Tracey Warr – Writing medieval fiction in southern France

Photo by Sara Perry

Continuing our series about English-speaking writers based in Europe and their ‘terroir’ – the place where they live. How does it affect their writing? This week, it’s Tracey Warr who lives near Albi in southern France.

She has published five novels set in early medieval Europe. Her first novel, Almodis, was shortlisted for the Impress Prize and the Rome Film Festival Book Initiative. Her second novel, The Viking Hostage, recounts the true story of a French noblewoman kidnapped by Vikings.

Tracey’s Conquest trilogy follows the tumultuous life of the medieval Welsh princess, Nest ferch Rhys in the aftermath of the Norman conquest. The trilogy was supported by a Literature Wales Writer’s Bursary.

Her next project, Three Female Lords, is a biography and has received an Author’s Foundation Award. She is Head of Research at Dartington Trust and teaches on MA Poetics of Imagination at Dartington Arts School.

Over to Tracey!

I was born in north London. Twenty years ago my only child—my daughter—grew up and left home and I resigned from my academic job. What next? A friend was in India for six months and offered me his house in the south of France, near Toulouse.

In October, the cat and I found ourselves in a tiny hamlet in the Tarn Valley. Wifi was good. Mobile coverage was poor. The only heating in the ancient, rickety house was a woodburning stove. I don’t drive and there was no public transport. The nearest shop (so small that a visiting friend thought it was a larder rather than a shop) was a 20-minute walk each way. I set up my desk, took a few last autumn swims in the river, and the cat and I hunkered down for the winter.

I expected to be in splendid isolation for months. I did a YouTube tutorial and got coaching over the phone from my Welsh friend on how to light the woodburning stove. The only local wood delivery man asked: ‘What do you think of Tony Blair?’ My answer passed the test and I woke one morning to the thuds of a few tons of logs being tipped onto the road outside. Moving them into the cave would be a mammoth task. I stepped from the front door, pulling on my gardening gloves, and was amazed to see two neighbours, who I had not said more than hello to, doing the same—automatically coming to help when they heard the sound.

Neighbours became friends, took me on trips to the supermarket, invited me over for Christmas, and my French improved. When I locked myself out one neighbour peered at the ancient lock and made a key. One morning I flung open the shutters and almost knocked another neighbour off a ladder where he was, unasked, pruning the rose and vine rambling round the house. As a city girl, this kindly camaraderie was unexpected.

Brousse-le -Château Photo by Père Igor (Creative Commons)

I went on a trip to Brousse-le-Château, an intact medieval village and, the next day, started researching and writing early medieval fiction based on the lives of real women I came across in an 11th century chronicle.

I fell in love with the pace of village life that gave me focus to write. I delighted in the markets, river landscapes and medieval castles. Swimming in the river and strolling on the bank gongoozling (watching the life of the river go by) complemented time writing and researching.

A year later, still obsessed with the French medieval women I’d discovered, I joined an MA in Creative Writing in Wales to reinforce my new life choice to be a historical fiction writer. Ten years later, I bought a tiny, dilapidated, medieval house on a river in another village near Albi, not far from the first place I had stayed.

Being separated from my family in the UK in COVID times has been hard. Another challenge is that occasionally I must have the British Library. I can get far with online research and buying books, but more obscure sources require ‘proper’ research in a reference library. I make what I think of as a guerrilla raid on the library – a few weeks’ concentrated work that I bring back to my desk like booty.

Almodis de la Marche (left) (Public domain)

My first novel focused on Almodis de La Marche, the real 11th century countess of Toulouse and Barcelona. The monk William of Malmesbury accused Almodis of being afflicted with a Godless female itch, which seemed to me to be a good reason to write about her. Now I am writing her biography.

My writing is inspired by material culture—objects in museums, archaeology, illustrated manuscripts—and by sensory experiences of places.

Living in France, I have easy access to site research. I visited Lusignan near Poitiers in the Aquitaine, the site of Almodis’s first marriage and the Melusine fey story, which may be associated with her. I visited the tiny chapel of Sant Pere del Burgal over the border in the Pyrenees, which has a fresco of Almodis’s sister, Lucia. I undertook writing residencies in the Pyrenees and in the splendid medieval village of Saint-Cirque-Lapopie in the Lot valley.

I belong to a writers’ group where we give each other feedback on works in progress, and cake. I run workshops for other writers’ groups and participate in bilingual literary festivals, including the marvellous Festilitt in Parisot where I met the original Poldark, Robin Ellis, and watched him giving a cookery demonstration and sporting a Sex Pistols apron. I give talks in local libraries and was honoured that my village invited me to join its annual Christmas Salon du Livre.

Writing is a respected occupation in France!


Connect with Tracey
Twitter:   @traceywarr1


In 1121 the Welsh princess, Nest, is unhappily married to the Norman constable of Cardigan Castle. She becomes increasingly embroiled in the Welsh resistance against the Norman occupation of her family lands.

She visits her former lover King Henry in England hoping to secure a life away from her unwanted husband. Grieved and stressed at the death of his son, the King is obsessed with relics and prophecies and under increasing pressure to name his successor.

In Normandy, Sheriff Haith distracts himself from the fact that Nest is married to another man by following clues surrounding the mystery of the drowning of the King’s heir in the wreck of The White Ship.

As Haith tries to piece together fragments of the tragic shipwreck in which three hundred young Norman nobles died in the English Channel, he discovers a chest full of secrets, but will the revelations bring a culprit to light and aid the King? Will the two lovers be united as Nest fights for independence and Haith struggles to protect King Henry?

Buy the paperback   Kindle ebook on Amazon UK

Merci bien, Tracey!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines and taste the latest contemporary thriller… Download ‘Welcome to Alison Morton’s Thriller Worlds’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be among the first to know about news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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