A warm welcome to my last Friday Reads blog of 2022 as next week I’ll be featuring Christmas Reads. My featured book this week is the period drama, The Orange Grove, by historical fiction author Kate Murdoch. Let’s find out a bit about the book and get chatting to Kate.
When status is survival, every choice has
Blois, 1705. The chateau of Duc Hugo d’Amboise simmers with rivalry and intrigue.
Henriette d’Augustin, one of five mistresses of the duc, lives at the chateau with her daughter. When the duc’s wife, Duchesse Charlotte, maliciously undermines a new mistress, Letitia, Henriette is forced to choose between position and morality. She fights to maintain her status whilst targeted by the duchesse who will do anything to harm her enemies.
The arrival of charismatic tarot reader, Romain de Villiers, further escalates tensions as rivals in domestic politics and love strive for supremacy.
In a society where status is a matter of life and death, Henriette must stay true to herself, her daughter, and her heart, all the while hiding a painful secret of her own.
‘‘What do you want?’
‘I am Léonard’s wife. You must be Madame Rochard. Your nephew has been captured and he told me to find you. You have something of his, I believe?’
‘I have his blood and that is all.’
‘I beg you, madame. My husband told me to find you. We need help and you do have something for us.’
‘I do not. Good day to you.’
Henriette wedged her foot in the door as the woman attempted to shut it.‘I refer to the gold bars Leonard gave you, the gold you keep hidden beneath your floorboards.’
Madame Rochard gave a mirthless laugh. ‘You see before you a fine example of reverse alchemy, madame, the miraculous transformation of gold into stone and mortar. Now leave, before I set the dogs on you.’
‘The gold was meant to support us if Léonard was imprisoned. What do you expect me to do? Sell myself on the street? You say you carry Léonard’s blood. So does this innocent child. If you won’t help me, please help my Amalia.’ The little girl looked up at the older woman, her grimy face pleading.
Madame Rochard sighed. She fished a small drawstring bag from the folds of her skirt, and pressed a handful of louis into Henriette’s palm. ‘This should cover your travel to Blois. Saint Bernard de Thiron is a convent where you can leave the girl. Mention my name to the abbess, she knows me well. Wait here.’ She turned and disappeared into an adjoining room.
Henriette’s heart hammered in her chest and she gripped Amalia’s hand, her mouth dry.
Madame Rochard returned with a small piece of paper. ‘This is the address of my friend, Madame Tavel. She has connections at the Château d’Amboise. They are often looking for servants there. Good day.’
Before Henriette had a chance to reply the door had clicked shut and she was left standing with Amalia, watching the fog lift on the gridded gardens.’
Want to find out what happens to Henrietta and Amalia? You can buy the book here:
Regal House Publishing: https://regalhousepublishing.com/product/the-orange-grove/
Welcome Kate. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
No, not exactly. I always wrote and read from the time I was a small child, but when I left school, I had the opportunity to go to art school and be a painter, and this is what I dedicated myself to for many years. At the same time, I had a hidden ambition to one day write a novel. Then an idea came to me unexpectedly and I started my first manuscript. It was seven years after that point that my debut novel came out—Stone Circle in 2017.
Has any author inspired you?
Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his lyrical and evocative prose, Kate Grenville for her incredible observation and delicacy, Doris Lessing for her bravery, clarity and feminist themes, Zadie Smith for humour, honesty and dark wit, and Jessie Burton for her world building and absorbing stories. There are so many more, these are just a selection of the authors I’ve enjoyed reading.
What do you like writing most?
Historical fiction because I’m fascinated with different periods and how similar people were in many ways, despite very different circumstances. I’m also interested in the way these times have led to the present. I often focus on women’s stories, specifically how they thrived despite the rules and limitations placed on them. The other reason I write historical fiction is because I love the process of research, finding out not only what was happening in the bigger picture, but also small details of peoples’ day-to-day lives.
Do you have a special place for writing?
I have an office upstairs in our house. There’s a view out onto the street so I can see when the postman comes, a bookcase full of books to inspire me, and a sofa to sit and read on if I feel like taking a break for research.
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
I’m a long-time pantser and I find this way of writing keeps me interested in where the story will go. If I’m too planned, it feels a bit robotic and loses the magic. I work out overall themes, major plot points and climaxes to give me direction, then gradually work out everything in between.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
Yes, to some degree although I exaggerate a lot and change the setting and circumstances. I often use an overall emotion or relationship dynamic rather than specific events in my life.
What are you writing at the moment?
I’m writing a story about White Russian émigrés in 1920’s Paris. It’s a story of espionage, millinery and romance – my two main characters’ experiences before arriving in Paris are completely different but they have both suffered loss.
What inspired you to write this book?
I’ve always had an interest in Russian history, specifically what happened to bourgeois and nobles both during and after the revolution. They were called ‘former people’ and lost all their rights and often their assets. They then dispersed all around the world, but the most popular place for resettlement was Paris as many of them spoke French. There was also, at the time, a lot of espionage going on with both White Russians and Soviets who were worried they would regroup and attack the new regime in Russia. This dynamic, along with the plight of the Whites who had lost their status really fascinated me.
What time of the day do you write best?
Either late morning or early afternoon are the times when I seem to focus the best.
What are your hobbies?
I’m a former visual artist and still paint in my home studio, I read constantly, speak French, practise yoga weekly, and travel whenever I get the chance.
What advice would you give to other writers? Back yourself and your writing. Positive feedback and support from others is wonderful and invaluable, but if you don’t believe in your own work, it’s hard to sustain a writing life. Read widely and diversely and you’ll learn more about writing on a subconscious level than by reading books on craft. Be disciplined in your practice in terms of setting word counts and goals, this gives motivation and purpose. Finally, allow yourself to play and be immersed in your imagination so you don’t lose sight of the reason you began writing in the first place—joy
Very sound advice, Kate. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you today. Wishing you lots of success with your writing.
Kate Murdoch’s short-form fiction has been published in various literary journals in Australia, UK, US and Canada.
Stone Circle, a historical fantasy novel set in Renaissance Italy, was released by Fireship Press in December 2017. Stone Circle was a First in Category winner in the Chaucer Awards 2018 for pre-1750’s historical fiction.
Kate was awarded a KSP Fellowship at the KSP Writers’ Centre in 2019 to develop her manuscript, The Glasshouse.
Her novel, The Orange Grove, about the passions and intrigues of court mistresses in 18th century France, was published by Regal House Publishing in November 2019. The Orange Grove was a Finalist in the Chaucer Awards 2019 for pre-1750’s Historical Fiction.