Today, I want to take you to some of the settings that Marie-Thérèse, my main character in Overture, would have known. In this first post, I’ll focus on Aveyron, which is one of the most rural départements (counties) of France. I live just over the border in an adjoining département, but I’m very attached to the landscapes and villages of Aveyron, which is named after the river that flows through it.
Aveyron was, and remains, primarily an agricultural area, with very little industry, except for cottage industries in past times. It’s a land of rolling, wooded hills, rushing streams and ancient perched villages: hot in summer and cold in the winter. Vestiges of prehistoric people, dolmens and standing stones, pepper the high ground.
Marie-Thérèse is born to a modest farming family in the late 19th century. The advent of the train and the agricultural revolution were slowly transforming a way of life that had lasted for centuries. Even so, people rarely travelled far beyond their home village and usually married someone from the area. This is the kind of life that Marie-Thérèse has to look forward to at the start of the book.
Her village, Ambagnac, is invented, which enabled me include composite elements of villages I know. It has a central market square, a village school, a Mairie, a lavoir (washing place) at the bottom of the village and a ruined château at the top. Perhaps they looked like these.
The fictional Ambagnac is situated near the real town of Villefranche-de-Rouergue, once an important market town, which Marie-Thérèse would certainly have known. It’s very unlikely that she would have travelled as far as Rodez, the préfecture, or county town, almost 60 kilometres from Villefranche.
Villefranche is built on a hill that slopes down to the River Aveyron. It came to prominence in the 13th century, when it was rebuilt as a bastide town on a grid pattern and was awarded a royal charter.
The town has a massive collégiale (cathedral), which dominates the arcaded market square. One of the largest and most authentic markets in the region is still held there on a Thursday. Marie-Thérèse and her mother walk to Villefranche – a journey of about 7 kilometres – to bring their produce to market. The town also held several agricultural fairs and at least two hiring fairs per year, where farmers and labourers would strike employment bargains for the following season.
Najac is another local town that stretches along a rocky ridge high above the River Aveyron, dominated by its ruined château. Although it was an important fortress, Najac lost its place as the administrative capital of the area to Villefranche in the 13th century.
I imagine Marie-Thérèse’s village being about 10 kilometres from Najac along farm tracks and paths. She would have visited Najac much less frequently than Villefranche.
Later in the book, another village plays an important part and has a small château in the village itself, which also has a role in the story. Again, it’s an invented place, which I’ve named Saint-Romain. Aspects of it are based on the village of Parisot, which is not in Aveyron, but just over the border in Tarn-et-Garonne.
I hope this gives you a flavour of the landscapes and towns and villages that would have been familiar to Marie-Thérèse as she grows up. She is greatly attached to this land, as I am.
Overture is Book 1 of L’Alouette Trilogy, covers the period 1897-1914 and is available in Kindle and paperback formats from Amazon.
You might also like:
Copyright © Vanessa Couchman 2019. All rights reserved.