Anna Belfrage: Writing from Sweden across fictional worlds and times...

This week, I’m delighted to welcome back to the blog Anna Belfrage, truly a ‘writer abroad’! Currently, she’s roosting in Sweden, her ‘home territory’. 

When Anna isn’t musing about the circle of life or considering just how much of the Graham homestead in 17th century Maryland is inspired by her own surroundings, she writes. Anna is the author of the acclaimed time travelling series The Graham Saga, set in 17th century Scotland and Maryland, as well as the equally acclaimed medieval series The King’s Greatest Enemy set in 14th century England.

Anna has also published The Wanderer, a fast-paced contemporary romantic suspense trilogy with paranormal and time-slip ingredients. Her September 2020 release, His Castilian Hawk, has her returning to medieval times. Set against the complications of Edward I’s invasion of Wales, His Castilian Hawk is a story of loyalty, integrity—and love. Her most recent release, The Whirlpools of Time, is a time travel romance set against the backdrop of brewing rebellion in the Scottish highlands.

Over to Anna!

One of the drawbacks of growing up in multiple places is the lack of permanent roots. In my case, all those years living abroad as a child while attending English schools (local schools run by British peeps for British expat children. And me. (Well, not only me, obviously…) left me feeling what can best be described as Anglo-Swedish.

Anna’s Swedish lake

This is a rather odd hybrid who prefers tea to coffee, waxes lyrical about all that deliciously exciting British history, is just as poetic when describing Swedish nature (Ah, the light—the lingering Nordic summer evenings when light turns faintly purple but never entirely fades), and cannot write prose in anything but English. That latter statement is not entirely correct: of course, I can write in Swedish, but it lacks that rather elusive element – voice.

For my mother, Sweden was paradise on earth, which is why we ended up back here after years and years abroad. Paradise? Not so much, but over the years, I have embraced the Swede within – except for when I write. You see, when I write, I am rarely in Sweden. No, when I write, I generally leap backwards in time to Colonial America or Medieval England (and, more recently, Spain).

Colonial America, in particular, is a fascinating period and place for me – primarily because so many Swedes left their homeland to pursues the American Dream. Yes, the vast majority of those Swedes arrived to the land of hope and glory after colonial times, but I imagine settling in a new land was more or less the same in the 19th century as in the 17th: back-breaking labour, unfamiliar plants and animals, fear of the indigenous population, fear that the hopes for a better future would be crushed to dust in this strange and intimidating environment. Add to this a constant gnawing homesickness – the one my mother experienced all those years we were far, far away from Sweden – after all, tearing your roots up to replant them elsewhere is a difficult endeavour.

When I sit in my country house, surrounded by mile after mile of silent forests, I can somehow visualise how Alex Graham, my time-travelling protagonist of The Graham Saga, must have felt as she surveyed the homestead she and hubby Matthew Graham had wrested from the Maryland wilderness.

Life was hard for those that lived in our country house back when it was a working farm. Endless drystone walls indicate just how rocky the ground was (still is). Meagre grasses that ripple in shades of gold and green tell me the soil was less than fertile, and feeding a family was therefore a major challenge.

That is not Alex’s problem: the colonists who managed to survive the crossing and establish themselves in their new home found fertile land. But just like the people who built those stone walls, Alex’s life was one of hard work, of chapped hands after days of doing laundry, of an aching back after a week raking hay, of minor burns after conserving what fruits and berries she could find.

As I stir my bubbling blackberry jam, for an instant I am Alex. When I help hubby repair a part of the collapsed wall, I pretend he’s Matthew. And when we wash ourselves in the lake because the pump isn’t working, then I am definitely Alex – even if she is hardier than me. Alex Graham has learned the hard way that clean water – no matter how cold – is a luxury. Me, I prefer a hot shower!

Anna’s country house

So here I am, out in the Swedish boonies and writing about Colonial boonies – well, when I’m not writing about medieval cities built on the backbones of Romans remains (Alison, we need to travel Spain together and hop from ancient city to ancient city. You can tell me about the Romans, I can add a Castilian or Aragonese flavour. Yes? – Yes, as long as I can show you the wonder of Ampurias near Gerona).

It strikes me sometimes that there are more similarities than differences between my boonies and Alex’s boonies. But then, as most historical fiction writers will tell you, that is valid for most aspects of life. The human condition remains relatively unchanged through the centuries. We’re born, we learn, we love, we lose, we overcome, we fight, we experience success and failure. We laugh and cry, we have long existential conversations over wine. And then we die – just like all those who went before us did as well.

Find out more about Anna

Website and blog:
Twitter:  @abelfrageauthor
Amazon Author Page:



What is Anna’s exciting new new book about?

He hoped for a wife. He found a companion through time and beyond.

1715 and for Duncan Melville something fundamental is missing from his life. Despite a flourishing legal practice and several close friends, he is lonely, even more so after the recent death of his father. He needs a wife—a companion through life, someone to hold and be held by. What he wasn’t expecting was to be torn away from everything he knew and find said woman in 2016…

Erin Barnes has a lot of stuff going on in her life. She doesn’t need the additional twist of a stranger in weird outdated clothes, but when he risks his life to save hers, she feels obligated to return the favour. Besides, whoever Duncan may be, she can’t exactly deny the immediate attraction.

The complications in Erin’s life explode. Events are set in motion and to Erin’s horror she and Duncan are thrown back to 1715. Not only does Erin have to cope with a different and intimidating world, soon enough she and Duncan are embroiled in a dangerous quest for Duncan’s uncle, a quest that may very well cost them their lives as they travel through a Scotland poised on the brink of rebellion.

Will they find Duncan’s uncle in time? And is the door to the future permanently closed, or will Erin find a way back?

Buy The Whirlpools of Time here:

Read my review on Amazon:


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.

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.

Erica Lainé: Landscape and Memory

Photo of smiling Erica LaineThis week’s ‘writer abroad’ is Erica Lainé (or should that be L’Ainé given her family’s origins in the Channel Islands?). She originally trained for the theatre at the Arts Educational School in Tring. Later in London, she worked in the Libraries and Arts department of the London Borough of Camden, running the box office for the Arts Festival and then working as a library assistant for books delivered to people who were housebound. She had to read a huge selection of books so that I could make recommendations and talk to a variety of people about books that they wanted and liked. (What a wonderful excuse!)

In 1977, she moved with her husband and two young daughters to Hong Kong where she worked for the British Council – teaching, writing primary school text books and managing English language projects for Chinese teachers of English. She studied for an MA in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) at the University of Reading. In 1998, sheI was delighted to be awarded an MBE for her work in Hong Kong. She is now ‘retired’ and lives in South West France. She began writing seriously and creatively in 2011. Erica says, “It was the most wonderful experience to be liberated into the world of imagination and stories.”

Over to Erica!

I first came to this part of France, the north Dordogne or Perigord Vert in 1992, so close to a department line that we are nearly into the Charente.  A family holiday from HK and an inkling that we would buy here for post-1997. My husband is an architect so the almost clichéd project, an old  fermette and barn to be converted into a house was what we wanted and what we bought. The story of how the conversion was achieved long distance is a small book in itself but everything was finished and ready to live in by the summer of 1997.

This part of the Dordogne is a benign landscape and a subsidised one. Without the EU Common Agricultural Policy the small farms would not survive and as it is much larger fields are created and hedges taken out. We own almost seven hectares of woodland just five minutes from our house and this will be protected from grubbing out and felling although I did eye up some splendid straight oaks as a possible gift for the rebuilding of Nôtre Dame. The landscape was a huge plus after the metropolis we left behind. HK was a wonderful but frantic place to work and live. Here is tranquillity and soothing images for the eyes. Small valleys that fold in on themselves, gentle hills. This is not the Dordogne of gorges and crags.

We settled down and gardened, walked and adapted to a slower pace of life, although J (my husband) started a small architectural practice, and I had a writing commission for the education department in HK. I also taught a small group of English school children who wanted to keep their mother tongue skills alive in extensive and creative reading and writing.

One of the local history societies, specialising in introducing French history to English speaking residents, ‘An Aquitaine Historical Society’, asked me if I would take over as president. And so began nearly 20 years of monthly talks, study groups, bring and share lunches, outings to all sorts of places of historical interest. Nearly a hundred members, and a lively group they proved to be! And I was now learning a great deal about local and national French history. This was all very new to me indeed. The history of Normandy was a study group subject and when I read that the loss of Normandy was attributed by chroniclers to Isabella of Angoulême, the wife of King John, I was startled. Angoulême is forty minutes away. Why didn’t I know about her?

I began researching. Articles in English and French on the web, letters, charters, the Magna Carta project, references in the histories of 13th century Anglo Angevins, maps, Books of Hours, and not least, fictional accounts where she was usually a minor player.

Valley and track from the gardenI began to write her life as I wanted it to be told. What intrigued me was that after she returned to France as a widow, leaving her children by John behind, no one seemed to be bothered about her anymore. And yet notable historians Nicholas Vincent and W. C. Jordan saw her as hugely influential and important. The more I researched and discovered, the more the local landscape and small towns became alive, names unchanged since the 1200s. I could trace a route she would have taken, find old roads that linked important towns named in charters, granting Isabella dowry rights; Niort and  Saintes. There were old memories in the marshland around La Rochelle or the stony soil that stretched between rivers.

(Photo by Lobsterthermidor CClicence, Wikipedia)

One wonderful discovery was that the gold matrix for her seal is in the archives in Angoulême and the archivist sent me an excellent image to use on the cover of book two of The Tangled Queen. For Isabella took her queen’s seal back with her to France and used it always. In Angoulême you can see the château that she and her second husband enlarged as their fortunes grew. It is very close to the cathedral where she was married to John in August 1200 and from where they sped north as quickly as they could, for he had snatched her from the Lusignans. The Lords of Lusignan, powerful and important too and who was Isabella’s second husband? Hugh Lusignan.

All over the Poitou, châteaux belonged to them and the legend of Melusine is remembered in all.  But for me it is Isabella who is remembered, and without coming to live in France I would never have discovered her and written the trilogy.

I drive to places she knew, I ponder on sites of old skirmishes, of buildings where she encountered hostility, and reflect over her tomb in Fontevraud. On this tomb, her arms, as Queen of England, the red and gold lozenges of Angoulême and the three lions of England, impaled or joined together. But she was definitely The Tangled Queen!

Connect with Erica

Twitter:   @LaineEleslaine


Read about Isabella of Angoulême, The Tangled Queen

The Tangled Queen book coverThe thirteenth century is a chaotic time of struggle for the mastery of France and England.

A very young king on each throne.

Precarious power for each one.

Isabella of Angoulême, Queen of England, Countess of Angoulême, Countess of la Marche, the widow of King John and the new wife of the powerful Hugh Lusignan, is as ambitious, proud and as wilful as ever.

In England, her son Henry III looks longingly to the lands in France that his father lost.
Can he reclaim them? Will his mother help him?

Her plans and schemes never cease as she builds alliances to bring her new family power and territory.

The Tangled Queen Part 3 is the final story of her determination to claim her place in France at last, to be seen as a queen at all times.

Who will stop her? Who can stop her? She will not be thwarted.


Buy all of Isabella of Angoulême’s story here: Amazon UK   Amazon US


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.

Liza Perrat: The journey from Australia to France

This week my guest, Liza Perrat, originates from the other side of the world. She grew up in Australia, working as a general nurse and midwife. She’s now been living in France for over twenty years, where she works as a medical translator and a novelist.

Liza’s books include The Bone Angel historical fiction series – three standalone French village stories spanning six hundred years. Three midwife-healer women are linked by a bone angel talisman during the French Revolution (Spirit of Lost Angels), WW2 Nazi-occupied France (Wolfsangel) and the 1348 Black Plague (Blood Rose Angel).

The Silent Kookaburra is the first novel in her Australian 1970s drama series. The second is The Swooping Magpie and the third, The Lost Blackbird

Over to Liza!

I left Australia to come and live in France almost twenty-eight years ago where, sadly, my midwifery and nursing qualifications weren’t recognised. So that put a stop to my career in the medical field, coupled with my two young children and number three not far behind!

I’d always been a voracious reader and had entertained thoughts of creative writing when I was young and I think that living in a French village and being surrounded by all this old European history, as opposed to Australia’s very recent history, gave me the idea to write an historical novel. I love historical fiction as a means of learning about history without an academic lesson and I’m also passionate about history so, in hindsight, it’s no surprise I ended up writing about it.

The first novel idea came to me on a Sunday walk along the riverbank near our home. I came across a stone cross (croix à gros ventre, or “Cross with the big belly”). Dated 1717, it commemorates two children who drowned in the river.

Who were they? How did they drown, and where are they buried? I wanted to know more about them; to give them names, a family, a village. An identity. I felt the urge to write the story of these lost children, and was pleased to discover our village has a local history centre (L’Araire) staffed with very helpful volunteers. I’ve since made numerous visits there, for my subsequent novels. Sadly, there was no information on these drowned children, except that they were four and five years old, and are buried in the neighbouring village cemetery. So I used my newly-acquired research to imagine what they’d been like; to conjure up their family, their village, their identities, so I could bring them to life.

The children had died in the same century as the French Revolution took place, and that seemed the most obvious setting: the peasants versus the aristocracy – on the small scale of my story, paralleled with the larger, real-life scale. A dramatic backdrop for the dramatic event of their drowning. This story became my first novel, Spirit of Lost Angels.

It started out as a one-off standalone, however once it was finished, I realised there were more stories to tell about the village of Lucie-sur-Vionne (fictional, though based on where I live), the farmhouse (L’Auberge des Anges), and the family who own it. I’d also learned that this was a very active French Resistance area during the Nazi Occupation of Lyon in WW2, so the second in the series, Wolfsangel was based around that idea.

I’d used dramatic historical events for the settings of these books and by the time I reached the third novel, I’d become intrigued by the medieval period. So the bubonic plague seemed a logical choice for the setting of Blood Rose Angel: one woman fighting against the village, symbolising the people of the world battling against the greater enemy of Black Death.

Each book can be read as a standalone even though the bone angel talisman links each heroine, and the stories all deal with the same family, the same farmhouse and the same French village.

There’s much I miss about Australia: family, friends, the space, the lovely beaches and the easy way of life. However, there’s much I love about my new home country, France: the history, the old architecture, the age-old yarns and tales. And I doubt very much I’d have discovered the joy of writing historical fiction had I not come to live in a French village.

Connect with Liza
Website and blog:
Follow Liza on BOOKBUB

I loved Liza’sBone Angel series set here in France, but she draws on her Australian roots for The Lost Blackbird.
London 1962. A strict and loveless English children’s home, or the promise of Australian sunshine, sandy beaches and eating fruit straight from the tree. Which would you choose?

Ten-year-old Lucy Rivers and her five-year-old sister Charly are thrilled when a child migrant scheme offers them the chance to escape their miserable past.
But on arrival in Sydney, the girls discover their fantasy future is more nightmare than dream.

Lucy’s lot is near-slavery at Seabreeze Farm where living conditions are inhuman, the flies and heat unbearable and the owner a sadistic bully. What must she do to survive?

Meanwhile Charly, adopted by the nurturing and privileged Ashwood family, gradually senses that her new parents are hiding something. When the truth emerges, the whole family crumbles. Can Charly recover from this bittersweet deception?

Will the sisters, stranded miles apart in a strange country, ever find each other again?

A poignant testament to child migrants who suffered unforgivable evil, The Lost Blackbird explores the power of family bonds and our desire to know who we are.

Buy from  Amazon UK    Amazon US   Amazon AUS


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.

Keith Dixon: France, the Second World War and moi

I’m delighted to welcome crime writer Keith Dixon to the writing blog as the latest guest in the ‘writers abroad’ series. We actually met up in 2019 in Montmorillon, where Keith lives and which turns out to be pivotal to this post… Keith was born in Yorkshire and grew up in the Midlands. He’s been writing since he was thirteen years old in a number of different genres: thriller, espionage, science fiction, literary.

Two-time winner of the Chanticleer Reviews CLUE First in Category award for Private Eye/Noir novel, he’s the author of ten full-length books and one short-story in the Sam Dyke Investigations series and two other non-crime works, as well as two collections of blog posts on the craft of writing and a series of videos. His new series of Paul Storey Thrillers began in 2016 and there are now three books in the series.

Over to Keith!

My interest in France began when I was 10 years old. My junior school in Coventry was one of the first to introduce French-language teaching, which they did by importing an American teacher to give us an hour a week to point at a wall and say, ‘le mur’ and then point at a window and say ‘la fenêtre’. He also arrived with armfuls of Paris Match magazines, of which I took half a dozen copies home to look at the pictures. France was a strangely captivating country, at least according to the photographs.

I later took ‘O’ and ‘A’ level qualifications in French and made my first trips to France when I was 18 and then 19. It was still the era of the franc, and being limited to taking the equivalent of £50 into the country – in my case, hoping to make that last 3 weeks, topping up with travellers’ cheques if necessary. (Do they even still exist?) With two friends I travelled through the country marvelling at how different the pronunciation of the language was by real French people compared to that of my teachers in England. When did ‘vingt’ become ‘vengt’?

But my ambition to live in France as a writer was crystalised by watching a TV programme. It was an interview with Lawrence Durrell, brother of the more famous Gerald, but well-known nonetheless as a writer of literary novels like those contained in The Alexandria Quartet. I don’t remember much about the interview, but I do recall the final shot: Durrell, in the paved courtyard of his (presumably rented) château, sitting on a chair in nothing but his shorts, typing away on an old upright typewriter while taking in the glorious sunshine. I thought: ‘That’s the life for me!’

Half a century on, it came to pass!

I started writing short stories and play scripts in my mid-teens, and later took a degree in Creative Writing and Drama. I wrote 7 full-length novels between the ages of 20 and 22 and while I had an agent, I couldn’t quite get traction. And then life intervened and I had to make a living. As it happened many of the jobs I took had creative writing as one of their components – proofreader, copywriter, online editor, elearning creator, management course designer.

And eventually I was able to begin coming over to France again, making the move permanent at the end of 2015.

Montmorillon today

Montmorillon today (Photos: Steve Morton, Alison Morton)

By this time I’d started writing a series of novels based on a British private eye living in the North West of England—Sam Dyke. Although I’d taught ‘serious’ literature for a while (one of the jobs that didn’t involve my own writing!), most of my own reading for pleasure had become American crime writing. So when I returned to writing myself I wanted to write in that genre and thus invented this Yorkshire PI working in the posh suburbs of Cheshire.

And the connection with the SAS in Vienne, 1944?

And then … I was staying in the Vienne, in central France, when I went for coffee with friends in a café and met an Englishmen touring the area by bicycle. He told us why he was here, mentioning an operation from World War II called Operation Bulbasket. This was one of the newly-formed SAS’s first operations, taking place slightly before and then after D-Day, 6 June 1944. A cadre of SAS soldiers was parachuted into the area around Montmorillon with instructions to impede the process of German reinforcements as they headed north to combat the British and American troops landing in Normandy. They ended up bivouacking in the nearby forest of Verrières, from which they carried out a number of sabotage operations on German rail and road transport. It seemed they were eventually betrayed and 30 British soldiers and 1 American airman were executed and buried.

As all writers recognise, hearing this story immediately set the creative juices flowing! Although my PI was definitely based in the UK, in contemporary times, I worked out a plot that had a ‘backstory’ involving a Frenchman working with the maquis in 1944, a secret letter from Churchill, and another well-known story from WWII, the sinking of a steamer called The Struma which was carrying nearly 800 Jewish refugees from Romania to Palestine when it was sunk in the Black Sea, leaving only one survivor. I visited the sites where the SAS had lived, and where they had died. In the book I used my knowledge of Montmorillon and other local villages.

The resulting book was called The Hard Swim, and takes place in Edinburgh, Crewe, Portsmouth and Montmorillon, and wouldn’t have been written had I not happened to be in Montmorillon, taking coffee with friends, and hearing this story from a descendant of one of those executed in a forest in 1944.

What a story of bravery and sacrifice. Thank you so much, Keith. Montmorillon is such a pretty and peaceful town today. Known as ‘la cité de l’écrit’ (city of writing), it has countless bookshops, a book-oriented cultural life and a typewriter museum! 


Connect with Keith
Twitter:   @keithyd6 
YouTube Channel: Crime Writing Confidential:


Read The Hard Swim
FEBRUARY 1942: The Struma, a broken-down steamer, explodes and sinks in the Black Sea, drowning 768 Rumanian Jews fleeing the Nazis and heading for Palestine, and safety.

JUNE 1944: Thirty-one SAS soldiers are captured behind enemy lines and are forced to dig their own graves before being shot and buried in a forest in the heart of France.

SEVENTY YEARS LATER: A young woman is attacked in the grounds of Edinburgh Zoo – the attacker seeking the document that might link these two wartime events.

Private Investigator Sam Dyke becomes involved in unravelling a mystery that dates back to the Second World War. He rescues a woman who’s on the point of being abducted and, for all he knows, murdered. He helps the woman, Chantal Bressette, escape, subsequently learning that she’s carrying a document of vital importance to a group of powerful people.

Sam Dyke discovers he’s the only one who can stop them.

Based on true events, and with action ranging from Edinburgh through to a quiet village in the centre of France, The Hard Swim pits Sam Dyke against his toughest opponents yet—an experienced team of killers backed by a ruthless MP about to ascend to one of the great roles of state.

Buying link: (ebook)
Keith’s Amazon page:


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.

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
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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.