Launch: L.S. Mangos’ The Secrets of Morgarten

INTERVIEW BY ELLEN IRWIN

Author Louise Mangos – also writing as L.S. Mangos – grew up in the UK but has spent more than half her life in Switzerland, where she currently lives with her husband and two sons. Her latest novel, The Secrets of Morgarten, is a medieval mystery, which was recently a finalist in the Page Turner Awards. Louise also writes full-length psychological suspense, prize-winning short stories and flash fiction, and enjoys an active life in the Alps.

How would you describe this medieval mystery and its themes in a few sentences?

The Secrets of Morgarten is set in the fourteenth century when the fledgling nation of the Helvetic Confederation – today’s Switzerland – is struggling to defend its independence in central Europe ruled predominantly by the Habsburgs and the Roman Catholic Church. The novel contains themes of patriotism, allegiance, faith, mystery, and romance.

What was your inspiration for writing a story of characters influenced by the fourteenth-century Battle of Morgarten?

Various documents exist that recount the Battle of Morgarten, but they are written at a later period in history. Some historians even consider the finer details of the actual battle to be mythical. But the passion of the people in the Aegeri Valley where Morgarten is situated, and the stories that have passed down through generations, were enough to convince me that the details must be genuine. The resilience of this tiny group of people in a challenging setting is inspirational.

I imagine that living in Switzerland for many years has enhanced your telling of this tale. Have you been able to spend time at any of the locations you describe in your novel? If so, how did this impact the story?

It is so important for an author to know the settings of their novels and I strive to portray them as accurately as possible. It helps that I live in the Aegeri Valley where the Battle of Morgarten took place in 1315. The novel has scenes that take place in other Swiss towns and villages – Luzern, Einsiedeln, and Brunnen to name but a few. I’ve spent time in each of these places, absorbing the atmosphere and imagining life there 700 years ago.

In your novel, Magda, the weaver finds her heart captured by two men—Walter, the tracker son of the legendary Wilhelm Tell, and Sébastien, a French fugitive. What inspired this love triangle?

In official research documents, it is unclear who might have helped the untrained peasants of Morgarten become so strategically clever in their defence of the Confederation’s border when military aid was lacking. It is rumoured that a group of mercenaries from the south taught the men of the valley the art of war. In French history, the disbanding of the Knights Templar coincides with the birth of the Confederation Helvetica (Switzerland). I have borrowed legends surrounding the notorious knights to weave into the story. The love triangle thread in the novel was written to enhance tension and emotion on a more human level. I also wanted to show a conflict of political and religious views between the three characters, and the struggle for women’s voices in this time in history.

Was there a specific historical figure, tidbit of information, or artefact you came across in your research that was showcased in The Secrets of Morgarten?

The legend of Wilhelm or William Tell is a tale that readers beyond the borders of Switzerland are probably most familiar with in the nation’s history. I made the young lad who had the apple shot off his head, Walter, the main male protagonist because although nothing is known about him beyond childhood, his age fit the period perfectly, allowing me a certain creative licence.

The Black Madonna has stood in the Lady Chapel in Einsiedeln since the fifteenth century, but it is rumoured that a version of her existed already in the tenth century. She is revered today by pilgrims who walk many miles annually on the Jakobsweg (the Way of St James) to Einsiedeln. It felt appropriate to make this iconic statue central to the mystery in the novel.

What was the siren song that first called you into writing historical fiction?

If you’d asked me would I ever write a historical novel when I began my novel-writing journey, I’d have said it would be unlikely. Much research is involved in historical projects, even fictional, and I’m ever in awe of great historical novelists who work hard to ensure their facts are correct. On the 700th anniversary of The Battle of Morgarten in 2015, I was involved in the festivities our local village hosted to celebrate the occasion, and became fascinated with the stories surrounding the original event. The setting came first, then I created the characters based on the legends.

What was the most significant challenge you had to overcome in your publication journey, and how did you achieve that?

My first three psychological suspense books were published by traditional publishers, two with an imprint of one of the big five publishers (Harper Collins) and one with an independent publisher (Red Dog Press). My agent at the time turned down The Secrets of Morgarten, citing that a change in genre would not benefit my career with a novel set in such a niche moment in history. But when a writer is passionate about a subject, I believe they should be allowed to follow their hearts, rather than writing for the industry. I set up my own publishing company to publish this book, and following its moderate success, have since had the rights revert on my other three novels to be re-issued under my publishing company.

What is the best writing advice you can pull out of your sleeve?

Writing and publishing has its ups and downs with ever-changing publishing practices, a high turnover of editorial staff, and changes in the way the industry garners readers. But for me and many other fellow creatives, writing is a passion, and this must be separated from the publishing end of the business. I have two mottos: “Write what you love” and “Never give up!”

What is the last great book you read?

Still Life by Sarah Winman.

 


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