Writing a medieval murder mystery

I am on Day 7, at the end of week 1 of the NanoWriMo challenge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. See my earlier post on starting the challenge and a second post on my writing playlist.

If I were going to write the same number of words on each of the 30 days of this month I would need a daily word count of 1,667. I’m woefully behind that at the moment because of the amount of research I have to do to write one word, one sentence, to have a sense of the characters and their social and political context. I spent a day, for example, deciding what instrument my protagonist, a female Catalan troubadour called Beatriz, would play. I settled on the vielle. (The title image opposite is a vielle player in the Peterborough Psalter.)

For this, my sixth historical novel, I’ve decided to write a murder mystery (the first in a long-running series featuring Beatriz ). I was stuck for a long time on the murder mystery aspect of plotting the novel – what are the motives for the murder, how do I gradually uncover those motives and the murderer?

Despite my halting start this month I am getting somewhere. The layers of potential motives and the possible murderers are clarifying in my mind so I’m hoping I will get more of a sprint on later in the month and hit the 50,000 words target. Political marriages, power plays between the nobles of southern France and northern Spain and between the church and those nobles, simple greed, papal machinations, sheer murder lust, and the lucrative medieval trades in salt, pilgrimage routes, and relics are all in the cauldron and it’s starting to brew now.

The monastery of Santa Maria de Gerri de la Sal in the Pyrenees, with its wealth built partly on the nearby salt mine

The novel is set at the end of the 11th century in Toulouse, the Pyrenees, Aragon and Poitiers. There was a great deal of social transition going on at that time with changes in inheritance/succession customs, church reform and interference in the affairs of the nobility, the reconquest efforts in Spain against the Muslim kingdoms. Lots of lovely complexity to work with!

I am collecting my visual research at this Pinterest board.

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