Tuesday, 3 August 2010

A Curious Pattern of Time

It is 20 years almost to the day since I visited Monsegur in south-west France. I would have to dig out old journals, assuming I still have them somewhere, to get the precise date but it was a few days before the event in Beziers the date of which can be checked without recourse to my journals because I remember vividly the alignment of the planets on that day. I've just checked it in the ephemeris and the date was – rather curious I think – August 6th, which is the date of the launch of Time Loop, my novel about the Cathars of the Languedoc.

The date when we visited Monsegur must have been around the very end of July I think. This was a story in itself, one where the old van, a converted ambulance, did not quite manage to get up the hill approaching Monsegur, and this was the only hill that proved too much for it; it even managed the Pyrenees later. We watched the sky become completely suffused with an incredible pale pink colour, then made something to eat on the gas stove. It was dark by the time we climbed the twisting mountain path to the top – but it was warm and we had the light of the moon to guide us. It was one of those truly unforgettable experiences, sitting up on the ruins of the castle of Monsegur, in the warm dark, in the moonlight.

The end of July and beginning of August is one of the quarter points of the year, known as Lammas. They all mark a shift – in the growth cycle of the planet we live on, and in the light cycle, the planet's relationship with the sun. Some years this change is very noticeable, as if a line has been drawn, a curtain pulled, a bridge crossed. There is a clear sense of division. The weather can change dramatically. I've noticed it this year, and last year there was a similar direct and sudden change. It isn't just the weather, there is a shift in atmosphere.

It was a hot summer in 1990 and I don't remember remarking any change in the weather after visiting Monsegur, as we drove across the Pyrenees to Barcelona, to see the Gaudi architecture. But there was a sense of having passed some kind of high point, of a goal having been reached which was not so surprising as the south of France and Monsegur in particular had certainly been my goal. But something in the energy had changed, the intensity had changed and our fortunes certainly did. The bag containing our passports, travellers cheques, drivers licenses and cash was stolen, and after reporting this to the police we began the long journey to Marseille where there was a British embassy and where we could get temporary passports. Then in Beziers, one of the van tyres became swollen and was on the point of bursting. We didn't have a spare. My friend R had tried to get one before we left but had not succeeded. We parked the van beneath some trees in Beziers and the following day began the protracted phone conversations with the French AA to try to find a tyre for the van. This proved to be a difficult task as the converted ambulance had an unusual size of tyre – which was why R had not been able to find one before leaving the UK.

With no money or food and a dwindling supply of water, as the fruitless phone calls continued, as we propped open the door of the cabine so that we were not completely suffocated by the heat, I felt a sense of complete frustration and utter desolation and could see no way out. It was R's turn at the phone box. I lay down in the van and prayed. When R returned he was triumphant. If we could get to the Avis car hire in time before it closed, our AA cover would pay for the hire of a car. In the end, after another drama at the Avis car hire, where they refused to give us a car because we could not produce a driving licence – they'd also been stolen in Barcelona – and I had refused to leave until they did give us one – we phoned the AA again and the miracle occurred – they had found a tyre and were replacing it right now.

That afternoon four planets had formed an alignment in the sky known as a grand cross. Although I had not thought at that point of writing a novel about the Cathars of the Languedoc, still, it was its inception in a way. During our reluctant stopover in Beziers I did not know that it was here that the first massacre in the crusade against the Cathars took place, in 1209. There were no survivors. I only discovered this back home, when I began to read all I could, about the history of that time.

The novel was written a few years later and published as an e-book in 2000. The website soon folded as the publisher did not make any money from e-books. It was published again in 2003 on another e-book website which also shut down a year or so later. After that I was involved in other writing and publishing projects. But a couple of years ago my friend M asked to read the typescript and afterwards she insisted that I make efforts to get it published in book form. So it it very much thanks to her th
at it will finally appear. It is also thanks to C who gave me a non-fiction book about the Cathars which prompted me to get in touch with that particular publisher, last year. And on 6th August exactly 20 years after that grand cross experienced in Beziers, there will be another grand cross and the book will appear. Time Loop wanders between 13th century France and end of 20th century France and Scotland. But the story of the story seems to have created its own arc or loop in time. This time I won't be racing across a city to reach a car hire office before it closes, only to be refused one because I don't have a driver's licence. Or refusing to leave the premises until they give me one. At least I hope not. Writing about it now, the Beziers experience sounds more like a dream than anything real.
Or a story.....

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