Writing about a Distant Time

My latest novel, The Viscountess and the Templars, will be available soon. I loved working on this story. But writing about a historical woman, living in a distant and little understood time is challenging.

In my historical fiction for children, the setting and the historical material are accurate, but the characters are fictional. It is much more difficult to write about a person who actually lived, honoring what is known about her.

The historical documents are silent on many key facts of Ermengarde’s life. I studied the available documents and read the opinions of historians, who don’t always agree on her history.

My novel is based on this research and my knowledge of the medieval world. I filled the gaps in the historical records with my best guesses about what might have happened. It was a challenge to stay true to what is known and to write a compelling story at the same time. I had to create characters, extracting real people from stone-like, dry documents and invent explanations for things that actually happened.

Lack of firm evidence about Ermengarde’s life is complicated by the problems of making a distant time comprehensible to modern readers.

France in the middle ages was not yet a nation state because the king couldn’t control his great nobles. The people in Ermengarde’s world considered themselves Frankish, but they had only a loose affiliation with the king in far-away Paris.

Ermengarde was Viscountess of Narbonne, but her viscounty didn’t have definite boundaries. Instead, she had a series of rights, privileges, and holdings in the area of Narbonne. At the same time, the archbishops of Narbonne controlled half of the city of Narbonne and had similar rights, privileges and holdings adjacent to Ermengarde’s own.

Churchmen were enthusiastic players in the power politics of the day, and like the other great nobles, they scrambled for power, wealth, and position. On one hand, Ermengarde endowed monasteries and members of her family were important churchmen, and on the other, the church was her enemy.

Language usage has changed. I tried to only use words and phrases that were from the medieval world. That meant looking up the origins of lots of words.

It is also a time in which people didn’t have last names. Some people were designated by what territories they held or what jobs they performed. This was further complicated by the fact that many people had the same names.

It has been great fun bringing Ermengarde and her world to life. I hope readers enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


About medievalphyllis

I love history and I love writing. I've been working on an historical novel about a medieval viscountess, Ermengarde of Narbonne since 2009. It has been quite a journey and the journey isn't over. Previously I written 6 historical novels for kids, but this is a new challenge.
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