How did I do my research for The Girl from Oto? I began field research in 2012, during a period of travel through Europe. I had the opportunity to visit Magdalen College at Oxford, where I saw the painting by Caterina van Hemessen that was the original inspiration for my idea. When I later visited the village of Oto in the Pyrenees mountains of northern Spain, I knew I had the location for my historical narrative. I began amassing bookmarks on my computer of European websites and articles related to the project. I bought a few books here and there, but since we were traveling light I couldn’t stock up on too much paper. Some of the books I bought in France have become treasured momentos of our travels and important sources for The Girl from Oto.
My French was excellent at the time (now, 4 years later, not so much). I know people who learned French 20 years ago and can go years without speaking a word, then resume total fluency. I’m not one of them. I have to reboot my spoken French every time I go a few years without regular use of it.
However, I can read French well, although I do have to rely on a dictionary for jargon or complicated words. Many of my most important books for this project are French, and they describe the history and societies of the Pyrenees from medieval times through the present day.
Some of my most important findings came from academic papers. Two of the scholars I’m indebted to are Esther Pascua Echegaray of Spain and Claude Carrière of France. Esther Pascua Echegaray’s article on Communities and Sustainability in Medieval and Early Modern Aragon 1200-1600 was extremely important for my development of the mountain folk characters who lived in the fictional village of Ronzal.
I’ve been unable to find much information about Claude Carrière, who wrote the article “Aspects of the production and trade of wool in Aragon in the mid-15th Century.” (Sorry, I don’t have a link to that article.) I had found it relatively easy to locate information about the merino wool trade in Castile (in the west of what is now Spain), but I wanted to make sure that there was indeed a merino wool trade in the Aragon section of the Pyrenees mountains. His article contained extremely valuable background on the wool trade in Aragon and the major players involved, including names of people or entities (such as monasteries) who purchased wool, how much they purchased, and where they were located. I actually used a few names from his articles for characters in the book, including Johan and Beltran, and Ebrahim Mosequin, who pole-barged bales of wool down the River Ebro to Tortosa on the Mediterranean Coast in the 1420s-30s.
I’ll post more about my research in the future.