Cathie Dunn: Carcassonne, a writer abroad's dream

This week, I’m delighted to welcome Cathie Dunn to the blog in the ‘writers abroad’ series. She is an award-winning author of historical fiction, mystery, dual-timeline, and romance set in Scotland, England, and France. She has been praised for her authentic depiction of the past. After many years in Scotland, Cathie now lives in the south of France. She loves to hear from her readers.

Over to Cathie!

Thank you for hosting me today, Alison. I’m delighted to be here, and to chat about the place that inspired my bestselling dual-timeline novel, Love Lost in Time.

You see, I live in Carcassonne, a large historic town in the south of France. Readers may have heard of it, especially fans of novels by Kate Mosse. But Ms Mosse isn’t the only author taking advantage of Carcassonne’s rich history.

So let me take you to the sweeping plain that sits between the Pyrenees to the south and the foothills of the Massif Central to the north, where you’ll find a real treasure: Carcassonne!

Aerial view of Carcasonne

Carcassonne from the air (Photo: Chensiyuan CC licence)

For centuries, there have been two sides to the town: the ancient citadel with its château comtal up high on a hill (now known as ville haute or La Cité) and the lower town (ville basse), which includes the medieval bastide, a fortified extension to the ancient fortress built at the foot of the mount where there also used to be a large barbican, sadly lost to time.

The hill La Cité sits on was already occupied during the Neolithic period, its elevated position allowing for sweeping views over the plain below. Archaeological evidence has been found of many such settlements across the area.

The Romans agreed with the strategic setting, and soon built a stone wall around their early settlement as fortification. They recognised the value of this outpost on a busy trading route. You can still see original Roman stones, including at the base of the inner wall. More evidence of Roman occupation, such as burial slabs, distance markers and original tiles, are exhibited inside the château.

In the dying years of the Roman Empire, the Visigoths arrived and settled. Septimania – the region west of the Mediterranean Sea – officially ceded to them in 462. A couple of centuries later, the Saracens arrived.

In the late 750s and early 760s, the Franks, under Pepin le Bref (the Short), succeeded in confining the Saracens to the coast and to Iberia. It was in the late 8th century that Bellon, the first Count of Carcassonne, lived. We know very little about him, but he was likely of Visigoth origins. I took the liberty of re-creating his life in Love Lost in Time. A true warrior of his time, but with a heart. (And a good read, too – Alison)

Entrance to the Château Comtal

The era, with the dominance of the Franks becoming apparent, is a fascinating one. In the late 770s and 780s, Charlemagne was keen to fortify his power base in the south, and the impressive sites like Carcassonne, and other hilltop forts dotted strategically north of the Pyrenees, provided a suitable buffer against Saracen Iberia.

Local leaders like Bellon would have thrived under the Franks, provided they remained loyal. His people benefitted from Frankish advances such as enhanced education, new laws, and increased trade.

The tribes, long subdued by incessant fighting between Visigoths, Saracens and Franks, returned to the valleys for a more stable life, secure under the protection of the powerful Franks. But dangers still lurked in pockets of uprisings. It was at the hands of the Basques that Charlemagne experienced one of his worst defeats during his campaigns, at Roncesvalles in 778.

What a gift for a writer!

For me, this mix of old and new, of Pagan, Catholic and Saracen, formed the basis of the plot in Love Lost in Time. In the present-day part, Maddie inherits an old property just north of Carcassonne, in the dramatic Cabardès hills. In the historic part of the novel, Hilda (the wife I created for Bellon) is sneaking out of the fortress to follow her calling as a healer. It is both in the Cabardès hills as well as ancient Carcassonne that the two stories cross over.

Carcassonne is of course best-known for being a home of the Cathars – a group of dualists who the Catholic Church persecuted in the 13th century. In 1209, the fortress fell to the ‘crusaders’ – sent by Pope Innocent III to either convert or kill the ‘heathens’ – for the first time. Viscount Raymond-Roger de Trencavel – whose family had built and held the castle for over a century – was thrown in his own gaol where he died in unexplained circumstances. It is an intriguing event I’ve included in a new writing project, a medieval murder mystery.

The citadel from the river

Centuries later, with the Spanish border defined, the old fortress fell into disrepair. It was in the second half of the 19thcentury, that the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc gave the citadel a new lease of life. But his refurbishments didn’t all go down too well, with some regarding his fairy-tale turrets and conical roofs as too stylised, although old drawings prove his decision right in some respects.

Nowadays, Carcassonne is still an incredible place to visit – and to live in. I’m fortunate enough to be able to just head up to La Cité for a stroll. I’ve lost count as to how often I’ve taken the wall walk, accessible through entry into the château, and I love looking around, imagining medieval life in those walls.

So, should you ever find yourself in the western Mediterranean, make sure to stop off at Carcassonne, and let the old walls, the bustling narrow lanes, and the enormous amount of local history draw you in.

Thank you again, Alison, for letting me chat about this wonderful place. I hope to welcome you to Carcassonne soon.

Thank you so much, Cathie. I visited Carcassonne when a lot younger and loved it. On my list to re-visit in the next 12 months.


Connect with Cathie
Twitter:    @cathiedunn
Amazon author page:


What’s Love Lost in Time about?

Love Lost in time coverLanguedoc, France, 2018
Historian Madeleine Winters would rather research her next project than rehash the strained relationship she had with her late mother. However, to claim her inheritance, she reluctantly agrees to stay the one year required in her late mother’s French home and begins renovations. But when she’s haunted by a female voice inside the house and tremors emanating from beneath her kitchen floorboards, she’s shocked to discover ancient human bones.

The Mediterranean coast, AD 777
Seventeen-year-old Nanthild is wise enough to know her place. Hiding her Pagan wisdom and dutifully accepting her political marriage, she’s surprised when she falls for her Christian husband, the Count of Carcassonne. But she struggles to keep her forbidden religious beliefs and her healing skills secret while her spouse goes off to fight in a terrible, bloody war.

As Maddie settles into her rustic village life, she becomes obsessed with unraveling the mysterious history buried in her new home. And when Nanthild is caught in the snare of an envious man, she’s terrified she’ll never embrace her beloved again.

Can two women torn apart by centuries help each other finally find peace?

Buy Love Lost in Time:    Amazon UK    Amazon US    Amazon FR


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.

1 comment to Cathie Dunn: Carcassonne, a writer abroad’s dream

  • Gail M. Murray

    Woke up very early and strolled the ramparts as the birds circled. The town was awakening with food deliveries. Beautiful before the hordes arrived. We stayed overnight in this glorious place. Gypsies sang outside the bistros. It felt more Spanish than French.

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