Tuesday, 15 August 2017

I have two very special guests today...

... friend and author, Marsali Taylor, and her central character, Cass Lynch...

‘Cass Lynch,’ my editor said.  ‘The Girl at the Heart of the Longship Case.’  He tended to think in cliches.  ‘Innocent Victim or Holllywood Star’s Love Triangle?’
‘Do my best,’ I said.
Once I got to Shetland, it looked like my best wasn’t going to be good enough.  ‘Cass Lynch?’ my contact said.  ‘Pulling teeth.  Look, she did two interviews.  The first one was after the body was found, with a policeman on each side.  The second one was a Guardian exclusive, with her mother – do you know about her mother?’
I’d done my homework.  ‘Oil man father, Irish, French opera singer mother.  Eugenie Delafauve.  Specialist in music from the court of the Sun King.’
‘And a turn on her own.  Dramatic plus.  Anyway, she presented Cass as the well-brought up young lady with her family around her.  The only time anyone’s ever seen her in a dress.  No awkward questions.  Since then, the barbed wire’s gone up.’  He looked thoughtful.  One hand rose slowly in a hang-on gesture. ‘Unless we approach her by sea …’
Which was how I came to find myself on board a sailing boat belonging to one of his mates, Barry, dodging ropes as the head-height piece of metal at the bottom of the sail crashed overhead.  Even in late July it was freezing, and I was very glad when, three hours later, our skipper nodded at the houses ahead of us and said, ‘Brae.’
I kept out of the way as he scrambled about hauling flapping sails down, and we chugged into the marina.  A boy in a navy jersey came out of one of the boats to indicate where we should park, and followed us over to stand, hand out, ready to take our ropes.
Out on the water
It was then I realised that I was looking straight at Cass Lynch herself.  I hadn’t expected her to be so small; five foot two, at a guess, and wearing sandshoes.  The jumper was a navy seaman’s gansey, too big for her, and worn above working jeans. She had a black plait hanging down her back, with the occasional curl breaking free around her ears.  For all her size, she was strong, pulling our thirty footer in on its line as if it was a rowboat, then she moved quickly around the dock, fastening one rope, going back to alter another, until she finally exchanged glances with Barry, and they nodded at each other, one seaman to another.  ‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘Give us ten minutes to tidy up, then come aboard for a cup of tea.’
She hesitated over that one.  I had a good look at her face now, tilted up towards us. The long, straight scar on her right cheek was lit by the sun, a snail-trail of white skin in her tanned face.  I’d read up on her lover’s death in the middle of the Atlantic; it was another thing I wanted to ask her about.  Apart from that, she had a stubborn chin, high cheekbones, dark lashes and eyes as blue as cornflowers.  The scar stopped her from being pretty, but she had a face you wouldn’t forget.
‘You can tell us about the local area,’ I said quickly, seeing the refusal trembling on her lips.  It was a shameless play on what she’d see as her duty to her fellow sailors, and it worked.
She nodded.  ‘Ten minutes, then.’
We had tea in mugs, out in the cockpit.  She was accompanied by a bearded Thor look-alike, introduced as Anders, with no further explanation.  He gave me a charming smile and asked if I objected to rats.  ‘Yes,’ I said firmly, and was startled to see him fish a large black and white beast out of his shirt and take it back to their own boat.
‘So,’ I said, once the livestock had been disposed of, and Barry and Anders had gone below to talk about the engine in a boys-together sort of way, ‘what’s around here?’  I tried not to look disparagingly round at the cluster of houses, though I had to concede that the green hills, the burns thick with formica-yellow marsh marigolds, the seaweed-fringed shoreline, the sparkling sea, was all scenic enough.
Her blue eyes were surprisingly shrewd, as if she was considering where she’d put me on board a ship.  ‘Depends what you want.  There’s a lot of Britain’s most northerly.  Indian take-away, chip shop, hairdresser, Co-op, fire station, astro-turf, high school.  The blue roof is the leisure centre, with a swimming pool, and there are showers in the clubhouse here.’
‘Historic stuff? Isn’t there a haunted house?’  It had been where the film crew had stayed, in the Longship case.
Her chin jerked off to the left.  ‘Busta,’ she conceded. ‘Oldest still-inhabited house in Shetland.  It’s a hotel now.’
I was going to have to use shock tactics.  I put on my best naïve expression and said, ‘Wasn’t that where all the film stars stayed, when there was the murder here?’
Her face went mutinous.  She shrugged.
‘Were you here then?’
A reluctant nod.
‘Involved with the filming?  Didn’t they moor the longship here?’
Her chin tilted again.  ‘At the pier there.’
‘Were you on board?’
Field of buttercups, Shetland
I could see she didn’t want to lie about it.  Her head went up, and her blue eyes looked directly at mine.  Suddenly she turned from a shabby near-boy to the captain of the ship, her voice authoritative.  ‘We don’t talk about it here.’  Her glance flicked down to the engine-room; she drained her tea, and rose.  ‘If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back.  Have a good stay here in Brae.’
I watched her unobtrusively for the rest of the evening; moving about below in her Khalida, in the gold of a lit oil lamp, coming up on deck to brush her teeth, with her hair a loose cloud about her shoulders.  I got a few good pictures, but there was no conversational opening for me to rush in.  I’d get her in the morning, two women in the showers together.
I was too late.  By half past eight the next morning, as I was heading for the clubhouse, make-up bag and towel in one hand, she was already dressed in a faded black all-in-one sailing suit, and starting to haul grey plastic dinghies about on the boating club slip.  I got an over-the-shoulder hello.  When I came out, she was surrounded by children in blue plastic overalls, drawing diagrams on a whiteboard. She could talk to them all right:  ‘Okay, so let’s look at the sea first.  How windy is it?’
Oh, well.  It wasn’t the first time I’d made up an interview from so little material.  I just had to decide the angle.  Cass Lynch was understandably tight-lipped about the events of the Longship Case … still finds it hard to talk about … ‘It was a difficult time,’ she admitted …
I glanced across at the slip and heard her voice again.  ‘What’s the tide doing?  Why does it matter?’  There was a mutter of voices, and then a scrum of children and a welter of flapping neon sails.  She moved among them, calm and competent, then clambered into a rubber boat and herded them out of the marina, like a swan rounding up unruly cygnets.  I shot a couple of photos; she turned to see where the flash had come from.  The sullen look was gone; now she was smiling.  She spun the rescue boat round in a roar of engine, setting the dinghies rocking in the wash.  The children shrieked with delight, and she laughed, and waved to me.
My car was bigger than the boat she lived in, and the cost of her whole wardrobe wouldn’t have bought me one pair of shoes, yet at that moment I suddenly envied her.  I deleted what I’d done, and began again.
Cass Lynch, the girl in the Longship Case, has moved on …

... about the author... Marsali Taylor’s writing career began with plays for her school pupils to perform in the local Festival. Her first Shetland-set crime novel starring quick-witted, practical sailor Cass Lynch and Inverness DI Gavin Macrae was published in 2013, and there are now five in the series, with a sixth due this November. Reviewers have praised their clever plotting, lively characters and vividly-evoked setting. Marsali’s interest in history is shown in her self-published Women’s Suffrage in Shetland, and Norse-set crime novella, Footsteps in the Dew. She helped organise the 2015 Shetland Noir festival, and is a ‘regular’ at Bloody Scotland and Iceland Noir.  She’s a columnist and reviewer for the e-zine Mystery People.

... about the book... When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the ‘accidents’ begin - and when a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn’t realise she’d gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear them all of suspicion - and to catch the killer before Cass becomes the next victim.

You can follow Marsali on Amazon her  website and on Facebook

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Postcards from Auvergne with Marie Laval...

... I have the great pleasure to welcome friend and author, Marie Laval, to my blog today.  We're talking about the Auvergne - one of my faviourite areas of France to visit.  Marie you're just back from France, what have you got for us...
ML  I thought it would be easy to write about my recent holiday in Auvergne, about its beautiful countryside, lovely villages and chateaux (the region counts over 450, most of them private), or the many restaurants with their cheap and delicious 'menus ouvriers' (workmen's menus).  I  was wrong. There is so much to write about I found it really hard to choose, so I will focus on two very special places that captured my imagination.  The first is Souvigny, a quiet and unspoilt little town located in the Allier département, North of Vichy.
AW  Souvigny!  It's quite a while since I was last there.  Please remind me what it's like...
The Herboristerie
ML  We wandered the quiet streets lined with stunning medieval and Renaissance houses, including the ruined former palace of the Bourbons, and did a bit of shopping in the 'Herboristerie' before visiting the Priory Church of Saint-Peter and Saint-Paul.  There is a quirky legend about that church, which is very grand for such a small village.  It was supposedly built by fairies in just one night, and when a local milkmaid saw it emerge from the morning mist, she was so shocked she was instantly changed into stone.
The Church dates from the 11th and 15th century, and is a testimony to the importance of the town as a pilgrimage centre and as a centre for the Bourbons who ruled much of the region at the time.  The interior is stunning, not only because of its mix of Roman and Gothic architecture, but also the chapels with sepulchres of Bourbons dukes dating back from the 14th century.  The church also hosts the sepulchres of Saint Mayeul (Majolus in English) and Saint Odilon, two of the most revered abbots from the prestigious Cluny Abbey.  Next to the church the lapidary museum is well worth a visit too, with its famous 'Zodiac column', a 12th century column with carvings representing harvest or grape-picking scenes, but also fantasy animals and monsters, and the signs of the Zodiac.
The beautiful gardens at Souvigny
What I loved the most however were the priory gardens.  They were organised by the capitulary De Villis, which was edited by Charlemagne in the beginning of the 9th century, and which recommended the plantation of 90 plants known for their medicinal properties in monastic and laymen's gardens.
The gardens are a riot of colours and scents.  You will find garlic, roses, tansy, common sage, mustard, marigolds, leek, carrots, parsley, muskmelon, cardoon, coriander, cucumber, tarragon, rocket, parsnip, radishes, sage, burdock, flax, mallow, chicory, lettuce, to name but a few!     When we were there, there was an exhibition of  'bancs poèmes' with artists designing benches to illustrate a poem of their choice. Some of them were a bit strange and very impractical, but others simply stunning and were it not for the price and the impossibility of packing one in my suitcase I would have loved to take one home!
You can find more information about Souvigny here.
AW  I'd forgotten there wass so mcuh to see there!  You said there were two places, so where are we going next?
ML  The second place I fell in love with is Montaigu-le-Blin, a village we discovered by chance as we were driving through.  Apart from the medieval castle standing on a small hill which is being renovated by young volunteers, this tiny village boasts several magnificent bourgeois houses ('maisons de maître'), a tiny and delightful Roman church, and a ancient wood with two 'magic' stones, named God's Font and the Devil's Font.
We had a stroll through the village streets and sat down in the large village square - a listed site with over 143 chestnut, oak, lime trees, many of them dating from the early nineteenth century.  The village has two renowned auberges on opposite ends of the square, but sadly they were too expensive...
AW  That's somewhere I haven't discovered yet, but it's marked on my map now!
Chateau de Chareil-Cintrat
ML  There are so many other places worth visiting, especially if, like me, you like chateaux. 
AW  I most certainly do.
ML  The chateau of La Palice with its fascinating history (more information about it here) and the charming Renaissance chateau de Chareil-Cintrat, set amongst ancient vineyards which boasts unique wall paintings (more information about it here).
A week wasn't enough for all the places we wanted to see, and I hope we can return very soon...
AW  Marie, thank you for visiting and for giving up some of your very valauable time to tell us about the Auvergne.  Most interesting.  I hope you make back there soon, I know I will be planning a trip there in the very near future.

...and you can follow Marie on Amazon   Facebook  Twitter and on her Blog

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

In finding your voice...

...today, I have the great pleasure to host friend and author, Dafni Ma, on my blog.  Hi there, and thanks for giving up your valuable time to be here.  And Dafni has a post about a subject that caused me some considerable anguish when I first made a foray into the world of writing.  It's just that Dafni presents the difficuties far better than I ever could...

It’s not only multitalented people who come across the dilemma: “which art form would better express what I have to say?”  This was me also, and I don’t consider myself multitalented (or ever particularly talented for that matter).  To decide that I am going to express through writing took a long LONG time, a dance diploma, seminars in acting – directing – screenwriting – playwriting – painting – photography, three year studies in film making, and, well, an epiphany.

After that, I had the mistaken impression that this was it; I had found the magic elixir, the dragon was half-dead, I had discovered my bliss and now the only thing I had to do was follow it to the ends of time.  And then that beautifully pronounced word came to crush all my plans: Genre.
Kay Nielsen
East of the Sun West of the Moon

When I started writing, I had a story that was burning inside me and all that; simply put, I had already planned my first novel and it was a romance.  I didn’t know what kind of romance though, so I started it as a screenplay- it would be a romantic comedy.  Realising quickly that it would almost definitely never get produced, I changed the form to a novel.  At that time, I was reading chick-lit by British authors like a hungry vampire that had suddenly came across a slumber party of 19 year old virgins.  So chick-lit was my genre, great, I knew how to do that, and after a couple of months, I actually did it: I had now, a finished novel.

At this point, I could add a paragraph on the heart-breaking journey I went through to find a publisher, but I’ll spare you with the details.  Just imagine rejections flying in my e-mail like Hitchcock's “The Birds”- me, pretending not to care - me, screaming “Why? God Why?” to the winds, well, you have the picture, moving on.  I got published.

I then got into a phase in my life where poetry was the centrefold.  From Traditional Haiku to Modern American, from Shakespeare to Eliot, etc.  So, I started writing poetry.  I self-published one collection.  As time went by, I realised that I really liked this stream of consciousness thing.  So, I self-published a memoir.  Then I got into non-fiction books: Started writing one about Shakespeare.  Science fiction: Started writing three novels, ditched them at about 15,000 words.  Metafiction: Wrote multiple short stories.  Kid’s poetry: Wrote a collection.  You do get the picture.
Arthuir Rackham
The Hare & the Tortoise

Yes, there is a conclusion and here it comes.  Lately, I’ve been spending most of my time being worried about my future as a writer and the thing is, I don’t feel good about what I have published.  It seems messy.  And I don’t mind a bit of messiness in my personal life (as the past has clearly showed me), but I have decided that my career has to be one of those things where I know where I am going, even if blindfolded.
I have finally decided on a genre, that, most definitely, I will deviate from at some point.  But fantasy it what always triggered me, from the first story I’ve ever read to the recent last one. So, there.  This is my road now: it’s paved with oddness and mist and two witches who kissed (and the occasional quirky rhymes).

The words are yet to come.

You can follow Dafni on Amazon  Facebook & Twitter

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Please welcome friend and author...

... Graham Miller, fresh from the intense activity of his launch of his book.  Graham, thanks for being here and tell me all about your new release...

GHM The List was out last Wednesday (the 19th of July) through Crooked Cat Publishing.
AW   Congratulations!  And what first got you into writing and why?
GHM When I was a teenager I got into role playing games. And (being old) I mean the ones with paper, pens, dice and little lead figures. From there I got into writing the scenarios that people can explore – my first writing success was when I was 15 and got a scenario published in a magazine. At university I still played but got frustrated because even as the dungeon master (kind of like the referee in the game) I couldn’t control the whole thing. I was always reading fiction and often found myself thinking “why didn’t the book end differently?” or sometimes “what would happen if a book started like this?” It was only a matter of time before all these influences came together and I started writing books in my early twenties.

AW  You write Crime/Mystery.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
GHM I use research really heavily. I find it annoying if there are factual errors in books that I read, so I don’t want to put them into the books that I write. In my area this includes things like referencing WPCs (all constables have been called PC regardless of gender for over twenty years) and getting the police ranks wrong. I also broaden out my definition of what is research. I make a conscious effort to watch programs about crime, police procedure even reality, fly-on-the-wall programs about the emergency services.
All that input sparks ideas in my head and eventually I patch together ideas for crimes, character sketches, locations and other odd things. Then I plot it out and go and check the details. One of the things I like is finding odd little parts of life that people might not know about and bring them into my novels as background. At the moment the sequel features a character who’s in a bike gang so I’ve been looking into that area to bring a bit of background and depth.
I also do a lot of geographical research. I’ve had feedback that the area of South Wales around Cardiff is so well described in The List that it feels like a character all of its own. I can only do that if I go out and visit the places. I’m a house-husband and that seems to involve a lot of ferrying the children around, so I use that time to look around me and find places to bring into my writing.

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
GHM I’ve never really been attracted to short stories, plays or any other format – it’s always been the novel. But I do experiment with genre. Back over five years ago I was working on a hugely ambitious cross-genre novel about reincarnation. That was part fantasy, part post apocalyptic and part historical. (And yes, it was influenced by David Mitchell!) My bottom drawer of failed projects includes experimental science fiction and fantasy too.
But, as I started learning the craft of writing I realised that if I was going to sell my work to an agent or publisher, then I had to give them less reasons to say “no”. So, having a cryptic crossword, puzzle solving type of brain, I decided to settle firmly into the genre of crime writing. That way, I don’t have to explain my book – I can say “it’s a police crime novel” and people immediately get it. That removes one barrier to success.

AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
GHM I have my rather battered old laptop which is my writing space. I always insist on a good battery, and have my software set-up just how I like it. (I mostly write in Scrivener to start with before final edits in Word.) This means that I can take my work anywhere – coffee shop, waiting outside a child’s activity, writing retreat. That said, mostly I write sat at the table at home or (don’t tell my physio) slouched on the sofa.

AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?
GHM Wow! That is such a wide-open question. I guess I’d want to sit down with an author I really admire and talk to them about all the technicalities of writing and how they work. If I was absolutely pushed to name just one, it’d be Julian May. How did she manage all of the plot arc between The Many Coloured Land and The Intervention series? And did she know how all eight books would fit together before she started book one?

... you can follow Graham on Facebook  Twitter  his Website  and on  Amazon

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Come stroll with me...

The town from within the cathedral
... through le Puy-en-Velay...

Le Puy is the préfecture city of the département of Haute-Loire (43).  With around 20,000 inhabitants and an area of just over 6 square miles, it is densely populated, but by UK standards, a relatively small city.  Sitting at an altitude of between 600 and 890m which is the equivalent of standing at the top of Esk Pike in the Lake District, the city overlooks the Loire which rises on Mont Gerbier de Jonc some 50 or 60 kilometres to the south-east.

Today, we're going to start with the cathedral Notre-Dame du Puy and the rue des Tables will take you to the foot of the steps leading up.  It's a steep climb on cobbles so you will need your four-wheel drive for feet!  Romanesque in style, there has been a church on this spot from as early as the 10th century, and it has been, and still is, an important site to pilgrims making their way on foot to Santiago de Compostela at a distance of 1600Km.  The church has some beautiful frescoes and paintings but it also contains a statue referred to as The Black Virgin.  Regrettably, this isn't the original which was destroyed during the revolution.  And before you make your way down into the old town, just check out the interesting geomorphology of the town.

Old Shop fronts
Famous for it's lace, since 1974 there has been a centre here in Le Puy to ensure that the practice of lace-making will never be lost.  There are some fabulous examples of old and modern lace in a number of exhibition rooms and you can find the museum just down from Place des Tables on rue Raphaël.  But I'm heading elsewhere, to the Tour Panessac which stands opposite the statue of the Marquis de Lafayette in the centre of boulevard Saint Louis.  What little remains of the 14th century tower was once the royal entrance to the city.  Partially demolished in 1850 to widen the street, this tower has welcomed Emperor Charlemagne and numerous other French kings making the pilgrimage to Santiago.  The last royal visit was that of Francis I in 1533.  If you continue along the boulevard, keeping the tower on your left you will be surprised, I hope, just as I was on my very first visit!

Pagès Distillery
Continue on the boulevard and past place de Breuil until you come to the old distillery of Pagès.  You can't miss the style and decoration on the building which is now a museum celebrating the history of Verveine, a liqueur that is flavoured with verbena and you can try some whilst you are there.  When you leave Pagès, make sure you take rue de Faurbourg and keeping the museum on your right continue along the street a little until you pass rue Sainte Claire on your left.  Then stop and look behind you.  There's yet another little surprise waiting for you!

Those are just a few of my favourite sites in this wonderful city.  Perhaps, with this tiny glimpse of Le Puy, you can understand why I chose to use it as a location in Merle.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

I'm reviewing 'The Unfree French'...

... by Richard Vinen

I came across this book by accident.  I was looking for something else but Amazon decided to tell me about it - this is something that usually annoys the hell out of me.  However, on this occasion, I am so glad the book giant did bring this tome to my attention.
Richard Vinen,  according to the acknowledgements at the front of the book, took a 'disgracefully long time' to create this treatise on France during the 39/45 war.  I'm very glad that he did.  Rather than rehashing and re-examining well known military history and strategies, he searched archives, scrutinised reports and read memoirs both published and unpublished.  As a result the source notes and bibliography are extensive.
This is not exactly a history book, in the usually accepted sense of the word, but it is a fascinating document that showcases how ordinary people lived and worked during the occupation of the northern half of France and the period of the Vichy government in the south.  The narrative voice is gentle and flows well and the detail keeps you turning the page. 
Beginning with the defeat of France in 1940 and the subsequent partition into occupied territory and Vichy, Vinen presents some startling statistics - startling to me anyway!  Two million French soldiers were taken prisoner and 6 million civilians left their homes and joined convoys of people and refugees trying to escape their own homeland.
Set against the enormity of that, the author brings to life the agonising choices ordinary people had to make.  He explores what it was like to live in towns and villages that had been emptied of young men who were either Prisoners of War or who had been conscripted to work for the Reich in Germany.  He then zeros in on individuals.  For example, Louis Althusser, POW, who claimed that after 'altering his papers' he was able to make himself available for repatriation.  Léo Malet used his experiences as a POW to create a fictional detective who began his career in a camp that closely resembled the Stalag where the author had been incarcerated.  And then there are the stories of the women left behind and in particular, the actions of some Parisian gentiles who wore yellow stars.
What I found especially interesting was the way Vinen was able to chart the changes in attitude and opinion of the ordinary people of France during an especially difficult time in their history along with the detail of lives lived, judgements that were constantly questioned and decisions that were agonised over.  The introduction I found a little tedious but the opportunity to look at, almost spy upon, that period of French history far outweighed my initial and very short-lived discomfort.  A fascinating read that I feel sure I will come back to again and again.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Come stroll with me

Basilica in Place Urbain V
...through the city of Mende.  But, before we set off, I probably need to supply a few facts and a bit of history.

Sitting on the southern edge of the Massif Central, Mende is the préfecture – principal administrative city - for the département of Lozère in the recently-formed Occitanie region of France.  With a population of around 12,000 and an area of 14 square miles, the town sits in the high valley of the Lot about 30k due west of Mont Goulet and the source of the river.  At an altitude of 700m, living here is bit like living near the top of Cross Fell in the Pennines, but with better weather.

There has been habitation on this spot for over 2,000 years and the history is varied and complex.  Raided and sacked on numerous occasions – not least during the Religious Wars - Mende has survived to be the prominent town that it is, centred around it’s old medieval foundations with the modern city surrounding it.  In the middle ages, Mende became a centre of culture and civilisation, a focal point for trade, art and craftsmen with a notoriety that stretched as far north as the cities of Moulins and Vichy.

We begin our visit in Place Urbain V with a look at the cathedral.  The Basilica of Notre-Dame-et-St-Privat is striking because of its mismatched towers.  Begun in the 14th Century, under the auspices of the then Pope Urbain V, the cathedral was partially destroyed during the Religious Wars of the 16th Century – hence the odd towers.  The original bell ‘Non Pareille’, then the largest bell ever to have been cast, was melted down for bullets so that Capitaine Mathieu Merle and his Huguenot soldiers could continue the fight.  With more than 10 interior chapels, Aubusson tapestries in rainbow colours and the detailed vaulting, this is a truly magnificent example of the changing architecture over the centuries.

Old streets of Mende
Out in the sunshine again and we are going to take a right, past the préfecture building – more of that later – into the narrow streets of the old medieval town.  With houses of three and four stories high, so close that neighbours could almost shake hands above the cobbles as they reach out of their open windows, the shade is welcome and necessary in the mid-day heat.  This part of the city became the home to hundreds of Jewish traders and remained their domain right up until the 20th century.  And it is one of these streets that I will be using as the location for a business for one of my characters in my next novel.

Tour des Pénitents
If you follow me into the bright white heat of Place au Blé you will see one of the vestiges of the old fortifications of the town – Tour des Pénitents.  Originally constructed in the 12th century and then rebuilt after the Hundred Year’s War, it survived the deliberate destruction of all of the ramparts in 1768.  In 1721, the plague moved rapidly north from Marseille to Mende and took the lives of over 1,000 people in little more than a year.  The subsequent tearing down of the city walls was instituted as a health measure to enable fresh air to blow into the town.

From here it’s a short walk along rue de l’Abbaye to the préfecture building, which stands magnificently beside the cathedral.  It was in this building, during the 1939/45 war that the Mayor at the time, Henri Bourrillon, defied the Vichy regime.  Bourrillon objected to the internment camp that was built close to the town and, his words, actions and further objections caused him to be removed from his position of authority in 1941.  Henri took this in his stride and joined the Resistance and Mende, and some of its bravest people, took on a new role in support of the Jewish community within the city.

And the city of Mende features in both of my books, Messandrierre and Merle