Forty years ago Charlotte Cameron and her family spent six months travelling France and the moment that stuck with her the most was visiting the site of a massacre.
Cameron, a Gabriola Island-based playwright, said someone in a tourist office suggested they explore the southern village of Minerve, where in the 13th century the Catholic Church led a crusade against the Cathars, followers of a heretical Christian sect.
“As soon as we got to that area people started telling us about how the Cathars had been burned there, persecuted, and not just in that village but villages all around the area…” Cameron said. “I just couldn’t stop thinking about this story. People would tell us the story as if it just happened yesterday.”
Cameron drew on her experience visiting Minerve and learning about its history while writing her debut novel, Love and Courage in Troubled Times. It follows a teenage girl from Vancouver who’s dragged to the Minerve area by her family one summer and soon has visions about the crusade and even meets someone resembling a historical figure.
“As soon as she gets travelling she learns how big the world is and she has a lot of nice experiences, but she starts getting terrifying dreams and the dreams are about this massacre,” Cameron said.
Love and Courage in Troubled Times is Cameron’s first venture into novel writing, as she said the story, which takes place across the centuries, is “huge” and “probably beyond my capabilities” to turn into a play. Cameron said writing dialogue was familiar, but she got a little carried away at other points.
“You can take a whole page to talk about something which in a play would just be one or two lines of dialogue, and that’s a danger for me because I tend to go off on tangents,” she said. “So actually in the end with my editor I had to take out a lot of writing. I had to tighten everything up. Make it move more quickly.”
Cameron said writing her first novel was a learning experience, as she could have better planned it out or done more research, and she’d like to try it again. She said she has no shortage of material.
“The funny thing is just about every week somebody tells me a story and they say I could do a novel about this because there are so many interesting people in the past … and in the present,” she said.