Kathleen McGurl - On settings

This week’s guest in the writers abroad series, Kathleen McGurl, actually lives in Christchurch, England but when pandemics allow she spends a lot of time travelling in Europe with her husband in their motorhome, especially France and Spain. She has written ten dual timeline novels, set in England, France and Ireland, and is constantly inspired by the history of any place she finds herself in.

Over to Kathleen!

I write dual timeline novels, where a historical mystery is uncovered and resolved in the present day. I write the two storylines as alternating chapters. It’s a tricky genre to write, as each novel needs two sets of characters and two plot-lines, yet must hang together as a single story.

One way to tie the two timelines together is by using a strong and distinctive setting, that is ‘seen’ by the reader in both time periods. Often the location has changed dramatically over the decades or centuries between the two storylines. I’ve used a west of Ireland village abandoned during the 1840s famine (The Girl from Ballymor); a Lake District valley evacuated and flooded to make way for a reservoir which then dried out during a drought (The Drowned Village); and a large country house that’s now a hotel (The Daughters of Red Hill Hall).

In The Secret of the Château, it’s probably no surprise that the setting is a French château. The historical story is set during the French revolution, when it is lived in for the last time by members of the doomed aristocracy. And in the contemporary story, I had a group of newly retired friends decide to pool their resources and buy it – something I’ve dreamed of doing with my mates!

I’d seen a small château in the Loire valley that had inspired my book, and took some photos of it to use when writing it. But my favourite part of France is the Alpes-Maritimes. I’m a mountain lover, and being near the Alps while also within easy reach of the Mediterranean coastline is my idea of heaven. So I decided to uproot my château and put it in one of the high valleys where I’d spent a couple of months touring, in 2019.

There aren’t so many châteaux in that area, but there are enough that my story was plausible, and I very much enjoyed having my contemporary character go for walks in the local hills as well as visit the nearby village, shopping in the market, watching the locals play pétanque etc. It was a fun book to write, and my research was helped immensely by having spent those weeks touring the area in our motorhome.

Covid-19 and lockdowns have meant our travelling has been severely restricted recently. Thankfully I came up with an idea for a novel set right where I live – Christchurch, England, and that’s my current work-in-progress. I hadn’t realised until I moved here in December 2020 that it was a hotbed of smuggling in the 18th century. With the help of the local library I’ve researched its history thoroughly and have come up with a dual timeline novel that encompasses many real-life local smuggling stories. I am having a wonderful time writing it!

My newest completed book is The Lost Sister (publication date 12th May 2021). It tells the story of three sisters who work on three sister ships – Olympic, Titanic and Britannic. Much of the setting of the historical story is on board the ships, so of course this research had to be done via books. That worked, during the pandemic.

Soon we’ll be able to travel again, I hope. I have a novel in mind set in Dublin during the 1916 uprising, and another set in Chamonix, France. Before I embark on either book I’d like to go back to these areas and really immerse myself in the locations.


Connect with Kathleen
Website: https://kathleenmcgurl.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KathMcGurl @KathMcGurl
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/KathleenMcGurl


Discover more about The Secret of the Château…
(Which I enjoyed immensely and recommend!)

1789. Pierre and Catherine Aubert, the Comte and Comtesse de Verais, have fled the palace of Versailles for their château, deep in the French Alps. But as revolution spreads through the country, even hidden away the Auberts will not be safe forever. Soon they must make a terrible decision in order to protect themselves, and their children, from harm.

Present day. When Lu’s mother dies leaving her heartbroken, the chance to move to a château in the south of France with her husband and best friends seems an opportunity for a new beginning. But Lu can’t resist digging into their new home’s history, and when she stumbles across the unexplained disappearance of Catherine Aubert, the château begins to reveal its secrets – and a mystery unsolved for centuries is uncovered…
Buy from Amazon UK


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 world the latest contemporary thriller Double Identity… 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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