October 16, 2009 / 10:13 AM / 9 years ago

"Labyrinth" author explores mystery of Cathar caves

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Best-selling British author Kate Mosse returns to the secretive Cathar sect of medieval France with a new novel, four years after she first explored their fate in her historical adventure “Labyrinth.”

Mixing religious intrigue and modern-day mystery, her sprawling tales have often been compared to Dan Brown’s. In another parallel, they have boosted tourism to the French towns where they are set, earning Mosse a post as cultural ambassador.

Set partly in Europe after the First World War, partly in the Middle Ages, “The Winter Ghosts” tells the eerie story of a bereaved young man who travels to the south-western French town of Tarascon-sur-Ariege in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

“I’ve always felt there was a story waiting for Tarascon,” Mosse said of the mountain town she has been visiting for the past 20 years. “We went there in January and I suddenly thought, oh I see, it’s a town that needs a winter story.”

The link with World War One came to her when her teenage children studied the subject at school.

“It set me thinking about what it would have been like to be a young man who had been too young to fight, who felt that he lived in the shadow of this terrible thing but was not allowed to grieve because everybody was in the same boat,” she said in a phone interview from her home in Sussex.

Set initially in 1928, “The Winter Ghosts” follows the story of Freddie Watson, a young man whose beloved older brother was killed in World War One. On a trip to France, he encounters an enigmatic girl and a hidden cave that reveal another tale of grief and remembrance: the Catholic Church’s brutal prosecution of the Cathars, a medieval Christian sect accused of heresy.

Unlike other works by Mosse, who co-founded the Orange Prize for fiction, the book is short and the cast of characters small.

This is because she originally wrote it for Britain’s “Quick Reads” charity, which produces easy-to-read books as part of a campaign against adult illiteracy.

“It is very prescriptive — no words longer than two syllables, no foreign words, no suggestion or implication, no split time line — it’s a tick list of everything my style is not,” Mosse told Reuters. As a result, she decided to flesh out the story for a wider market.

Her next book, “Citadel,” due to appear in late 2011, will be a return to the brick-like historical tomes she is known for. After that, she may move on to a big English trilogy.

And for someone who spends much of her time poring over medieval manuscripts and exploring ancient sites, she has a surprisingly positive view of modern technology in publishing.

“I feel a lot of the debate about e-readers is silly,” she said. “I don’t care how readers read my book. If you look at computer games, everybody wants a narrative, wants a story, and the e-reader is just a tool.”

Editing by Paul Casciato

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