Today my Author in the Spotlight is ex-Edinburgh resident Kate Braithwaite. Kate’s debut novel Charlatan, was published by Fireship Press on September 16th and you can order a copy here: Charlatan
Thanks for taking part Kate. First of all, would you tell me a little about yourself?
I grew up in Edinburgh but now live in Pennsylvania with my husband and three kids. I write book reviews and features for the Historical Novel Society and Bookbrowse. I’m very excited to publish my debut historical novel, Charlatan, with Fireship Press in September.
What inspired you to start writing?
I’ve always dabbled in writing but for the longest time was too much of a perfectionist to even finish a short story. I’d be forever going back and tweaking, or despairing that I wasn’t the literary genius I dreamed of being. Sad but true! It was only after starting a family and seeing them grow that I realised if I was going to be a writer I had better get on and do some serious writing.
Tell me about your journey to publication
About ten years ago I decided to write a novel set in 17th century France. I wrote and wrote, corrected the spelling mistakes and sent it out. I got some interest from a couple of great agents but as a novel it just wasn’t up to scratch and I had no idea how to fix it. At that point we moved to Canada with my husband’s job and I did a part-time creative writing programme at Toronto University. That was enormously helpful to me in terms of craft. I started writing a different novel but I also wanted to return to ‘my French book’ and get it right. Around that time I won two writing prizes and had a couple of short stories published which encouraged me to persevere. But the thing that made the most difference has been reviewing books. Writing constructive but honest reviews has really crystalized what works and doesn’t work for me in a novel. Finally I’ve been able to wrestle through the drafting process and now ‘my French book’ is this real novel called Charlatan.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
Charlatan is based on the real events of the Affair of the Poisons that rocked Paris and the court of Louis XIV. It’s the story of Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, the King’s glamorous mistress, who is nearly forty and has had seven children with the King. But now Louis’ eyes are firmly set on a beautiful eighteen year old, newly arrived at Versailles. Her sister Gabrielle is certain Athénaïs can win him back, but she is not so sure. At the same time, in Paris, police chief La Reynie and his young assistant Bezons have uncovered a network of fortune-tellers and poisoners operating in the city. Athénaïs does not know it, but she is about to be named as a favoured client of the infamous La Voisin.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
One of the characters, the magician Lesage, is very clearly a charlatan. Although some of the fortune-tellers operating in Paris believed in the trade they were plying, I don’t think Lesage ever did. He was a con man and he enjoyed it. But there are lots of other characters in the novel that are also charlatans in their own way. There is the girl, Marie, who becomes involved with Bezons: how much is she lying to him? Then there is Athenais’ maid Claudette. She has something to hide, but what? And of course there is Athenais herself. How far did she go to keep the love of the King? The book is full of characters playing roles and it’s up to the reader to decide who is genuine and who is a charlatan. Also, I love it just because charlatan such a great, potent word.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
I’m working on that. Not sure yet, but there there will be some fizz involved, that’s for certain.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Yes. I’m writing a novel set in London in 1678. Titus Oates has the city in crisis with stories of a Popish plot to assassinate Charles II, but one man, Nat Thompson, has his doubts. When Oates’ machinations result in Nat losing his job and one of his oldest friends being thrown into Newgate Prison, things get personal. But that doesn’t help Nat’s young wife Anne who has left her wealthy family to elope with Nat, only to find he is less than forthcoming about his past and reluctant to include her as an equal in their marriage.
What’s your favourite book you’ve read in the past few months? Or favourite three if you really can’t choose!
In historical fiction I absolutely loved every page of Hanging Mary by Susan Higginbotham. It’s about Mary Surratt, the first woman to be executed in the US, for her part in John Wilkes’ Booth’s conspiracy to assassinate Lincoln.
Then there is Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place. That is an achingly engrossing story. It actually took me a bit to get into, but once I was hooked, I became truly captivated. O’Farrell is a very gifted writer.
And I also love a good psychological thriller/crime story so I really enjoyed reviewing Arrowood by Laura McHugh for Bookbrowse. It is set in a grand mansion that has seen better days (can’t resist those) and involves a young woman forced to re-consider all she believes about the abduction of her twin baby sisters seventeen years before.
What are you reading just now?
It’s August 2016 and I’m just starting Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta. I have only read one other novel about the Biafran War in Nigeria – Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun – and it was wonderful, as well as a real eye-opener. Under the Udala Trees has had great reviews and I can’t wait.
Tell me about your reading habits: book or kindle, bed or bath, morning or evening?
I love to read in bed in the morning with a cup of coffee but most of the time I can’t do that as I am getting kids up and packing lunches. So really I read everywhere. I can read while cooking (I’m not that good at cooking), I read during kids sports (don’t tell them) and I read in the car – when I waiting to collect kids, not while driving! I always have a book on the go and I love that in-between books moment when I have to decide which book to read next. I have a kindle and will read on it if I don’t have a choice, but for me a print book is best.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
This is such a hard question! I think I would choose Anne Eliot in Persuasion. She has great inner strength and a strong moral compass. She deserves her happy ending