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

 

Early history: the ‘dark ages’; time slipping; the time-space continuum – Getting it right

The second day of my book tour and I’ve just stopped at the lovely spot: Books, Life and Everything (I love that name!), for a guest post.

https://bookslifeandeverything.blogspot.com/2020/02/a-shape-on-air-by-julia-ibbotson.html?m=1#more

So, this is what I said …

Researching for a time-slip novel

Anybody else, like me, love the historical novels of Philippa Gregory? History, intrigue, mystery, romance, drama, tragedy – it’s all there. I’ve learned much of my knowledge of the Tudor period from her work. Even though I know they’re novels and not non-fiction academic texts, I still trust that they are reasonably accurate albeit a fictionalised ‘take’ on characters of history. I do know that she has done her research, even though you may disagree with some of her interpretations!

All the authors I know do a lot of research before and during writing their novel, but it’s especially vital if you are writing about a historical period, or a location or a concept, because you have to get it right! There are, believe me, many readers waiting to jump on the slightest inaccuracy – and that’s understandable, and quite right. Readers want to see the novel, even if it’s a fictionalised account of the time or place, as an authority. When I read such a novel I want to feel I’m learning something correct and authentic, not something wrong.

For A Shape on the Air, I had a plot involving Dr Viv DuLac slipping back in time to 499 AD to solve a mystery, so I needed to update my research on the early medieval period and also to research concepts of time. Both of these are areas I love to read about, so it was no hardship. I’d studied medieval language, literature and history at university for my first degree and was fascinated by the Dark Ages (after the Roman rule ended and the early Anglo-Saxon settlements began). There wasn’t (and still isn’t) very much researched and written about the Dark Ages, which is where it got its name, not because it was violent and barbaric (which is what many people think) but because of the lack (darkness) of evidence in archaeology and documents. In some ways I had to use my deductive powers to assess what might have been retained from the earlier Roman period and what might be developing forward into the Anglo-Saxon period. More recently evidence is now appearing, such as from the ‘dig’ at Lyminge in Kent, England, where a fifth century feasting hall had been unearthed not long before I wrote my book. And there is a growing body of archaeological, geophysical and isotopic evidence to indicate how the people of the 5th and 6th centuries lived. But I had to keep up to date with new discoveries, all the time, keeping revisiting published research documents. So there was a fair amount of both evidence and informed imagination at work as I wrote A Shape on the Air.

My research into time-slip was also fascinating. I looked again at the scientific theories of quantum mechanics, which sounds a bit like something from Dr Who, the Einstein-Rosen Bridge, and worm-holes, all basically ideas about space-time portals through which you could slip from one layer of the universe into another, or from one historic period into another. Fascinating, especially for all those who like fantasy and the paranormal, and yet these are real scientific theories of the concept of time, albeit unlikely to be tested by experiment! Strangely enough, I seem to be hearing those theories quoted so much more these days in the media. So maybe something out there is catching on!

Time-slip sounds insane, and of course Viv (in the present day) wonders if she’s going mad when she thinks she’s had a dream but brings back a real golden key from 499 AD! And her ‘dream’ is so real she begins to wonder if she’s taken on the identity of Lady Vivianne, her counterpart in the Dark Ages. How do they fit together? Why are their lives becoming intertwined? Why do they need to reach out to each other across the centuries? Well, I’m afraid that you’ll need to read it and see …!

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

Book tour off to a great start in USA and UK

My book tour gets off to a wonderful start! Two lovely reviews today: the first from Laura’s Interests at https://dogsmomvisits.blogspot.com/2020/02/a-shape-on-air-by-julia-ibbotson.html

She says: “Seamlessly slipping us between eras, this book combines the elements of mystery and romance with dangerous precision.  It appealed both to this historical fiction lover in me and the mystery lover. With great details and wonderful characters, I was drawn deeply into the book and easily blocked outside distractions.  Great escape read.”

And the second, a very long, thoughtful analysis from Radzy at Vainradical.co.uk 

“A Shape on the Air is a dual timeline novel set in both present day, and 499AD, with our main character, Viv (in present day) and Vivienne (a presumed ancestor) as they combat betrayal, heartache, and the times they’re in. This is a tale of female empowerment tossed into a healthy helping of romance and adventure, with plenty of vivid imagery to boot.

My favourite part of this novel is easily the imagery. Ibbotson doesn’t dote on minor details, and rather gives us a large picture with just enough fixtures for our minds to piece the rest together. This style allows us to become lost in the world we create, while allowing fluidity and simple fixations – such as the wonderful sounding food and drink, the fabrics, and of course the handsome Roland. I found myself wanting to have medieval breakfasts, coffee with cream and a little honey, and to touch luxurious clothing. Viv is a woman who doesn’t scrimp on what she finds joy in, and things come across extravagant and wonderful. Vivienne is from a simpler time, but the way she finds comfort in swishing, soft fabric on her feet ties the two character’s personalities together well. They’re the same woman, if we’re honest, but Ibbotson has created them to be different enough, that I could tell them apart with ease, but sought their similarities as well. They’re quite vain women, not afraid to sing their own praises, and Viv at least sees her physical prowess as her strength, rather than what’s in her mind, but she’s equally a well-educated, impeccably spoken young woman. Their ages are never spelled out explicitly, but I assume Viv is in her early thirties, there’s no way she’s not, where Vivienne I’d assume is a decade younger. This fact doesn’t matter, but something I found myself thinking about, comparing her life to mine, and how her achievements are reachable, but worked very hard for. I think what I’m saying is that this novel makes you feel something, unexpectedly, but well received. I enjoyed thinking about food, and hot coffee. I loved thinking about swishing fabrics and cold, unyielding water. This novel is sensory, in a way I didn’t expect, yet highly recommend for that sensation.

But let me quickly get back to something I just mentioned. Both women are vain, and that’s a trait which often turns me away from romance novels. The women are always perfect, gorgeous, and everyone wants them. This doesn’t steer away from that enough to not put me off a little, especially with how other characters are described to not overshadow our leading ladies, but this doesn’t take over the story, so I could easily look past it. It’s not something I’d be aware of if you’re looking to read this, or something to bear in mind, especially if romance novels are something you love, but it’s not something I personally enjoyed. Female empowerment doesn’t need to come at the expense of others and describing the former friend as ‘homey’ and ‘comfy’ and ‘how could he want her when I’m here’ is combative. True to character, yes, but combative.

That said, I truly enjoyed the same plot essentially being told twice, but suitable to a t to the time. Viv opens the novel cooking a delicious sounding dinner for her and her other half, Pete, when he comes home and says he’s leaving her. He’s been seeing someone else. Rapidly, Viv’s life starts to spiral – Pete has already taken most of her money and is now seeking to sell their flat and take more money he’s not entitled to. This man we were introduced to in Viv’s mind as handsome, sweet, and loving, is conniving, selfish, and infuriating. He’s the perfect representation of when a human forgets others have feelings too, and becomes so wrapped up in themselves, they take full advantage of everyone. His ex could become homeless, he doesn’t care. She’s been paying 75% of the mortgage. He doesn’t care. Her career could suffer from his pure selfishness. As long as it’s not his business suffering – he doesn’t care. Pete, this sweet man we were promised, is disgustingly self-absorbed, and this shift is jarring – and perfectly suited to the hurricane of emotions Viv finds herself in. On the flip side, Vivienne is a young woman, living in her late father’s kingdom, but forced to be at the will of her ‘guardian’, Sir Pelleas, who is only desperate to wed her, force her to have his child, and be his doting wife, so he can have her kingdom and riches. Unlike Pete, Pelleas is never shown in a good light, which I liked (I do love when authors aren’t afraid to just make fucking awful people, even if I hate them with a passion, it’s a skill) and Pete’s actions are faintly mirrored by Pelleas, with about a year’s difference. Pete was seeing the other woman, he was colluding with her, and then they strike. It’s obvious they’ve been seeing one another for a while, and as it’s declared the other woman is pregnant a couple days after Pete leaves Viv, we can only assume this is what made him finally go. Pelleas on the other hand is still plotting, working with Vivienne’s lady in waiting, and seeing her behind Vivienne’s back. The two storylines are very similar, but told in carrying enough ways, with the trials and tribulations of the times, to be different enough to be enjoyed. I also think at some point I should mention Roland, or his modern equivalent Rory, the excruciatingly handsome man who just wants to see Viv, or Vivienne happy, and doesn’t mind being a tease while doing so. He’s sweet, wonderful, and the perfect leading man in this genre. I bring him up because there’s a trend in fiction to create brooding, hard to reach, so tantalising, men, but Ibbotson doesn’t bother with that. The good guy is great and kind, and the bad guy is an ass. There’s no teetering between, or the sullen hero who needs saving, and this was refreshing. I loved just being able to enjoy Roland/Rory, and how sweet he is. If you enjoy a novel where your main men aren’t all broken and need piecing back together, this is a book to check out.

This is also a book to check out if you love timeslips, well researched historical novels, and stories of strong women defeating evil, and getting their happy endings. There are characters who you’ll want to scream at, and moments you’ll melt over, and overall, even if romance isn’t you genre, as it isn’t mine, if you love well-constructed, dual narration, mirrored novels, I’d recommend this.”

Great reviews and interesting comments from both – thank you!

Upcoming Book Tour with A Shape on the Air

The wonderful award-winning book blog tour organiser, Rachel Gilbey, at Rachels Random Resources.com, is hosting a tour with my latest medieval timeslip romance/mystery from 4th to 10th February 2020. The week-long tour is full and I’m excited to see the posts! Many thanks to all the lovely bloggers who are taking part; it’s so much appreciated by authors that there are these enthusiastic readers who spread the word for their work.

My guest posts include thoughts on: Researching a timeslip novel and Deja Vu

and there will be extracts from the book to tempt you and three Q & As that just might reveal some secrets!

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

 

Were the Anglo-Saxons here in my village?

On a cold, darkening winter’s afternoon, in a little country churchyard less than 100 years ago, the churchwarden and the gravedigger sadly collected their tools and prepared to bury their rector. However their spades struck something hard and unyielding.

What they found was a medieval stone cross shaft with the distinct carving of a warrior bearing a shield in his left hand and a long sword or seax in his right hand across his abdomen.

 

They eventually managed to raise it and it still stands today in the churchyard close to where it was found, on a modern plinth.

The current elderly churchwarden remembers his father telling him when he was a young child about his discovery. Someone had told him it was a 9th or 10th century Viking carving, but when I look carefully at it and compare with the Repton stone, below (courtesy of the Derby Museum) which depicts King Aethelbald, 8th century Christian king of Mercia, who is buried in the crypt at Repton church, it seems to me to replicate this very closely. Of course, Repton was the great centre of the reintroduction of Christianity into the midlands in the mid 7th century through the baptism of the Mercian royal family of Peada, an ancestor of Aethelbald. So Aethelbald would have had a strong connection to the Christian communities of this region of Mercia. It begins to figure …

Could this be an Anglo-Saxon cross shaft with Aethelbald’s image right here in our little village churchyard?

The top of the cross has never been found. I wonder whether it would be the typical celtic-style early Christian early Anglo-Saxon cross and circle?

We can’t dig the churchyard for the remains of the cross top because of the many graves there. But what an intriguing mystery! Is this Aethelbald?

Fascinating history: were the Dark Ages really so dark? Myths and misconceptions uncovered.

Why do we call this period the ‘dark ages’?

Recently, while I was on holiday in the sun, I read a fascinating book by Professor Susan Oosthuizen (The Emergence of the English 2019) which resonated with me and the ‘thesis’ underpinning my historical (‘dark ages’) time-slip novel A Shape on the Air. The background to my novel rests on my belief that the so-called ‘dark ages’ were not a time of brutal barbaric suppression by the ‘invaders’, the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from the continent of Europe – but instead, that it was a time of more gradual change with a succession of migrations from Europe and a settling and merging of communities: the Britons/Celts with the Romans then with the Angles and Saxons.

http:myBook.to/ASOTA

So we all know the traditional conventional idea of the ‘dark ages’, don’t we? A time when the civilised Romans left and Britain collapsed into chaos, with villas and towns destroyed and warring tribal barbarians raping, plundering and pillaging each other all over the place? And didn’t the invading Saxons add to the mêlée until the great King Arthur came and sorted them all out?

Well, not necessarily so …

Firstly, we have conventionally referred to the ‘dark ages’ as the period between the withdrawal of the Roman occupying forces (commonly dated at 410) and the mid to late 8th century when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were fairly well established. But why ‘dark’? Tradition has it that it was a time of ignorance and barbaric brutal fighting, and that little of the civilisation, culture or administrative organisational efficiency of the Romans remained. Images of marauding ancient Britons and brutal Saxon invaders, with the settlements and the rule of law abandoned, spring to mind.

But academics and archaeologists now prefer to call 400-600 AD  the ‘late antique’ period (‘early medieval’ 600-850AD, ‘pre-conquest 850-1066AD), although some also refer to it as ‘early medieval’. It was only ‘dark’ because we didn’t have the records, documents, artefacts in evidence. Now, in the light of finds (eg in Kent, Essex, Oxfordshire, Yorkshire, Cornwall, etc), that picture is changing.

Some of the myths and misconceptions?

There are many: from the date and ramifications of the Roman withdrawal of troops (sudden departure or gradual?), to the state of Britain in its wake (collapse or continuity?), to the status of King Arthur (literary myth or historical saviour?).

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 as distant from events, subjective and unreliable.

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 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 bitter inter-tribal battles going on for land acquisition, nor that there wasn’t deep suspicion of the Saxons.

But the ‘modernist’ view is that there was much more mingling of Romano-British society than previously thought, through inter-marriage with the remaining Romans, and likewise for Britons and Celts and even Saxons.

This view of gradual change and evolution by way of 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.

As to King Arthur, much as I’d love to believe in a brave 5th/6th century Celtic/Briton saviour who defended Britain against the Saxon invaders, I’m afraid that it’s unlikely that this is entirely historic truth. Our image of Arthur and his Round Table knights is largely from Mallory’s 15th century work ‘Morte d’Arthur’. It’s now suggested (eg Nicholas Higham 2018) that the myth originates from the 12th century Benedictine monks of Glastonbury Abbey who made a ‘miraculous’ discovery of the bodies of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere in the grounds as a cunning ploy to raise funds to rebuild the abbey. An elaborate wheeze? Such cynicism: they must have read Geoffrey of Monmouth’s tales of Arthur’s chivalric deeds of a few decades earlier!

However … recent archaeological finds at Tintagel, Cornwall (2016), have revealed a high status 5th/6th century palace, probably the main residence of the kings of Dumnonia, with evidence of global trade and fine cultured living. It’s even mooted that this was a ‘client state’ of the Roman Empire from 5th to 7th century. Was this the home of some kind of real King Arthur? The jury’s still out.

How have I brought my research in to my novels?

In my last novel, the early medieval (so-called ‘dark ages’) time-slip A Shape on the Air, the world of the late 5th century is depicted as rich with cultural and religious artefacts, and intermarriage between Romans, Britons, Celts and Saxons, although at times fraught with dispute. Their world, in the midlands of England, is more concerned with Picts raiding from the north than internal fighting as such. The main conflict is between Sir Pelleas (a Saxon pagan), who is adopted by Sir Tristram (a Romano-Briton), succeeding him as chief of the settlement, and Tristram’s daughter Lady Vivianne, a Christian.  In my story, the inter-marriage of Lady Vivianne’s parents (her mother is also a pagan but Celtic-Briton) intermingled Christian values and rites with more magical ancient deism. Bringing in to my tale the magical ‘king’ Arthur (Arturius), as a mystical Celtic leader of this time with Roman connections, as well as a legendary figure of literature, also signifies the mingling of cultures and beliefs. And adds a bit of magic (and why not? Even historic novelists are entitled to creative imagination)!

Personally, I do believe in the logic of unbroken continuation and developing richness of the world of the Romans, Celts, Britons, and Anglo-Saxons and that the ‘dark ages’ are only so-called because we haven’t found definitive answers yet. Now, that picture’s changing, so perhaps we should delete the term ‘dark ages’ and instead use a more positive term to reflect a period that is intriguing and emerging. 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?

© Dr Julia Ibbotson (2019)