This medieval village and castle in the Tarn Valley in southern France was where I was first prompted to start writing historical fiction. A guest post by me charting my mid-life switch from academic to novelist has been published today on M.K. Tod’s A Writer of History blog.
For the last eighteen months I have been interviewing authors for the site’s regular column, ‘Location, Locution’.
My latest interview is with Harriet Springbett, British YA author living in France.
Other interviews include:
Jacqueline Yallop, British historical novelist and non-fiction writer living part-time in France
Simon Mawer, British novelist living in Italy
Charles Lambert, British novelist living in Italy
Emmi Itaranta, Finnish future fiction writer living in the UK
A.J. Mackenzie, Canadian historical crime duo living in the UK
Clare Kane, Scottish novelist living in China.
Thank you to The Displaced Nation editor, ML, for her beautiful and inventive interview layouts.
In my interview published today on The Displaced Nation, author Harriet Springbett talks about being an English writer living in France:
‘When I go back to England and see bookshops stuffed with books, or blogs featuring new books every day, I feel intimidated. Writing stories suddenly seems rather pointless and I wonder what I can possibly add to the overloaded bookshelves. Then I come home to France and it feels rare and right once more. France is my cocoon. If I lived in England, I’m not sure I’d be a writer.’
Harriet’s Tree Magic is published by Impress Books. She is currently writing a story set in the Pyrenees.
The photo shows the tiny chapel at Alendo in the Pyrenees.
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.
Frontiers in Retreat is an art and ecology project I have been involved in for the last four years. A series of exhibitions, titled Edge Effects, has just begun and showcases some of the work produced by the 25 artists and 8 curatorial partners in the project:
June-September, Edge Effects at Skaftfell, Iceland; June-August, Edge Effects at Mustarinda, Finland; July, Edge Effects organised by Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Glasgow; July-September, Edge Effects in Aizpute, Latvia, and opening soon online in July: Edge Effects, Farrera, Spain which includes my work, FORD and my interview series with some of the artists. More Edge Effects exhibitions opening later in the year in Zagreb and Seoul.
HIAP has just produced the beautiful booklet above, designed by NODE in Berlin, and edited by Salla Lahtinen and Jenni Nurmenniemi. You can download a free copy here
The booklet summarises the work of the Frontiers in Retreat artists and partners and is also available at the Edge Effects exhibition venues. It features the photograph below of my installed text work, MEANDA, from the Exoplanet Lot exhibition organised by Maison des Arts Georges Pompidou, Cajarc, last year.
17 Boulevard Haute Guyenne
organised by The English Library
Many writers, from Joyce to Hemingway, have seen and used the value of the estranged position. Not entirely fitting in, being a bit of a voyeur is the ideal position for a writer. Not belonging can allow a writer to see afresh. I’m looking forward to talking in Villefranche-de-Rouergue on Friday this week, about the impacts and inspirations that living in France have had on my writing.
‘Southern France is graced by spectacular hilltop castles, medieval towns and a rash of English historical novelists,’ I wrote in my article ‘The Lure of Another Time, Another Place’, published in Historical Novels Review magazine (Feb 2016). I interviewed a number of other English writers about living and writing in France. ‘Writing starts with landscape,’ declared Kate Mosse. ‘The landscape itself often suggests the stories that might be possible within it,’ said Deborah Lawrenson. And in the same vein, Jacqueline Yallop found that, ‘It’s actually treading the ground which makes a difference, which allows…you to inhabit other lives’. Amanda Hodgkinson pointed out the supportive attitude in France towards the notion of an artist’s life. And, of course, there is an avid English-reading readership living here in France.
I will be talking alongside another locally based writer Stephen Goldenberg whose latest thriller is set in Villefranche.
The event will take place in the Salle de Travail, across from the terrace of Hotel Les Fleurines. Entry is free.
Tapas available afterwards at 10 euros per plate and must be pre-ordered by email to email@example.com.