History People: Kate Braithwaite, Writing Historical Crime

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I’m delighted to welcome today an author who is very much a writer after my own heart. Kate Braithwaite likes to write novels that take real historical events as their starting point and have an unsolved mystery at the centre. This has taken her from Louis XIV’s France to Charles II’s England – and then to 1880s New York. These are just the sort of books I love to read, so you’re in for a treat.

Kate Braithwaite: For too many years to count, I thought that one day I would write a novel. I loved books and loved reading: crime novels, historical, classics, chick-lit… you name it, I read it. If I could only think of something to write about, everything would be wonderful! But my imaginary novel was a very vague thing. I didn’t have a genre, far less a plot or character in mind: just this belief, somehow, that one day I would do it.

That changed when I had children. On maternity leave, I decided to read something more challenging than my usual fiction choices and picked up a second-hand copy of The Sun King by Nancy Mitford. In it, I learned about the Affair of the Poisons that gripped Louis XIV’s court in 1679. Here was a story that I wanted to read about in a novel…but no such novel existed.

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Madame de Montespan, Louis XIV’s mistress, by an unknown artist

For years I had carried around a clipping of an interview with Fay Weldon where she said that writers should write the books they want to read. I had found my story and – after a lot of writing, editing and learning – my novel, Charlatan, was published in 2016. It’s the story of two worlds colliding: the glittering but competitive existence of Madame de Montespan, Louis’ famous mistress (for whom I have a lot of sympathy, poisoning accusations notwithstanding!) and the darker, more unsavoury world of the fortune-teller La Voisin and her daughter Marie, arrested as part of a wide-ranging police investigation into their supply of love philtres and poison to courtiers at Versailles.

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Titus Oates

Charlatan, and my next novel, The Road to Newgate, are definitely in the historical crime category. Both are fact-based, set in the 17th Century, and have a crime or unsolved mystery at their heart. As Louis XIV struggled to contain the truth of the Affair of the Poisons, Charles II faced a different challenge in the form of Titus Oates, an unconventional preacher who claimed that there was a vast Popish Plot to kill Charles and make Britain a Catholic country again. The Road to Newgate is the story of a newly married couple, writer Nat Thompson and his wife Anne, who become embroiled in Oates’ lies and a murder enquiry; at great risk to themselves, their marriage and their dearest friends.

The Road to Newgate will be published this summer but right now I’m jumping centuries and continents. The Girl Puzzle will, I hope, be a novel set in 1880’s New York City, all about Nellie Bly and some nefarious goings-on in the Blackwell Island Insane Asylum. Beyond that I’m sure there will be something witchy and Scottish that I can turn into a novel one day. Although I live in the States, I am Edinburgh born and bred. More than one of my relatives has asked me when I’ll be writing something from Scottish history. That’s definitely on my to-do list going forward.

About Kate Braithwaite

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Kate Braithwaite grew up in Edinburgh but has lived in various parts of the UK, Canada and the US. Her novel, CHARLATAN (Fireship, 2016), was long-listed for the Mslexia New Novel Award and the Historical Novel Society Novel Award in 2015. THE ROAD TO NEWGATE, a story of love, lies and bigotry in 17th century London, will be published by Crooked Cat in Summer 2018. Kate and her family live in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Connect with Kate

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You might also like:

Period Pieces: How Much History Should be in Your Fiction?
History People Guest Posts

Copyright © Kate Braithwaite, Vanessa Couchman 2018, all rights reserved

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