It gives me great pleasure to welcome historical novelist Kate Braithwaite to my blog this week.
I don’t often read historical novels but during a blitz on my Kindle app the other day I found Kate’s Road to Newgate that had been languishing there for far too long. I moved it to the top of my To Be Read list.
And I am so glad I did. I loved it! So much so that I featured Kate recently in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum but have a longer – and fascinating- interview to share with you here.
So, here we go, starting with the question all authors are said to dread.
Where did you get the idea for The Road To Newgate from?
I stumbled across Titus Oates in one of those internet ‘research’ trips that writers are prone to take when the words aren’t quite flowing. My first book, Charlatan, was all about a poisoning scandal at the court of Louis XIV, and I was amazed to find that at the exact same period, Titus Oates had created chaos in London with wild revelations of a Popish Plot to assassinate Charles II and make England a Catholic country once more.
Oates was an extraordinary figure – a vicious and unrepentant liar, full of self-pity and delusions of grandeur – and many people were executed as a result of his claims. As a writer I was excited to bring him to life on the page, but the story of the Popish Plot is complex, tied up in Restoration politics and the unsolved murder of a protestant magistrate, Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey.
Enter my hero, the writer Nat Thompson, his independent-thinking wife, Anne, and their friend William Smith, who knows more about Titus Oates than he wants to. These three narrate the story of The Road to Newgate, as they pursue the truth about Oates, investigate the death of Godfrey, and struggle to keep faith with each other when Nat’s very public crusade against Oates puts them all in danger.
The seventeenth century is sometimes overlooked by readers. The Stuarts don’t yet have the popular appeal of the Tudors, but it’s an important period in British history and as a reader (and a writer) I gravitate toward stories that bring unfamiliar times and places vividly to life.
I’m particularly attached to Anne in this novel. The lives of women at that time were fairly circumscribed but even though history books too often overlook women’s experiences, I’m sure they had just as strong voices and feelings as they do today. When I think about the book now, I hope that readers will be just as engaged by Anne’s fortitude in facing the unpleasant realities of seventeenth century life, as they are by the awfulness of Titus Oates and the hunt to bring him to justice.
The book’s blurb
What price justice? London 1678.
Titus Oates, an unknown preacher, creates panic with wild stories of a Catholic uprising against Charles II. The murder of a prominent Protestant magistrate appears to confirm that the Popish Plot is real.
Only Nathaniel Thompson, writer and Licenser of the Presses, instinctively doubts Oates’s revelations. Even his young wife, Anne, is not so sure. And neither know that their friend William Smith has personal history with Titus Oates.
When Nathaniel takes a public stand, questioning the plot and Oates’s integrity, the consequences threaten them all.
Titis Oates really was one of the most chilling villains I’ve ever met between the pages of a book and you brought the period brilliantly to life. And that courtroom scene makes John Grisham’s seem tame.
So how would you describe your genre? And are your books a series or standalone?
I write historical fiction, based on real events and people. Charlatan, is set in 17th century Paris, based on the scandalous Affair of the Poisons where a police investigation discovered an underworld of poisoners and fortune tellers with direct links to courtiers at Louis XIV’s Versailles. The Girl Puzzle, a story of Nellie Bly is based on the life of a trailblazing journalist who reported from the inside of a notorious lunatic asylum. It’s set in late 19th and early 20th century New York City.
The Road to Newgate, set in 17th century London, is all about three individuals caught up in the Popish Plot, a web of lies created by the infamous Titus Oates, that resulted in panic on the streets, demonstrations, mass arrests, political trials and executions.
What inspires you most? Characters? Settings? Books you have read?
I find I start with an event in history that catches my interest – some event I know little about, and often something on the dark side, for example an unsolved murder or a trip to an asylum. I love writing scenes in dark settings – confined spaces, ruins, prison cells and so on – but it’s puzzling out character that I enjoy the most. History books give you the facts (or as many as are known) but I get really invested in wondering what kind of person would do x or y, how must they have felt and what personality traits or experiences could have led them to do what they do.
Tell us a little about your writing journey?
I always wanted to be a novelist. I love novels of all stripes and was ambitious to create one of my own… but I had no idea what to write about. I would start off stories but abandon them after a couple of pages when I didn’t know where to take my ideas and saw that I wasn’t a natural literary genius! When I came across the story of the Affair of the Poisons however, I was ready to persevere and write a novel that I wanted to read. It took a lot of re-writes and learning to get there though. While all that was going on my first published story was “Maiden Flight”, a historical short about the Canadian giantess, Anna Swan, who was trapped in a fire at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in New York City. An illustrated version of that story is available free to anyone who signs up for my occasional newsletters at www.kate-braithwaite.com
I’m so glad you persevered, Kate and am looking forward to reading more of your books. So, what about your future plans?
I’m currently writing a book about two sisters, set in Virginia in the late 1700s. It’s based on a real scandal where one sister was accused of secretly giving birth to a child, possibly fathered by her sister’s husband. It’s about the scandal itself and how it dogged both women and their relationships for many years afterwards.
Now for the fun questions! Tells us three things we might not know about you.
1 I’m a Scottish American. I was brought up in Edinburgh and lived in England for many years, but now live not far from Philadelphia.
2 I have a brother, Alan Taylor, who is also a writer. Recently we were both featured in the same anthology, Dark London, which gave me quite a thrill.
3 I have three kids who are totally unimpressed by my writing endeavours and think I should spend more time running after them and less writing books. I’m ignoring them as much as possible.
Keep ignoring them, Kate, and keep writing! And thank you for a great interview.
The All Important Links
Please do visit Kate’s website and grab a free short story – www.kate-braithwaite.com
Or connect with her on:
Buy links for books (listing all just in case you want them all…)
Kate Braithwaite is a best-selling historical novelist inspired by lesser known people and events from the past, always with a mystery, crime or scandal attached. Kate grew up in Edinburgh but now lives in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania with her husband and three children. She combines her love of historical research with a passion for reading & writing fiction, fuelled by long, thoughtful dog walks and copious cups of tea.