I recently read and reviewed The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh, and I LOVED it, giving it 5/5* (which everyone knows is a rating that I rarely give!). I contacted the author, Marina Fiorato, who kindly agreed to be interviewed, and her Publisher has also offered a copy of the book for me to give away (see below – open to UK & Ireland residents only)!
R: Hi Marina, introduce yourself to Book Geek readers, and tell us a little about you – what do you do when you aren’t writing/blogging?
M: Hi! I’m Marina Fiorato, and I’m the author of 7 historical novels, mostly set in Renaissance Italy. When I’m not writing – and even when I am – I’m a mum of two so you’ll find me doing the school-run or cooking dinners in which I try to conceal the presence of vegetables.
R: What made you want to become a writer?
M: I wrote a lot at school – I even wrote my school’s Nativity play when I was ten years old and the school actually humored me and used my script! I wrote a kid’s novel about Vikings when I was fourteen, then at Uni I wrote another play, which went to the Edinburgh Fringe. That one wasn’t an unqualified success – once, I remember, there were more people in the cast than the audience! It was when I had my son that I really began thinking about writing seriously; I wanted to explore my heritage (my father was Venetian) a heritage that was now my child’s too. And that’s how I began what was to become The Glassblower of Murano, my first novel.
R: The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh is based on the true story of Mother Ross. How did you hear about Mother Ross, and what was it about her story that inspired you to tell it?
M: I love watching history documentaries on iPlayer, and I think it was on one presented by Simon Scharma that I first heard about Kit. I then tracked down her biography, which was written by Daniel Defoe, and found it incredible reading. I felt like if she was a man we’d all be learning about her in school. Kit didn’t just dress as a man, but she fought as a soldier in four bitter and bloody campaigns. Even then, she didn’t just scrape by and keep her head down; she fought so well she was actually decorated by the Duke of Marlborough himself. Then when a desperate rape victim claimed Kit was the father of her child, Kit not only defended the woman’s honour, but she agreed to support the child financially. I wish every girl in every school knew about Kit.
R: It does make for compelling story-telling! The book is set in the 1700’s, and while many elements of the story follow real-life events, it is a work of fiction. How much of Mother Ross’ original story did you stick to, and how much research did you have to do to make it historically accurate?
M: There were certain elements of Kit’s story that I felt would be unpalatable to the modern reader. For instance, she had three children with her husband, Richard, before he was press-ganged into the army, and she left them all with a relative when she followed him to war. She didn’t return for years, and at one point they were actually taken into the workhouse. I thought that would not play very well, so my Kit is childless.
The other thing I left out was that when Kit discovered her husband had set up home with a mistress abroad, she cut off her rival’s nose. Although that’s entirely in character for a soldier, I thought it would turn the reader against Kit, so I cut it out (pardon the pun). I moved some of Kit’s campaigns from the Low Countries to Italy, and I also had some fun with the Duke of Ormonde, who was actually a fairly respectable married man. But the most incredible parts of the story, such as Kit marrying her commanding officer, and her decision to accept the paternity of a child rather than reveal her true sex, are true. Even the silver penis with leather straps is real!
Research-wise, I read an awful lot about the period; battles, weaponry, ships, etc. I read a lot of Sharpe and Hornblower novels! I also travelled to Dublin, the Italian Lakes, Venice, and the mountain regions of Northern Italy. Poor me!
R: That’s some serious research! The good news is, it definitely shows! A lot happens in this book – there’s a pretty long timeline of events, and plenty of action. How difficult was it to make sure the story didn’t become confused? And for the writing process, how did you plan the book?
M: Broadly speaking, to paraphrase the old football adage, it’s a book of two halves; Kit as a man and soldier, and Kit as a woman and spy. I also wanted to bookend it to be a bit of Dublin, so we see Kit before she transformed herself into a soldier, and then a bit of London, when she can’t transform herself back again. Mother Ross really couldn’t leave the soldiering behind, and I wanted to reflect that.
R: As a budding writer, I have to ask, what is your favourite, and least favourite part of the writing process?
M: This sounds totally sickening but the best bit is doing the writing itself. When you write a good scene or even a sentence you feel like God on the seventh day. Of course, typing THE END takes some beating! The worst bit is the copy edit – that’s the pernickety stage, when someone who is much better at spelling and grammar than I, goes through the whole manuscript and points out just how stupid I am!
R: Introduce The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh to Book Geek readers in one sentence.
M: Taverner, Soldier, Lover, Spy.
R: Weigh in on the eternal debate – eBook or hard-copy?
M: eBook for holiday. Hardcopy for home.
R: What is your favourite word?
M: It’s the name of a book, actually. Hypnerotomachia Poliphili.
R: What is your favourite non-fiction book?
M: I’ve got to say Mirror Mirror by Mark Pendergrast. It is all about mirrors and the history of our relationship with our reflection; it inspired my first book The Glassblower of Murano.
R: Do you prefer the hero or the villain?
M: Villain, every time.
R: What are you currently working on that we can look forward to?
M: A book about a Pre-Raphealite artist who falls in love with his model; it is set in Victorian London and Florence. That all sounds very lovely doesn’t it? But it gets very dark and Jack the Ripper-y.
R: Ohhh, I look forward to reading that one!
Links for readers to find out more about Marina Fiorato and her work:
Massive thanks to Marina for agreeing to be interviewed, and her Publisher for offering a copy of Kit for the giveaway. Have you read The Double Life of Mistress Kit Kavanagh, or any of Marina’s other books? Let me know in the comments!