Ian Mortimer


Poetry and Songs

My first compositions were poems. So were my first published works. At the age of sixteen I picked up the electric guitar of the chap I shared a room with at school and started to strum. In the holidays I lifted down the old Spanish guitar that my mother had hung on the wall since she gave up trying to play. And one way or the other, something worked. I am still not a good guitarist: I can't read music and have fingers that are best described as 'agricultural', but the lyric has always drawn me. After I left school I took a guitar with me and busked my way around Italy in my year off, writing lyrics in bars in romantic Renaissance towns. On heading up to Exeter University in 1986, to read history, I started writing poems with serious intent; I attended English literature lectures as well as history ones, and edited a literary magazine, Nexus.

Poetry remained my main creative output until the end of 1994, when I was twenty-seven. Then I had an idea for a history book, which eventually became The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. I met my wife, started work for the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts, and tried unsuccessfully to write a historical novel, which turned into my first full-length non-fiction work, The Greatest Traitor. But lyric verse was always there in the background. The love of the guitar also never went away. These days, it's like a little holiday from history every time I lift a guitar. I play a song, set the guitar back on its stand, and return to my work, refreshed.

At the time of writing (June 2014), I have published one volume of poems, Flickering Antiquity. This is a limited edition (300 copies) of a selection of poems written between 1995 and 2013, including a handful of song lyrics. Details about this can be obtained from the Cross Tree Press website. In due course I will publish a selection of the earlier poems and song lyrics written between 1986 and 1994, under the title A Personal Reliquary.

As for songs, I've tried making a few recordings but never have enough time to do them properly. Or the ability. The sound of my voice outside my head is like glass trying to turn itself back into sand. It's better from where I'm sitting, honestly. I entered a selection of songs and lyrics for the UK Songwriting Competition in 2014: the four entries I submitted in the lyrics section did best, three of them reaching the semi-final stage and one the finals. I've put a few songs on Soundcloud to give an idea of what my music sounds like. For a more raucous song of mine, see the video of 'The Guilty Party', performed appropriately at a party, with my eldest son Alexander accompanying me on bass.

Finally, each year I write a piece of doggerel for my Christmas card. I have been doing this for about twenty years now, and people have encouraged me rather than ask me to stop. Therefore the madness is not mine, it's theirs. I've put a few examples up on this site, which you can find on this page, for the sake of some light relief. My favourite - by a long way - is the one for 2008, 'The Jolly Reaper'.

Books & CDs


Flickering Antiquity