Kate Mosse is an author and broadcaster. She is the presenter of BBC4’s Readers and Writers Roadshowand guest presents Saturday Review for Radio 4. July In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig, stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two. Mosse’s page-turner takes readers on another quest for the Holy Grail, this time with two closely linked female protagonists born years.
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In the Pyrenees mountains near Carcassonne, Alice, a volunteer at an archaeological dig stumbles into a cave and makes a startling discovery-two crumbling skeletons, strange writings on the walls, and the pattern of a labyrinth; between the skeletons, a stone ring, and a small leather bag.
Eight hundred years earlier, on the eve of a brutal crusade to stamp out heresy that will rip apart southern France, Alais is given a ring and a mysterious book for safekeeping by her father as he leaves to fight the crusaders.
The book, he says, contains the secret of the true Grail, and the ring, inscribed with a labyrinth, will identify a guardian of the Grail. As crusading armies led by Church potentates and nobles of northern France gather outside the city walls of Carcassonne, it will take great sacrifice to keep the secret of the labyrinth safe. In the present, another woman sees the find as a means to the political power she craves; while a man who has great power will kill to destroy all traces of the discovery and everyone who stands in his way.
Kate Mosse is an author and broadcaster. Her short stories and articles have appeared in a range of magazines and newspapers. Kate has published two non-fiction books: Becoming a Mothera companion to pregnancy and childbirth now in its fourth editionand The House: She is the author of several of the Orange Prize education initiatives and chaired the judging panel for Orange Futures—a promotion supporting the work of women novelists aged 35 and under.
She has written and presented several programmes for BBC Radio 4 on the arts and sponsorship. A recommendation from a friend of a friend of my mother-in-law was the only reason we found ourselves heading towards the Pyrenees. I knew nothing of the area, nothing of the history of the region. The first time I went to Carcassonne, NovemberI was six months pregnant with my first child and it was cold and wet and dismal.
But yet, I fell in love straight away. I felt I belonged in Carcassonne, that it was the right place for me to be. Labyrinth is, in some ways, my love letter to Carcassonne—even though it took me some to realise what I wanted to write—and the mountains, hills, rocks, woods are as much characters in the story as the people, real and imagined.
Sometimes, books choose their authors, I think, rather than the other way round. Rather than a traditional action hero, I wanted the women to get to do the swashbuckling for once. I wanted the girls to have the swords, rather than find themselves always waiting to be rescued. You wrote two previous novels that were considered quite literary. Is there a conflict between literary quality and commercial success? What matters is whether or not a book is well written and whether or not it happens to be your cup of tea.
We all have different tastes, and reading, particularly of fiction, is a personal relationship between an individual author and an individual reader. The only questions worth asking are: Does the novel make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end?
The Cathars were a sect of Christians who flourished in southwest France and Italy in particular, from the end of the 11th century to the middle of the 13th century. The Cathars were Christian Dualists who believed in a universe of equal and opposing forces, permanently and finely balanced: God ruled Heaven, the Devil held sway over the World and everything in it, so they therefore had no concept of Hell beyond their living existence.
Fundamental to their belief system was the doctrine of Reincarnation. Because of their Dualist doctrine, the Cathars had no churches or sanctified buildings, they despised the Cross as an instrument of torture, and had no need of relics. The only thing they valued was the power of the Word and their most sacred text, within the New Testament, was the Gospel of St John.
God awful: ‘Labyrinth’ by Kate Mosse – LADYGILRAEN
They were vegetarians although they ate fish and, most interesting of all given the historical context, had female as well as male priests—an issue that the Church of England is still struggling with in the 21st century! Of course there were fanatics, as in all religions, who hated the World and everything in it, but for the most part Cathar followers were tolerant and accepting of other systems of belief.
As a result, at the time of the historical sections of Labyrinth ——the Catholic churches in the Languedoc were empty for the most part and much of the population, from the Counts in their castles to the ordinary folk at the gates, were sympathetic to, if not actually followers of, the Cathar church. Their groundswell of support, coupled with their beliefs, obviously put them into opposition with the accepted Catholic orthodoxy of the day.
The Crusade conducted against the Cathars by the northern French was very brutal and lasted for decades. It also gave birth to the Inquisition, which most of us think started in Spain.
Why do you think this historical episode is so little known today? Finally, accepting they had lost the battle of words and that the sword was not enough, the Pope decided he needed something more systematic, more suppressive, more insidious. The Inquisition was born. And the consequences of this still haunt the Catholic Church today. The Crusaders razed to the ground any dwellings known to have harboured Cathars and burnt all copies of the New Testament in the local language, Oc or Occitan from which the region gets its name.
For hundreds of years, the Cathars were all but forgotten, even in France itself. The Languedoc truly is Cathar Country. How did you research the different aspects of the book—the archaeology, the history of the Cathars and the Crusade against them, the Grail legends, and so forth?
Like all writers of historical fiction, libraries, museums, and books, books and more books!
I gobbled up anything I could lay my hands on, from medieval theology, 13th century French history, battle craft, architecture, churches to Occitan poetry and music.
Having thoroughly familiarised myself with all aspects of my medieval time period, I then researched Grail legends and gathered information about the development and proliferation of pavement and walls, labyrinths in medieval Europe and beyond. Labbyrinth this, like all of us nowadays, in addition to visiting libraries and specialist institutions, I could not have managed without the internet. There were also one or two very specific pieces of information—for example, information about laburinth manuscripts and book making—where I sought out the help of experts, such as the Curator of Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library in London.
I also adore physical research! I visited many medieval re-enactment events, both in England and in southwest France, watching Jousts and seeing how battles were fought. Fortunately, my children share my enthusiasm for the medieval past, so were always happy to come with me.
It was incredibly difficult! After a week, it was mosae that I would have gone down in my first battle! To my disappointment, I turned out not to be a natural swordswoman …. What I hope is that someone visiting Carcassonne, for example, or any of the key towns mentioned in the novel will be able to use Labyrinth as a guide book!
Your book has been compared by many to The Da Vinci Code. Were you aware of that book when you started writing? How are the two novels alike and different? I was a little worried people might think I was jumping on the bandwagon, but the sheer volume of research and length of the book!
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse | : Books
At first glance, Brown and I look to be working with a similar sort of material—secret societies, ancient secrets, based in France and the Grail at the heart of our stories. However, the moment I started reading, I realised that despite the obvious similarities with Labyrinth —and I was sure readers who liked one will like the other too—in fact the two novels were actually significantly different in tone, atmosphere, style, scope and intention.
The most obvious difference—apart from the female lead characters, the medieval backbone to Labyrinththe focus on theology and historical analysis—is the ways in which, as novelists, present our Grail stories.
What lies at the heart of Labyrinthhowever, is not a Christian Grail at all, but rather something far older that belongs to all religions and none. What the success of The Da Vinci Code shows is that the reading public has an appetite for such stories mixing history, myth and mystery, which can only be good for authors and good for reading.
Books such as The Da Vinci Code play an important part in putting reading right at the heart of things.
I think that all of us, men and women alike, are attracted to epic stories, stories that take us away from the mundane and the everyday, into the big subjects, the big emotions.
Love, Honour, Responsibility, Duty, Loss, Faith, Sacrifice, these are issues that most of us—whoever we are, wherever we live, whatever our experiences in life—can understand. Many of us are also fascinated by the way that history becomes myth, myth becomes legend.
Readers enjoy being literary detectives, tracking stories back to their origins, working things out. The classic stories, stories with stamina, tell us not only about times past, but also throw new light on time present. I also thought that if such a thing as a Grail— grail —did exist then it would be as much of a curse as a blessing and there would be a serious purpose to it, a reason why one person was chosen and another not.
In Labyrinth the purpose of the grail is to allow someone to live in order to bear witness. In medieval times, as today, history is written by the winners, not those who are defeated. As a novelist, I use the idea of extended life as a way of telling, through hundreds of years, the conquest and subjugation of the independent Languedoc.
I think most of us, despite what we read in the newspapers every day, are looking at ways to connect with other people rather than the opposite.
Good, action-packed, moving, well-researched novels, with universally-recognizable characters, are just one way of achieving connections with other people. And the Grail legends, of all the classics, fit the bill in every way. What are the origins of the story of the Grail? Why has it taken so many different forms over the centuries? Kate and her husband live in West Sussex and Carcasonne, France.
God awful: ‘Labyrinth’ by Kate Mosse
What inspired you to write this story? Why are there so few adventure heroines, mosse even fewer female adventure authors? Who were the Cathars, and why do they figure so prominently in your book?
Why do you think there is such continuing fascination with the subject of the Grail? What effect does this have on ktae you, as reader, begin the novel? Also in the prologue, there are glimpses of the two time periods. Do you think it is important kxte, after the prologue, Kate starts the novel proper with 10 chapters set in the medieval past? How did you feel when the action moved to contemporary France in chapter 11?
How quickly did you discover that some of the modern characters mirror or echo characters from the past? Which ones did you spot first? What were the clues? Have you ever felt, like Alice, such an affinity with a place that you seem to know who must have previously lived there and the emotions they enjoyed or endured?
And have you visited our website to learn more about these people—www. Kate wanted to tell an adventure story in which active women shaped their own destinies. Is this aspect of the adventure important to your enjoyment of the novel? Although the Labyrinth story and the trilogy of special books have a spiritual element, they exist alongside Catharism, Christianity, Judaism and Islam, not as part of any of these religions.