Historical Novel-Writing: Throwing Open the Shutters

What can the historian learn from writing fiction? Lisa Hilton, whose first novel is set in south-west France, discovered revelations about the area as well as her approach to interpreting the past.

My novel, The House with Blue Shutters, is set in a fictional department of France, based on the Tarn-et-Garonne, where I have lived, on and off, for the past 12 years. It is one of the most rural and least fashionable parts of the country. Indeed our local village, Cazes-Mondenard, last year achieved the dubious distinction of being France’s officially poorest village. The region was most prosperous from the 13th to the 15th centuries, when the pilgrim routes to Compostela converged here before turning south-west to the Pyrenees. The pilgrims’ legacy can be traced in the white-walled hill villages of Lauzerte and Castelnau-Montrattier, with their fine churches and arcaded squares, and in the façade of the abbey at Moissac, considered by the art historian Kenneth Clark as one of the seminal architectural achievements of the 12th-century renaissance. But the region now depends predominantly on agriculture and there are no smart restaurants or elegant shops to lure wealthier tourists west from Provence.

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