I’m thrilled to share with you the news of my sequels to A Shape on the Air! The next two feature the same main protagonists, Dr Viv DuLac and Rev Rory Netherbridge, so beloved of my readers. [ http://myBook.to/ASOTA ]
The Dragon Tree is set on the beautiful island of Madeira where Viv and Rory escape a personal tragedy, and it features a 14th century shipwrecked noblewoman and a 16th century rebellious nun. Can Viv solve the mystery of the historical link between them and find peace for herself and the island? [ http://myBook.to/TDT ]
The Rune Stone returns to England and features Viv and Rory’s quiet country churchyard where they discover an ancient rune stone with a mysterious runic inscription. We return also to the Anglo-Saxon Lady Vivianne and Sir Roland. Can Viv bring resolution to Lady Vivianne and harmony to Rory’s parish? [ http://myBook.to/TRS ]
It starts: We can see that throughout history and different cultures, society organises itself into groups and subgroups, usually based on religion or economic standing. In early Anglo-Saxon Britain there were social classes, in some ways similar to our modern understanding of hierarchies, in that there were ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ social classes, but in some ways they were very different from ours today. Anglo-Saxon and Celtic-British settlements were becoming increasingly expansive as the external threats grew. It made sense to band together for security and ‘manpower’. Settlements were headed by the chieftain, or ‘cūning’, from which we derive the word ‘king’. Even where the settlement was headed by a queen (rare!) she was still referred to as the ‘cūning’ in Anglo-Saxon. The word ‘cwene’ (queen) was usually only used for the wife of a king. The heir to the chieftaincy was the ‘ætheling’. Then there were the ‘ealdormen’ (elders) and the ‘thegns’, who were the nobles who were entitled to fight for the king at the head of troops and lead warriors into battle, and thus highly regarded. They often had their own family crests and banners which they fought under … [Read the rest at https://juliaibbotsonauthor.com/2021/06/21/living-with-the-anglo-saxons/ ] and follow the series ‘Living with the Anglo-Saxons’ sessions 2 -7 on food, houses, diet, etc.
(adapted from a guest post originally written for The Magic of Wor(l)ds blog on my book tour February 2022)
A Shape on the Air (#1 Dr DuLac series of early medieval time-slip mystery romances) is really two stories that mirror and intertwine: Dr Viv in the present and Lady Vivianne in 499AD, both with romance to find and a mystery to solve. I can do present day … but 499AD? How did people dress in the 5th century? What did they eat? What were their houses like? How did they live? One of the best things about writing novels set in a particular historical period is the research. I love it!
OK, a novel is fiction, but readers still want to see it as an authority. When I read a novel myself I want to feel I’m learning something correct and authentic, not something wrong or misleading.
It’s the same if you’re writing about a particular location, or, as in A Shape on the Air, a particular concept – here, it’s the idea of time-slip, and whether it could actually happen – and as an author, making the story believable. Could it possibly happen? And how?
For A Shape on the Air, I had a plot involving Dr Viv DuLac slipping back in time to resolve a mystery, so I needed to update my research on the early medieval period and also on 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 have always been fascinated by what we used to call the ‘Dark Ages’ (after the Roman rule ended and the early Anglo-Saxon settlements began). It got its nick-name from the lack (darkness) of evidence in archaeology and documents. So, there wasn’t very much researched and written about this period, … until now!
It’s exciting to see that archaeology is now finding many clues as to everyday domestic life in the 5th/6th/7th centuries AD.
And discovering that life was much richer and more ‘advanced’ than had previously been supposed. There is now a growing body of archaeological, geophysical and isotopic evidence to indicate how the people of the 5th and 6th centuries lived: feasting halls, jewellery, imported luxury goods.
Recent excavations have uncovered evidence of large feasting halls (mead halls) as a focal point of the settlements, and analyses of human bones found in the cemeteries attached to these villages have confirmed the diet, as I outlined in a previous post. Osteo-archaeology has also given us an insight into the origins of these peoples as well as where and how they lived.
In Cambridge, 2020, at the Kings College site, another 5th-6th century cemetery revealed rich jewellery including a chest brooch bearing fragments of cloak fabric showing evidence of a sophisticated weave, possibly indicating Byzantine trade, or local craftsmanship learned from elsewhere.
On Salisbury Plain a 7th century burial revealed silver coins, bronze and silver rings, amethyst beads. Gold rings, jewel-encrusted brooches, bracteates (neck pendants) and gold torcs (neck rings) have also been excavated. Another site at Sedgeford in Norfolk, produced evidence of beer-malting, hot-working fire pits and iron hooks for steeping harvested grain in hot water (to aid germination and the build-up of sugars and starches), as well as the remains of cereal grains themselves. There were even finger marks on the mud of the kilns.
So the Anglo-Saxon and early medieval periods are proving to be every bit as rich, culturally diverse and interesting in terms of everyday domestic life as later periods. It clearly wasn’t all about battles and land-grab!
For my novel series, I had to keep up to date with new discoveries and research reports, now coming thick and fast. And what a joy it was – and still is, with my continuing research as new findings arise from the ‘digs’.
However, to some extent, I also 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 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 theory, and worm-holes. Yes, really! They’re all basically scientific 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, for example the lovely Professor Brian Cox. So maybe something out there is catching on!
Time-slip sounds insane, and of course Viv 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 Anglo-Saxon times. Why are their lives becoming intertwined? Why do they need to reach out to each other across the centuries? And, of course, do they both find the love they crave? Well, I’m afraid that you’ll need to read A Shape on the Air to find out …!
I’ve been looking at Anglo-Saxon life in my series of blogs: Living with the Anglo-Saxons, covering social structures, houses, settlements, clothes, food and drink, feasting, health and medicine of the period, and the status of women. There is not a huge amount of hard evidence from archaeology or documents to reveal a great deal about the times. As a writer, I need to use my powers of assumption and imagination from what little we have.
But knowledge is increasing as the Anglo-Saxon period becomes more popular as a research area.
And in January 2021, there came news of a report of an archaeological dig in Overstone, Northamptonshire (further reported in in Current Archaeology 2.3.21, issue 373). The site was being excavated from 2019 by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) for a national house builder on the proposed site of a housing estate development. An Anglo-Saxon cemetery and settlement was beginning to be unearthed, revealing information about not only defence but everyday domestic life in an Anglo-Saxon settlement. Very rarely has a cemetery and settlement been unearthed at the same site in the same single excavation. The current tally of findings is:
154 burials (many grave goods reflecting status)
42 structures spread over the site (sunken-feature buildings and post-built structures)
at least 3,000 artefacts, including:
75 wrist clasps
15 chatelaines (decorative belt clasps)
Various domestic artefacts such as ‘cosmetic kits’ including beautifully carved bone combs
Fragments of Anglo-Saxons textiles, which are very rarely preserved: these were buried next to metal objects causing them to become mineralised.
The human remains will tell us much about the Anglo-Saxon diet and health as well as their origins (very exciting in terms of information about migration!) and the artefacts will show us more about everyday life of the times.
I’m looking forward to further analysis of the finds and new learning on this fascinating historical period … The Anglo-Saxons!
Incidentally, evidence of Bronze Age burials in three round barrows were also found at the site, radiocarbon dated back as far as 2000BC.
In the last blog, I looked at what we know about food and drink in the Anglo-Saxon period. In many ways it might seem to us today that the Anglo-Saxon diet was healthy: no sugar, no fast foods, no ready meals, no additives, no processed foods – all the things dietitians and nutritionists are concerned about these days. So we tend to make assumptions based on our 21st century perspectives of a ‘healthy diet’ or ‘unhealthy foods’. We don’t have the Anglo-Saxon perspective on this!
The paucity of skeletal evidence from bio-archaeological or osteo-archaeological findings make it difficult to assess disease and chronic illnesses of the period. Our assumptions might be that there was lower incidence of obesity, heart disease, cancers because the diet consisted for many people of fresh fruit and vegetables, cereals, fresh meat and fish (although the latter two were more prevalent in the diet of the higher status Anglo-Saxons). And we might assume that this would lead to an increase in dental health, average height, increased recovery rate from infections. But without documentary or widespread archaeological evidence it’s hard to make generalisations.
We do know that there would have been a reliance on seasonal fresh produce because preservation was hard, which could be a problem if the harvest was affected by climate or major weather systems and this would be a vulnerability for Anglo-Saxon settlements. For example, there is evidence of a major volcanic eruption in the mid-530s which caused significant climate change, cold, darkness, ruined harvests. The resulting famine, hunger and starvation, would result in increased disease and deaths. We also know that there was a significant pandemic of bubonic plague in 541-2. Although this may not have been caused by diet it would certainly have ramifications on food production and availability.
The lack of food preservation techniques would exacerbate this vulnerability. There were few means to preserve perishable foodstuffs, apart from drying, smoking, and salting. Salt became such a precious commodity that some might be paid in salt, and social status was marked by how near or far you sat from the salt at feasts (‘above or below the salt’ was a common expression, being ‘below the salt’ indicating lower status). Foods such as fish and meat would be encased in salt for preservation, but it was also used to mask the taste of bad food.
Rotten perishable food was a significant health risk, but it was arguably not entirely widely recognised in this period. We think that it tended to be thought that it was the taste of bad food that was the problem, rather than the bacteria in rotting food. So, as a result, the Anglo-Saxons were keen to disguise the taste of bad food with salt, herbs and marinades. There would have been a significant risk of illness from food poisoning, from meat from cattle that were carriers of disease, and a weakening of strength when physical activity was paramount for the life of the community.
What about Anglo-Saxon medicine? Bald’s Leechbook (9th century) available in the British Library, and other documents, provide some interesting evidence of the way illness and disease was treated in this period. For example, various treatments were advised for wounds, throat infections, skin conditions and some for more serious diseases. Herbs were used for infusions, ointments, salves and poultices (eg an eye salve from garlic), and recipes are given for problems such as nettles for muscular pain. Eating animal liver is cited as a ‘cure for the plague’. The Leechbook suggests a concoction of leek, garlic, wine and bullock’s gall, which was reported in 2015 as a potion that could potentially kill methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)!
A final thought: there is emerging evidence from Anglo-Saxon sites in Cambridgeshire and Kent from the analysis of human skeletal remains for carbon and nitrogen isotopes that suggest diverse diets based on wealth and social status. For example, some studies suggest that higher status, wealthier Anglo-Saxons ate more meat and fish, and lower status people ate more vegetables, and possibly were, in some case, largely vegetarian. This is an ongoing analysis, but it would be interesting to know whether this related to the level of health.
PS Would you like to know more about life in the Anglo-Saxon period? My novel A Shape on the Air is set in 499 AD as Angle and Saxon tribes began to settle in Britain, although of course this happened over the course of several centuries.
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:
What would an Anglo-Saxon ceorl’s house look like?
The image above gives you some idea – they would be wooden and thatched, which is why so little from that time has survived.
A ceorl’s house was basic with few adornments, unlike the homes of the wealthy higher classes, and would have looked to us more like large huts or barns. Indeed the animals would share the room with the family. Ceorls were ‘freed-men’ and often were in charge of a portion of fields or livestock. The family’s own animals, bred for food or milk, were housed at one end of the house for winter shelter: a goat, a cow, a sheep.
The house would measure around 10 metres by 5 metres with wooden floors which could be covered with fragrant herbs. The walls were of upright planks of wood slotted together or of wattle and daub. There were window openings, but no glass, and a central hearth for cooking. There was no chimney and often no hole for the smoke to escape, so the living quarters would have been very smoky and unpleasant especially in winter when the animals joined the family indoors. The roof would be thatched and blackened by the smoke. Bedding would be perhaps a large bag stuffed with straw or wool if the family had sheep to shear.
The family’s table would be a trestle arrangement that could be easily taken down and stored between meals. Food would need to be hung high in the roof, away from predators. They would eat whatever they could acquire from their animals, mainly chicken, pork, beef and lamb, their small plot of land for vegetables, and the hedgerows for berries. Their diet would be fresh as there were few ways of storing: salt was precious for preserving meat, for instance, and ice-houses only for the wealthy. They would drink ale rather than water which was often contaminated. Wine was rare in a ceorl’s house but frequently drunk in the chieftain’s hall. Bread made from spelt, rye or oats, could be baked in communal basic ovens. There was little sugar in their diet and skeletal remains show good dental health. For a sweetener they used honey from their own or communal hives, and this is one of the main ingredients of the favoured alcoholic drink of mead.
Water for washing and cooking could be collected in pots from the stream or village well, if they were lucky enough to have one accessible. The ceorl’s home would have a small plot of land outside the building for vegetables for the family’s use, and nearby a ‘midden’ or primitive toilet area, the contents of which would be used for manure on the vegetable plot.
For more, you may like to read my novel A Shape on the Air, an Anglo-Saxon mystery time-slip, set in the present day and 499 AD grounded in detail on domestic life of the time, available at
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
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 …
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!”
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 …?
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 dousually 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.