Interview with Kitty Pilgrim, author of The Stolen Chalice

Interviewed by Rhonda Fischer

PBR: How long did it take to write the book?
Pilgrim: The Stolen Chalice was written over the course of one year. I took the extra time to travel to all the places in the book so that I could write them accurately. I have sampled pretty much every place my characters go first—as well as every bite of food and every hotel and setting! For example, the descriptions of Mary King’s Close, the underground houses in Edinburgh, the scenes at NAMRU-3 Naval Medical Research Center in Cairo are written from first-hand experience. I do my research the same way I did while working as a correspondent for CNN. I believe in on-the-ground reporting for news and novels. I feel that I can write better if I have walked in the shoes of my characters.

PBR: What parts are true?
Pilgrim: I write “fact based fiction” which takes a romantic thriller plotline and bases it in fact. In The Stolen Chalice, the Sardonyx Chalice is based on a real artifact in the National Gallery of Art in Washington (the chalice of Abbot Suger St Denis). The mummy, Artemidorous, is in the British Museum. The NAMRU-3 medical unit in Cairo is real, and I went there to be able to write the finale. Culzean Castle in Scotland was really given to Eisenhower at the end of World War II and I stayed there twice. In writing novels, I hope to inform as well as to entertain, and I try to make the details as close to reality as possible.

PBR: Did you travel to these countries in your story?
Pilgrim: For The Stolen Chalice I traveled to all the places in the book: Egypt, Scotland, London, Venice and Wyoming (I live in New York, where the opening scene takes place). As I travel to these places I often shoot videos for the book, which can serve as “extras” for readers who want to learn more about the locations and facts in my novels. I post the videos on my website: The trip to Egypt was particularly difficult this year as revolution was in full swing. I had to wait a few months before the travel warnings were lifted.

PBR: Are you an Egypt buff?
Pilgrim: I have always been intrigued by Egyptian culture, both past and present. The whole age of Egyptian exploration with Flinders Petrie and Howard Carter has so much romance. Current political events in that country are absolutely fascinating as well. Because I live near the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the artifacts of ancient civilizations are just a short walk from my apartment.

PBR: What is your fascination with mummies?
Pilgrim: I love the topic of the burial rites of ancient Egypt. They are so elaborate, sacred and full of mystery. I’m particularly fascinated by the Roman era mummies, which have a portrait of the deceased attached to the cartouche. You can see the face of the person in the sarcophagus that is before you. It makes looking at these artifacts so personal. In Cairo, the Royal Mummy Chamber is absolutely fascinating. To see the mummy of Hatshepsut was quite a thrill – I had read so much about her.

Most novels treat mummies as cartoon characters…I wanted to bring to the reader the state of the art science of examining mummies. Since Victorian times, we have improved our understanding of how these remains were preserved. We have so many new tools at our disposal today. So part of the mission of the novel was to inform the reader about the new scientific ways of studying mummies. I worked closely with the experts at the Brooklyn Museum to research this topic.

PBR: Is a bit of your real life depicted in the story?
Pilgrim: All of my novels are about two things: the luxury and romance of travel, and the fascination with exotic locales. I travel the world looking for interesting places to write about, and often have the privilege of sampling luxury accommodations. In The Explorer’s Code, my first novel, the characters John Sinclair and Cordelia Stapleton take a Mediterranean voyage to Ephesus,Turkey. Their trip mirrors one I took on the Queen Victoria ocean liner. I am a member of the Historic Explorer’s Club and went to Svalbard a few years ago on expedition. Basically, yes, I live the life of my characters, so you can bet that if they are doing something, I have been there first.

PBR: What is your favorite part of the book?
Pilgrim: In The Stolen Chalice, I especially like the scenes in Wyoming. I spent last June there with my sons and we had a lovely time riding, hiking and exploring the area around Jackson Hole. So for personal reasons the Wyoming scenes are fun. I also love the developing romance between John Sinclair and Cordelia. Writing that was fun because it is a complicated relationship between two people who are complex and vulnerable. The tension in their relationship keeps things interesting.

PBR: Is the Sardonyx Cup real?
Pilgrim: Yes, the Sardonyx Cup was the initial inspiration for this novel. I saw it in the National Gallery of Art in Washington and knew right away that I wanted to spin a tale of mystery around this object. It is immensely beautiful – an ancient Egyptian drinking vessel that was turned into a golden chalice studded with gems. If you would like to view it there are two ways: one is to go to the National Gallery in Washington and ask for the Chalice of the Abbot Suger St Denis. The other is to view it in the Mystery of Egypt video on my website at

PBR: What made you become a writer?
Pilgrim: I have always written, however, I have recently changed genres. For 24 years I was a national/international correspondent for CNN. Fact-based writing has been my career. A few years ago I decided to try my hand at writing fiction because as I ran through the airports on assignment I would grab a paperback and I couldn’t find the exact blend of romance and adventure I was looking for. I often had to choose between a thriller or a romance but I wanted a blend of both with a large dollop of travel. So I began the Sinclair series because I believed I had a new approach to the romantic-thriller genre.

PBR: Are you writing another book?
Pilgrim: Yes, I am currently finishing the third of the series with an entirely new set of locations and adventures. John Sinclair and Cordelia will have many new challenges ahead. I can’t tell you much about the new plot except it involves volcanoes…but I want to wait to reveal more as I continue my research.

See the review of The Stolen Chalice

Kathryn Pilgrim known professionally as Kitty Pilgrim is a former CNN anchor and correspondent and author of popular fiction. Her latest international thriller is The Explorer’s Code. The sequel, The Stolen Chalice will be released June 26, 2012.