This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Kate Mosse, the worldwide bestselling author, is no stranger to writing haunting fiction. Her 2005 novel Labyrinth, a magnificent and chilling archaeological mystery, was the UK’s bestselling fiction book of 2006. Last month, Kate launched The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales, her highly anticipated collection of short stories. A wonderfully atmospheric read, populated by grief-stricken and vengeful ghosts, each story is inspired by traditional tales and country folklore from both England and France. The perfect fireside companion for long, dark autumn nights, we have ten signed copies of the book to give away. Read on to find out how you can win!
In The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales you include some wonderful notes on the inspiration behind each short story. For the benefit of our readers who haven’t yet read the book, could you talk a little about where you find (or have found for specific stories) inspiration?
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Because this is my first ever collection of short stories, I thought it might be interesting for readers to know how each story came about (if they don’t want to know, they can of course simply skip the note – it’s why the note comes after, not before, the tale itself). Because a handful of the stories were written some time ago, I also wanted the collection to tell the story of how I came to be the author I am. Each story is inspired either by a particular time and place – in particular the landscape of Sussex, Hampshire, Brittany and the Languedoc – or by English and French folklore and legend. I grew up in Sussex, with the folklore of the county seamed into my DNA, if you like. So, places likely Kingley Vale – the oldest yew forest in Europe – was a place I went with my parents as a child and now, in turn, walk with my adult children (and the dog!).
The story set on Harting Hill builds on a memory of driving back alone, one Autumn, thirty-five years ago and becoming utterly spooked by the mist and fog on the hills. There are also versions of traditional ghost stories – spirits coming back from the dead to seek revenge, lost souls haunting the place where they died, white ladies – as well as gentler tales about loss and grief or guilt. Some are first-person narratives and others told in the third person. The stories set in Brittany were inspired by inheriting my late uncle’s wonderful collection of Breton folklore and, reading the books he’d collected over fifty years, being introduced to new stories. Whatever the inspiration, what the stories have in common is a protagonist in a state of crisis, someone whose emotional state makes them more susceptible to experiences or happenings outside everyday life. They are women and men who, for a moment at least, have slipped between the cracks of the physical world we can see and understand and into a shadow world that may not even exist.
What is the process once you’ve had an initial spark of a potential story? Do you research immediately, for example, or let the idea ferment?
Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel – my Languedoc Trilogy – took years to research and years to write. What I loved about writing a collection of short stories was the immediacy of it. It was fun (and a relief) to have the spark of an idea, then simply to sit down at my computer and begin work. A little research was needed for some of them, but mostly it was incredibly liberating to just have a spark of a story and see how it developed. Whereas my ‘big’ novels are about creating an entire world, bringing an entire period of history and cast of characters to life, the stories in The Mistletoe Bride & Other Haunting Tales are self contained. A short story is about capturing a moment, or an emotion. It was a huge pleasure working in miniature, rather than on a big canvas!
As a novelist, my job is to imagine, to create, to conjure up what Edith Wharton called ‘the thrill of the shudder’, so when readers ask if I ‘believe’ in ghosts or am basing my imaginary writings on a real experience, I always dodge the question. I feel the sense of the past strongly, especially in ancient woodlands or caves or places where there is a clear sense of other worlds lying just beneath the surface. Like most of us, I don’t relish the thought of being alone in a dark and supposedly haunted house at night. But, as for an actual experience, no. It’s all imagination ….
Do you ever unnerve yourself while writing?
Only by the thought of missing deadlines! Though, I confess, it’s really satisfying to have such amazing feedback and people saying some of the stories kept them up all night! Just check the door is locked and the curtains are drawn …
What advice can you give for those interested in writing haunting, suspenseful fiction?
The tips for writing in any genre are mostly the same, in that writing is a discipline and you have always to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve and whether or not you think you’ve achieved it!
But, a couple of thoughts to get new readers started …
1. Write every day. Writing is hard work and the only way to get better at it, is to keep trying, keeping ripping things up and starting again, until you’re happy;
2. Remember that the sort of reader you are is not necessarily the sort of writer you will be. So, just because you enjoy reading ghost stories or crime stories, for example, it doesn’t mean that you will be that sort of writer. Experiment with different styles, follow your instinct and see what comes naturally;
3. You can’t be a good writer unless you are a good reader. So, if you want to write ghost stories, take the time to read the classics before you start and analyse what it is that makes one story work better than another – M R James, Henry James, Algernon Blackwood, Edith Wharton, Susan Hill are all exceptional writers in the field. Your voice will be your own unique voice, but reading the work of others will help you to find it!
4. In most short stories – and it’s particularly true for ghostly stories – the good old cliché that ‘less is more’ is spot on. Ghost stories work when the reader’s imagination runs riot, so suggestion and anticipation are essential. Don’t give things away too soon, or too easily.
5. Finally, enjoy yourself. The joy of writing short stories is the manageability, the fact that you don’t have to juggle lots of characters and plots and subplots. It is about one idea, one moment, the single shiver down the spine.
Kate Mosse – Written on a dark and stormy night in Sussex …..
To be in with a chance of winning one of ten signed copies of The Mistletoe Bride and Other Haunting Tales, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Haunting Tales in the subject line.