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An Interview With Kate Heartfield

Photo courtesy of Kate Heartfield

Kate Heartfield is the author of the award winning historical novel Armed in Her Fashion and the exciting Alice Payne time travel novellas. A couple of weeks ago she celebrated the publication day of her latest book, The Embroidered Book, a historical fantasy set in the time before the French Revolution. I'm very glad to have a chance to talk with her about her writing, The Embroidered Book and her forthcoming work which is set in the universe of the Assassin’s Creed videogames. 

Kate, let me please first congratulate you on the publication of "The Embroidered Book", which is a magical take on history focusing on the infamous Marie Antoinette and her sister Marie Carlotta Queen of Naples. What made you choose this slice of history and these particular characters? Why Marie Antoinette?

Thank you! The late 18th century in Europe is a fascinating period, and full of powerful women who made their mark on politics. What drew me to these two sisters was the divergence in their paths: one wanted to be loved, and the other wanted to be great. Like many, I grew up with an image of Marie Antoinette as a frivolous, out of touch and immensely privileged woman whose cluelessness fed the French Revolution. And there is a lot of truth in that image, but it’s only part of a more complicated and more interesting picture.

With around 600 pages, The Embroidered Book is quite the toe crusher. How long did it take you to research and write it?

It’s a big one, for sure! I first got the idea in late 2015. In the years following that, I wrote many other projects, including two games, two novellas, and the drafts of some books I haven’t published yet. So it wasn’t all spent on The Embroidered Book. But I researched whenever I had a spare moment, and chipped away at the writing. I ended up rewriting it several times, which slowed things down yet further!

Is there anything you’d like to say about this book? Maybe something that has gone unnoticed by reviewers until now?

I think that history can teach us about our own time, indeed about our own future, so taking a fresh look at the stories we think we know is always something that interests me. At one level, The Embroidered Book is about the birth of democracy, and about the reasons why democracy fails, or struggles to flourish. It’s about good intentions and broken structures. Of course, all of that is deep underneath a story about family and magic, but to me, it’s all connected.

Reading your books, I’m always amazed by how you go out there and find the tragic state of women throughout history, women who still face their life with dignity. How do you find historical details, have you maybe studied history or is it more of a side passion?

I’ve always been interested in history and mythology. When I was a kid, I came home from the Winnipeg Public Library with armloads of books by authors like Rosemary Sutcliff and Susan Cooper, and as an adult, I read a lot of non-fiction in my spare time. I spent more than a decade as a newspaper journalist, which probably gave me a healthy love of research!

Let’s come back to women in fiction! I love how you take family ties between women, like mother-daughter in Armed in Her Fashion and sisterhood in The Embroidered Book and place them in unusual historical settings. I also noticed that the latter is dedicated to your sister. Having a sister myself (and I always say that the best thing my mother did for me are my siblings) I was really touched by the relationship between Antoine and Carlotta. Did those ties play a big role in your own life for you to write so vividly about them?

Yes, definitely! I’m close to my own family, so it’s probably natural that family turns up in my fiction a lot. My feminism probably informs what I write about, too: I do believe that what happens inside a home is just as political as what happens outside it. Because women have sometimes been pushed out of public institutions, a lot of their power has come from personal relationships, relationships that storytellers can help illuminate.

Do you have plans for a next book yet?

I do! My next book, Assassin’s Creed: The Magus Conspiracy, will be a tie-in novel set in the universe of the Assassin’s Creed videogames. It will be published in August 2022. That’s been a lot of fun to write! I also have two new books planned, and they both feature relationships between women in historical settings. They’re in different settings than my other books to date, though. Stay tuned for more on that! I also want to make sure that Armed in Her Fashion becomes available again, after being out of print for a while, so that is something I’ll be working on in the future too.

Finally, I want to thank you for writing your books, I’m always eager to read more by you and I’m happy The Embroidered Book is such an engaging, touching read!

Thank you so much! This was a pleasure.

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