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Kate Mosse is an English novelist, non-fiction and short story writer and broadcaster. She is best known for her 2005 novel Labyrinth, which has been translated into more than 37 languages. Although best known for her adventure and ghost fiction, inspired by real history, Mosse’s first two works were non-fiction.
Becoming A Mother (now in its seventh edition) was published by Virago in 1993, followed in 1995 by The House: Behind the Scenes at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, published by BBC books to accompany the award-winning BBC 2 fly-on-the-wall documentary series of the same name. She then turned her hand to fiction, publishing two contemporary novels. Eskimo Kissing, about a young, adopted woman searching for her background, was published to critical acclaim in 1996. This was followed in 1998 by the biotech thriller Crucifix Lane. From 1998 up to 2001, she held the position of executive director of the Chichester Festival Theatre. Meanwhile she also remained engaged in research work for the first of a series of timeslip historical adventure novels set in southwest France in the past and present day.
In 2005, the first of the Languedoc Trilogy, Labyrinth, was published. A number 1 bestseller all over the world, it has sold millions of copies throughout the world, was the bestselling title in the UK for 2006 and won the Richard & Judy Best Book at the British Book Awards 2006 and was named as one of Waterstones Top 25 books of the past 25 years. Television rights were sold to Scott Free and Tandem Communications and the Labyrinth miniseries was broadcast in 2013. The international cast included John Hurt, Janet Suzman, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Felton, and Sebastian Stan.
In October 2007, the second novel in the Languedoc Trilogy – Sepulchre – was published in 2007. A tale of haunting and Tarot set in fin-de-siècle and 20th century France, it was also a No.1 bestseller in the UK and an international bestseller. While Mosse was researching for the third and final novel in the Trilogy, she released her novel The Winter Ghosts in 2009, based on a novella she previously contributed to the Quick Reads Initiative. Film rights have been sold to Ruby Films. Citadel, the third novel in Mosse’s Languedoc Trilogy, came out in 2013 and was also an international bestseller. Inspired by the real history of the resistance in Carcassonne during WW II, it tells the story of an imagined all-female resistance unit.
In October 2013, Mosse’s collection of short stories, The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales was published. The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales is a collection of ghost stories inspired by traditional folk tales and country legends from England and France, throughout Sussex, Brittany and the Languedoc (settings Mosse is known for).
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Start of Interview with Kate Mosse
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Kate Mosse to the show. No, it’s not the Kate Moss who is a model, but she is a nationally acclaimed author of many books. Her newest book is Citadel, and she comes to us today from New York City where she was doing an event. Of course, she’s written plays, books, fiction, nonfiction, just an incredible career. And Kate, welcome. How are you?
Kate Mosse: I’m really well, and I’m so pleased to be with you today. It’s my publication day yesterday in America so I’m still excited and a bit full of the excitement from celebrating the publication.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, well congratulations on that. Tell us Kate, we’re all familiar, maybe you’re not, but the rest of us are familiar with the concept of writer’s block. And how do you write good content so consistently? Let’s talk about the actual mechanics of writing and some tips there, then I want to talk about marketing and so forth.
Kate Mosse: Yes. Well, From my point of view, I think writing, you have to treat it like a professional job. The same as everybody else who is listening to this show treats their job. Nobody who’s a doctor or a nurse or a teacher would say, you know? I don’t feel like it today. I won’t go to work. And for me, that’s what writing is. And there is this wonderful phrase by the great Samuel Beckett, an Irish playwright and novelist, and he has this phrase that I always have in my mind, and it’s, “Try again, fail again. Never mind. Fail better.” So for me, writing is about sitting at your desk every day, some days it goes better than other days, but you keep at it. It is the only way to be a better writer and to produce content that you’d be proud to share with readers; it’s to keep working at it. So it’s hard work that makes good writing. And of course imagination and a good story thrown in.
Jason Hartman: Right. Well, there’s nothing like the 20 year overnight success, right?
Kate Mosse: That’s right.
Jason Hartman: Everybody from the outside sometimes wants to discount other people’s successes as easy, but it really is a chore, isn’t it sometimes?
Kate Mosse: Yeah, but it’s a wonderful chore. And Yes of course, luck comes into it, and having the right idea at the right time, with your skill at the right time, sure, all of those things. Hard work, it’s about one word after the next; one sentence after the next, and then you’ve got a paragraph, and then before you know it, you’ve got a chapter. And then before you know it, you’ve got in my case Citadel. Which is a lot of chapters. But it started having your face head down as you work on the page. And not lifting your eyes up and thinking about the bigger picture, just thinking about the detail of the day to day work. And that’s very reassuring, and that’s also really satisfying. Because at the end of the day’s work you think, yeah I really tried my best.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, fantastic. Well, how do you come up with your ideas? What do you use to generate ideas? Like the broad idea for a book and then specific ideas within a novel, say?
Kate Mosse: Sure. Well, Citadel which is my new book just out in the States tomorrow, is the story of an all-women’s resistance in the southwest of France that they’ve called Carcassonne, a place where we lived part of the year for the past 25 years. And the inspiration for that is being in Carcassonne, it is history of the place, it is the [0:05:53.8] of the place, it’s discovering in the case of Citadel, that all of the members of the Carcassonne resistance were executed on the same day, 19th of August 1954. Since that time the middle women have all been identified and their names are one the memorials. But the two women that died alongside them have remained lost to us.
So in the case of Citadel, I thought I’m a novelist. I’m not a historian. I can’t write who they were, not with truth. But I can write a novel about the sort of women they must have been, and the sort of men who must have loved and worked with them to have enabled them to be the women they were. So for me, it’s that combination of real hard fact and research, the place that I know and love so well that’s under my skin now. And then that leap of imagination where historical fiction can take you from the point onwards where the facts have stopped. And that’s why all of my novels are inspired by real history. But they are imagined characters in an imagined narrative against the backdrop of the real research history.
Jason Hartman: Just curiously, Citadel, are you publishing all of your books on Kindle now?
Kate Mosse: Yeah, all of my books are available in different formats because as a writer, I’m a story teller. I write big adventure stories, page turning novels, but with serious purpose behind them if you like. But it’s not up to me how people choose to read them. I’m an old fashioned person at heart, so I still read novels as books because I like the feel of them in my hands. But I celebrate however people get their stories, whether it’s on a Tablet or a Kindle, or a book or an audio book. The people who are partially sighted will find reading difficult for sustained periods of time. So everything is available in all formats that are now available to us, yeah.
Jason Hartman: The reason I ask is because when I pull it up on Amazon, only the Kindle comes up until you actually click through and search it. But that’s a publishing detail – I don’t want to get too sidetracked on that. That’s interesting. I think its Amazon probably really promoting Kindle products specifically.
Kate Mosse: Yes, I expect that.
Jason Hartman: I don’t doubt that a bit. Kate, have you ever used any software to help you write by any chance? Just curious. I have a feeling you’re going to say no on this. Just thought I’d ask.
Kate Mosse: You’re right. Firstly, I’m English and secondly I’m in my 50s. So I just grew up with different techniques. But no I haven’t, because I think depending what you’re doing, some of these programs are terribly helpful, certainly if you’re doing screen plays or things that require certain formatting and things absolutely. My husband, who’s also a writer, uses voice recognition software. Because for him, he was a teacher and so he finds that speaking aloud is the key to unlock his imagination.
For me, I don’t feel that. I find that any program, in an odd sort of way, gets between me and my imagination. It doesn’t support it. It gets between me. But of course I use a computer and I type, and that’s again a product of my age. I grew up in the times where I’m afraid and it’s great that this has changed, but you still when you left University could, as a girl be a secretary. So I was trained to touch type properly. So I can type very, very fast, very accurately. And I’m very grateful for that training because it means that I can type on a computer as fast as I think.
Jason Hartman: Yeah that’s great.
Kate Mosse: So yeah, that is a program of sorts. I don’t like long hand, because it’s one of the things that is terrific about computers of course, is that you can move your material around very easily. And with a novel like Citadel, which is very highly researched, very complicated, it means that sometimes I have an idea, and when I go to the second draft I think, you know what, that bit of story belongs in chapter seventeen, not in chapter seven. And so the computer helps you to move copy about, and I find that a very valuable tool certainly.
Jason Hartman: Oh yeah, of course. Do you have a certain time of day in which you like to write?
Kate Mosse: I do. I always feel embarrassed saying this, because it sounds like I’m think incredibly austere person, but my advice always for writers is if you are free to follow your instincts, find out what suits you and stick to it. There’s no trick about this, there’s no good time of day. It’s only the time of day that suits you. For me, when I’m writing as opposed to researching and planning and thinking, and we’ll come on to that in a moment, but when I’m actually writing a novel, I start about 4 in the morning, I get up straight from that half dreaming state, I have a cup of very strong black, sweet coffee, and I write for three or four hours straight through, and then I will stop and have another cup of coffee and some breakfast and write for another couple of hours. So I’ve done six hours or so by mid-morning. And then it leaves me free the rest of the day to maybe do some more writing, but probably edit and look at what I’ve produced.
And I just find the early part of the day, when you’re the one person awake in a house that is sleeping, that is the time when my imagination is most active and fertile. But I have many friends who are writers who go to their computer at midnight and write all through the night. It’s always about what suits you and what helps you to most support your own creativity and imagination.
Jason Hartman: Sure. Well you’re obviously a very productive writer. And the length of Citadel for example, 704 pages. That’s big.
Kate Mosse: Yeah. It’s big. But you know what, a book tells you how long it is. I don’t sit down and think, okay, this book is going to be 700 pages odd. What I do is I think, I have this story I want to tell about an all-women’s resistance unit, I know it’s a story of love, it’s a story of female friendship, it’s a story of war, living under occupation, it’s a story of courage. So I have certain key hooks, if you like, in my mind.
And then I start to write. And my lead character Sandrine is the person that comes to me and then her lover Raoul. And then all the other women of the unit, Lucy, Marianne, Suzanne, so on, and the story then chooses its own shape. And because it is a big piece of research and a big story, the novel fell out long.
And of course other stories, my gothic novels which are often supernatural about ghosts, they’re much shorter because the story doesn’t require a long amount of narrative, a long amount of explanation, whatever. But what I love about Citadel, already it’s only been out 24 hours in the US and you already have so many Tweets and so many Emails to the website about people saying, I really love a big book that you can get your teeth into, that you can curl up in a chair and it keeps you company for a week or more. So that is it for me, that the story itself tells you how long it’s going to be. It’s not something you superimpose from the outside.
Jason Hartman: Right. And Labyrinth is 527 pages, so that’s fairly long too for sure. Kate, you mentioned that you were embarrassed to sound austere in your writing technique, writing very early in the morning and long binges of six hours at a time, that’s a wholesome discipline for sure. Do you set goals for your writing, in terms of how much content you’re going to produce in a certain amount of time or anything?
Kate Mosse: No, I don’t. For me, it’s exactly the same as going to the swimming pool. When I go swimming I decide, okay I’m going to swim for a half an hour. I don’t count the number of lengths, or play games against beating myself from yesterday, and it’s the same with writing. I never say to myself, I’m going to write X number of words today. Because some days I may write four thousand words, but you know what? They’re not that great. Other days I might write only 500 words, but when I look back at them, I think every one of those counts for something. So for me, it’s about using this well, not putting yourself under pressure of some deadlines or [0:14:50.2] because I don’t need that.
What I need is to sit there until I feel my brain has run out of juice, and then I’ll go and do something else. I’ll be with my family, I’ll walk the dog, I’ll do my Emails, I’ll go to the super market. I let my brain say, you know what, you’re tired now. You’ve done enough. But I’m in a very privileged position in that I’m a full time writer, and I make my living as being a writer.
Now, if I was in the position that so many of your listeners will be in, that they want to write but they are still doing a day job or they’re a full time parent, whatever. Then I think goal setting is quite a helpful thing. Because if you’re very tired at the end of the day, working at the office or hospital or school, saying to yourself, whatever happens I’m going to do 500 words this weekend. I think that is a helpful thing.
So it’s back to my core advice, which is know yourself, know what you need as a writer to encourage yourself, to propel yourself forward, to help yourself produce the best work that you are capable of producing. And then try and find a way of achieving that within your writing setup.
Jason Hartman: Very good advice. Well, before you do, anything else that you’d like to mention? Maybe questions I didn’t cover or maybe advice to writers today? Whatever.
Kate Mosse: I have two pieces of advice I guess. The first is, you cannot be a good writer if you’re not a good reader. So if you are anybody listening thinking I’m going to write something, you’ve got to be reading first. Because everything you read helps you. Sometimes the very good books don’t help you very much. A book you’re not so keen on or is in a genre that’s not yours sometimes that liberates you to see the architecture of the book. Because you’re not so caught up in the story. You’re looking to see, well, that doesn’t work. So ask yourself why it doesn’t work.
So, it’s also a corollary is that you might not be the sort of writer that you are a reader. So I read a lot of detective fiction, and I also read a lot of literary fiction. But it turns out I’m not that writer. I’m a page turning thriller adventure writer. So the person you are as a writer and the person you are as a reader, they’re not necessarily the same. The second thing is that it’s very hard to find time to write, and there’s always a temptation to want it to be perfect. So you find any excuse not to write. But five minutes every single day is better than no minutes every single day. It’s like getting fit. The more you do it, the more you’re able to get rid of the fear of failure, the more you will understand that failure is an essential part of good art.
So anyone listening who is very short of time, doesn’t matter if it’s just 5 minutes – you throw it in the dust bin the next day, do it every day as a discipline. And then you before you know it, you’ve got that novel that you’ve always dreamed of writing.
Jason Hartman: That’s a fantastic advice Kate, excellent advice. Just developing that consistency, that habit, that momentum, that daily discipline of doing something, even if it’s a small thing. So very good.
Kate Mosse: And also the thing I would say Jason, is people often say to me, I want to be a writer. And I say, what have you written? And it comes that they’ve written three novels. And I’ll say, well you are a writer. The fact that you’re not published yet, doesn’t mean you’re not a writer. It’s hard getting published, no doubt. But nowadays there are many ways of finding your road to readers that bypass traditional publishing roots or whatever.
But if you are writing, you are a writer. Be proud of that achievement. And see the publishing of it, and the marketing and promotion and the being in the New York Time’s best seller list as separate things. But be proud of yourself as a writer, first and foremost. And if you are, you will realize that people start to take you seriously before you’re a published writer. And that way, obviously satisfaction about possibly having readers and being invited onto shows to give your advice, this is how a writing career starts. You start with small steps, and little by little if the wind is in the right direction, as we say in England, you build up to having a career as a writer. And it is a great privilege to have that as a career, no doubt about it.
Jason Hartman: Yeah. That’s excellent advice. And we’ve done so many shows, Kate, about self-publishing success and book marketing and so forth with other episodes on the show. Great point. But just get busy writing, for sure. Well, Kate Mosse thank you very much. Give out your website if you would and tell people where they can find you and your books.
Kate Mosse: Absolutely. Citadel is published now by William Morrow, just out. My website is www.katemosse.co.uk and I’m on Twitter @KateMosse; I’m also on Facebook. And anyone who reads citadel and who has enjoyed it and even if you haven’t, do get in touch and let me know because writing can be a very solitary business and the joy of writing, when you’re a published writer, is you start to get feedback from readers. So I really, really value people taking the time to let me know what they enjoyed or didn’t enjoy about my books. And I’m very proud of Citadel, so I’m particularly keen to hear back from people.
Jason Hartman: Good stuff. Well congratulations on the release of Citadel. And again, thank you so much for sharing all these great tips with our listeners Kate.
Kate Mosse: It’s my pleasure. Thank you very much for having me on the show.
Narrator: This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights, and media interviews, please visit www.HartmanMedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own, and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network, Inc. exclusively.
Transcribed by Ralph
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