Friday, 28 October 2011

Enjoyable research in Ariège

After months of working on my WIP, the people in it are as real for me as anyone I come across in my daily life. And my French friend, who follows the story chapter by chapter, is also as familiar with my characters as with her own family. Therefore she was delighted to assist by finding a suitable chateau to serve as the hero's family home. It needed to be in a remote region and so we agreed on the Ariège, where the people are still fiercely independent, and tolerant of religious heresy - it is the region of the Cathars.


It is also a region of caverns, stretching many miles underground to vast depths. Wall paintings from 20,000 years ago, sited well over half a mile inside, prove that these underground sites have been in use almost as long as the region has had a human population.

Grottes de Niaux


This is the region where my hero and his younger brothers and sisters grew up, with the mountain peaks all around, rushing rivers, mysterious caverns, the fiercely hot, sulphurous waters of the spa at Ax-les-Thermes, the feudal lords of Foix and Aragon dividing or uniting loyalties and politics, and the smugglers' routes criss-crossing the whole area. Plenty of scope for adventures.

Plateau de Beille

Add to this that they live in the opulent chateau visited by all the notable thinkers and artists of the 18th Century. Material here for a second story....

Small wonder that we enjoyed our research. We plan a second visit to investigate the 'Route des Contrebandiers'.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

An Eighteenth Century chateau in a romantic setting

The hero of my WIP needs a home. He is half French and half Turkish and a diplomat - he needs to be, n'est-ce pas? So, after the groundwork was done by my French friend, she and I visited the region around Mirepoix to inspect various castles. This one at Aston, is ideal for my story - my hero can have roots here and in this region he is independent of Paris, of the French kings and of Napoleon. Perfect!

And when we saw the castle, we both agreed it is perfect  as well - both for the story and as a place to visit.

This is what you see as you get close to the castle gates, climbing up from the river through the wood.

From the other side of the entrance, you see the chateau with its massive stables and what was once a paddock.

This is the view from the main gates. Currently the roof is being restored, so the grounds are overgrown.

There are mountains all around, providing a marvellous setting. The back of the chateau rises on a rocky peak, above the river. The original defensive castle was remodelled in the 18th Century into a gracious dwelling that indicated the wealth and status of its owner.