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Photo: Carcassonne Tourist OfficeI climbed up perilously icy steps into theruined castle, then right to the top of thebattlements - there were no railings orbarriers - and stood there looking out overthe incredible beauty of the Pyrenees.Suddenly, I had a very clear image of awoman pulling a red cloak tight against thecold.10 years later I was at home in Sussex,writing Labyrinth and that scene, set on thatfinal day of the siege in Montségur in March1244 and there she was, my lead character,Alaїs, standing on the wall. As I typed thedescription of her wrapping her red cloakaround herself, I suddenly thought, "Oh,, it'syou. I met you 10 years ago, but I didn'tknow who you were." And that's how novelwriting works!This collision of place, history and inspirationhappened again with The Burning Chambers.I was in the rue du Marché in the Bastide inCarcassonne and I suddenly imagined what itmight have been like to walk down this samestreet in 1562, on a cold February morning.What if you were going to work in yourfather's bookshop, like on every other day,without realising that the next day, 1st March1562, a massacre would take place manyhundreds of miles away, in a place you'dnever heard of called Vassy, but it wassomething that would turn your life upsidedown and destroy France - a generation ofcivil war between Huguenots and Catholics.And out of that one thought, suddenly MinouJoubert, my main character, presentedherself. And I felt, ok, now I've got to find outwho you are and tell your story. It’s alwaysthat exhilarating moment at the start of anovel when one key person - usually awoman - stands in front of me and offerstheir hand. Then, off we go to discover thestory together, but always against thebackdrop of real history, of a real andamazing place.I always have a blank piece of paper and apen to jot down notes wherever I am. Younever know what, as a writer, you mightnotice that will be the thing that sparks thenext idea - someone on the bus tucking herhair behind her ears, a man weeping in thestreet, the child nearly running into the road.
View from the Hotel de la CitéAlthough my plots are complicated andoften intricate, I'm not a planner in the earlystages of a book at all. I'd rather not controlthings too much, preferring to keep my eyesand ears open, being available to thecharacters, ideas and the stories that mightcome and find me. I’m a keen walker,because for me it's the things that youhaven't gone looking for, but you just seeout of the corner of your eye - that's wherethe real stories come from. Keep your mindopen and receptive. So much writing andimaging happens on the move!In Carcassonne when you want to take abreak, is there somewhere you'd like to go?For the past ten years, I've been a part time,and now a full time carer, so I am not able tobe in Carcassonne as much as I'd like - it'sreally not suitable for wheelchairs! But I stillgo at least four times a year and alwayslaunch the French editions of my novelsthere and often escort my Dutch, Spanishand German publishers and journalists too.La Cité itself has changed a lot over theyears, there’s been a great deal ofrestoration and renovation. Though thereare critics of Violet- le-Duc's 19th centuryrestoration, the fact is it wouldn't be there atall without his work and that of others. Ithink it looks magnificent!Within the medieval city, the Hotel de la Citéis wonderful, one of the great hotels ofFrance. It was built in 1909 and all the greatperformers who came to perform in theopen theatre within the walls, for example,Sarah Bernhardt, used to stay there. When Igo in winter, rather than open up our littleholiday house for a night, I always stay there.I love the wonderful wood panelled rooms,red leather chairs and views over themedieval city walls. Out of season, there arefew tourists, much of the city is closed and ithas a completely different atmosphere.
Autumn in France is a time of celeb