Chichester's Kate Mosse explores “how women (also) built the world” in major new book

Chichester novelist Kate Mosse celebrates the unsung and under-sung women of history in a major new non-fiction project.

Warrior Queens and Quiet Revolutionaries: How Women (Also) Built the World isn’t about ignoring the part men played it in all. It is about properly completing the story, as Kate explains.

“This is the book I’ve been waiting to write for so many years, having spent so much time in libraries and archives on the hunt for women’s stories. All my fiction has unheard and underheard women’s stories at the heart of things and from my research – and, of course, my work with the Women’s Prize – I’ve been aware of how easily women’s stories can disappear from the record. This book is a labour of love to celebrate incredible women from the past as well as a detective story to learn more about my own family reaching back into the 19th century.”

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Published by Mantle, it comes out on Thursday, October 13– the day Kate, who always likes to do her first event for a new book in her home city, launches it at a special event in Chichester Cathedral (7pm, tickets £10 per person through the Novium).

For Kate, the book effectively began during lockdown.

“The starting point was when I published The City Of Tears into the really difficult lockdown of January 2021 when all of us were finding it hard. I wanted to mark the publication of the book, but there were no big events and no signings possible. So I launched a campaign called #WomanInHistory and asked several friends to name the woman in history that they feel should be better known and that should be better celebrated. “Lee Child said the women in SOE, Paula Hawkins said (the French philosopher and activist) Simone Weil and Katie Derham said Eleanor of Aquitaine, and it just became very exciting. “People were passionate about the people that they wanted to talk about and so I just put it out on social media to anybody just to say who was the one woman in history that they wanted to celebrate. Within 24 hours I had thousands of nominations from all over the world. It was so glorious. What it said to me was that most people don't want to pull down and criticise. They want to celebrate! Everybody has got someone that they think is special in history and what was also lovely was that a lot of younger people were saying that they wanted to celebrate their granny or their mum. The whole thing gave me a great sense of happiness and there was nothing more to it than that really, just celebrating women in history. And we had some really famous people joining in. Martina Navratilova said that she wanted to celebrate Katharine Hepburn.

“And the more I thought about it the more I realised that there could be a book in this, about all the brilliant and wonderful women in history that should be better known. But it is not a book about leaving out the brilliant and wonderful men. The strap line from the book is that it is history completed.”

Within the book’s pages you’ll meet nearly a thousand women whose names deserve to be better known: from the Mothers of Invention and the trailblazing women at the Bar; Warrior Queens and Pirate Commanders; the women who dedicated their lives to the natural world or to medicine; those women of courage who resisted and fought for what they believed in to defend their families, their culture and their countries; to the unsung heroes of stage, screen and stadium. It travels the world – from the UK to the United States of America, Romania and Chile to Pakistan, Uganda to Germany, South Africa and India to New Zealand – and spans all periods of time

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Fascinatingly for Kate, it all took a much more personal turn, the book becoming partly her very own detective story. Amongst all the other women, Kate started to piece together the forgotten life of her great-grandmother, Lily Watson, a famous and highly-successful novelist in her day who has all but disappeared from the record.

“I thought that if she could disappear, given how famous she was, then what about other women that didn’t have that visibility and why. It got me thinking about what history is, who decides what to preserve, who decides what remains. It was very moving walking my great grandmother’s footsteps.”

It meant a remarkable discovery: “Her writing name was Lily but her given name turned out to be Martha, which is my daughter’s name – and I just didn’t know that. And also I thought that I was the first novelist in a family of military, teachers and vicars, but in fact I was far from being the first!”

Kate weaves the two strands together in the book – the tale of the search for her own great grandmother and an appreciation of nearly a thousand women going back centuries.

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“There are ten chapters and each chapter is a genre. The first chapter is writers which was obviously one of the key ways that women remain in history which is when they actually get to write their own history.”

Other chapters include women of faith, women of courage and conviction, women in the law, women in conservation and women in the world of entertainment.

“The idea is that it's a book that you can give as a gift to your daughter but also to give to your son. What I want is people to say ‘Oh my God! I didn't know this!’ or ‘I didn't know that.’

"I just had such a ball writing it.”

Mantle will publish the book in hardcover, eBook and audio on October 13.

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Kate’s second novel in The Burning Chambers series, The City of Tears is out now (£8.99, Mantle) as is her Quick Read, The Black Mountain (£1, Mantle) and her paperback memoir about being a carer, An Extra Pair of Hands (£8.99, Wellcome Collection).

Kate was one of 12 authors commissioned to write a new Miss Marple story. Marple was published on September 15 (HarperCollins, £20).

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