site of Shapwick villa

Doesn’t look like much, does it? Just a muddy field in a farm on the edge of the northern Somerset Levels. You’d never guess that under these grassy clods lie the remains of a large second century Roman courtyard villa.

In 1998 metal detectorists found a hoard of over 9000 silver denarii in this field. That is a serious amount of money, folks, something like £250,000 in modern money. The coins had been buried in the corner of a small room inside the villa. No-one knows by whom, or why. (The hoard is now on show in the Museum of Somerset, in Taunton). At around the same time as the hoard was hidden, c. AD 225, the villa was totally demolished, possibly after a major fire.

You couldn’t make that up, could you? Well, actually you could. That’s one of the projects keeping me busy right now, a novel set in third century Britannia. Set specifically in a muddy sloping field in Somerset. And also set in Roman Cheddar, and in the Mendip lead mines, and in Bath, and in Iron Age Tara of the High Kings near Dublin, and so on and on. It’s turned from a short story into a novel, despite my best intentions.

Novels, it appears, have to be researched. Museums, it also turns out, are all very well, but seemingly there’s no substitute for trudging around in mud to establish the author’s historical credentials. So this is me establishing authorial credentials, after a long soggy trespass across three and a half fields of an extraordinarily smelly farm on the edge of a marsh. Well, they shouldn’t have left all the gates open ….

(Endless updates about this project will follow. You have been warned.)

And another change of scene

In January I wrote about my trip to Cornwall to bury myself in writing. After a much shorter stay in Marazion than planned – very noisy builders next door featured in my hasty departure – I spent a couple of  storm-lashed weeks in Perranuthnoe a few miles further east from Penzance.

Beach at Perranuthnoe

It was blissfully quiet at Perranuthnoe, with nothing to do but write and walk the beach. I spent a lot of time on the above-mentioned Roman novel, working out how to get an Irish escapee from the Roman lead mines at Charterhouse-on-Mendip, to the coast near Bristol, via Bath (huh?) Don’t ask – of course there’s an encounter with a girl involved.

While in Perranuthnoe  I also polished off and submitted a new longish short story. Evidence of Life is to be published next year in SFerics 2017, a science fiction anthology edited by Rosie Oliver.  Grateful thanks as always to my stoic beta readers: Peter, Daniel, Jonathan, and three members of my lovely BSFA Orbit writing group: Barbara, Ross and Sandra. It’s a longer story than usual for me, and I really enjoyed developing the characters, a couple with a dodgy marriage and compromising jobs. Life gets even tougher for Libby and Martin when the unpopulated planet they are surveying turns out not be as empty as they thought …

When the book goes to press I’ll post up a snippet from the story to whet your appetites.

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