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Q&A with Kate Foster - The King's Witches



By Leah Golder


We are excited to welcome Kate Foster to The Reading Corner to talk about her new release, The King's Witches,  released on the 6th June 2024.


Women whisper secrets to each other; it is how we survive.


1589. Princess Anne of Denmark is betrothed to King James VI of Scotland – a royal union designed to forever unite the two countries. But first, she must pass the trial period: one year of marriage in which she must prove herself worthy of being Scotland's new Queen. If the King and the Scottish royal court in Edinburgh find her wanting, she faces permanent exile to a convent. Determined to fulfil her duties to King and country, Anne resolves to be the perfect royal bride. Until she meets Lord Henry.


By her side is Kirsten Sorenson, her loyal and pious lady's maid. But whilst tending to Anne's every need, she has her own secret motives for the royal marriage to be a success . . .


Meanwhile, in North Berwick, a young housemaid by the name of Jura is dreaming of a new life. She practises the healing charms taught to her by her mother, and when she realises she is no longer safe under her master’s roof, she escapes to Edinburgh. But it isn't long before she finds herself caught up in the witchcraft mania that has gripped not just the capital but the new queen . . .


Will Anne, Kirsten and Jura be able to save each other and, in doing so, save themselves?


Hi Kate, welcome to The Reading Corner! Thank you for speaking with me about your upcoming release The King’s Witches. Your historical novel is a rich and fascinating exploration of the North Berwick witch trials of the 1950s, providing a compelling re-telling with a special focus on Anna of Denmark which is lacking from history. Perfectly paced with rich explorations of male mania and female strength, infused with quiet moments of platonic and maternal love, this inspiring historical tale is one I am so excited for our readers to get stuck into.


As this novel is based on true events in our history and takes direct inspiration from the events of the North Berwick witch trials in 1950, can you please tell us about the research process you undertook for this project.


I have always had a background knowledge of the North Berwick witch trials, as I live nearby in Edinburgh. As my own personal reading took me to incredible historical novels about accused women, like the Familiars, the Mercies and Cunning Women, I began to think about what had happened in North Berwick. I did a large amount of research because I really wanted a solid foundation of the facts before I delved into my own fictional retelling. I read everything from academic papers on the international transfer of ideas of sorcery in the 16th century to accounts of the main players such as King James of Scotland and his wife Anna of Denmark. I read other novels and scoured the internet for everything I could find. From what foods were on their tables to the fabric of their farthingale gowns. I loved it!


Leading on from this, how did you balance the art of staying true to the facts versus embellishing the fact with fiction? Were there any moments where you had to refine the fiction to stay true to the facts and vice versa?


I think I need a really solid foundation of knowledge before I go off on one of my fictional

tangents. Basically, you cannot stay true to the facts if you are writing a commercial novel because they have a set plot, and characters must behave in certain ways that they did not behave in real life. So yes, you pick and choose your facts. But the reader understands this. I changed lots of things, such as Anna’s age to make her older (from 14 to 17) and I put her on a marriage trial for the first year, to increase her stakes. But the biggest change I made was to give her a romantic love interest aside from her royal husband and arranged marriage.


‘Women whisper secrets to each other, it’s how we survive.’ – I absolutely love this quote from

the novel, and I believe it truly encapsulates the survival of women in history, a place that is

generally unkind to women or writes them completely out of the story. Your re-telling of this part of history places women at the forefront, how important was it for you to provide female

perspectives in such a lacking space?


The King’s Witches, like my debut novel The Maiden, tells the story exclusively from the

perspectives of the women involved, even although the men were the main players in the history books. There are so many untold stories of women. Authors like me cannot really re-tell what actually happened but we can put our own perspectives on it.


You encapsulate the male mania surrounding the art of witchcraft amazingly. Almost all male

characters display some sort of crazed obsession with witches which you expertly portray through the actions, speech and mannerisms of the male characters. How did you emulate the headspace of such characters in order to create such rich and vivid details?


I think some men were obsessed with women accused of witches. I think there was probably a fine line between their fear and a sense of excitement about the idea, when you consider the torture methods and the fact more women were accused then men. These men were frightened, genuinely frightened I think, and thrilled. I did not imagine what was going on in their heads as much as I imagined what it must have been like for their victims to see them like this. It must have been terrifying.


At the beginning of Chapter Thirty, Kirsten describes the mania of the belief of witches as a ‘plague of fear; a disease of ideologies’. This is a beautifully terrifying summary of the nature of humans when confronted with something unknown and foreign, and you capture this innate fear wonderfully throughout the novel. Was this take on human nature and the destructiveness that can come when confronted with an unknown and misunderstood threat purely inspired by the true events of the witch hunts or were there any other events that inspired this view?


To me, this sums up the way that witch panic spread from country to country in the late 16th

century. There were witch burnings in Trier, Germany and news of these spread to Scandinavia, influencing the Copenhagen Witch Trials, then to Scotland. People were being persecuted for religious reasons and sorcery.


The quiet moments of female empowerment and friendship are a beacon of hope in an

overwhelming bleak time in history for women. Providing needed respite from the persecution

and torturing of women, you craft wonderful moments of hope and solidarity. Was this a necessity for your when writing about the witch hunts knowing the bleak and shameful treatment women faced?


I think that when you are writing about the very worst of human behaviour you need to have

moments such as humour and friendship which can be a light in the darkness. We always need hope.


In the final meeting of Anna and Henry, you craft such a wonderful and heartbreakingly sweet

goodbye for the unlucky lovers. Is there another possible narrative where these characters were able to escape their destined fates of servitude to the crown and live a fulfilled life together?


In real life, there is no account of Anna of Denmark taking a lover so I gave her a fictional romantic interest. Anna of Denmark was a loyal queen and served James well and I do not think she would ever have abandoned her duties.


Finally Kate, where can our lovely readers get their hands on your wonderful novel The King’s

Witches?


All the usual places, such as your local independent bookshop, the big booksellers and online!


Thank you so much for your time Kate!






Kate Foster has been a national newspaper journalist for over 20 years. Growing up in Edinburgh, she became fascinated by its history and often uses it as inspiration for her stories. Her first novel, The Maiden, a feminist revisionist take on the Scottish legend of The White Lady of Corstorphine, won the Bloody Scotland Pitch Perfect competition in 2020 and the Bloody Scotland Crime Debut of the Year in 2023. She lives in Edinburgh with her two children.

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