“When The City of Tears published last year in hardback, it was in the middle of the third lockdown when bookshops were shut and everything planned for publication was cancelled. Despite that, in its first week it sold more in hardback than any of my previous novels though not quite enough to knock Richard Osman off the top spot!” Kate is hoping for better luck this time with the paperback launch. She is hoping to do just enough to nudge Osman out of the way: “He’s a really lovely man but it’s time for someone else to have a turn!”
The City of Tears – a fast-paced and sweeping epic – picks up the story of the Joubert family in 16th century Languedoc as they head to Paris for the royal wedding of the Catholic Marguerite de Valois, sister to the king, and the Huguenot prince Henri of Navarre. It’s a wedding that is supposed to bring peace to France and end ten years of bitter religious civil war: “But three days after the wedding, on the eve of St Bartholomew’s in August 1572, a massacre will take place that will alter the course of history. It’s a key turning point not only in the history of the wars of religion, but also throughout Europe. It will condemn France to another twenty years of violence and displacement, my own fictional family included.”
The novel moves from Paris to Amsterdam – the ‘city of tears’ itself – and to Chartres, which many of Kate’s readers will know from her multi-million international bestseller Labyrinth. Chartres is twinned with Chichester and a city Kate knows well: “I enjoyed writing so much about Chartres in the 13th century in Labyrinth that I was keen to return in the 16th century to see how it had changed.”
The paperback comes at a time of great popularity for historical fiction: “We are living through difficult times – we know we are living through history as it’s being made – so historical fiction gives us a chance to reflect upon our own situations and deal with some of those big and complicated emotions, but with the benefit of hindsight. For me, the key is not simply putting a key historical event such as the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre on the page, but rather finding the intimate and personal story of my characters to set against that backdrop of real history.
“In this case, in the confusion and tragedy of that terrible night, one of the Joubert children goes missing. It’s a Sophie’s Choice question – do you stay and look for your lost child or do you flee in order to save the lives of everyone else?”
Kate is working on Book III of the series – to be published in May 2023 – but before that there’s a great deal else happening: “2022 is a busy year! I have my own adaptation of my local novel The Taxidermist’s Daughter opening the 60th anniversary season at CFT, which is a huge honour. Then there’s the paperback of my non-fiction book about being a carer – An Extra Pair of Hands – coming out at the end of March, followed by a short novel in the Quick Reads programme for emerging readers publishing in April, a Miss Marple short story in September and finally a major piece of non-fiction, based on my global #WomaninHistory campaign, publishing on October 13. We’ll be doing the launch event at Chichester Cathedral.”
For now, though, she’s glad to be celebrating the publication of The City of Tears: “Because of the lockdown, I never actually saw the hardback in a bookshop. So, this time, I’m really hoping readers will take it to their hearts and paint the town orange!”