My next guest this week is Jean Gill, author of The Troubadours Quartet. Here she has selected a scene in her latest book Plaint for Provence and shares a generous excerpt. Happy reading folks!
Jean Gill is a Welsh writer and photographer living in the south of France with a big white dog, a scruffy black dog, a Nikon D750 and a man. For many years, she taught English in Wales and was the first woman to be a secondary headteacher in Carmarthenshire. She is mother or stepmother to five children so life was hectic.
Publications are varied, including prize-winning poetry and novels, military history, translated books on dog training, and a cookery book on goat cheese. With Scottish parents, an English birthplace and French residence, she can usually support the winning team on most sporting occasions.
Les-Baux-de-Provence: 1152 and 2014
When I suggested to my husband that we have a romantic weekend in Les-Baux-de-Provence, a medieval citadel three hours’ drive from our home, he knew very well that I had more on my mind than our romance. He has lived with Dragonetz and Estela for four years now and he guessed that I was researching the third book in my 12th century Troubadours series. He is also used to me working as a photographer, and he accepted it as normal that our evening meal was planned round the best end-of-day light on the citadel from a nearby mountain pass. While I adjusted my aperture and muttered about filters, he sat in the car and read a book.
This is the moment in Chapter 4 of ‘Plaint for Provence’ when Dragonetz first sees Les Baux-de-Provence, from that very same pass. There are no marshes there now and, of course, the castle was newly built.
Although he automatically registered the defensive potential of the Sarragan Pass, its gigantic rocks allowing a few men to hide and seem many, the narrow bottleneck of access and exit, these features were not what had struck Dragonetz most. He and Hugues had reached the top of the rise first, in the van of their small troop, with the setting sun behind them, gilding the grotesque white boulders, the marsh-reeded valley and the cliffs beyond.
The boulders grew leering faces and demonic familiars in the shifting light and long shadows, dropping into unfathomable blackness in the valley below and lightening again as the cliffs rose, and rose again to the jagged tips. Except that the tips were not jagged but regular crenellations, the turrets of a castle that made the small hairs on Dragonetz’ arms prickle with excitement or foreboding, he knew not which. ‘It’s prettier than Trinquetaille,’ Hugues had said, regarding the origin of their name.
‘Les Baux,’ breathed Dragonetz.
Hugues said nothing but his face spoke. There was a set to his jaw, a determination in his gaze that Dragonetz had seen before, in the Crusades, when a man had decided what was worth dying for. For a brief moment, the low day’s-end sun caught whatever metals the castle offered; armour and flagstaff, door-hinge and wheel-hub, and the fortress caught fire, dazzling and defiant. Then snuffed out, just as suddenly. His eyes still recovering from the glare, Dragonetz rehearsed his litany of defence, but this time extending it to Les Baux itself, not just tonight’s camp.
The massif was occupied by the château on the northern heights, protected by sheer cliffs on two of the sides that Dragonetz could see, and dropping through the dependent village downhill to the south, Les Baux’s only access and weakest point. Gate and rampart were visible even from this distance, defending the entry. ‘The access to the château from here is downhill, by the boulders, across the river and marshes, then up by the south gate into the walled city and up again to the château?’
‘There is no river in the valley, just marshes. The path down is basically a mule track, widened by our use. And the caves are amongst the rocky outcrops,’ confirmed Hugues. They had spoken at length of the caves the night before. Dragonetz had assumed a river from the look of the land and was surprised that a fortification of this importance had no water source nearby. Rainwater was unreliable, especially in Provence, making the castle even more vulnerable to siege. He must investigate the water system when he was in Les Baux itself.
‘How do men get to the château itself?
‘There’s only one way to get up onto Roucas, the rock on which the citadel is built, and that’s to the south. The side you can’t see is sheer cliff.’ Just as Dragonetz had guessed.
Nowadays, Les-Baux-de-Provence is a top French tourist destination and one of its most popular attractions is a son-et-lumiere in a gigantic network of caves. When we visited, the Impressionist painters featured and this is Long-Suffering Husband in front of one cavern face, with light show.
The caves were there in the 12th century, some of them occupied and all of them the subject of legends; Moorish treasure and a demon goat. The valley is called ‘Le Val d’Enfer’ (the Valley of Hell). What more encouragement is needed for a writer?
In my story, the Gyptian (an allusion to a possible origin of the word ‘gypsy’) Dame Fairnette lives in one of the caves near the castle and the huge caves where the son-et-lumiere now takes place are the scene of a daring ambush, in which Dragonetz and the Lord of Les Baux try to steal a march on the visiting Comte de Barcelone.
Try Book 1 ‘Song at Dawn’ – it’s free. I’m told ‘it’s like Game of Thrones but with real history’. If you review any of my books, do send me a photo of your dog – or one you know. I have a lovely Gallery of Readers’ dogs and I’m hoping to add to that. http://jeangill.com/dogs/
Plaint for Provence, Bk 3 in ‘The Troubadours Quartet’ http://smarturl.it/dawnsong :
Book trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EhJgJURO_7g
Book 1 ‘Song at Dawn’ is available FREE.
IPPY Award for Best Author Website www.jeangill.com
The Troubadours Page https://www.facebook.com/jeangilltroubadours
Youtube book trailers https://www.youtube.com/user/beteljean