really great actress, but she is also a wonderful novelist. I’m sure she will talk about her inspiration for the novel and why she likes really strong female characters, as I do. She will also talk a little about her non-fiction and her life with John Thaw.”

Despite her success over the decade, Kate admits she never planned to become an author until she became a household name following the release of Labyrinth, which she admitted changed her life.

“I love novels that have a great sense of jeopardy, landscape and adventure. But my new book, the Taxidermist’s Daughter, is a revenge thriller with a high body count, which was a bit of fun.” Her self-confessed love of detective stories and creepy thrillers recently led to her being asked to write a special short story about Agatha Christie.

“She’s not just an inspiration – I’m an Agatha Christie fan. She was the first author I ever discovered.

“I remember a family holiday to Devon where it rained every day, so we were stuck in a cottage smelling of paraffin heaters and wet cagoules.

“We broke the chess set, so I went to the book shelf and took out the Body in the Library. It was wonderful and I remember thinking ‘I wonder if she has written anything else’.

“I’ve been a fan of hers for 40 years, so when the BBC commissioned me to write a short story, I jumped at the chance.”

As well as Lavenham, Kate is also a huge supporter and regular guest of the HighTide festival at Snape.

Of literary festivals in general, she says: “I think these festivals are hugely important as reading is one of the big cultural activities that the whole country can take part in.

“Going out and about where the readers are is a fundamental thing for an author and it’s something I really enjoy.”

Kate, she is incredibly passionate about writing and describes herself generally as “annoyingly chipper”. Whether they see her as the main star or sharing the stage with Sheila Hancock, audiences in Lavenham are in for a treat.

Making it real

For writer Rachel Joyce, the characters in her books are so real she almost becomes them. She knows the music they listen to, the clothes they wear and she’ll have seen the house they might live in.

“I’m not happy until I’ve really tried to be them in some way,” she says. And while all this information might not be included in her stories, she says it enables her to write with more confidence.

“You’re coming from a place of having imagined it so thoroughly that it’s as if it’s real, so you’re standing on something solid.”

Rachel, who will be appearing at Lavenham Literary Festival on Saturday November 14, applies this technique to all her work. She lives in Gloucestershire and is currently writing her fourth novel, about a music shop, and adapting ‘Jane Eyre’ as a play for Radio Four. She started out as an actress.

“I had always wanted to write a book, every since I was a child, but in my twenties I wasn’t ready, so I went into acting.”

When she and husband fellow actor Paul Venables, started a family, writing for radio fitted more easily into daily life. She’s been doing it for 20 years, writing the afternoon play or adaptations for the Woman’s Hour slot.

She had conceived the character Harold Fry when confronted with the illness and death of her father. She initially created a 45-minute play for three voices, featuring Anton Rodgers.

“Harold Fry was a comforting figure to write then. It was rather emblematic – there was so much that was me and my dad.”

She felt there was more to explore with Harold. “As with most stories, you think and you think, you cast around and you dig deeper and it all begins to come to life.” The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was published three years ago. An astonishing success, it was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Readers were touched, moved and cheered by the fable of an ordinary man wanting to do something extraordinary for his dying friend.

Rachel could never become the 65-year-old man who walked the length of the country, but her immersion in the life of her character meant that the first draft included the name of every single road he travelled.

“I had researched them all,” she says. “I knew exactly how many miles he travelled every day and I had worked out where he slept.” She confesses she writes way too much, and as a result always has lots of material she can’t use. But for her new book, Rachel has retrieved some of those unused scenes and characters and put them together in a collection of short stories called A Snow Garden. She’s harvested from her plays, from her other novels Perfect and The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, and used a character from her forthcoming, much awaited novel.

“I like going back to things that I have written and being able to pull them apart and put them in a slightly different context. It reminds me of rehearsing a play. You wouldn’t expect ten actors just to go out and do the play. They have to find it, to work at it, to play with it, to find the best way of telling it before they go on stage.

“I liked the idea of a set of short stories that are linked, when a character walks through another story. It’s so truthful of life really.”

Rachel will be at Lavenham Literary Festival on Saturday November 14 and at Seckford Hall Hotel, Woodbridge as a guest of Browsers Bookshop on Friday November 13

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