We’re in the middle of the holidays here, except it rains all the time. Some days I barely notice, though, as I’m stuck in my little meatsafe, writing away.
The new trilogy has involved some really hard thinking. The historical time is complicated and very dark. Could any time be darker than the crusades? Well, yes! Thirteenth century France was bleak: it’s when we meet Inquisitors rather than the Inquisition. These were Dominican friars sent to deal with, amongst others, those people known in Europe as the Cathar heretics, i.e. people who had their own ideas about how to worship God and said rude things about the Pope – never a good idea in the medieval times. Doesn’t really matter actually what they all believed. The important thing is that the Catholics hated the Cathars and the Cathars hated the Catholics. Favourite punishment if you were found to be a Cathar? Funeral pyres. All jolly stuff.
On top of this, the south of France, known then as the Langue D’Oc, or Occitania, or the Occitan, was trying to stay independent of King Louis IX of France, who kept trying to overrun it. For good measure, Louis was Catholic (of course) but not all Occitanians were Cathars, so you’ve got a rare old mix of loyalties, counter-loyalties, imperial ambitions, iffy reasons for war – sound familiar? Add to that treachery, counter-treachery and a Blue Flame that stands for all the Occitan’s brilliance and life but which isn’t always reliable and you’ve great grist to the mill of a story. Once you’ve sorted it all out of course.
Anyhow, my story is a love story, which explores different kinds of love: love for country, love for another, love for self, love for God. It also unravels a little the difference between being righteous and being self-righteous. The difference has been crucial to world history. When you mistake one for the other, all hell breaks loose.
It’s been fun writing about thirteenth century Paris, which reminds me of nothing so much as 19th and 20th century New York. New York as a medieval city may sound odd, but it feels very right. Building building building: higher, bigger, better. Building as power. Height as might. Architectural glamour as personal pride. Medieval cities were as buzzy as Manhattan: noisy, 24 hour places, teeming with life, not at all like the rather sleepy ruins so many are today. When Yolanda (my heroine) went to Paris, I thought of my first trip to New York – not something I had expected to do.
That’s the joy of starting something new, although it’s also terrifying. Many times over the last month I have longed to change places with a supermarket checkout girl.
Miss Blackberry is now quite large. If I could find my camera underneath the pile of papers in my study, I’d take a picture. Maybe once Yolanda’s left Paris and I can refold my maps, most of which are covered in arrows to remind me which way the rivers flow, I shall find all manner of things. Perhaps even the dog herself.
Good holidays to all,