Glorious Poison is the epic finale to Kat Dunn’s French Revolution trilogy. For those who have been missing out, the Battalion of the Dead trilogy starts off with Dangerous Remedy…
Camille, a revolutionary’s daughter, leads a band of outcasts – a runaway girl, a deserter, an aristocrat in hiding. As the Battalion des Mortes they cheat death, saving those about to meet a bloody end at the blade of Madame La Guillotine. But their latest rescue is not what she seems. The girl’s no aristocrat, but her dark and disturbing powers means both the Royalists and the Revolutionaries want her. But who and what is she?
To celebrate the release of Glorious Poison, we chatted with Kat Dunn on her writing journey and what she finds most enjoyable when writing historical fiction.
Congratulations on the publication of Glorious Poison! It must feel amazing to see the trilogy completed finally. Have you always known how the story would end when you started writing book 1, Dangerous Remedy?
Mostly! I had certain things (deaths) that I knew about from the start, and how those would play out, but I wasn’t really sure how I’d get there. At the start I thought the final book would involve a lot more battles on barricades and a bigger scale of conflict, but the process of writing the trilogy and working with my editor made it clear that this story, while set amongst big political turmoil, is ultimately a tight, close lense on a small set of characters over short sharp timeline. More Die Hard than Lord of the Rings…
Following on this, did you ever wish you wrote something differently in books one and two while writing Glorious Poison?
Ultimately, no. I think I’ll always wish I’d known more details about the end of the story so I could do more clever things to set it up, but I think that’s just not how writing works for me. As much as I do love to plan and outline, I discover so much while drafting and editing that there’s no way I could have known everything I could hint at.
There’s one character who never gets a point of view (apart from very briefly) and I do wonder what it would have been like to tell more of the story from their perspective – but then it would become quite a different book.
When did you first learn about the French revolution and when did you first decide you would set your novels in that period?
I have absolutely no idea when I first learnt about the French revolution. It seems like one of those things that’s always been in my mental narrative of world history. My first detailed encounter was through Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety, which I first read when I was 22. I decided to set the trilogy at that point when I started looking further into the history. I’d been debating a historical setting versus a secondary fantasy world, but the more I read into Paris of the revolution the more it felt like a fantastical world that really happened – a new calendar, a new currency, all social and political certainties up ended. There was so much to work with, I knew it was the right choice.
Aside from the political and scientific history ingrained in the book, the details about the period also matter, from food, clothes, smells, to furniture. You made each detail shine through elegantly. Which of these little details did you love researching the most about?
The clothes!! Always the clothes!!! I loved all of it to be honest, the details of daily life are what I love about historical fiction – it’s as close to time travel as we can get. I think it’s that texture that makes a place come alive. I’ve always loved period costume and I cannot tell you why, it just scratches an itch in my brain that loves to dress up and create different characters and imagery. Ada and Al in particular use fashion as a way to express themselves, manipulate people’s perceptions of them, and to gain power. What we wear is so personal, and even the physical experience of wearing different kinds of clothes changes our experience of the world so much it was always going to be a key consideration when setting a novel in the French revolution.
If you were in the Battalion, what role do you think you would play and what kind of skills do you think you would bring to the squad?
Hah! Zero skills to be honest. If I was there, I’d be the neurotic over-planner trying to foresee every single outcome. I think I might be a bit like Al, good at talking, less good at detail and follow through. But, given I’ve come up with all of their plans so far, maybe I’d manage to come up with a few more for them.
What’s next after Glorious Poison? Any spin-offs from this universe?
No spin offs planned right now. I always love when an author sets all their books within the same universe even if the stories aren’t directly connected, so you could maybe think of my next books like that.
You have a very fascinating background – living in Japan, Australia and France before settling in London. Will you be writing historical fiction based in Japan / Australia?
I’ve thought about it! But there’s so many ideas and so little time.
Super glad that you will be able to attend YALC in person this year! What do you look forward to the most?
It’ll be only my second in person event, so I’m very excited for that. My event is on Saturday and I’m chairing some very excellent authors. The thing I most love about YALC is the people, its so lovely to spend a whole weekend with people who love the same things I do, to yell about books and this year, just to catch up with people I’ve not seen for years!
You promised on Twitter that you will be wearing “a ridiculous dress and guillotine earrings”. Can we actually make it happen?
This will absolutely be happening, I have two pairs of guillotine earrings and a whole selection of fancy outfits to break out. The only consideration is whether we get the classic YALC heatwave. But either way, I’ll be going all out.