Today we'll be speaking to Kate Heartfield, a historical fiction and fantasy author whose books include 'Armed In Her Fashion', 'The Embroidered Book', and the latest Assassin's Creed novel, 'The Magus Conspiracy'. She's been writing since she she was a child, so roughly four decades.
-Kate, what first attracted you to the genre?
I've always read fantasy, science fiction and historical fiction, as far back as I can remember, so it's natural that I would write in those genres too, and I remember writing half a fantasy novel on my Dad's Osborne computer back in the 1980s.
-Who were your favourite authors growing up?
Robin McKinley was an early favourite of mine, especially her Damar novels. And I'm one of those people who's read The Lord of the Rings dozens of times, although it's been a while.
-Name three of your favourite books of all time, and why they are your top picks.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke is an easy one: my favourite novel, hands down. It is the historical fantasy novel by which all historical fantasy novels are judged, and it just makes me very happy with every sentence. Narrowing down the other picks is harder! I'll go with one that just came out this year and was instantly one of my favourite books – I've been recommending it to everyone. It's a collection of Métis futurist short stories by Chelsea Vowel, called Buffalo is the New Buffalo. And for the third, I'll go back to a classic, the book that's probably influenced my writing more than any other: Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. I think it has a lot to do with the way I see history as inherently speculative, and my interest in situating women within history.
-Are you a plotter or a pantser?
A panster by nature but a plotter by discipline. I have found I need to do at least some planning, or I end up with a very pretty shapeless mass.
-If you had to pick one of your books to be optioned, which one would it be?
Tough question! I think at the moment, my answer would be The Valkyrie, the Norse retelling I have coming out in 2023. It's an adventure story that I can imagine on the screen, very easily, right from the opening scene (an exiled Valkyrie falling to earth.)
-What are your two favourite moral failings to give to a character?
Well, I don't think I've ever thought about this! Probably an excessive tendency toward self-reliance, which is a flaw of my own. And I do love writing characters corrupted by power; usually they tend to be ideologues gone bad.
-What is your idea of the ultimate vacation?
Traipsing around castles with my son.
-What are your ideal writing conditions?
A cat and a cup of tea!
-Where or when do you feel most inspired?
I take a lot of inspiration from other forms of art. Music is a big one: I always have a playlist going when I'm working on a novel, and I try to capture the mood or ideas from a song. So a concert, a music festival or an art gallery.
-What do you appreciate most in your friends?
Many things! It's been a rough few years for me personally, so having friends there to listen and support or send a text makes all the difference.
-Where would you like to live?
I've always felt that Dublin felt like home. One of these years, maybe!
-Who are your greatest villains?
I'm very fond of The Chatelaine of Hell, from my first novel, Armed in Her Fashion. In fact, the revised edition of that novel coming out in 2023 has been retitled The Chatelaine, so she takes centre stage! She does terrible things, but she has her reasons. She's also someone who's forgotten her own history, and that idea has always appealed to me in a villain – probably from the first time I read the scene with the Mouth of Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.
-If there was one recommendation you could give to authors starting out, what would it be?
Write what you love! Be as weird as you want to be.
-What are the lesser-known characteristics you believe make a great historical fantasy story?
I've always found the past to be inherently uncanny: it's familiar in many ways, but alien in others, and fundamentally unknowable, on a certain level. So I really enjoy historical fantasy that leans into that sense of strangeness, that leaves me with all the hairs raised on my arms.
-What is the title of your latest story?
-Can you give us a synopsis of it?
The Valkyrie is a queer retelling of several ancient Norse and Germanic sagas: the story of Sigurd the dragon-slayer, Brynhild the exiled Valkyrie who lives on a mountain in a ring of fire, and Gudrun the princess of a city under attack.
-What sparked the underlying theme?
I was reading Norse mythology to my son at bedtime a few years ago, and I started to think about how the story of Brynhild must have looked from her perspective. For me, retellings often begin with a sense that something doesn't add up about the story that's come down to us, that if you could work backward through all the times it's been told, you might come to something that looks very different. But in its own way, it's also an homage to all those tellings that came before, contradictory as they are.
-Are you working on anything else at the moment, or have the germ of an idea for another story you’d like to titillate your audience with?
In mid-2023, the second book in my trilogy set in the Assassin's Creed universe will come out from Aconyte Books. It's called Assassin's Creed: The Resurrection Plot, and I hope that readers enjoy it.
-Once again, thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I wish you all the best of luck in your writing endeavours!
Thank you! It was a pleasure!
Where to purchase Kate's books and follow her on social media:
Publisher is HarperCollins.
Link to The Valkyrie: https://harpercollins.co.uk/products/the-valkyrie-kate-heartfield