My novel in Autumn 2021: the “why?” of it

Title: The Way We Say “Yes”

My interest in the Languedoc and its history goes back some considerable time. I read Montaillou, by Emanuel Le Roy Ladurie some time after it was published in English in 1978. I was fascinated by this story of Catharism, the Albigensian Crusade, and the Inquisition.

It stayed in the back of my mind until my wife and I rented a holiday gîte in Paraza, on the Canal du Midi, in 1998. En route we stopped at Beziers and learned of the massacre which took place there on 22nd July 1209. Later, because it was far too hot to hang around, we toured the hilltop fortresses at Queribus, Montsegur and Peyrepertuse, and visited Carcassonne, Mirepoix and Minerve, among other medieval sites. At Minerve I learned of the burning there of 140 Cathars, on the 22nd of July 1210, exactly a year after the massacre at Beziers. My own birthday is the 22nd of July, albeit in 1942. I convinced myself that I was destined to write about the history.

At the time I was still working at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and also very much involved with my profession of librarianship. It didn’t leave me much time for writing, but I was able to fit in some research, decided on a structure for the novel and sketched out my ideas. The novel was to feature a modern story, taking place mostly in the Languedoc. It would also contain a parallel 13th century narrative. I had filled out some of the blanks in my structural diagram, and written some of the easier sections, sometimes on the commuter train between Dunbar and Edinburgh.

Then Kate Mosse published her excellent novel Labyrinth in 2005. It too contained a modern story with Cathar interludes, but it was a totally different book from the one I was writing. What completely knocked the stuffing out of me was that the names of four of her Cathar characters were the same as four of mine. I will freely admit that I’d selected mine from Inquisition records mentioned in Montaillou.

The coincidences, although they are superficial ones, led to me abandoning my novel. and it’s only recently that my interest has been rekindled.

There have been further ups and downs along the way, and a second abandonment in 2019, but now I’ve come back to it with renewed determination to finish it, for my own satisfaction.

Among the sources I’ve found useful are:

Le Roy Ladurie, Emanuel: Maintaillou. 1978
Lambert, Michael: The Cathars. 1998
Mosse, Kate: Labyrinth. 2005
Gougaud, Henri and Sioen, Gérard: Lands of the Cathars. English version 1994
William of Tudela and Anon: Song of the Cathar Wars, Parts 1 and 2. 1213 and ~1275. English version published 1996.

The title? The word for “yes” in Occitan, the langue d’oc, is “oc”. There was no ‘France’ at that time, and the land was a collection of feudal estates originally settled by Frankish tribes, but in most of them, apart from those belonging to the Counts of Toulouse and Foix, the word for “yes” was “oïl”, which became “oui” in modern French. The whole region, southern ‘France’, the ‘kingdom of Aragon’, northeast ‘Spain’, ‘Catalunya’ was flexible, except that allegiances were to specific fiefdoms, which in turn were nominally or actually in vassalage to higher authorities.

Colin Will


About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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4 Responses to My novel in Autumn 2021: the “why?” of it

  1. Michael Logue says:

    As you are interested in the Cathars. Colin..Can I suggest some music from Jordi Savall.? ..Le Royaume Oublié…around the crusade against the Cathars… or do you have it already?

    regards Mike Logue

    • sunnydunny says:

      Thanks Mike. I’ve heard some Jordi Savall, but I’ll track down that music. I’ve found the titles of some songs of the period, like “Ai! Buon fourtuna” and some other shepherd songs, but I don’t know what they sound like. cheers

  2. John Barker says:

    Can’t wait to read this, Colin!

    • sunnydunny says:

      Thanks John. As I told my publisher, I’m not writing it with a view to its publication, but just to prove to myself that I can do it. She wants to see it anyway. 63,000 words (of ~80,000) written.

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