Woman dressed as a man joins army – Marina Fiorato introduces her new novel KIT

author interviews, Book Thoughts, Recommended, Writing, Writing Thoughts

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I’ve had the privilege to read an advance copy of Marina Fiorato’s Kit; the exciting, pacy adventure based on the true story of Kit Kavenagh, who chased across the world dressed as a man to get her husband back. I so enjoyed the book and can’t wait to post my review! Here’s Fiorato herself introducing how the book came to be:

Cross-dressing is very much in the headlines at the moment. We are bombarded with images of Caitlyn Jenner’s extraordinary transformation, and flamboyant potter Grayson Perry is now a familiar face on our TV screens.

But there is nothing new about living your life as the opposite gender. One very early example has always been of interest to me; my namesake, Saint Marina, was the original cross-dresser. Her name was a dead giveaway – she was known simply as Marina the Monk.

In 8th century Syria, Saint Marina’s elderly father stated his intention to marry her off so he could retire to monastic life. Marina protested, shaved her head and entered holy orders with him. When the old man died, Marina was alone with her secret. She rose through the orders at the monastery and when she was sent to another foundation on monastic business she was obliged to stay at a wayside inn. That night the innkeeper’s beautiful daughter was raped, and the soldier responsible told his victim to lay blame on the visiting monk. The girl became pregnant, and took the child to the monastery to appeal to her ‘seducer’. Marina was placed on trial by the Abbott, and rather than give herself away she confessed to the crime of rape and admitted paternity of the child. She was banished from her order and endured great hardship in order to raise the child in her mountain exile. At the age of forty she became mortally ill and returned to the monastery to die. Marina carried her secret to the grave and her true gender was only discovered when her body was being cleaned for burial. Her selfless life gave her relics power and her bones were said to heal others as she herself could not be healed.

I’m pretty sure that the image of Saint Marina, that stern golden icon hanging in my mind’s eye, was the inspiration for my new heroine. In my novel ‘Kit’ I follow the adventures of the extraordinary Kit Kavanagh, a redheaded Irish beauty who happily ran an alehouse in Dublin with her husband Richard. In 1702 the regiment came to town; when they left the next morning Kit’s husband had disappeared too. Discovering that Richard had been pressed into service, Kit promptly cut off her hair, dressed in her husband’s clothes and enlisted in the army under the name Christian Walsh. She travelled to Continental Europe in search of her ‘brother’ and fought four campaigns under the Duke of Marlborough’s command, before taking a musket ball to the hip. Subsequent operations in the field hospital gave her away, but not before she had been decorated for her bravery and commended by the Duke himself. Like Saint Marina, she even accepted the paternity of a child in order to conceal her gender. In Kit’s case, too, she was accepting the responsibility that a feckless man would not. Perhaps women make more moral and compassionate men? Both those children – Kit’s child and the child of the long dead Saint Marina – could be said to be truly lucky that their fathers were mothers in disguise.

Thanks Marina! The book came on Thursday and is a lot of fun! Thanks Hodder & Stoughton for my copy!

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