About juliaibbotson

Academic, researcher, author

An author’s life: country walks

Forest Bathing

It’s not about getting naked and dousing yourself in freezing water in a cold and frosty wood! But it is about something that refreshes the soul and relaxes the body.

I’ve recently written blogs on ‘an author’s life’ that have been about seasonal recipes: autumn, winter – comfort cooking and baking in these difficult times we’re living in at the moment. I will return to recipes for spring and summer, but just now I want to extol the virtues of forest bathing. Well, it’s not as chilly or even horrifying as it sounds. It’s about mindful walking (or standing still) in the countryside, woodland preferably, but it could be any stretch of open natural landscape, a garden, a park. It’s about emptying your mind of stresses and immersing yourself in nature and marvelling at its treasures.

It’s about really looking as you walk, at the wild flowers, the trees, the flora and fauna. It’s about listening to the birdsong or the wind rustling the leaves. It’s about breathing in the smell of the earth, the scent of the blossoms. Being aware of things we often take for granted. And it doesn’t have to be about trekking off into the countryside. At the weekend I just stood for a few minutes in my garden and listened and watched nature unfolding around me. It was amazing how much I saw and heard, and even smelled that I might have missed had I not been really focused on that experience rather than on the tangle of my latest plot line. I saw blue tits vying for the bird feeder, blackbirds pecking on the grass, robins eyeing the scene from the rhododendrons. I heard wood pigeons calling from the treetops, the twitter of sparrows flocking, crows in the fields beyond, the croak of the pheasant in the woodlands around me. I heard a distant train and idly wondered if it was on its way to London, glad I wasn’t on it! I smelled the damp earth and wet fallen leaves, and the fresh scent of new leaves opening and buds awaiting their time. I heard the peace.Then I could return to my work with a renewed energy.

So how does this fit into my working day? How can I make time for it? As an author I’ve done many interviews in my time and the most popular question is: how I organise my day when I’m writing? Before lockdown and tiers and all that, I used to go swimming every morning, do about 30-40 lengths, then a spell in the gym, and home by about 9.30 to start work on my writing for the day. Now I can’t do that: gyms and pools are closed for the duration. So instead I try to do some physical work first thing. It might be in my ‘home gym’ (well, that’s flattering it a little; it’s an exercise bike, a power plate machine and dumb-bells in the spare bedroom). Or it might be a yoga session. Hopefully it’s both! Then I can get down to the business of writing. for a morning’s session.

So, where does the forest bathing come in? At lunchtime, if the weather permits (intermittent in England) I like to go for a walk to clear my head or to rehearse my next scenes. The country walks around our home, through fields and woods, are so beautiful. Even on the dullest day, there’s plenty to see and listen to. I like to stop and look, try to empty my mind of its cares, or a difficult plot hole, and concentrate on what’s around me. I try to take in the wild flowers by the wayside and listen to the bird song.

W H Davies wrote “What is this life, if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare.” In these times, I think that’s even more relevant than before. So, if the weather is inclement for walking I might only be able to pop out into the garden to “stand and stare” for a few minutes. But even that is refreshing and relaxing for the rest of the day. And it’s amazing how much more energised and renewed you feel.

Then I’m ready to get back to the computer for the afternoon and remind myself of what my character was supposed to be doing …

Is it time to ditch the ‘Dark Ages’?

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The ‘Dark Ages’: barbaric, primitive, brutal, murderous? People illiterate, uncivilised. Tribes of Angles and Saxons marauding, hacking their way across Britain and cruelly wiping out the native Britons and Celts, slaying all in their path? Dark dangerous days after the Romans left; everything crumbled, decayed, ruined?

In the first of my Dr DuLac series, A Shape on the Air, one thread in Viv’s narrative is the notion that the ‘dark ages’ tend to be misconstrued as primitive, that the ‘dark ages’ are only dark because we know little about them from the relative paucity of surviving evidence and artefacts. As a specialist in early medieval language, literature and history, I am excited by the idea that this historical period wasn’t primitive and barbaric, but in fact refined with a rich culture from its Roman, Briton and Celtic heritage – and indeed from rich foreign trade. Gold, jewelry, embroideries, tapestry wall hangings, crafted utensils, glass: the feasting halls of the chieftains would have glowed with wealth.

Let’s look at the more recent discoveries about the world of late fifth century Britain, for example the site near Lyminge in Kent, where an early feasting hall has been unearthed and evidence revealed of a good and settled domestic life. The Romans left us with not only an engineering and building heritage but also a cultural one. I am also intrigued by the exploration of the bronze age settlement at Must Farm in the fens, dating from long before the setting of my story, yet revealing a sophistication of crafts, utensils, clothing, domesticity and foreign trade all of which I am convinced would have become a surviving part of the British psyche. Both Lyminge and Must Farm discoveries are mentioned in my story.

Photo by Bruno Scramgnon on Pexels.com

So, archaeological evidence is at last beginning to emerge and we have new and exciting tools to discover more. Domestic archaeology is also beginning to indicate that sites were occupied and developed long after Romans began to leave, and that there was continuity of occupation/population (eg Lyminge, Mucking, Barton Court, Orton Hall, Rinehall, West Heslerton, to name a few). Artefacts and building use suggest that there was a much more gradual change post-Roman occupation and during the migration of new waves of Angles, Saxons and Jutes, rather than a period of decline and sudden brutal invasions. Hence there was a slower cultural shift towards a settled British society. Of course, this is not to say that there weren’t any bitter inter-tribal battles going on for land acquisition, and between local chieftains for power supremacy, nor that there wasn’t deep suspicion of the Angles and Saxons by the native Britons and Celts.

Photo by Kelly Lacy on Pexels.com

But the ‘modernist’ view is that there was much more mingling of Romano-British society than previously thought, through inter-marriage with Romans who remained after the Roman troop withdrawals, and a similar intermingling between Britons and the immigrant Angles and Saxons.

This view of gradual change and evolution from immigration and settlement, rather than sudden brutal change from invasion and suppression by Anglo-Saxon marauders, is one advocated by (among others) Professor Susan Oosthuizen (The Emergence of the English 2019). She offers some fascinating insights into evidence from documentary, archaeological, and landscape studies and her emerging view is that the ‘dark ages’ were not so dark, barbaric and brutal as we had previously imagined.

West Stowe Anglo Saxon village

So perhaps it’s time to ditch the ‘Dark Ages’ title. So what can we call this post-Roman pre-Anglo-Saxon period instead? Some academics use ‘early medieval’. Oosthuizen uses the term ‘late antique’ for the period 400-600AD (with ‘early medieval’ for 600-850AD). What do you think?

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

The writing process: a ‘dark ages’ time-slip novel

Where did you get the inspiration for the book/series?

To be honest, my ideas come into my mind pretty much unbidden. I’m constantly curious about people, relationships, history, things around me, and I read and research a great deal, but of course it takes a lot of imagination to develop the ideas into a viable story. In the first of the Dr DuLac series, A Shape on the Air, I wanted Dr Viv to have a troubled relationship, to have a traumatic experience that would lead to a time-slip and a deep connection to another woman in the distant past. The idea for A Shape on the Air came from my interest in early medieval history which was my first research field, the post-Roman, early Anglo Saxon era, commonly called the Dark Ages. I’d been reading recent research, mainly archaeological stuff, that supported my view that it wasn’t so ‘dark’ in the sense of barbaric fighting, invasions, and brutality, but that it was actually marked by richness and diversity. I am also very interested in the concept of time and I’d wanted to write a time-slip for ages – but then you have to think, how could it actually happen to normal people in their everyday lives?

Do you write using pen and paper or on a computer?

I write on my computer so that I can easily edit as I go, but my research notes and planning notes and graphs are usually the old pen and paper, and post-its everywhere. I have a pinboard beside my desk and I fill it for the novel I’m currently writing, with pictures from the history I’m writing about and inspiration for characters. For example my inspiration for Dr Viv is a pic of Rachel Weiss (looking elegant and thoughtful) and Rev Rory is James Norton in the role of Rev Sidney Chambers (gorgeous!). And there are lots of pics of early medieval banqueting halls (mead halls), Anglo Saxon warriors and ladies, a dark ancient mere, and the prototype of Viv’s apartment which is actually somewhere I once lived just outside  Oxford.

Who is your favourite character out of your stories and why?

My favourite character is always the one I’m writing at the moment! In A Shape on the Air, I loved Dr Viv/Lady Vivianne (traumatised by Pete’s betrayal/Sir Pelleas’s brutality) and Rev Rory/Sir Roland (a hunk but also sensitive and caring), but I was especially fond of Tilly/Tilda who is very sweet and such fun I really enjoyed writing her.

If you were a character in your story, which would you like to be?

I think it would have to be Lady Vivianne because I guess 499 AD would have been an exciting time to live in, caught between the Roman world and before the Anglo Saxon era was properly established. It was a time of change and uncertainty but also an opportunity for making your mark. Women were respected as part of the leadership of communities and Lady Vivianne holds her own in difficult circumstances. And I think she’s a good person with the interests of her community at heart. Although she was brought up as the daughter of the king/chieftain, she is not arrogant or entitled; she wants a more equal world.

How and why did you choose the names for your main characters?

I started with Lady Vivianne. The names Vivianne, Nimue, Nivian etc are the names associated with the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend (which is important in the story) and I had to choose a name that could translate to a modern equivalent, hence Dr Viv. Likewise Sir Roland which was a common name in English and French medieval legend, and then Rory came from that. It was the same for all the other characters in the two time periods. I deliberately didn’t choose totally authentic pre-Anglo Saxon/Britonic names because that wouldn’t have worked with the dual times and additionally, they would have been more difficult to read! It was a conscious decision to approximate a modernisation of historic names. After all, I’m writing characters who are from different ‘tribes’: Briton, Celtic, Roman, Angles, Saxons!

What are your future plans as an author?

I’ve written the sequel to A Shape on the Air and it’s set in Madeira. It’s provisionally called The Dragon Tree. Again Viv has a traumatic experience, so you can guess what that leads to! It is a time-slip/dual time story and goes back to the 14th and 16th centuries on the island which were fascinating times. I’ve also written the third in the Dr DuLac series, The Rune Stone, which returns to my favourite early medieval mystery. It involved a lot of research into ancient runes which was fascinating. Moving house in between lockdowns created a hiatus for me (so much to do and hard to concentrate) but I’m now starting a new novel, Daughter of Mercia which has cross-overs to the Dr DuLac series. For the moment, I want to stick with early medieval/Anglo-Saxon time-slip mysteries, as this has become my identified author brand. But who knows …?

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

A Chatsworth Christmas

In a corner of Derbyshire

In a beautiful corner of Derbyshire, beyond Matlock, stands the magnificent Chatsworth House and every Christmas it holds a series of special events on an appropriate wintry theme. The grand house is decorated in fantasy and visitors can walk through the different rooms each with a sub-theme. The magic happens every year, but the year that sticks particularly in my mind was the one focused on the Victorian author Charles Dickens, and of course A Christmas Carol loomed large. The scenes in each room were breath-taking and you stand in wonder looking at the amazing detail the designers created.

Of course there was a room dedicated to Scrooge’s bedroom, the haunted skeletal figure of the old man sitting up in his four-poster bed staring in wide-eyed horror at the apparition before him. And of course the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future appeared in all their glory.

Another room, one of the great banqueting halls was home to Great Expectations, a huge table running the length of the hall, laden with cobweb smothered tableware, candelabras and food. As we drank in the spectacle we startled at the sight of Miss Haversham, in her ancient tattered wedding dress, moving ghost-like across towards us, muttering and moaning.

The gardens were frosty that December day and the silvery trees in the park and lining the drive added to the ghostly atmosphere.

Needless to say the gift shop provided many a gift and stocking filler, nicely in time for Christmas.

And of course, the cleverly animated snowy scene of Dickensian London prompted me to hurry home to bake my historical recipe of Victorian Boozy Plum Pudding and heat mulled wine from my Christmas Kitchen chapter of The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen at http://myBook.to/TheOldRectory

An author’s life (part 2) : country baking through the seasons – oh, and writing of course!

It’s Winter!

OK, so it’s not actually deep in snow here, but you get the drift – um, pun unintended! Coming up to Christmas, and chilly days of British rain and wind, we really need some comfort treats. There’s something about ginger in the autumn and winter that is lovely and cosy, for example personally I love rhubarb and ginger gin – but that’s another story!

If you’ve been following my seasonal series on using my lunch break from my laptop to bake something delicious and comforting, you’ll know that my winter bake is often my Chewy Ginger Flapjacks, so easy to make (one bowl) and so moreish …

Chewy Ginger Flapjacks

makes about 12-16 depending on the size you want

Chewy, gooey, filling, scrumptious. What more can I say? One of my easiest and favourite teatime/coffee break treats.

You’ll need:

100 g. (4 oz.) butter

100 g. (4 oz.) caster sugar

100 g. (4 oz.) self raising flour

112 g. (4.5 oz.) oats

0.5 tsp. bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp. ground ginger

Pinch salt

2 tbsp. golden syrup, gently warmed

Preheat the oven to 180ºC, 350ºF/gas mark 4. Grease a deepish oblong baking tray – a brownie tin is ideal. Mix the butter, sugar, and all the other dry ingredients in a bowl. Mix in the gently warmed syrup. Then spread in the baking tin and bake for about 20–30 minutes, until golden brown. Be careful the edges don’t burn. Cool a little and cut into squares or slices. Cool on a cooling rack and enjoy!

If you leave these unattended on the cooling rack in the kitchen, there may not be any left for you … so hide them. They’re also good for you, with lovely healthy oats.

What’s your favourite winter baking treat?

For more of my family recipes (and some from historical archives too), go to: The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen at http://myBook.to/TheOldRectory

Did the Romans really abandon Britain in 410 AD?

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I guess that most of us learned in school that the Romans ditched Britain in 410 AD and abruptly left us to our own devices to run off to protect Rome from the marauding Visigoths. There are many myths about the Roman withdrawal: from the date and ramifications of the withdrawal of troops (was it a sudden departure or a gradual leaving?), to the state of Britain in its wake (did it totally collapse without the Romans to keep us in order or was there an amount of continuity?).

So, firstly, did the Romans really abandon Britain in 410? That has long been the date we assume the Romans left Britain, summoned back by Honorius  to defend Rome. Traditionalists have believed that the Romans abandoned their villas, their culture, and left en masse, for the ignorant Britons and Celts to allow civilisation to go to rack and ruin.

Now a different view is emerging. It appears (eg from studies of Notitia Dignitatum 4th/5th c AD) that Roman military units were still here much later, suggesting a gradual withdrawal over possibly half a century, and even the ‘Honorius edict’ is in dispute. We only have ‘evidence’ written in the 6th ,7th and 8th centuries either by Byzantine officials or writers such as Gildas, Bede and Nennius, who are now regarded by many academics as distant from events, subjective and unreliable.

Did many of the Romans from the occupation remain in Britain, in their military units, intermarrying with Britons and Celts, becoming integrated and merging cultures? I’d like to think so, although that raises a few more questions …

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

An author’s life (part 1): country baking through the seasons – oh, and writing of course!

It’s Autumn!

Photo by Mathias P.R. Reding on Pexels.com

Autumn mist sweeps ghostly through the trees. Leaves are dropping in carpets of gold and russet – I think we’ve got them all in our garden, surrounded as we are by woodland! I’ve said before that I like to do a little baking as relaxation and comfort while I’m working on a novel. It gives me thinking time while I enjoy the gentleness of mixing and rolling, whisking and decorating.

My country kitchen baking tends to be seasonal. I like to use the ingredients that are fresh that month or that strike me as a reflection of the ‘feel’ of the season. In autumn it’s a nourishing hot cauliflower and stilton soup, in winter maybe it’s chewy ginger flapjacks, in Spring it might be almond macaroons, in summer chocolate fudge cake. I thought you might like some recipes (from my book The Old Rectory: escape to a country kitchen), so here goes with the first and I’ll add the rest in the due season!

As it’s autumn, here’s my cauliflower and stilton soup – a lovely heady rich taste with the deepness of the stilton. Come home from a chilly walk to this nourishing soup. You can make it ahead and freeze; it keeps well. Of course, if you’ve got an electric soup-maker, it’s even easier!

Cauliflower and Stilton Soup

serves 4

You’ll need:

1 small cauliflower, broken into florets, or leftover cooked cauliflower florets, even leftover cooked cauliflower cheese

Vegetable stock, if desired

1 small onion, chopped finely

100 g. (4 oz.) Stilton cheese, plus a little extra for crumbling on top

450 ml. (0.75UK pint) milk

50 g. (2 oz.) butter

50 g. (2 oz.) flour

Boil the cauliflower florets in a pan of water or vegetable stock until very soft, and lightly sauté the onion in a frying pan until transparent. Drain the cauliflower, reserving the water/stock. Crumble in the Stilton and purée all together in a blender with a little of the stock from the cauliflower pan. Make béchamel sauce by melting the butter in a pan, then adding the flour slowly, mixing thoroughly, then adding the milk slowly until smooth. Add the puréed cauliflower mixture, stirring as you blend, and slowly add the stock. Alternatively, add the sauce to the blender if it is large enough and whiz briefly to blend. Add more milk if you want to adjust the thickness of the soup.

Crumble a little Stilton on top of each serving bowl. You can also drizzle a little fresh cream on the top. You can adjust the amount of cauliflower and Stilton to taste; it’s a matter of trial and error. Enjoy!

The Old Rectory: Escape to a Country Kitchen at http://myBook.to/TheOldRectory

Fancy writing a time-slip novel?How hard can it be?

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Fancy writing a time-slip mystery romance novel? How hard can it be? All you have to do is tell the story of someone from the present day finding herself in a different time – easy, right? Wrong! In fact it’s pretty difficult. There are all sorts of issues you have to work out. Why would this person suddenly fall into another time period? How would she do it? What would be the trigger? If she could do it, why couldn’t everyone else? What makes her have this unique ability?

I love reading time-slip; I’m especially keen on Pamela Hartshorne’s novels of time-slip into the Tudor age in York (Time’s Echo, House of Shadows). They’re intriguing and exciting. I’m fascinated by theories of time and the whole concept of what time actually means? All these weird and wonderful theories: quantum mechanics, the Einstein-Bridge theory of portals and worm-holes … Is it all weird – or does it make sense?

When I wrote A Shape on the Air, I’d wanted to write a time-slip story of my own for a long time, but in my case one set in the early medieval times because that’s the period I know best and am most interested in. And I wanted an intriguing mystery involved in the dual time periods. But working it all out resulted in many a restless night, loss of hair and bitten fingernails! I wanted the tone and atmosphere to be a little spooky but still feel realistic and convincing (which isn’t easy if you’re writing about what we normally think of as ghosts). In the end I found writing the ghostly parts the easiest and the mechanics of the time-slip the most difficult.

It seemed to me that my main character, Viv, needed to be someone that anybody could identify with, someone pretty ‘normal’, but make her have a traumatic event in her life which might make her vulnerable and more susceptible to the paranormal. I made her an academic who deals with facts not fantasies, and gave her an awful partner in Pete who announces that he’s leaving her for her best friend – goodness, that would send anyone off balance! – and made her lovely home and the life she knew be at risk. I also made her drink rather a lot of red wine (understandable in the circumstances!) then go for a walk beside a lake!

I then had to make someone in a responsible job commanding authority and respect, empathise and become involved with her strange experience. Who might believe her? Someone whose job is connected with other-worldly things but could be a ‘pillar of society’? It had to be a vicar. So Rev Rory was born. And so was the love interest.

Although it would have been easier for the time-slip trigger to be the lake that started it all off, I didn’t want it to be that obvious, so I had to create a whole back-history for Viv, involving her parents, especially her mother, and their untimely death. Gradually it was coming together like a jigsaw. I can’t explain any more because it would give away the secrets of the book. You’ll just have to read it and find out! I hope you feel intrigued enough to do that, and I hope you enjoy the story. I certainly enjoyed writing it – and guess what? There are two sequels already in the pipe-line, so I’ve had to work it all out again with completely different plots!

And many thanks to the reviewer who said: “she makes the fantastical believable.”

PS. If you want to find out what I’m talking about, you’ll find A Shape on the Air at

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

Deja Vu

Have you ever experienced “déjà vu”?

Have you ever experienced that feeling of ‘déjà vu’? You know, when you suddenly feel a shudder that says ‘I’ve been here before’ or ‘that’s happened to me before’. I’ve had it many times and I’ve thought – “really?” How come we sometimes enter an old house and look around and feel that it still bears the imprints of past inhabitants? I’m not talking about ‘ghosts’ or anything specific or physical, but what I have called in my novel ‘shapes on the air’.

The idea for A Shape on the Air had been brewing in my mind for a long time. I had been reading about, and mulling over,  the notion of time-slip and especially the concept of ‘worm-holes’ and the Einstein-Bridge theory of portals into other dimensions of time and space, in effect quantum mechanics. I know it sounds fanciful and Dr Who-ish, and oddly I’m not a great fan of fantasy, but I felt that this was in fact a more ‘logical’ (in some ways!) and scientific explanation of those everyday glimmers of ‘déjà vu’ and perceptions of the past that many of us experience. Those intimations that maybe the spirits of history are embedded in the fabric of old houses and ancient geology. So, what if we could take it further and, somehow, actually slip into the world of the past, another world but one to which we might have a personal connection, through our own family links perhaps, which still reverberate through us; some kind of glimpse of those shapes on the air.

Could, perhaps, our ancestors somehow reach out across time to ‘touch’ us in this world, not physically but spiritually or emotionally? Watching programmes like ‘Who do you think you are’ where the subjects research their ancestral history, I feel that there is a lot more in their discoveries than merely drawing up a family tree and timeline. They often find a rather eerie connection with their family members, in terms of character, situation, talents, life-views and professions. Of course, many of us, myself included, have looked into our family histories and see nothing at all in common with our ancestors, indeed sometimes they seem totally remote! But I’m aware that those connections and links across time can be there and that’s what I wanted to explore in my book. What if a perfectly rational, normal person could somehow touch another time? What would happen then? And what could go wrong?

The theory of worm-holes and portals through which we could slip across the time-space continuum into other historic periods and places is really only that – a theory. It’s unproven – how could it be otherwise? But it does raise some wonderfully intriguing ideas. Such a gift for a creative writer. And since it is presented by great scientific minds such as Einstein’s, it lends itself to some serious thought.

As the Reverend Rory says in A Shape on the Air, “Just think of the universe. Black holes. Even birth and death. What are they? How come you can suddenly become a thinking person, at birth, and nothing at death.”  At first Dr Viv thinks she may be suffering some kind of temporary insanity after her traumatic experience with her partner Pete and his betrayal of her. She thinks maybe that has triggered the feelings of crossing the time dimension and merging with Lady Vivianne, but as the story progresses it seems that there is more to it than that …

Find out at  http://myBook.to/ASOTA

 

My writing ritual: stopping for an interview on my book blog tour

One of the stops on my recent book blog tour was at  Bforbookreview.wordpress.com

and it was an interview. Here is a transcript:

– When and where do you prefer to write?

Two main places: I do actually have my own study (husband banned, except for kindly plying me with coffee!) and I work at my antique desk with all my research books and papers handily in the big bookshelf next to me.  For A Shape on the Air, as with all my books, I have a ‘mood board’ on the wall beside me, with pics of inspirations for the main characters (it’s Rachel Weiss and James Norton) and pics that represent Dr Viv’s apartment, the mere and Anglo-Saxon life and times. I also like to write in the conservatory so that I can look out at the garden which gives me peace and inspiration. I write most weekdays as I resigned from the university in order to write fulltime and I try to write a session in the mornings and again in the afternoons, so I keep to ‘office times’ as far as  poss. It doesn’t always work out, though, because if it’s a nice day I want to be outside, walking in the countryside  or gardening!

– Do you have a certain ritual?

My main ritual really is that I go swimming first thing in the mornings (I do 20-30 lengths) and usually have a session in the gym while I’m there. Then when I get back home at about 9.30 I can feel ‘noble’ after my exercise and set my mind to my work. I ALWAYS take my first coffee of the day with me to the study. I check my emails first in case there’s anything I need to address, but I try to avoid social media until I’ve met my target for the day.

Is there a drink or some food that keeps you company while you write?

I’m afraid that I drink far too much fresh coffee while I’m working; I have a coffee pot constantly on the go. But I compensate with camomile tea at other times! I don’t eat while I’m on my computer but I do stop for breaks and usually have fresh fruit – or if I’ve been baking I grab a ginger flapjack or almond macaroon or whatever!

What is your favourite book?

It changes, because I’m an avid reader and the latest one is usually my current favourite. But some stand the test of time in my heart: I love anything by Kate Atkinson and Pamela Hartshorne. I love historicals and time-slips (because this is my ‘brand’ too)!

Would you consider writing a different genre in the future?

I have written in several genres already (contemporary and historical romance, children’s, etc) but at present I see my ‘brand’ as medieval time-slip mystery romance, which is what A Shape on the Air is – and also my WIP (working title The Dragon Tree)which is a sequel.

Do you sometimes base your characters on people you know?

I guess most writers base characters on people they know in some way (we’re terrible people-watchers) but mine are generally amalgamations of different people. I pick characteristics and merge them into my characters, so they are, hopefully, unique.  Possibly some of the characters in the Drumbeats Trilogy were nearer to known people than usual. But characters in A Shape in the Air mix up various friends of mine (don’t tell them!).

 Do you take a notebook everywhere in order to write down ideas that pop up?

I have a glorious collection of beautiful notebooks (constantly added to!) and I do usually have one in my bag, along with some of my collection of gorgeous pens. The only thing is that I tend to get ideas at awkward moments when I can’t pull the notebook out to write them down! I desperately try to keep the ideas in my head until I can scribble them down.

– Which genre do you not like at all?

I like most genres. I love crime, police procedurals and psychological thrillers, but I couldn’t ever write them (I don’t feel qualified enough). I don’t like anything gory or OTT blood-thirsty and I’m not keen on erotica or inflicted pain. I hated Fifty Shades!

– If you had the chance to co-write a book. Whom would it be with?

Barbara Erskine or Susanna Kearsley, because we’re on the same wave-length I think:  medieval -ish time-slip Or maybe my friend Lizzie Lamb: although we write entirely different sorts of books, she’s excellent at marketing and promotion, so I’d feed off her!

If you should travel to a foreign country to do research, which one would you chose and why?

Strangely enough, I’ve just been doing research in Madeira.  My latest WIP is set there and involves its medieval history, 14th and 16th centuries. It’s a time-slip again so there’s present day Madeira to imbibe too. It’s provisionally called The Dragon Tree and it has the same main protagonists as A Shape on the Air: Dr Viv and Rev Rory, because I liked them so much I couldn’t let them go! My next will be the third in the series but they will be back in England at the Derbyshire rectory and my other favourite character (Tilly) will be back.

A Shape on the Air is available from Amazon at

http://myBook.to/ASOTA