In The Library

Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth Ten Years On

Ahead of the publication of a beautiful 10th anniversary edition of Labyrinth this week, Kate reflects on the last ten years and the experience of publishing her very first bestselling novel.

Remember reading Labyrinth for the first time? We’d love to hear all about it, tweet @onebooklane including #Labyrinth10.

More than twenty five years ago, we bought a tiny house in the shadow of the medieval city walls of Carcassonne in southwest France. We knew little about the place – we were there through a combination of happenstance and coincidence – but it was a coup de foudre, a lightning strike. I fell, instantly and utterly, in love: with the endless blue of the Languedoc skies in Autumn, with the glistening white wall of the Pyrenees some many kilometres to the south in Winter, with the golden broom and pinks and purples of flowers in the Spring; with the shimmering heat and dramatic thunder storms of Summer.

Most of all, with the alleys and hidden pathways and crooked buildings within the Cité itself. A crown of stone perched on the hill overlooking the River Aude, with the Bastide – the fourteenth-century town – beyond, there were high walls punctuated by 52 towers and turrets, a dusty walkway – the lices – between the inner and outer walls where, once, jousting competitions would have taken place, the Château Comtal and the Porte Narbonnaise. The sense of stepping back into history.

I never intended to write about Carcassonne - this was a holiday house, a place for family and young children, not work. But, little by little, the history seeped into me.

Carcassonne, the old town and the new; the landscape and, most of all, the violent, tragic story of the Crusade launched in 1209 against a sect of medieval Christians, the Cathars, who were persecuted for their faith.

I wrote a couple of short stories – looking back I can see I was trying out in short form the themes, places, ideas that would become the backbone of Labyrinth some years later – but a full-length novel was still some way off.

All the same, in the way of these things, characters started to tiptoe towards me and take shape – the girl who would become my lead 13th century ‘hero’, Alaїs; her father, Bertrand Pelletier; Esclarmonde, a wise woman; and Audric Baillard, the conscience of the Midi, who embodied within his own private history the entire eight hundred years sweep of the Cathar story. Some fifteen years after first setting foot in Carcassonne, I started to make notes, sketch the outline for a novel that would become Labyrinth.

As we publish this tenth anniversary edition, I look back with gratitude – and disbelief at the luck of it – on the sequence of events that led us to that corner of France, a place where my writing imagination came to life. I’m grateful to the people of Carcassonne, too, who were generous in celebrating this Englishwoman’s retelling of their history and treated me as one of their own. There are now editions of Labyrinth published in more than forty countries, translated into some thirty-eight different languages. It’s still a pleasure, a surprise, to see a copy in an airport or in a second-hand book shop. It’s still a delight, every time, to receive a letter or an email from someone who’s come across Alaïs or Audric or Esclarmonde for the first time and wants to share their thoughts.

Any novel is about time and place, about the marriage between character and plot, about the way in which stories can be both utterly particular, specific, and universal. Fiction is a way of making sense of the loops and repetitions of history.

Eight hundred years, give or take, after the Cathar tragedy that inspired Labyrinth, the themes of the novel - war and the consequences of war, faith and the consequences of faith, love and the consequences of love - remain as constant, as present, as they ever were.

And every time I arrive in Carcassonne, after a spell away, I still have the sense of wonder that the extraordinary history echoes in every stone, in the folds of the mountains and hills, in the plains. The voices of the past remain loud, calling out to be heard.

Ten years on, I remember those pre-publication days of planning and researching with great affection. I hope that readers – whether coming to the novel for the first time or returning to the story – will have as much pleasure in the reading of Labyrinth as I had in the writing of it.

Kate Mosse

Sussex, May 2015

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Labyrinth is out now in paperback, eBook and audio.

The 10th Anniversary Edition of Labyrinth is out now in paperback, eBook and audio.

Kate Mosse

Kate Mosse is an international bestselling author with sales of more than five million copies in 42 languages. Her fiction includes the novels Labyrinth (2005), Sepulchre (2007), The Winter Ghosts (2009), and Citadel (2012), as well as an acclaimed collection of short stories, The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales (2013).

Kate is the Co-Founder and Chair of the Board of the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously the Orange Prize) and in June 2013, was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to literature. She lives in Sussex.