Ian Mortimer


 

What was new in 2014?


19 December 2014
My Christmas-card poem for 2014

As some people will be only too aware, I write a piece of doggerel for our Christmas card each year. Of later years, I've been asked to share them. So if you're interested, and want a laugh, you'll find my latest seasonal greeting on the usual page. This year's effort is called 'The Thirteenth Day'.


31 October 2014
Internet readers' reactions to an article in The Guardian

One of the reasons I wrote Centuries of Change was that I felt there was a widespread ignorance about the changes in human life that really matter, and an even greater unawareness that they might be reversed in the course of time. The ability to feed and educate everyone, for instance. Or the ability to protect the citizens of a country. My article on the website of The Guardian yesterday produced a flurry of poorly thought-out responses, as one would expect (internet-based arguing does seem to be akin to road rage in its hastiness, confrontation & lack of depth), but there were even some thoughtful responses that were clearly wrong. For example, one respondent, in reaction to the article, declared to me via Twitter that 'immunisation and the pill' were the greatest changes of the last thousand years. That's fine, everyone can have their opinion, and as I pointed out, I agree that immunisation needs to be mentioned in this debate. But the pill? I replied that I suspected flight, Total War, and feeding more than 6,000,000,000 people were more significant than a convenient form of contraceptive that has actually done very little to control the world's population. I might add that, even if you wanted to concentrate on changes for women, the ability for married women to own property, the rights not to be raped and beaten by their husbands, the ability to publish their own opinions in print and circulate them to other women, the imposition of greater law and order in the 16th century (allowing women greater security and freedom of movement), and the female vote all make it far from clear that the contraceptive pill deserves to be considered one of the greatest changes of the last thousand years.

The inability to think in terms of significant change - that mankind has experienced plague, mass starvation, enormous sexism, crushing inequality of opportunity, apocalyptic destruction, and terrifying hierarchies of wealth and power is well-evidenced in the responses on The Guardian's website. People cannot comprehend that once the West had virtually no means of mantaining law and order. I'm sure if I could take protagonists of 'The Pill' as the greatest change to the early 11th century, whether or not they could get hold of contraceptives would be the last thing on their minds. They would be more concerned with being killed, raped or enslaved. They would be more concerned with whether they had enough food to eat and the primitive state of medical care, and the fact that those children they chose to have largely died in infancy, suffered malnutrition, could be horribly abused by their social superiors with impunity, or had to be sold into slavery to avoid starvation. People don't generally know that these things were common just thirty to thirty-five generations ago. They can't see that they could ever happen again in the West. But these living conditions did not arise for no reason; they were not purely due to technological ignorance.

Perhaps the most important reason for suffering circa 1000 AD was that the human race instinctively breeds and multiplies beyond its resources, for the benefit of the species as a whole. In the course of nature, more children are born and survive in years of plenty; in years of dearth, the population dies back through Malthusian checks but the over-production of people means the numbers are quickly replenished when the weather improves and the lean years come to an end. This means that, historically, as resources grow thin, so people fight to claim more for themselves and their families. Hierarchies and inequality grow more pronounced. Now, ironically, this is an area where the pill could be of use to us; alas, it is not sufficient by itself to stop population growth even now. And although we are less susceptible to changes in the weather than we were, this is largely due to the availability of fertilisers, which either will disappear with the last natural gas suplpies in a couple of generation's time, or will require land to be diverted from producing food to making bio-fertilisers. Still the pressures will grow. Ultimately, there is no reason why we should not see the ratio of the population to resources reach breaking point again. For example, take away oil and gas, and thus remove the ability to transport sufficient food throughout the West, and the economies of Western nations would collapse and most people would soon find themselves dying or forced to consider unthinkable alternatives, such as accepting lower social status, or slavery, in return for food.

The strange conclusion to which one is led from reading hundreds of short reactions to a protracted study of this subject is that writing a book that threatens people's complacent views of life on Earth is a bit like writing on atheism or religion. Those who do not want such things to be true do not engage with the debate but simply repeat what they already believe, like a mantra. That the Internet encourages such reactions is more than a little alarming.


23 October 2014
Signed copies of Centuries of Change in London

I spent yesterday signing copies of Centuries of Change in the following London bookshops: Hatchards, Foyles, and branches of Waterstones at Kensington, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden, Piccadilly, London Wall, Leadenhall Market, Gower Street and Oxford Street. The largest numbers are in Waterstones PIccadilly, Foyles, Waterstones Piccadilly and Waterstones Trafalgar Square, so head to one of those shops if you are looking for a signed first edition to give someone for Christmas. Even better buy and read it for yourself - it could change the fortunes of your family over the next few generations (you'll see why when you read the Envoi - but read the rest of the book first).


14 October 2014
Interview, and an animation for Centuries of Change

Random House have commissioned a short animation to accompany my new book, Centuries of Change, which may be viewed on Youtube. Also, Rebecca Rideal has included a 'Five minutes with...' interview in her online history magazine, The History Vault.


12 October 2014
New articles

Three new articles recently published I was asked to put the current moaning about the news being bad in proportion by describing 'Ten of the worst years in British History' for The Guardian. I wrote a discussive piece on 'Which century saw the most change?' promoting the new book in BBC History Magazine (November 2014). And just before this year's goose fair took place, I wrote 'Was Tavistock Goosey Fair's famous song penned by a homesick railway clerk?' for the Western Morning News (7 October 2014). Local readers might also have seen too many pictures of me at Higher Uppacott, the Grade 1-listed longhouse owned by Dartmoor National Park Authority, in a feature in the Mid-Devon Advertiser on their programme of restoration of the house.


2 October 2014
NEW BOOK PUBLISHED TODAY

The UK and Commonwealth edition of Centuries of Change, published by The Bodley Head, is now in the bookshops. At last! It feels like it's been centuries in the making. Actually, it was less than fourteen years from concept to finished product, about the same as The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. I have a strong suspicion I will still be discussing the last sections in fourteen years' time.


21 September 2014
Article on my house

You can read an article by me about my house in today's The Sunday Times, 'Home' section, pp. 26-27.


14 September 2014
Visit to my old school

There ought to be a word to describe the extraordinary feeling of revisiting a place that you know intimately well for the first time in thirty years. Walking through the cloisters of my old school, Eastbourne College, I found I remembered so many things: the patterns of the flagstones in the cloisters, the names on the memorials, the way the door handle to Room 7 (my English classroom) turned. It was a strangely reassuring and at the same time disconcerting experience, enjoyable but with a slight edge to it. That was pretty much true of the whole day. I never kept in touch with any of my peers when I left the school in 1985, although I have made contact with a few since then, and so it was something of a personal history exploration. Two men who turned up had started at the same pre-preparatory school as me, Bickley Parva School, in 1972; that made me think. One of them had looked so much like me at the age of seven that teachers had difficulty telling us apart; they wouldn't have any difficulty now - he still has all his hair.

I met many people whose faces I did not recognise. In most cases I remembered their names, and then gradually the memory of the boy they had been dawned on me. But there were also people there who remembered me whose names had gone too. It was not that I could not recall anyone or that my mind was blank. Conversations soon revealed we all remembered the names and deeds of those who were not there - the people who were violent, obnoxious or bullying. I realised that those revisiting were the middle ground, and many of them I could not remember because these were the ones who had not bullied me. They were the nice guys. And that really made me think: is my memory really populated disproportionately with negativity? Do I remember those I have despised more than those I have liked? That was a disturbing thought.


Outside Wargrave House, 1983
Outside Wargrave House, 2014

The exception to the rule that one only remembers the bad guys was one very good guy, my old history master, Euan Clarke. His badge was on the table but he didn't show up. I waited; still he didn't arrive. In the end it turned out he'd been delayed by a car accident and would not be attending. However, realising how much I recall about him and his lessons - in marked contrast to how little I remember about my peers - it seemed appropriate to write a short tribute to him.


1 September 2014
Travelling

While in Holland, Belgium and France last month I visited a number of churches, castles and museums. I was very excited by the Louwman Museum in The Hague, the best car museum I have ever seen - for it made a story out of every exhibit. I was blown away by the eleventh century keep at Loches Castle, in France, built by Fulk Nerra between 1012 and 1035 (to take the dendrochronological conclusions). The Anne Frank House had most of the family in tears. Ghent Castle saw me cursing, ranting and raving about how badly it was displayed, how rude the staff were, how false the torture exhibits were, and how altogether superficial the whole thing was, without even offering a guidebook to tell you how much had been rebuilt or falfisifed. Pah! Chinon, Langeais, Azay le Rideau, Moncontour and so on were far better. In fact, I was so impressed by the range of places we saw, good and bad, that I am tempted to write a piece on 'what makes a museum'. At Chinon, for example, I was struck by how much more effectively the story of the development of the castle was told by a series of 3-d models than a 3-d digital reconstruction, which was just confusing. I did have to laugh when I heard a voice over my shoulder in Notre Dame le Grand, in Poitiers, 'Ian, why haven't you got your hat?' - it was Mike Jecks, the historical novelist who lives ten miles up the road from me here in Devon.


3 August 2014
Stay in my old house

The new owners of my old house, Belmont, in Ford Street, Moretonhampstead, have just finished redecorating and have started running it as a B&B. It's where I wrote all my books - fiction and non-fiction - from The Greatest Traitor (2003) to The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England (2012). Also, the book I am currently finishing, Centuries of Change, was started in that house - indeed, the building is mentioned at the start of the eleventh-century chapter. (I moved out between finishing the twelfth century and starting the thirteenth.) I was very happy living there for thirteen years. I might add that Moreton is a great place to base yourself for exploring Dartmoor National Park. And if you do choose to stay in my old house, I can assure you that it is much calmer and more refined now than it was when I was at my desk 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, for a year, writing The Perfect King.


24 July 2014
Folk by the Oak

The largest audiences I have had at one time have been television ones; next largest have been radio. But until last Sunday I'd never spoken live and in sight of more than 650 people. Therefore I had a slight feeling of nervousness when I agreed to introduce the Elizabethan Session at Folk by the Oak, at Hatfield House, where over six thousand were gathered. Especially as they were all there to see the musicians, not me. But I said what I needed to say, and I hope I didn't let the musicians down. It was a great day. I enjoyed Richard Thompson's set later on, and Seth Lakeman's at the end of the festival, complete with fireworks. Adam and Caroline Slough are to be congratulated for putting on such a show with such a smile and no sign of franticness.

Drove home from Folk by the Oak via Chaldon in Surrey, to take a picture of the 12th-century 'Last Judgement' mural there. I'd never seen it before, and I have to say, it is fantastic. I knew what to expect visually but I had not appreciated its huge scale in relation to such a small church. A woman looking at it at the same time said aloud 'how could anyone paint over such an amazing work of art'. 'Because it was the law,' I replied. 'Anything that smacked of Purgatory did not go down well in the 1560s'. And as I said this, I wondered what other treasures still lurk behind the whitewash of our parish churches today. The disturbing thing is, of course, that we see it is purely figurative. In the 1190s, that was a representation of people's reality. I tweeted how glad I was that I did not live in such a world of Hell and Purgatory. Martin Simpson tweeted back 'Amen'.

Centuries of Change is now at the typesetters. Proofs should come in next week. It's now the waiting that I have to deal with. Musicians get applause as soon as they perform. Writers, we have to wait months - and then get all the praise and criticism shovelled at us in a few weeks of publicity and trauma. I suspect this book is going to attract a lot of criticism, at least in respect of its envoi, as it does not stop at the present but considers the future - and historians are not supposed to do that. And the conclusions are deeply disturbing. So perhaps I should just appreciate the quiet wait. But the not knowing is agony.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with offciers of Dartmoor National Park Authority in my capacity as Chairman of the Planning and Development Working Panel to discuss agenda items for future discussion and action. Should be interesting. I'm keen to bring small-scale hydropower and self-build local housing up the agenda. Being a Secretary-of-State-appointed Member of DNPA since 2003 has had a subtle effect on my history writing. It will be most apparent when people read the end of Centuries of Change, which draws a lot on planning and economics. But even at the start there was an influence. The title of my biography of Edward III, The Perfect King came out of a National Park Authority meeting. In early 2004 I was watching an old-style local political figure chair a committee and steer debate away from the likes of me and more towards the cronies he had known and done business with for decades. And I wondered whether that man had ever had an ambition to be better than he was. 'At least Edward III tried to be the perfect king,' I thought to myself. 'He may have failed - failure is inevitable when the ambition is so high - but at least he recognised the desiribility of being better than his predecessors - of improving kingship itself'. And when I talked through the book with my editor, Jörg, I used those very words. 'There's your title,' he said: 'the Perfect King'. 'Exactly what I was thinking,' I replied.

But of course the best bit is just walking over the moor, and coming across the stone circle of an old house, and wondering whether the people who lived there five thousand years ago died out, or whether their blood now runs in our veins. And I wonder what they made of the view, and how hungry they were, how hopeful, how fearful, how cheerful. I wonder what sort of music they made.


16 July 2014
A day off

An advance copy of The Elizabethan Session CD arrived in the post this morning. Put it on starightaway - it starts with Nancy Kerr's 'Shores of Hispaniola'. Turned the volume right up - brilliant! And then John Smith's haunting song, 'London' was next. In both I can hear reflections of things that I said that night in March, when I talked to the musicians at Monnington House. I wrote the introductory liner notes to the album too. But the music - the whole album is compelling. I love Jim Moray's 'The straight line and the curve', and Martin Simpson's two songs (about Kit Marlowe and Queen Elizabeth's hesitation before signing her cousin's death warrant), and Nancy Kerr's 'The oak casts his shadow', and Bella Hardy's 'Hatfield'. But every song is so good. I love Rachel Newton's pure voice, and Hannah's James's singing, accordion and clogs, and Emily Askew's virtuosity on a multitude of late medieval instruments. The musicians will all assemble to play the songs for one last time at Folk by the Oak festival on Sunday at Hatfield House. I'll be there. In the meantime I'll be listening to the album again and again.

Having a day off, I drove into Exeter with the top down on the car, playing the above album in the sun. Went with the Moretonhampstead History Society to see the Exeter Book and other treasures at the Cathedral library. The Exeter Book is one of the four surviving volumes of literary texts from Anglo-Saxon England, dating from about 970; I've seen it before but it is always worth revisiting old friends. Saw parts of the Exon Domesday too - incredible to read something that was written nine hundred years ago. Then had a look behind the scenes at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter. Handling a neolithic axehead from Dartmoor, I felt that same sense of far-distant ancestry that I felt in Rome - its owner would be an ancestor of all of us if he or she has any descendants living today. It's a sort of going beyond the vast ocean of in-between time to fix on that distant shore of knowledge, where you can imagine someone nestling a pot in the ashes of a fire, stirring it as the broth bubbles and slicing pieces of meat with a flint knife, and watching his or her children looking for their supper, reflecting on the great sweep of life.


15 July 2014
Text fnially goes off to the production team

It's almost four months since I announced I had finished writing Centuries of Change; today I finally send the last corrections to my editor, Jörg, and they went off to the copyeditor. It has been by the far the most intense editorial process I have experienced. You would have thought it would get easier by book twelve or so, but actually it gets harder. It's more important than ever to get things right. I'm looking forward to heading into Exeter and getting drunk with Jörg, - we've really put each other through the wringer for the last fifteen weeks.

Tried to obtain image rights for a Black & White Magnet electrical goods catalogue from 1935 to use in the forthcoming book. There's a copy in the Museum of London. They were very keen to help BUT they won't grant licences for unlimited print runs, meaning you have to keep renewing and paying more money - on top of the £150 plus VAT per image to begin with. Why is it that public museums don't realise they are doing themselves out of money this way, not maximising their revenue? If I had no option but to use that image, fair enough, they would get more each time I needed a new edition, but most authors of commercial non-fiction books don't have to use any particular image, we can pick and choose. This happened with my Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England - the National Portrait Gallery wanted something like £400 plus VAT for worldwide rights for a whole-page image, limited to 25,000 copies. I obtained the same image at a quarter of that price, with no limit on copies, from an art library. It seems that even if you try to push business towards publicly funded repositories their lack of competiveness and ignorance of how the busines really works drives you back to the private sector.


22 June 2014
Various

Have updated my website today, with links to the USA ebook editions of my historical biographies of Edward III, Henry IV and Henry V. Also added some dates for talks about the new book, Centuries of Change. In addition, I have put a 'Poetry and Songs' button on every page of the website now, to link through to that aspect of my writing. Added a couple more songs to my Soundcloud page to mark the occasion.

Very pleased to hear that Boydell & Brewer are considering producing a paperback of my PhD thesis. This was published in 2009 by the Royal Historical Society but is £50 in hardback. When the paperback appears (probably next spring) it should be less than half that. I don't know how many PhD theses make it into paperback these days but I don't suppose many do. That mine should - even though it contains more numbers, graphs and tables than words (almost) - is very gratfying.


21 June 2014
Longest Day

Forty days have passed since my last update: a biblically long time. The second half of May was spent in France and Italy, hence the radio silence then. Subsequently my editor and I have been hard at work editing the text of my new book, Centuries of Change.

You might have thought it gets easier with each publication: after all, more experience should mean you know what you're doing. But it's not quite like that. Each successive book could reach a new, bigger audience and thus the pressure grows to make a new book better than all its predeccessors. Less and less is left to chance. We're certainly pulling out all the stops on this one: Jorg and I are simultaneously working on the third draft (I'm revising the 18th and 19th centuries) and the fourth (I'll get on with the 16th and 17th centuries tomorrow). The cover is at last agreed and in the public domain.

But going back to Italy - I was struck this time by a very obvious and simple fact that made my journey much more exciting. As readers of the eighth appendix of my book The Perfect King will be aware, in any country over the course of a thousand years, all those people alive in year one who have descendants in year 1000 are ancestors of everyone who's alive at that later date. Aristocratic status and a wide distribution of a large number of children mean some people can become common ancestors of the nation in much less than a thousand years - Edward III is a case in point. Now, all but one of Edward III's great-great-grandparents were foreign-born: they came from the ruling houses of Leon, Aragon, Navarre and Castile (in Spain); Hungary; Provence, Angouleme, Ponthieu, Montreuil, Savoy, Artois and Brabant (all in modern France) as well as the royal family of France itself. Edward's wife was born at Valenciennes, also in modern France. The one great-great-grandfather who was not born abroad - King John - was the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, both of whom were born in France and of predominantly French ancestry. It therefore follows that not only are all these members of French and Spanish ruling houses common ancestors of the English people, they were also descendants of all the Romans whose blood lines were still strong in Spain and France in the Middle Ages. In short, everyone of English descent is descended from every single Roman citizen whose blood line flourished in France and Spain as well as England. The Roman world is not just therefore the world of 'our ancestors' in a proverbial sense: it really was the home of our own families. Of course, nowhere was this more the case than Rome itself, whose citizens went out and governed England, France and Spain, had families in those countries and died there. It is not just the birthplace of so much European culture, it is also a genetic root of pehaps all Western European people.


11 May 2014
Song

I've been having fun recording one of my songs. 'The Tree' is an imitation (in the manner of Robert Lowell's 'imitations') of a poem by Gabriel Garcia Lorca. It is not a translation but a poem based on the original as if the writer had been writing in your own language. The English text appears in my recent book of poems, Flickering Antiquity. I set it to music many years ago but never got around to recording it as I wanted it to sound until now. You can probably hear the influence of the English singer-songwriter Nick Drake and the German experimental rock band Can in the end result. They might be poles apart musically but I listened to them both avidly in my twenties.

The recording was made in my study, using an old laptop - the one on which I wrote, The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England. It quite amazes me the versatility of the gadget. Thirty-seven years ago I stood in front of a large glass case in the Horniman Museum in South London looking at a small piece of technology, about an inch square, in the middle of the said large glass case. It was a microchip. It was the first time I had seen one, and probably the first time I had heard of them. Above the case it said in large letters: 'This will change your life'. The curators could hardly have known how right they were.


29 April 2014
Interview about Henry IV

This morning I filmed an interview about Henry IV for the Royal Shakespeare Company, to be broadcast as part of the RSC Live performance of Henry IV Part One at 7pm on 14 May in cinemas across the nation and further afield. I had the privilege of talking to the cast about the historical side of the play back in January.

I had to laugh. The director/interviewer asked me why I had an old Maxply Forte tennis racquet, with its gut strings all knackered, sitting in my library (where we filmed the interview). I explained it was one of my aunt's racquets, and showed him and the cameraman the picture of Angela Mortimer with the Wimbledon trophy in 1961. 'That's funny,' said the cameraman, 'because my aunt won Wimbledon too. She's Maria Bueno - she won the previous year'. Respect. His aunt won seven grand slam singles titles, Angela only three. It was interesting comparing notes about how international sporting greatness makes a family so proud, and colours your perceptions of success as you grow up. He and I had a parallel tennis-family experience. I gave him a book of mine signed to commemorate the coincidence - 'to the nephew of Maria Bueno from the nephew of Angela Mortimer'.


23 April 2014
Poetry

Today is St George's Day, and this morning seemed a propitious occasion to write the webpage for a book of my poems and song lyrics, Flickering Antiquity: poems and songs 1995-2013, recently published by my own publishing venture, Cross Tree Press. This is a limited edition of three hundred copies, produced to a high standard and a snip at £9.99 plus £1.50 postage and packing (UK). Copies can be ordered from the Cross Tree Press website.

St George's Day is also the anniversary of Shakespeare's birth and death (as far as we know). My essay on the authorship question did not come out in time for his 450th birthday. Rather than publish half of it in a well-known historical magazine and the other half online (because it was too long), I've chosen to keep it intact for a book of essays I'm preparing, What isn't history?, which will be the second volume published by Cross Tree Press.

The main business of the day will start this afternoon. My editor, Jorg Hensgen, will send the editorial queries on my new book, Centuries of Change. I'm really looking forward to this last week of rewriting. The end of a book is so exciting, when you can see its form, facts and ideas all rippling and shimmering, like a huge army on the move, viewed from a great height.


3 April 2014
Music, books, meetings, photographs

Today Chris and I delivered The Hawk and the Hares, our taster of twelve local music acts, to superaudiomastering in Chagford, to be mastered in readiness for CD production. I had last-moment concerns about my track, and we turned up late due to a final decision to cut the djembe track I had added. Great to see the place where it all happens: there were speakers in the studio bigger than me (6' 0", 1.83m). But best of all I can stop worrying about what I might do the track now. 'Tis done.

Came home to read a few sections from Lewis Dartnell's interesting book, The Knowledge: or how to rebuild our world from scratch. Full of information that will be more precious than gold for anyone feeling truly desperate after reading my forthcoming book, Centuries of Change. Also read the start of a forthcoming book about the North Sea.

Very inspired by the positive vision of yesterday's meeting of the Fabric Advisory Commitee for Exeter Cathedral, which envisaged the construction of a new visitors' centre and the Bath House being opened up for display. Did you know the Bath House is the second oldest stone building in England, after the Temple of the Deified Claudius? The oldest window glass in the UK was found there. The beginning of two thousand years of architecture.

I feel less optimistic about the meeting of the Dartmoor National Park Authority tomorrow. Somehow these days the words 'sustainable development' seem almost insulting to the intelligence. There is no such thing in the long run; it is just a government ruse to force more building to create economic growth. We are so far beyond any further development of expansion of our built environment being 'sustainable' that I feel resentful when I am forced to accept policies that judge sustainability on certain limited, short-term criteria (largely based on the government's perennial fear of an economic downturn). Every supposedly 'sustainable' development on green land in the National Park means an encroachment of a rare, irreplaceable national asset. After another century of 'sustainable development', there will be much less National Park for the nation to treasure. It is as simple as that.

I rejigged the images on this website today. There, that's some juxtaposition, isn't it? The last oasis of natural beauty threatened - and all Ian can do is rejig the images on his website... I feel like Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Actually I have wanted for some months to link to some photos of me by Michaela Danelova, the Czech photographer. Good pictures of yours truly are as scarce as surviving veterans of the Wars of the Roses but Michaela managed to take several on one day: five are on my Contact Details page. More of her work can be seen on her website and on that of the Czech magazine Respekt.


25 March 2014
Lady Day, 25 March

This is the most tardy I've ever been, not updating this page for over three months. I do apologise. But I can explain, honestly, I can...

The book, Centuries of Change is finally finished. FINISHED! First draft completed on 8 March, second draft yesterday, 24 March. It's dedicated to my children and all my descendants with the inscription 'This is the book that I feel I was born to write. That doesn't necessarily mean it is the book you were born to read, but it might help'. It's the most 'me' of all my books to date. Now is the moment of waiting to see what the first people to read it think about it - my wife, my editor, the commissioning editor, my agent and scholarly friends... It's so outrageously ambitious that there will be many criticisms I am sure, but nevertheless I am very pleased with it.

This has already been a great year for events. Especially of the unexpected kind. In January I had the honour of talking to Greg Doran, director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the cast of his forthcoming Henry IV at Stratford. All the actors go through the script together, line by line, to establish the commonly understood meaning of every word - and they inevitably end up with a number of historical questions. They need a historian who can talk about Elizabethan social life and medieval politics. At moments like that I feel so very, very fortunate.

At the end of February I had the enormous privilege of spending a morning in Brighton with both Ian McEwan and Martin Amis. I was there as part of the Vintage sales promotion, discussing with Mr Amis 'Is society violent?' in a short session chaired by Kirsty Lang. That was great in itself; but when Ian McEwan shook my head and told me how much HE had enjoyed one of MY books, I felt the world had turned upside down! My jaw is still on the floor.

As some readers of this website will know, my other passion besides writing is music. We kicked off in a fantastic way with a New Year's Eve party at which the brilliant Klezmer band Hazaar! played for over two hours in our main room. Even I danced - an unheard-of thing. (Also should be an unseen thing.) Since then I've been working with a couple of friends in pulling together a sampler of the best of the original music produced in this parish, Moretonhampstead, and the adjacent one, Chagford. The two towns have been enemies since, oh, about 1207, when Moreton was given a chartered market. As recently as 1970 the two parishes both refused to send their children to the other place to school. So our album, The Hawk and the Hares is a sort of bonding exercise. Twelve acts, one song each, original lyrics as well as music, all on a limited-edition CD. It's an astonishingly diverse album. My own contribution is a cheery summer song 'It doesn't matter to me', on which I played a variety of guitars, track by track. My son played bass and a friend, Poppy, did backing vocals.We'll produce the album sometime in the summer, and it will be sold at Moretonhampstead's Music Day, which this year will be Sunday 14 September.

I made my first attempt at acting this spring. In a dramatic and terrifying version of Alice in Wonderland, I played a museum curator who takes the audience through a strange and disturbing museum, the Moorland Museum of Improbable Objects, which had supposedly been deserted for over a hundred years. It contained a wealth of items made for the show - such as a macabre two-headed Siamese twin doll, made by the artist Nicky Thompson. That was an archetypal piece. So too was Miss Haversham's wedding dress, visible in this picture, and Bob Mundee's carved narwhal tusk passing itself off as a unicorn horn (in the background of the same picture). The local blacksmith, Greg Abel, made Captain Hook's hook (which now sits in my library along with the twin-headed doll). As he guided people around this museum, my curator became more and more eccentric so that by the end of the monologue, he was as mad as one of Lewis Caroll's characters. Some might say the part was made for me. It was a great experience, and I am very grateful to Bob Mundee and Steve and Kim Hulme for not only making it possible but making it excellent.

I've recently started a small press, the Cross Tree Press, with my wife, and have produced a limited edition (300 copies) of my poems 1995-2013, Flickering Antiquity which I'll advertise when I've got time to sort out the website. It's on sale at the local Visitors' centre, if you live near Moreton. I'm also selling it through Amazon marketplace. The next publication will be a book of essays, which will bring together everything I've written to date on the art of history writing. The title will be the same as one of the key essays: What isn't history? and it will include my as-yet unpublished piece on the 'Shakespeare authorship question and historical responsibility'.

The highlight of my year so far has to be the Elizabethan Session premier, in Hatfield Old Palace just a few days ago. The idea was simple: take eight of the best folk musicians in the country (Martin Simpson, Bella Hardy, Emily Askew, Rachel Newton, Hannah James, Jim Moray, John Smith and Nancy Kerr), lock them up in a country house for six days, ask me to talk to them about Elizabethan history on the first night, and see what happens. What happened? What didn't happen! I thoroughly enjoyed doing my candlelit piece, after dinner on the Friday night, and then went home, wondering what these musicians would make of a historian telling tales of misery and suffering. The following Thursday I turned up at Hatfield in time to hear the second half of the dress rehearsal. As the music poured over me, I heard many references to my talk of just six nights earlier. The Palace was sold out for the gig that evening. I sat anonymously in the audience in that wonderful building (where Elizabeth I held her first council meeting as queen) and was just overwhelmed by the enormous inventiveness of these people. They had written and arranged twenty songs in the five days between my talk and their leaving the house in Herefordshire to come to Hatfield. The show was amazingly polished, and moving too. There was a strong correlation between the empathy I naturally feel for those who suffered in the past, and my honest representation of their plight, and the natural perspective of the folk musician, which is to look at the world through the eyes of the underdog, and tell it like it is. I was quite blown away, and am now looking forward to the album. You can find reviews of the show in The Times, who described it as 'a stunning and unforgetable evening', as well as The Guardian, who reviewed the second concert a couple of days later, in London. Also folkwitness.co.uk, and London Folk Music, which called it 'a dazzling jewel in the crown of English folk music'. All eight musicians are all such nice people too, I was so touched by how welcoming they were to me. Music really ws the food of love that night. Looking forward to a reprise at the 'Folk by the Oak' festival in the Summer.

I promise it won't be another three months before I next add something to this page.


 
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