Interview with Kate Heartfield

With the upcoming print release of Assassin's Creed: The Magus Conspiracy, we welcome Kate Heartfield to the stable of novel authors within the franchise. Thanks to Aconyte Books, we recently had the opportunity to interview Kate and gather her thoughts on her new release.

Interview with Kate Heartfield

Q: Hi Kate! Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions. Can you please introduce yourself to our fans that might not know you, and share a little about your career beyond Assassin's Creed?

Very happy to be here! I live in Ottawa, Canada, and I used to be a newspaper journalist. My two interaction fiction projects for Choice of Games were nominated for Nebula awards in game writing, and my first novel won Canada’s Aurora award. Earlier this year, my big historical fantasy called The Embroidered Book was published, and to my great delight it was a Sunday Times bestseller and a national bestseller here in Canada. This is my first time writing in the Assassin’s Creed universe.

Q: What originally attracted you to writing for the Assassin’s Creed franchise? Was there any aspect that particularly interested you?

I’ve been a great admirer of the games for a long time, and I particularly love the way they immerse the player in those breathtaking settings. Most of my own fiction has been in historical periods, with some sort of speculative twist – fantasy, time
travel, or alternate history – and I tend to be drawn to stories of secret societies and factions. So it was a natural fit! It was also a chance to bring together my game-writing and prose-writing backgrounds.

Q: How would you describe The Magus Conspiracy as an overall story and what do you think are its strongest elements for the new and for the hardcore fans of the franchise?

The Magus Conspiracy is the story of Simeon Price, a British soldier turned Assassin, and Pierrette Arnaud, a French circus performer, as they try to prevent a mysterious figure called the Magus from building a weapon designed by their mutual friend, the mathematician Ada Lovelace. It’s a fast-paced story that blends the geopolitics of 1850s Europe with the underlying philosophical questions raised by the Assassin’s Creed. Hardcore fans will catch some references (and a cameo or two), but it’s written to be accessible to any reader, even someone brand new to the franchise.

Q: How much research did you have to perform on the Victorian Era and which were your main sources? We noted that there were several examples of real-life events carefully weaved into the narrative.

I love weaving real history into fiction. I was familiar with some things about the period already – for example, I’ve long been interested in the painters known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, so I was able to incorporate what I already knew about them as needed. I did a lot of research into the major events and settings of the novel, including the Great Exhibition of 1851, the wreck of H.M.S. Birkenhead, and other things I won’t spoil! I love finding contemporary accounts and little bits and pieces; for example, there’s a newspaper notice in the novel that’s based on a real one of the time, and I spent hours poring over 19th-century floor plans of the British Museum. One of the sources I found incredibly useful was the book In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Lord Byron’s Wife and Daughter, Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace, by Miranda Seymour. My copy of How to Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman is very well-thumbed.

Q: Have you traveled to any of the locations within your novel? Were there any particular inspirations to your descriptive writing of these places?

I’ve been to Paris, which features in several chapters of the novel, and to most of the locations in England at least once, including London and Bath. Since I’ve mentioned the British Museum, it won’t give anything away to say that I was glad I’ve been there several times, as it gave me a sense of the atmosphere and layout, even though it was quite different at the time – for one thing, the natural history collection was still there at the time as it didn’t have its own museum yet.

Q: Simeon Price is a British Soldier, with an interesting backstory. As one of the main characters, did you find creating his character particularly challenging?

The British Expeditionary Corps
Source: Militar Wissen
There was so much going on with the British military in the mid-19th century, including internal problems that ultimately led to reforms, so it was a fascinating element to include. It was a bit daunting researching what I needed to know about regiments, ranks, rules and uniforms, but the psychological and cultural side of it actually felt very natural to write. I was thinking a lot about my grandpa, who was a 20-year-old lance-corporal in the British Expeditionary Force in the Second World War, and his stories about the beach at Dunkirk. Somehow, I felt an affinity for Simeon right away.

Q: Pierrette Arnaud is a horse acrobat, which seems quite a unique but useful skill set. As another of the major characters, was she inspired by any particular individuals from history? How are such skills going to come into play in the story?

Pierrette is inspired by a number of real people – as are the other members of her troupe. And the hippodrome near the Great Exhibition did exist. The book Great Horsewomen of the Nineteenth Century in the Circus by Hilda Nelson was very valuable to me, as was Susanna Forrest’s article in The Paris Review, “The Horsewomen of the Belle Époque”. That’s where I learned the names of several of the women who inspired Pierrette, and also learned about “Willy-Lily”, the acrobat billed as “neither man nor woman but both”, who was the inspiration for the character of Ariel Fine in my novel. So equestrian circus culture was a real part of history – but you’re right, in the novel it also provides some characters with some skills that prove useful in the hunt for the Magus.

Q: Can you tell us a bit more about the Assassins and how you portrayed them in this historical period? Are there any similarities to the Assassins depicted in Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, which takes place a few years after the events of the novel?

I don’t want to give too much away, but we do meet some Assassins of Paris, although of course several decades have passed since the events of Unity, and the politics of France have been very turbulent in those years, so some things have changed for the Assassins. A big section of the book also takes place in Vienna, and we meet an Assassin there. The novel takes place before the events of Syndicate, so there isn’t much overlap, but there are a few mentions and a cameo or two.

Q: Which are the goals and approaches of the Assassins and of the Templars of the historical period depicted in the novel? What are they looking for or trying to do to tip the scales in their favor?

One of the things we really wanted to do with this novel was explore the rise in political assassinations and attempted
Attempt to Queen Victoria by James Francis.
Source: The Trustees of the British Museum
assassinations in 19th century Europe (Queen Victoria alone had eight attempts on her life!) and consider how the Assassins and Templars might have been affected that phenomenon and been affected by it.

Q: How was it working with Ubisoft on this project? Did you have a degree of freedom in writing this series, or were you directed to a specific template? Did you interact with the Transmedia team to make sure your story matched the established lore of the franchise?

Working with Ubisoft and with Aconyte Books was fabulous. They really respected my creativity and encouraged me to develop my ideas. I did have to check in and make sure my outline and manuscript weren’t inadvertently causing any issues with canon, of course, but the process was really collaborative and generative.

Q: Has it been difficult for you to have to keep up with the lore of the franchise in general? Did you use something specific to help you with it, like the Assassin's Creed Wiki for example?

As you can already tell, research is fun for me, and it’s doubly fun to be able to say “not now, mommy’s working” while playing videogames! (Just kidding. Mostly.) I did refer to the Wiki a lot for quick reminders or checks, and I was also provided with background material to work with, and I read several other Assassin’s Creed novels to get a sense for them and to deepen my understanding of the world.

Q: There are the odd easter eggs and cameos of characters from the games appearing in the novel. Without spoiling too much, is there a favorite of yours? Have you had a chance to play the games yourself at all?

I’ve played Syndicate to utter completion (love that game) and I’ve played a bit of Origins, and have been slowly playing through
ACII for a while now. I’ve also watched my partner and son play Odyssey, Black Flag, Unity and Valhalla. So I was pretty familiar with the games, although I’d like to play them all eventually. There are a few nods to some favorites in the novel that I won’t give away. I’m a huge fan of Evie Frye, who doesn’t quite appear in The Magus Conspiracy, but there’s still time in the trilogy…

Q: Was there any particular scene, or dialogue in the novel that you are most proud of?

I’m actually really fond of the opening scene with Simeon on the ship, which is funny because it’s the one that required the most work in revisions. But now I can almost feel myself on that ship, somehow, and I hope that sense of being there is true for readers as well. There’s a small moment later in the book when I was able to work in a traditional soldiers’ song and change it up a bit, which was lots of fun. And I really enjoyed all the scenes where Pierrette and Simeon argue. Some characters just click with their dialogue right away.

Q: This novel is the first of a trilogy, known as “The Engine of History”. Can we expect you to continue writing the sequels of “The Magus Conspiracy” or will this be a work of multiple authors?

This is a question I can’t answer yet, but I know there will be news about this coming very soon!

Q: Naturally fans will be interested to hear about the direction of the remaining books of “The Engine of History” trilogy. Are there any teases you can provide? Locations, settings etc.?

I don’t want to scoop any news, so I won’t say much for now, other than to say that I know that readers will meet some characters from The Magus Conspiracy in future books. Thanks for this interview – it was very fun!

Thank you for your time, Kate!

Assassin's Creed: The Magus Conspiracy is available for purchase now as a printed novel in all good stockists, as well as digitally.If you happened to miss it, do please check out our review as well.

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