Author Interview: Kate Murdoch

A selection of our Beauty and Lace club members read The Orange Grove by Kate Murdoch.

Kate took the time to chat with us, and you can learn more about her in the following interview:

Tell us a bit about your new book, The Orange Grove…

The Orange Grove takes place in a château in Blois, France, in 1705. It’s a household full of mistresses, a situation which has worked, up until the moment the duc brings a young mistress into the mix, with whom he is in love.

The Duchesse is jealous both of his feelings for the girl, but also because the new mistress is likely to give him an heir, something she hasn’t managed. She begins a malicious campaign against her, resulting in tensions spiralling out of control. 

What made you choose historical fiction?

I write historical fiction for a number of reasons. Firstly, because I love immersing myself in the research, finding out small details that make the narrative real and believable through different sources. It’s like a treasure hunt, sometimes challenging but ultimately rewarding when the story comes to life.

I also find it a convenient way to disguise issues I want to explore which are relevant today, but which I can weave into a past setting, making my messages and themes more hidden. I feel in a contemporary novel it’s more obvious and I want it to be subtle. 

What process did you go through when researching the 1700s?

It was a daunting task, initially. I read fiction and non-fiction books, such as Antonia Fraser’s book Love and Louis XIV, which gave me a fascinating insight into the attitude towards mistresses at the time. I learnt to read tarot cards for the tarot reading scenes, studied portraits of nobles at the Louvre and looked at recreated interiors there, did an enormous amount of Google mapping to get the geography of Blois right, and watched movies.

I also read primary source material such as Louis XIV’s diaries, the letters of Madame de Sévigné, the diaries of Elisabeth Charlotte Madame Palatine who was sister-in-law to the king, and academic articles about the class system during the period. The research was a lot of fun.

What are you currently reading? 

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.

How did you get started as an author?

It was writing short stories and flash fiction that got me started. After doing some short writing courses and a longer course at Swinburne, my stories began to be published by journals and magazines here and in other countries. It really boosted my confidence and helped me find an agent, who pitched my début, Stone Circle, (2017.)

Another experience that helped me learn my craft and develop a thick skin was when Stone Circle was on the HarperCollins writing site Authonomy (no longer active), a place where manuscripts were ranked and critiqued. My manuscript was chosen by the editors as ‘One to Watch’ and it felt like I was making progress towards my publication goals. 

Where do you get your inspiration?

It depends on the story. A couple of my manuscripts have arisen from dreams, The Orange Grove was a result of my lifelong interest in everything French, (I speak French and have travelled there a number of times), and a desire to write about a very decadent and unequal period in French history.

My next story, The Glasshouse, came into being when I read about an earthquake in Messina Sicily in 1908, and thought about all the children who would have lost parents. My protagonist, the orphan Clio, was created from these musings. 

What is one fun fact we wouldn’t know about you?

I learnt to ride a motorbike (an old post bike) when I was nine, pestering my father who had only planned to teach my brother.

Name 3 items we would always find on your desk…

Crystals to get my head into a writing space, The Emotion Thesaurus, and a Voluspa scented candle.

What’s next for Kate Murdoch?

I’ve sent my next story, The Glasshouse, to my agent and fingers crossed she likes it! If so, it will go out on submission in 2021. It’s about a girl orphaned by the aforementioned Messina earthquake who is adopted by a wealthy Palermo family.

I’ve also completed another manuscript, The Shifting Tide, which is still in early edits. This story spans wartime Croatia, Germany and 1960’s Melbourne. It’s about the bonds between three women, tested by secrets buried within the fabric of their family. 

What does being an author mean to you?

 It’s a real privilege to be able to connect with people I’ve never met through my stories. Like most writers, there is a lot in my work that is deeply personal and meaningful to me, so when readers enjoy my writing and it resonates with them, there is no greater satisfaction, both creatively and personally. 

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