It’s early September, and after the cold wet summer we’ve had here in the UK it feels like a relief to slide into autumn. No more blighted hopes of sunshine; no more arts festivals spent cowering under a gazebo in a monsoon; no more endlessly arranging and re-arranging family garden meet-ups and pub lunches. Ah yes, Autumn. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. And central heating.

For me, September usually feels like more of a new start to the year than actual New Year does. Decades of teaching will do that to you, I suppose. So after an intense summer of post-publication promotion for the first of my Quintus Valerius mystery trilogy, The Governor’s Man, I’m back into some new writing. Quite a few projects lined up so far. This week, my non-fiction article “What did the Romans ever do for Britannia?” was published in Aspects of History magazine. I’m also developing a short story, due for anthology publication later in the year. It features my heroes Quintus and Tiro getting stuck into a deadly situation in the Cornovii city of Viroconium (handily near Telford). One gang of bandits to deal with is bad luck, but two…?

And of course there’s the second Governor’s Man novel to get on with. It’s all planned and outlined now, with the help of a new whizzy bit of kit called Aeon Timeline. No spoilers, but I will tell you the fellas are in for a rough time, and Tiro is definitely going to find out whether Rome is bigger/better/dirtier/more dangerous than his beloved Londinium. Don’t worry about Julia — she won’t be slacking either.

Life was certainly tough back in the third century, despite the lack of a Westminster lobby …

In between writing, I’m getting excited about maybe having a life back. I’m told by my GP that I’m on the list for the “third primary” Covid jab for immunosuppressed folk. And it should be soon. My friends and family will be even more excited, I know. If I read the signs aright, they’re getting a bit fed up with shouting through doors and windows at me while they sensibly retreat inside now the aforementioned autumn is officially here. Or nobly wrapping themselves in blankets to keep me socially-distanced company outside. I might even feel safe to go into the odd cafe, or browse a bookshop live rather than virtually. The social prospects are dizzying.

Autumn is also the season to spend evenings curled up in front of the fire with a good book. Confession time: I have recently become hooked on a zombie series by RR Haywood. Not any old zombies either: honest-to-God British zombies, invaded by a surprise virus in a sudden pandemic. Sounds like a plot…

I came across the addictive cult books of RR Haywood a few months ago, and devoured his portal timeslip series Extracted on Audible. A noble friend, knowing of my low tastes, told me about the new Plus Catalogue of freebies on Audible, and boy oh boy, there is Haywood’s earlier zombie series, The Undead. Which I am gobbling down with indecent haste. I have to say in my own defence I am not normally a zombie fan. But the fabulous characters of this apocalyptic series have won me over. So my September evenings are being spent listening to the crunch of zombie skulls splitting while the heroes Howie, Dave and Chris lay about them with knives, axes, and a rather fancy gun on a vast armoured vehicle, causing havoc in various unlucky regions of England. Picture me while I sit mesmerised, knitting little jumpers for our astonishing number of new grandchildren. Lockdown babies — what can I tell you?

And, speaking of grandchildren, we’re off tomorrow to Cardiff to track down dinosaurs in Bute Park with our eldest. Oh, be still my beating heart. Bet Quintus didn’t have to dodge the fiery breath of Tyrannosaurus.

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