Kate Murdoch on Writing Historical Fiction

Kate Murdoch
Kate Murdoch, photo by Nicholas Purcell

Update: Stone Circle is a First Place Category winner in the Chaucer Awards for 2018!

Kate Murdoch, an accomplished painter, exhibited for fourteen years, was a finalist in prize shows and was represented by a gallery. She changed paths after a character appeared to her in a dream and compelled her to tell his story. Stone Circle, a historical fantasy, was published in 2017, and her second book, The Orange Grove, is due for release later this year. Read on to hear about Kate’s career journey and her tips for writing historical fiction.

What did you want to be when you grew up?

From about the age of eight, I wanted to be an artist. In my early teens, I had a brief flirtation with the idea of being a fashion designer, but always made my way back to my original desire. I wrote part of a holocaust novel in high school, which my mother faithfully typed up, so I had a strong interest in writing, although I never thought it would become my career.

How did you transition from artist to writer?

The gallery where I was an artist-in-residence closed, which forced me to think about my next steps. Around this time, I had a vivid dream about a strange and disturbing character. I immediately wrote about him and over eight months, a supernatural thriller called The Silent Scream tumbled onto the page. Although I had once written on a big picture to-do list ‘write a novel,’ I had long since abandoned the idea, yet I trusted my instincts, and left the vagaries of the art world behind me. The Silent Scream was never published, something I’m now relieved about, but it was an important stage in learning about the basics of crafting a novel.

perf6.000x9.000.inddTell us a bit about your first published novel, Stone Circle.

Stone Circle is set in Renaissance Italy in 1585. It tells the story of Antonius, who, after the death of his father, becomes apprenticed to the town seer, along with the spoilt son of a nobleman. The two men compete for the approval of the seer and the affection of his daughter as they learn about magic and alchemy.

What drew you to writing fantasy?

It wasn’t so much deciding to write fantasy, more that alchemy and shapeshifting were integral to my plot. I had been long fascinated with the unknown and spent years learning about spirituality in many forms. I studied Reiki healing and eastern religious philosophies, such as Tibetan Buddhism. This personal journey, which also helped with my identity as an adopted person, enriched Stone Circle from my lived experience.

What drew you to historical fiction?

I was one of those kids, passionate about history, who lurked between the library shelves trying to understand various historical events, such as the holocaust. I was sure that if I read enough about a period it would become real to me—that I would see, smell and hear the times I was interested in.

What inspired you to write Stone Circle?

I had a dream about two young men and an old man in a canoe on a very calm stretch of water. The wise old man was teaching the men, imparting knowledge. Then it was a matter of pinpointing a time period. Whilst researching the Renaissance period I came across alchemy, which was burgeoning in Italy at the time. The most important text about alchemy was Corpus Hermeticum, written by Hermes Trismegistus between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD. Thanks to Cosimo de Medici, these writings were transported to Florence and translated in 1463. This translation sparked a renewed interest in alchemy in the West. It seemed the ideal period in which to set the book and I focused on this mysterious practice.

Your next novel, The Orange Grove, is due for release later this year. Can you give us a teaser?

The Orange Grove is set in early 18th century France, in the town of Blois. At the chateau d’Amboise, the duc and duchesse live with five mistresses. Amidst intrigue, a black mass and a visiting tarot reader, the story explores the characters’ choices as they struggle to maintain their status and power.

What research do you do for your novels?

I immerse myself in movies, documentaries, fiction, non-fiction, internet searches and conduct interviews about the settings for my novels. For my latest book, The Glasshouse, I will be travelling to Palermo Sicily on a research trip. This brief immersion will give me a greater understanding of the culture and inform my edits as I redraft.

What advice do you have for authors considering historical fiction?

Learn as much as you can about your period. Make your book less of a history lesson, and more about what makes us human, what aspects of people are transcendent and what reduces them. These human themes are relevant across the centuries and form an engaging story, as long as you also pay attention to historical accuracy.

What next?

The first draft my third novel, The Glasshouse is ready for beta readers and I will travel to Palermo in July to do more research. The Glasshouse was awarded a KSP Fellowship and I’ll spend two weeks in August at the KSP Writers’ Centre in Western Australia, redrafting and perhaps creating some new material. I’m also preparing to release The Orange Grove later in the year. I’m looking forward to reader reactions to this story.

You can follow Kate on:
Facebook: Kate Murdoch
Website: https://katemurdochauthor.com/
Twitter: KateMurdoch3
Instagram: katemurdoch2
Stone Circle is available on all online bookstores. Booktopia

Kate’s second historical fiction book, The Orange Grove has just been released. Read all about it on: Kate Murdoch on Managing Multiple Manuscripts.
Next time: Alice Nixon, From Jillaroo to Mansfield Vet
Next author interview: Eleni Hale – Novelist about her debut novel, Stone Girl


6 thoughts on “Kate Murdoch on Writing Historical Fiction

  1. I was especially struck by this bit of Kate’s advice: Make your book less of a history lesson, and more about what makes us human, what aspects of people are transcendent and what reduces them. These human themes are relevant across the centuries and form an engaging story, as long as you also pay attention to historical accuracy.

    I think it’s perfect advice for writers no matter what their setting and time period…so thank you for this, Kate.

    I’ve read Stone Circle as a beta reader and found it a surprising and entertaining novel.

    Liked by 1 person

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