Historical novelist Katharine McMahon paid a visit to Hitchin Library on Tuesday evening to give a talk and read from her work as part of the Hitchin Festival. An engaging speaker, she gave a fascinating insight into the process of researching and writing fictional work that is set in the past.
Katharine McMahon reads from her work at Hitchin Library
One of the most distinctive features of her writing is that, unlike authors such as CJ Sansom, Philippa Gregory or Ariana Franklin, she does not set each successive book predominantly in the same era. This presents something of a marketing challenge but also offers wide horizons to her readers.
She also likes, as she stressed during the talk, to draw out elements of women’s history and the lives of women from the past which do not otherwise get much attention or acknowledgement. Her novels have featured a nineteenth-century schoolteacher shackled to her job by a sense of duty, a young woman who travels to the Crimea to nurse wounded soldiers, an English girl who takes up with a French radical during that country’s revolution and one of the first women to practise as a solicitor in England.
Books for sale (and signature) on the night
She explained how she likes to pursue lines of historical research and develop stories that are grounded in fact rather than invention, telling how this writing method had led her in directions that were both unexpected and satisfying. She gave the example of discovering Charlotte Corday’s connections with Caen in Normandy when developing the plot for Season of Light.
She has strong links with Hertfordshire, having taught English and drama in one of the county’s schools, serving for many years as a magistrate here and acting as an Advisory Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire.
Katharine McMahon signs books at Hitchin Library
She spoke about how her experiences as a teacher and magistrate had impacted on her work, giving her a reservoir of characters to draw on, and a familiarity with the workings of the law that had informed the process of researching and writing The Crimson Rooms, with its solicitor heroine. She also mentioned the difficulties of combining a creatively demanding career like teaching with writing.
You can learn more about Katharine’s work, including upcoming reissues and appearances, by visiting her website here. You can also find out about Hertfordshire Libraries events here – going along, and bringing friends or family, is a great way to show your support for the library service as well as offering some great insights into writers and their work.
• Katharine’s book The Crimson Rooms will be the We ♥ Libraries reading suggestion for August.