Into the Map

Limousin Map

For the last few days I have been putting together maps to help readers envisage the action of my latest novel set in the 12th century, The Drowned Court. The characters travel from Dublin, to Wales, to England, and into northern France. Poring over old maps and, as far as possible, walking the terrain myself are essential parts of my writing process.

‘It’s actually treading the ground which makes a difference, which allows…you to inhabit other lives.’ (Jacqueline Yallop)*

Next week I will be treading the ground of my first novels, Almodis the Peaceweaver and The Viking Hostage, when I talk at the Charroux Literary Festival on landscapes inspiring fiction.

I love maps – I have shoeboxes full of them. The old map (above) showing the medieval French counties of La Marche, Perigord, and the Limousin, which I found in the British Library, was an important inspiration for my first two novels. The archivist at the Musee d’Augustins also gave me a copy of a map of 10th century Toulouse which helped me think about my characters moving around that city.

‘The landscape itself often suggests the stories that might be possible within it.’ (Deborah Lawrenson)*

Maps often inspire me to write new scenes and they are full of suggestive text too, which can be put to use. Maps and walks around the triple river estuary of Carmarthen Bay in Wales were the starting points for my latest Conquest trilogy. I’m fascinated by the uncertainty between land and water, by islands, coastlines, spits, and estuaries. I was interested to try to write as if the landscape/seascape was almost a character in the novels itself – rather like the gloomy, ominous heath in Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native or the sinking sands of the saltmarsh in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone.

‘The author must know his countryside, whether real or imaginary, like his hand; the distances, the points of the compass, the place of the sun’s rising, the behaviour of the moon … even when a map is not all the plot … it will be found to be a mine of suggestion.’ Robert Louis Stevenson**

* From my article, ‘The Lure of Another Place & Time’ published in Historical Novels Review.

** From Peter Turchi (2004) Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer, San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press.

My talk on landscapes inspiring fiction at the Charroux Literary Festival in France is on Saturday 26 August at 9.30am.

Other authors at the festival include Barbara Erskine, Andrew Lownie, and Alison Morton. I am also contributing to the festival’s panel discussion on historical fiction on Friday 25 August at 9am.


Simon Mawer interview


My interview with acclaimed novelist Simon Mawer was recently published on The Displaced Nation site. Mawer’s fiction has received a slew of prizes: The McKitterick Prize for his first novel, Chimera; The Glass Room was short-listed for the Booker Prize; and Tightrope won the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. He has lived in Italy for many years and finds his imagination is fired by the extraordinary and the unfamiliar.

What comprises non-human life?

Photo: Nomeda Urbonas
Photo: Nomeda Urbonas

An article and extracts from my novella MEANDA have just been published on the Zooetics website. Zooetics is part of the 5 year Frontiers in Retreat art research project. With artists Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas and curator Viktorija Siaulyte, I have been exploring radical future potentialities for interspecies relations and notions of Nature.

Inspired by JG Ballard’s fictional living plant technologies, the Zooetics team has been working with mycelium – the extraordinary mushroom roots network. In MEANDA I made water one of the protagonists in a future fiction story set on an exoplanet.

Zooetics is a word coined to gesture at poetic, artistic, fictional, playful approaches to all life. Mycelium is certainly living. Is water?

I’m currently working with HIAP curator, Jenni Nurmenniemi, to develop a seminar which will take place in Helsinki in September and consider the question of non-human life within the context of the Museum of Nonhumanity.

The Write Stuff in France

Maisons Daura, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, where I have just completed a writing residency
Maisons Daura, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie, where I have just completed a writing residency

An article on English writers living in France, featuring an interview with me, has just been published in the August issue of Living France magazine. It includes information on writers groups, the Writing at the Castle writing workshops, literary festivals in France including Parisot and Charroux, and The English Library in Villefranche-de-Rouergue.

New exoplanet novella published

excite par cetteThe Exoplanet Lot exhibition, organised by MAGP, opens tonight. Visitors will go on an expedition to artworks sited in the Lot Valley, France. The MAGP gallery in Cajarc features works by Tania Candiani and Angelika Markul. From there, visitors travel by bus and bike to works in the landscape by Thomas Lasbouygues, Caroline Le Mehaute, HeHe, and my site on the long-distance GR36 footpath running beside the river Lot. Finally there are late night performances and exhibitions in Saint Cirq Lapopie by Ludwig, Tania Candiani and Nahum Mantra.

The exhibition runs until 4 September.


Meanda CoverMy ebook novella, Meanda, is published today for the start of the exhibition and available from Amazon. Full details on the Meanda website.

Follow the story on Twitter in daily doses until 4 September on @Meanda55555

Summer Writing Weeks in France

I will be teaching on residential writing weeks in south-west France in June and July run by ‘A Chapter Away’ at the fabulous Miradoux House. Please do forward information to anyone you know who might be interested to attend. I am leading the July course on historical fiction:

Playing with Time: Writing Historical Fiction 6 – 12 July 2016
Five day course developing your historical fiction writing with workshops by award-winning novelists Tracey Warr and Natalie Meg Evans on research for historical fiction, creating your fictional world and characters, plotting, beginnings and endings, language and dialogue. Publisher Richard Willis from Impress Books and the Impress Prize will work with you on proposals and submissions, how to present yourself and your ideas to publishers and agents, and we will discuss the pros and cons of self-publishing. The tutors will share their experiences and tips for developing a writing career and we will spend time focussing on your own manuscripts in progress. Whether you are just starting out or have a near-finished draft, whichever era you are writing about – from the ancient to the early 20th century, the course will help push your project on in new directions.

The June courses are:

Novel & Memoir 12-18 June 2016
Examining the fine line between memoir, autobiographical fiction and a writer’s first novel, considering common themes between novel and memoir: characterisation, narrative thrust, dialogue and structure. Looking at the world of literary fiction and memoir publishing, examining what agents and publishers are looking for, what sells. Course includes writing exercises, tuition on work in progress, preparing a plan of action for the coming months. Course tutors are agent Andrew Lownie and authors Jane Dormer and Amanda Hodgkinson; guest speakers are author Liz Jensen and lyricist, Danny Wright.

Magical Dialogue 19-25 June 2016
Taking a fresh look at dialogue and the art of making a character sound ‘real’, examining what makes ‘good’ dialogue and how dialogue can be used to increase or slow pace. An original piece of writing will be produced and performed on the final night. Amanda Hodgkinson will lead the group in storyboarding an idea. With Gerard Barbe you will examine the structure of novel and film, identifying cross-over points between them. With tutor Tracey Warr you will consider dialogue in historical drama and fiction. Guest speaker, lyricist Danny Wright, will consider how to tell a tale in three minutes.

The week-long courses cost £1,000 each including tuition, accommodation and full board, but not including travel and can be booked on:

A Chapter Away

If enquiring or booking please mention that you heard about the courses via Tracey Warr.