Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I live in the middle of rural Suffolk, UK, and am owned by a slinky black cat who’s far too clever for her own good.
In my spare time, I’m an amateur historian/archaeologist, and in non-work daylight hours am usually out on a field somewhere with a metal detector and/or a trowel. I’ve added quite a few things to the Heritage England Record and the Portable Antiquities Scheme; but what really fascinates me is the stories behind the artefacts.
My first historical novel, Sheriff and Priest, is about the story of a local boy made good – Wimer the Chaplain was born in Dodnash in Suffolk of a poor Saxon family, but made it to be a confidant of Henry ll, holding down the job of High Sheriff for all Norfolk and Suffolk. Then he gave it all up and came home to found a Priory… finding the original site of that Priory (not where it’s shown on the map) is still one of my proudest discoveries.
I also have a series of short stories about Henry Baker, a boy who finds a magic pencil on the way to school – I have no idea where these come from, but I enjoy writing them 🙂
I self-publish as a rule, but I’ve also had a couple of short stories published as part of anthologies; a steampunk story set in the time of King John in an anthology called Dangerous Magic, and a Bronze Age story in the 2017 anthology of the Historical Novel Society’s winners and runners-up from the last couple of years’ competitions. Alas, mine was a runner-up – but I’m delighted to be appearing in such august company!
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
My latest book is called Sheriff and Priest. I metal detect; one day I was gently waving my detector over a mildly bumpy bit of meadow, and nearly blew my head off, the signal was so strong. I got the local archaeological unit out to dig it, and it turned out I’d discovered a lost Priory. Many, many hours of research in the local Records Office later, and I realised that not only had I discovered the physical remains, but that the bare bones of the man who’d built it were fairly well documented – and it was a really interesting career. Not least because he’d resigned from the 3rd richest job in England, at the height of his career, to come home to the tiny little village he was born in, and found a Priory. Why? And why did the King’s mistress give him the land? There had to be a story in there…
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I have been known to flesh out a scene by dictating it whilst I’m metal detecting. It seems to work particularly well for dialogue – but I do have quite a lot of bits where there’s a BEEP! and I go quiet for a while!
What authors, or books have influenced you?
This would be an awfully long list – like most authors, I’m a voracious reader. I love China Mieville for the fabulously gritty details of his descriptive passages; for Neil Gaiman, for the wonderful simplicity and humanity in his stories; for Hilary Mantel, for making me wish I didn’t know how the ending pans out.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m about 1/3rd of the way through the follow-up novel, tentatively titled Jean the Scholar. The history bones of it revolve around the 30-year legal dispute around some land that Wimer’s uncle left him, but which his nephew tried to grab and hold on to. Wimer’s adopted son Jean takes on the might of the 13th Century establishment, to stop them killing the Priory that Wimer built. He also discovers along the way that he wasn’t meant for a vow of celibacy…
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
Reviews! Reviews, reviews, and more reviews…
Do you have any advice for new authors?
If life is problematic, write for just 10 minutes a day, if that’s all you can do; but write every day. Finish the book. Forget about it for several months, whilst you read books on the craft of writing. Open the file again and resist the urge to delete everything; the first draft is when you create the clay. Now you get to be a potter, and shape it the way you meant to the first time, but didn’t have the skill.
Pay for an editor – copy and content. They will help enormously.
It’s probably going to take you half a dozen editing passes. Seriously. Don’t send it out into the world half-formed.
When you’re done – set it free. Send it to agents, publishers; keep a log of who’s had it and when.
Start the next book.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
Finishers are the only authors who get read.
What are you reading now?
My TBR pile is embarrassing… right now, open beside me is Martin Allen’s Mints and Money in Mediaeval England, Mark Woolmer’s The Phoenicians, and a trashy magazine! On my bedside table is Oliver Rackham’s Trees. My kindle has half-a-dozen novels queuing.
What’s next for you as a writer?
I have about 8 novel ideas that I’d like to move onto. I think the one shouting loudest is to take the Bronze Age story, about a girl just transitioning into adulthood and becoming a warrior, and develop that.
I also need to write two more in the children’s stories series I have, and bundle them into a better-presented package than they’re in at the moment.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
The Silmarillion. Tolkein distilled so much scholarship into that, that it would bear fruit for a long time!
A very old SF book called A Canticle for Liebowicz. It makes me cry every time I read it – and I’d like to look at it with a writer’s eye and find out why that is.
And for sheer pleasure – a collection of my favourite poems. And I’d like to choose ’em, please 🙂