Living with the Anglo-Saxons

What would an Anglo-Saxon village look like?

The Anglo-Saxon village or settlement consisted of wooden thatched huts, ceorls’ houses, and larger timber halls for the thegns, usually single storey and all grouped around a central mead hall and large chieftain’s hall. In many cases, these could be combined into one large ‘long hall’. The mead hall served as the venue for feasting with huge celebratory banquets, although generally restricted to the wealthy thegns and ealdormen, and as a place for meetings, sometimes referred to as ‘moot halls’ , the moot being the council meeting or gathering where the higher rungs of society met to discuss the settlement’s important matters of defence, judgement and punishment, tythes or food provisions. A large mead hall might contain rooms for the family of the chieftain (or cūning). As the period progressed halls became bigger and more splendidly furbished to signal the chieftain’s power and status. Recent archaeological work has uncovered huge halls for such purposes.

Even the early Anglo-Saxon villages would be fortified against raiders and would have a band of warriors ready to fight for their society’s protection and security. There would be stables for horses, granaries for storing precious grain, and along the dirt roads would be clusters of tradesmen’s workshops often with wooden shelves or counters outside, displaying their wares: the wood-worker, the metal-worker, the communal bakery, the baker, the weaver, the pottery kiln, and so on. When coinage was scarce, trade was often through exchange or barter of goods or services.

Thatched single-room huts of wattle and daub or wood comprised much of the settlement and these were often flanked by small plots allowed for vegetable growing for the family’s own use (the precursor of our gardens) and middens for human sewage – which proved invaluable for manure to fertilise the vegetable plot!

Gradually the Anglo-Saxons moved away from their pagan heritage and by the 6th century were embracing Christianity, partly through missionaries from Rome or Celtic lands, and simple timber churches could be found in settlements, often adopting pagan sites such as burial mounds, sacred wells or standing stones as their locations.

By the later period, the 9th  to the 10th centuries, we might expect to see the wide development of village churches, still often timber built which didn’t survive the ages, but which later developed in size, architecture, building materials and adornments as the period continued. Many village churches of today bear evidence of their Saxon and Celtic origins, perhaps where they were built in stone (rare) or reveal a Saxon cross in the churchyard.

NEXT TIME: Anglo-Saxon diet and health …

For more about Anglo-Saxon life, my Anglo-Saxon/present day time-slip with mystery and a touch of romance can be found at:

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

Living with the Anglo-Saxons

What did the early Anglo Saxons wear?

Certainly not animal skins wrapped around their torsos, the popular image of ancient Britons, nor togas left over from the Roman occupation of Britain! From the 5th to the 7th century clothing was perhaps surprisingly well refined and often richly dyed and decorated, especially for the higher classes of society. Of course, it depended on your social class, and the lower classes wore simpler garb of rougher cloth (working class serfs, peasants and even geburs who kept small parcels of land, and ceorls who were freedmen). But even so, the garb was not unlike our clothes today. For the higher ceorls and the thegns and their ladies, clothes were highly decorated and accessorised by brooches of gold and jewels.

Upper class ladies often wore several layers, as heating even in the richest houses was rudimentary: a chemise or shift in linen or wool, then on top of this,  a long sleeved full-length under-dress, or kirtle, again of linen or wool or maybe a soft cotton fabric from lime tree fibres. On top was an over-gown dyed with more expensive dyes such as deep reds, purples and blues and lavishly trimmed with braid or fur. It would be fixed around the waist with a leather belt from which hung a pouch for keys and other valuables, a cross between a modern-day pocket and a purse or bag. On top would be an embroidered mantle or cloak fixed with a gold brooch at the shoulder, often jewelled or metalworked. Later in the period, kirtles would be fashioned with gores lined with silk or brocade to match the over-gown or trim.

Ladies’ hair would be twisted and bound or braided. Unmarried girls wore their hair more loosely. Headwear for ladies was a head rail often decorated with silver-work or jewels which fixed the veil beneath. Later, ladies tended to wear a type of wimple and veil reminiscent of nuns or a coif or crespine.

What of the men? As you might expect, theirs were simpler than the ladies. Men of lower class would wear simple tunics, often rough-spun with hose beneath, with higher class thegns and above sporting woollen or linen undergarments and woollen hose beneath their tunics topped with heavy fur-lined cloaks, fixed with gold brooches. Heavy leather belts held daggers and knives not just for fighting but for cutting food in the mead hall feasts.

For more about Anglo-Saxon life, why not read my novel, A Shape on th Air, a time-slip from the present day to 499 AD

http://myBook.to/ASOTA

How ‘primitive’ was the early Anglo-Saxon period?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Was the early Anglo Saxon period ‘primitive’? part 1: the legacy of the Romans

So, before the advent of the Angles, Saxons and Jutes from the European continent, Britain was now embarking on a new age, alone without its Roman protection and orderliness. But was it ’dark’ because it was primitive, ungoverned, lacking in culture and sensitivities?

What happened to the culture and yes, even spirituality of Roman times, and of pre-Roman Britain? Religion, beliefs, gods and their effect on mankind were strong influences on Roman life, demonstrated in their art and craftwork; icons and imagery of beliefs or superstitions (call them what you will) were rife. Did it all disappear in the early to mid-fifth century AD?

Or was Britain ‘dark’ because we simply don’t know to any degree of certainty, because of the paucity of archaeological or documentary evidence, what it was like? So, what if all that did not crumble and disappear from everyday life after the Romans left Britain? After all, why should it all be forgotten in the disappearing flash of Roman swords from our shores? Wouldn’t the British still retain something of their Roman past and indeed of their pre-Roman ways?

Today, we still have our Roman roads, our sites of Roman towns and villas, some have been adapted, some in ruins. Were these splendid constructions simply abandoned in the early fifth century AD and left to rot as the occupying forces left, as we have long believed?

Was the early Anglo Saxon period ‘primitive’? part 2: a mix of cultures

I argue that during the long Roman occupation, rather than two opposing and alien cultures, there would have been a mingling, intermarriage between the ‘invaders and the ‘native’ Britons, Celts, and other groups, that these resulting communities would have perhaps settled, compromised and accommodated each other’s ways.

After the withdrawal of the Roman legions and administrators, the people, the so-called ‘abandoned’ Britons and remaining Romans who had established homes and families after inter-marriage, would have used Roman effects in their subsequent buildings and settlements, and likewise would have retained aspects of their cultural heritage that were important to them, their craftwork, their art, their beliefs.

Granted, there would have been challenges and tensions between different cultures which by the late fifth century would have comprised a complex mix deriving from native groups (Celts, Britons), remaining Romans, occupying warring migrants in the northern territories (Picts, Scots), and new migrants (Saxons, Angles, Jutes). Many Celtic-speaking Britons would have adopted the Christian religion of their forebears and of many converted Romans, yet with the sweep of the Saxons northwards after the Roman withdrawal, paganism returned before a more widespread Christianisation in 597 AD with Pope Gregory’s emissary St Augustine.

Archaeological evidence, including artefacts, indicate that there was a rich culture here which embraced imports from trading across the world: rich religious icons, amphorae for storing wine, red Samian tablewear, glass, gold, jewellery for example, as well as wall hangings, imported olive oil, wine and foodstuffs. Gradually the mix of cultures brought new ideas, skills and an increasing trade to create a wealthy and sophisticated culture in 5th to 6th century England.

Read more of this fascinating period in A Shape on the Air and its forthcoming sequels. Go to …

http://myBook.to.ASOTA

A Shape on the Air: an early Anglo-Saxon time-slip mystery. “a wealth of historical research”, “fascinating historical period”, “the atmosphere evoked is fabulous, “I just couldn’t put it down”, “the women in this story are both brilliant and strong characters”, “Both the story-lines (in the time-slip) are equally compelling … an amazingly delightful and fast-paced read!”

A corner of Derbyshire – Chatsworth: nooks and crannies

If asked to name a stately home in Derbyshire, and although there are many houses worth a visit (Haddon Hall, Hardwick Hall, Kedleston Hall and more), I would guess that most of us would know Chatsworth, near Bakewell (famous for pudding – not ‘tart’, thank you!) the home of the Duke of Devonshire and home to the Cavendish family since 1549, passed down through 16 generations.

Until recently we lived in Derbyshire and enjoyed nearby areas that many folks would choose to visit for holidays or days out. Chatsworth was always somewhere to take walks through the beautiful grounds or nose around the grand rooms. But I was also interested in its fascinating history.

Chatsworth sits on an estate the size of Washington DC and has played host to many famous people from Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens to John F Kennedy.

It’s also been host to many scandals. The decadent and glamorous 18th century Duchess Lady Georgiana  Spencer, wife of the 5th Duke and ancestor of Diana, Princess of Wales, who, like her descendent, talked of the third party in her marriage, one Lady Elizabeth Foster who moved in with them as a menage de trois. Georgiana herself was locked in scandal, her tumultuous financial affairs bringing her notoriety.

There was also the matter of a scandalous affair between JFK’s favourite sister, Kathleen, and the Devonshire heir William (Billy) Cavendish, who was subsequently killed in action in WWI.

In the summer of 2018, a ‘secret’ in the garden was revealed. The long extraordinarily hot summer scorched the lawns and revealed the outlines of the geometrically designed flower beds and paths from 1699 – before Capability Brown’s design at the house? Its existence was known, although never seen for generations, as it’s illustrated in a painting in the Chatsworth Collection in the House.

2018 also brought another dramatic event. The lavish house had been carefully renovated over 10 years and was finally revealed in all its glory. Each window on the west and south terraces was revamped in 1500 sheets of gold leaf at a cost of about £33 million and 4000ft of fabric was used to repair the curtains.

One of the secrets I would have liked to seen revealed would be the designs of the fashion icon Georgiana, but apparently the clothes were made from such fine and expensive fabric that they were either reused or handed down to her Lady’s maid. Lucky maid!

PS. A number of my novels are set in Derbyshire: A Shape on the Air, for example, Dr Viv works at the university and Rev Rory is vicar of a small parish in the county, and the two sequels coming soon (The Dragon Tree and The Rune Stone) continue the setting. Available at 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

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

Photo by Ekaterina Bolovtsova on Pexels.com

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

 

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!