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.


2017 Book Events


I have a series of book events coming up this year, talking on and presenting my new historical fiction trilogy, Conquest, which is set in 12th century Wales, England and France. I’ve been researching early medieval toilets, nuns, clothes, castles, and some rather salacious poetry by clerics and dukes. The first book came out last year. I’m working on the second one now and it will be published in the autumn.

Saturday 25 March – LibraryLit at Parisot Library, 82160, France

10.30am-12 noon followed by aperitifs

I will be talking about the first book in the series, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, in the context of other historical fiction and my work as a writer for Historical Novels Review magazine. The event is part of a new series of author-talks linked to the annual Parisot Literary Festival.

Friday 21 April – The English Library, Villefranche-en-Rouergue, 12300, France


I will be presenting alongside crime writer Stephen Goldenberg. I’m planning to discuss  the impacts on my writing from living part of each year in France. The landscapes, histories, art and literature of southern France have played a large role in my writing. I’m currently researching the establishment of the great ‘women’s’ abbey at Fontevraud and imagining the lives of some of my characters there.

And coming up later in the year:

Thursday 8 June 6-8pm – The Guildhall Library, London

I will be focusing on Henry I’s London and the role of early medieval literature as inspirations for my fiction.

Friday 28 July 11am – Victoria Bookshop, Haverfordwest

A talk on the novel and booksigning.

Sunday 30 July 1pm – Carew Castle, Pembrokeshire, Wales

I’m delighted to be participating in a day celebrating the life of Nest ferch Rhys – the heroine of my Conquest trilogy. I will talk about the history behind my fiction and the various castles that featured in Nest’s life. Taffire Theatre Company will be presenting open-air drama about Nest, who lived at Carew Castle. Their performances in the castle courtyard will take place at 11am and 3pm.

24-26 August – Charroux Literary Festival, 86250, France

I’m excited to be speaking here alongside a wonderful line-up of other writers including Barbara Erskine, Jackie Bennet, Andrew Lownie, Nick Inman, Jane Lythall, Diana Morgan Hill, Vanessa Couchman, Alison Morton, James Vance, Harriet Springbett and publishers Stephanie Zia and Chuck Grieve.

But I’m also excited about it because Charroux was at the heart of the old medieval county of La Marche where my first heroine, Almodis, came from. I’m now working on a biography of Almodis and her two sisters, Lucie and Raingarde.

Saturday 23 September 10am-4pm – Narberth Book Fair at The Queen’s Hall, Narberth, Pembrokeshire, Wales

I lived in Narberth for several years and my Conquest stories about the Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys, were first incubated here so I am delighted to be returning for the inaugural Narberth Book Fair.

Saturday 30 September 11am – Tenby Library, Pembrokeshire, Wales

A talk on my Conquest novels, the Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys and the Normans. Coinciding with the Tenby Arts Festival.

Saturday 14 October 10.30am – Pembroke Dock Library, Pembrokeshire, Wales

To coincide with National Libraries Week, I will be giving a talk on my Conquest novels. The second book is published in October and is mostly set at Pembroke Castle where Nest and her husband Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor were based.




Castle Escapes


My blogpost on Gerald FitzWalter, a Norman frontiersman in south Wales in late 11th and early 12th centuries, has just been published on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog.

One of Gerald’s many colourful exploits included an escape down a latrine chute during a Welsh attack in 1109 on his castle of Cenarth Bychan. The latrine chute may have resembled the one shown above, and Cenarth Bychan was very likely the castle in Wales now known as Cilgerran.

Gerald is one of the main characters in my recently published novel Conquest I: Daughter of the Last King, and I am writing more about him now in the sequel, Conquest II: The Drowned Court, which will be published by Impress Books next autumn.

[Photo above of Peveril Castle via Wikimedia Commons. By Dave.Dunford]

Blog Tour: Conquest – Daughter of the Last King

Pembroke Castle, Wales, where one of the characters in my novel, Gerald FitzWalter foiled Welsh attackers who were besieging the castle. He made an insouciant pretence that he had a limitless supply of food inside the castle, by throwing half-eaten pig carcasses over the walls and leaving a faked letter where the Welsh rebels would find it. That’s a true story about him. He was a wily guy!

Latest blogpost published today in the blogtour for my new novel:

Portobello Books Blog

Earlier stops in the blogtour last week:

The Writing Desk

Jorie Loves A Story

The Mad Woman in the Attic

And others coming up soon with Wee Reader, The Cosy Reader and more. Thanks to the bloggers for hosting me and to my publicist at Impress Books, Natalie Clark, for organising it.

A bit sad that, at the moment, I can’t be in the UK and France (where I have lots of loyal readers!) to celebrate the launch of the book in person. I’m currently on a writing residency on a Finnish island and will be going to Iceland after this (so not so bad!). Looking forward to book launch events soon (more news on that coming later). It’s great, however, to be connecting with bloggers and readers all over the place via this Blog Tour.

The new novel, Conquest: Daughter of the Last King, is set in England and Wales at the turn of the 11th century. It focusses on the tumultuous experiences of a young Welsh noblewoman, Nest ferch Rhys, who is caught up in the struggle between the Welsh and the Normans. She is symbolically significant to both sides and the book aims to evoke her torn affections and loyalties and her efforts to regain control of her own destiny. The book is the first in a trilogy about Nest.


You never know how the past will turn out*

Locust depicted in an ancient Egyptian mural

It’s interesting to think about how contemporary details find their way into historical fiction. I’m not talking about errors and anachronisms, but how writers use what they see and hear around them and turn it into something else in their fiction. The locusts kept in a classroom by the creepy tutor in my new novel, for instance, are based on my own schooldays in north London when we had a huge vitrine of chirping locusts down one side of the classroom.

A lot of detail in my early medieval novels comes from historical research but equally a lot is contemporary experience that I’ve transfigured and transported back in time. I saw a couple parting from each other at a bus stop in Oxford and transformed that into an 11th century French countess separating from her Catalan lover at Narbonne Harbour. I had lunch with my Dutch neighbour and was transfixed by the beauty, verve and humour of one of her gay friends. He became the model for the Fleming lover of a 12th century Welsh princess. The appearance of the 10th century Count Audebert de La Marche in my second novel, The Viking Hostage, is based on a dear friend who died a few years ago. A scene where a 12th century lady is surprised by King Henry I with a magical birthday punt on the Thames at midnight, is based on my own midnight birthday punt with friends many years ago in Oxford.

The prehistoric Wogan Cave beneath Pembroke Castle, Wales, which lets out onto the river

Two of my novels are set in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where I breathed the atmosphere of castle ruins, studied the lay of the land, their relationships to rivers, imagined how to break in or break out. I gazed at Carmarthen Bay seascapes from train windows and walked the Wales Coastal Path. I lurked in medieval ruins, accompanied by my long-suffering best friend, who had to frequently suppress the urge to say, ‘can we go home now?’.


Najac, France

I walked into the nave of the medieval church of Eglise Saint-Jean at Najac in France, and stepped on the coloured light patterns projected by stained glass windows. I imagined how it might feel for one of my heroines, to be stepping in silk slippers on these pools of coloured blue, red and yellow light, walking towards the altar to marry a man she had only met once before in a childhood betrothal. You never know how the present will turn out either, when you start making things up in fiction.



Tracey Warr’s new novel Conquest: Daughter of the Last King is published by Impress Books today.



*My blogpost title is a quote from Maria Loh’s marvellous book on Renaissance Artists (Still Lives, 2015).



The medieval Welsh Helen of Troy?

My new novel Conquest: Daughter of the Last King is published by Impress Books next week and is the first in a trilogy about Nest ferch Rhys – the daughter of the last independent Welsh king at the end of the 11th century. Nest is a controversial historical figure. She  makes significant appearances in medieval accounts as a wife two or three times over and mistress to both the Norman King Henry I and the Welsh Prince Owain ap Cadwgan who kidnapped her from one of her Norman husbands. I was partly motivated to write the trilogy by irritation at some recent historians’ too easy attribution of her eventful marital and extra-marital career to her own lasciviousness or her extreme beauty – ‘the Welsh Helen of Troy’. I wanted to try to write into her story, discovering other possible interpretations of what happened to her.

In advance of the book’s release on 1 October you may be interested in a couple of my recent interviews on writing medieval fiction:

Stepping into Early Medieval Worlds, Words with JAM, 18 May 2016

A Troubadour of Medieval Life, The Displaced Nation, 11 Mar 2016

Cilgerran Castle where Nest was probably kidnapped from her Norman husband, Gerald FitzWalter, by the Welsh prince Owain ap Cadwgan. A medieval chronicle describes Nest saving her husband’s life by uging him to escape the attackers through the garderobe (the toilet chute).