Welcome again to Cathie Dunn, whose novels are a delight to read, and as all good historical novels should, hers have a very special sense of place.
First of all, thank you to Jane for hosting me today. I’m delighted to be here. It’s always a pleasure to re-visit places I’ve been to and loved – and which ended up in my novels.
Today, I’m going to chat about the inspiration for my first big writing project, Dark Deceit. As a writer of historical adventure, I have to combine the locations I choose with real events. Or vice versa!
Dark Deceit is set in mainly rural Gloucestershire and Normandy. The year is 1141, a time of uncertainty when two sides were claiming the English throne: the Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and his designated heir (a woman no less!), and Stephen of Blois, her cousin and son of Henry’s sister Adela. Following Henry’s death in 1135, Stephen sped to London and usurped the throne, whilst Matilda remained in Normandy, supposedly safe in the knowledge of becoming queen. Thus ensued two decades of unrelenting civil war in England and Normandy. “Christ wept,” they said about those years.
Dark Deceit began to take shape after a day trip to the lush Gloucestershire countryside from our then home in south Wales back in 2004. Driving through softly rolling hills and walking through rustic old villages with its beautiful churches inspired the setting for the manor of Bellac, the home of Alleyne de Bellac. Imagine a medieval manor, with a moat, drawbridge, an inner courtyard and a solid two-storey stone building – one of the early ones at the time. A walkway at the top inside its solid outer walls completes the manor of Bellac. Looking out from the walkway over the forests and fields, any approach by strangers would have been spotted. Then, of course, there is the imaginary small village with its church close by.
The small church of St Michaels in Brampton Abbots, Herefordshire, inspired the church in the Bellac. It was a beautiful place to visit, very inspiring.
With that area in mind, I created my hero, Geoffrey de Mortagne, under-sheriff of Gloucestershire. Miles, the real sheriff of the county, is by 1141 on Matilda’s side (very handy), and Geoffrey is their spy.
Geoffrey’s own family home, however, lies in the upper hills of the county of Perche, in southern Normandy. Again, it was inspired by a visit to the area. I love the Normandy countryside. It’s so varied. You have the gorgeous beaches, endless fields, ancient forests and rolling hills in the national park. With its fascinating medieval history, it is the perfect setting for Geoffrey’s home, although he had not returned for many years. You’ll find out why in the novel… Although it was meant to be a holiday in Normandy, we visited many heritage sites. I’m thrilled to share photos from a few:
We stayed in Argentan, a town that was founded at the time. Only Matilda and her daughter-in-law Eleanor of Aquitaine would have passed it. I had goosebumps when I stood in front of it!
Falaise, including its derelict castle which was added to and turned into an incredible interactive museum about the dukes of Normandy
Bayeux, with the famous tapestry and old, cobbled streets
Our car developed a fault during our drive to Mortagne-au-Perche, Geoffrey’s home, and we seemed to have forgotten to take any photos! It was a beautiful area, though, with many forests and rolling hills.
The sequel to Dark Deceit will take place mainly in Normandy, although Geoffrey will also return to England now and then. He is a spy after all…
On his return from battle at Lincoln, Geoffrey de Mortagne, undersheriff of Gloucester and spy for the Empress Matilda, assists a dying knight caught in an ambush. Promising to look after the welfare of the knight’s only daughter, Geoffrey stays at her manor, investigating the murder. Keen to join the Empress on her progress through England, he is torn between his oath and his duty.
Left to defend her manor following her father’s death, Alleyne de Bellac reluctantly accepts Geoffrey’s support. As she doesn’t trust the taciturn stranger, she asks Will d’Arques, an old friend, for help. But loyalties change. Her life in danger and her inheritance at stake, Alleyne must decide which man to trust.
Discover England and Normandy divided by a brutal civil war, where vows are broken as allegiances waver.
About Cathie Dunn:
Cathie Dunn writes romantic suspense & adventure set in Scotland, England and Normandy. A hobby historian, her focus is on medieval and Jacobite eras.
She has two historical novels published: Highland Arms, a Scottish romance, and Dark Deceit, a historical adventure with romantic elements.
Cathie also self-published Silent Deception, a romantic paranormal novella set in Victorian Cornwall. All her titles are available on Amazon.
Cathie currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two cats.