What was New in 2010?

22 November 2010

History Today article

An article on the fragility of historical sources for determining the correctness of medieval facts appears in the current edition of History Today. It deals with some of the same issues raised in the methodological introduction to my book Medieval Intrigue.

30 October 2010

Signed copies

Last night I spoke at Toppings Bookshop in Bath about my book of essays, Medieval Intrigue. I signed about twenty or thirty copies extra there - so if you want a signed one that's the place to enquire. If you want a signed copy of my first novel, Sacred Treason, I see that Goldsboro Books in London say they've sold out of the signed copies but still have some of the signed, lined and dated ones at 19.99 (all signed as 'James Forrester'). Signed copies of the Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England are normally available from the Moretonhampstead Information centre. If you are after a signed copies of any of my other books, enquire at the Waterstones in Exeter High Street (manager@exeter-highstreet.waterstones.com).

4 October 2010

Review of The Dying and the Doctors

In the October 2010 edition of the academic journal Medical History there is a 2.5-page review of my book by Dr Patrick Wallis (London School of Economics) which begins: 'Ian Mortimer’s The dying and the doctors is probably the most important book on the history of medicine published in recent years.' I am thrilled to read this. Further information about the book is on this page of my website.

30 September 2010

Resignation from the University of Exeter

Today I sent an email to Professor Andrew Thorpe, head of the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter, asking that my details be taken down from the university website with immediate effect, and all public connection between the university and myself cease. This follows a period of several months during which I feel I have been treated most unfairly by the university, with academics exercising considerable bias against history written for public consumption - as opposed to a purely academic readership - not to mention condescension by senior academic members of staff. This brings to an end a long association with the university, starting as an undergraduate (1986-89) and continuing as a member of staff in the Centre for Medical History (1999-2000) and the archives of the University Library (2000-2003), as a doctoral student (2001-2004) and as an Honorary Research Fellow (since 2004). It is therefore not a decision taken lightly; but the circumstances leave me no option. It is inappropriate here to publish full details but I will in due course.

29 September 2010

'Interviewing Myself: history and historical fiction'

I was scared to death of doing this talk - unscripted, critical theory, postmodernism and literary criticism performed in front of an audience at Appledore Book Festival. As James Forrester, historical novelist, I interviewed Ian Mortimer about the limits of history - as critically as possible. Simultaneously, as Ian Mortimer I interviewed James Forrester about the limits of historical fiction, just as critically. One comment at the end I thoroughly enjoyed: 'I think you're being too hard on yourself.'

24 September 2010

The Time Traveller's guide to Medieval England

Yesterday was the 365th day that my Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England had been in the top 100 history books on amazon.co.uk, howvering now at around no. 28. It's also a full year it's been in the Waterstones top twenty paperback non-fiction chart, and fifty-two weeks in the national Top 50 bestselling non-fiction paperbacks.

16 September 2010

Medieval Intrigue

Today Medieval Intrigue finally is published. It is bound to put a cat among the pigeons - or, rather, a sabre-toothed tiger armed with a kalashnikov. It is going to be a divisive book. Some academics will no doubt feel obliged to close ranks and protect those professors whom I critise in chapter four, 'Twelve Angry Scholars'. Other readers will realise that the information-based approach I put forward here in chapter one, 'Objectivity and Information' is common sense, entirely logical, and actually a way to root all historical enquiry in the reality of the past. I am very proud of it, and very glad to have carried on questioning received wisdom when so many traditionalists were trying to get me to shut up. I hope that it will outlast me, and inspire others.

7 September 2010

Medieval Intrigue

A link to a preview of Medieval Intrigue (the introduction, first chapter and index) has appeared on the publisher's blog.

26 August 2010

Holiday in Italy

The 'what's new' section has been a bit quiet of late - I've been away in Italy with the family. What a contrast to Devon! A friend of mine told me yesterday that he's given up using a calendar to measure summer here on Dartmoor; in future he's going to use a stopwatch. Apart from a storm in Venice - which my sons rated one of the highlights of the holiday, as we were on the open section at the back of a vaporetto at the time and had the Grand Canal to ourselves - we saw no rain at all. Instead we saw sun and sights. From Venice to Vesuvius, Naples to Assisi, Rome, Milan and Perugia. Highlights for me include: just being in Venice; that storm; seeing Torcello; the golden rooms, prison cells and Bosch paintings in the doge's palace; taking the children on a gondola (after a week of telling them it was too expensive); waiting until everyone had left the Vatican Museums to walk around the sculpture gallery by myself; walking eighteen miles along the Appian Way with my eldest son; finally seeing the Pantheon for the first time; taking the children around the Colliseum; the Capuchin bone designs in the crypt of their church; taking the children to Giolitti and buying them all a large gelato after losing a bet that I would not say 'um' or 'er' seven times in a Radio 4 interview (recorded at the BBC office in Rome the previous day); eating mushroom pizza from Roscioli in Rome; revisiting Pompei; seeing a bedstead still in place on the first floor of a ruined house in Herculaneum, with the wine flagons on shelves in the room below, still all as they were on the day of the eruption in AD79; standing on the top of Vesuvius, looking across the Bay of Naples; staying at the very relaxing apartment in the Palazzo Minciotti in Assisi, directly facing the cathedral; revisiting Perugia, especially seeing St Peter's basilica with all its artwork, the view from the top of the gate tower by the wonderful old round church, and seeing the great Etruscan gate; climbing Monte Subasio with my eldest (eighteen miles and 4,400 feet - a long way for an eleven year-old); crawling through the hermitage on the side of the mountain; getting up at 4am to walk around Assisi in the dark; spending a whole afternoon looking at the Giotto paintings in the upper basilica at Assisi; staying in an apartment facing Milan Cathedral and watching the dawn come up over all those pinnacles; our last dinner in Italy, at the Caffe Panzera by the station in Milan. Hmm. Back to book reviews, deadlines, and guess what: it's raining. As my son reminded me on returning, it was warmer in the catacombs, 14 metres beneath Rome.

19 July 2010

Historical performances, music and fiction

Last week I spent four days at Ways with Words at Dartington - my local and favourite literary festival. I ended up doing two talks, one on 'Rewriting History' in the fourteenth-century Great Hall and the other on 'Medieval Political Murder' (taking the place of the author of a book on assassination, who unfortunately fell ill - we suspect poison). I very much enjoyed the three sessions I chaired too - Nigel Warburton, Ben Gummer and Juliet Barker - as well as the others I merely attended. My head is still reeling from Prof Robin Dunbar telling me that some women might see in four or even five primary colours. After dinner on the last day I raced back to play a gig in my local pub - life doesn't get much better than talking about medieval history in a medieval hall and playing my songs in a favourite pub on the same day.

Today's news is neither about history nor music, however. Today I launched the website for my first novel, which will be published by Headline Review next month. Sacred Treason will appear under my middle names, James Forrester, to make a clear distinction between fact and fiction in my writing. Details can be found at the new website - http://www.jamesforrester.co.uk.

4 July 2010

The Early Music Show

A recent edition of the Early Music Show on Radio Three was devoted to Edward III. I was interviewed about the king and his reign by the presenter, Lucy Skeaping. The Independent commented on it.

1 July 2010

The Art of History

This essay appeared in the June ed. of the American journal Historically Speaking. It was accompanied by an interview with the editor, Donald A. Yerxa. Both are made available here with permission from the John Hopkins University Press.

15 June 2010

Biographical article in a local paper

There are a few errors in it (e.g.'Richard II's death in 1327') but an article on me, based on a telephone interview, appeared recently in the Herald Express newspaper, which covers the area from Torquay up to Moretonhampstead. I might add I don't sit here with a bottle of whisky open all the time - but it helps when trying to imagine the horror and courage of a battle scene.

5 June 2010

Book review in the Daily Telegraph

Book review of Allan Massie's Royal Stuarts in today's paper.

29 May 2010


Several people have asked me recently what my songs sound like. When I say 'they're dificult to categorise', the question inevitably comes back: 'are they folk?' One day I hope I'll have an album of them properly recorded; but if you want an idea of the sort of noise I make when not working, I have put three on a Myspace page. They were recorded on the laptop on which I wrote Fears of Henry IV and The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England, and on which I store all the images of medieval manuscripts I filmed for those two books and The Perfect King. Wonderful thing, technology.

25 May 2010

Medieval Intrigue

The subtitle of this book has changed. Originally it was 'Royal Murder and Regnal Legitimacy' but that word 'regnal' seems to sound a little too removed from common speech. Besdies theer was nothing in that title to suggest an important methodological element to the book. So I've suggested 'Decoding Royal Conspiracies' instead. That is perhaps a more descriptive subtitle, as the book is about the 'decoding' (how we can and cannot prove what happened in the distant past) as much as it is about the intrigues themselves. The contents have not changed: I'm checking the proofs right now.

23 May 2010

Friar Tuck in Sussex

Sitting down at my desk this morning, I shuffled a few papers about and noticed a print-out from an edition of the calendar of Patent Rolls. I’d printed it out because the entry at the top of the page was a commission dated 4 April 1417 to Sir John Mortimer to go to France on the King’s service with Sir Thomas Carew, taking with them 150 men-at-arms and 300 archers. This Sir John later rebelled against the king and claimed that he was next in line to the throne after the earl of March in 1424, and was executed after escaping from the Tower of London. But what caught my eye this morning was the entry for 22 May: ‘Commission to William Lasyngby and Robert Hull to enquire into the report that a certain person assuming the unusual name of Frere Tuk and other evildoers have entered parks, warrens and chaces of divers lieges of the king in the counties of Surrey and Sussex at divers times, hunted therein and carried off deer, hares, rabbits, pheasants and partridges, burned the houses and lodges for the keeping of the parks, warrens and chaces, and threatened the keepers.’ Click here for the published calendar.

Stories of Robin Hood were being circulated in the fourteenth century, as William Langland’s Piers Plowman shows. (In that work Piers declares that he knows the gests of Robin Hood.) But I was amused to note this location of a real Friar Tuck to the south-east, just as Yorkshire and Nottingham are in the news for arguing about the origins of the real Robin Hood. I have come across a reference to a real ‘Robin Hood’ in the manor of Wakefield (Yorkshire) in the second decade of the fourteenth century, and another to an outlaw called John Little in Yorkshire in 1318 (Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England, pp. 273-4). This southern Friar Tuck probably took his name from the tales, which presumably emanated from the north. Even so, it’s a nice reminder that such legends quickly spread far beyond their original locations.

14 May 2010

The Bodley Head's 'Brain Shots'

The first six of the Bodley Head's 'Brain Shots' are about to be launched. This is a new ideas-based series of ebooks and audiobooks. One of the six is a shortened version of my Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. Unlike some of the others, my text is not a revised version but the best bits of the original - as selected by me in conjunction with my excellent editor, Jorg Hensgen.

12 May 2010

Should we get rid of political parties?

On the day that Gordon Brown became prime minister, I wrote a note on the challenges facing him (see: 'After the Rivalry'). It turned out not to be too far from the mark. In the run-up to this year's election I wrote a piece on banning political parties. Unfortunately for me, more politically charged, less-idealistic pieces shunted it from the comments pages of the broadsheets. But, given the hung parliament and the talk of electoral reform of both Lords and Commons, I decided to rewrite it yesterday evening and place it here. I wonder what I'll think about it on 7 May 2015 (the date of the 'next' election, optimistically set yesterday).

27 April 2010

'What isn't History? The Nature and Enjoyment of History in the Twenty-First Century

I have added a pre-publication draft of this article, which was published in the journal History in 2008, to the Notes and Essays section of my website. Its relevance for alternative views of the past, such as those put forward in my Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England and my 1415, require it to be more accessible.

4 April 2010

Sunday Times position

My Time Traveller's Guide is number six this week in the Sunday Times non-fiction paperback top ten. Its highest place yet.

30 March 2010

Two essays

I have added two essays to the website: one arising from queries about the meaning of 'hanged, drawn and quartered' and the other arising from my thoughts about Wikipedia as a ship of fools.

29 March 2010

Cover and contents for Medieval Intrigue

The cover has been designed for Medieval Intrigue, so it is time I started to add some details. I added the contents page as a first step. I'll add more information in due course.

Time Traveller's Guide is number seven this week in the Sunday Times non-fiction paperback top ten. Its highest position yet.

14 March 2010

Sunday Times top ten.

Number eight this week in the Sunday Times.

7 March 2010

Sunday Times top ten.

Fantastic time in Keswick, courtesy of Words by the Water, where I talked about 'Rewriting History' on Friday 5th. Saw snow-capped mountains from the hotel room, and then watched them turn pink in the sunset. Returned home to see that my Time Traveller's Guide is back in the Sunday Times top ten non-fiction paperbacks, at no. 9, after a two-month absence. Many thanks to all of you who have supported it.

24 February 2010

Bridget Barker (1959-2010)

Bridget - a great friend, a wonderful individual and an enormously talented artist - died on 14 February. Her funeral took place today. I read Ogden Nash's The Tale of Custard the Dragon, just as she had requested on her last (50th) birthday. I also read a poem of my own, written for her over the last few days. Those who were at the funeral who would like a copy can find it here.

14 February 2010

Washington Post Review

The US edition of The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England looks as though it may attract a few American 'visitors' to medieval England. 'The pleasure of reading Mortimer's "The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England" is its Fodor's-style framework,' writes Aaron Leitko in today's edition of The Washington Post.

10 January 2010

Sunday Times bestsellers list

Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England has made the Sunday Times top ten for paperback non-fiction - at no. 9 for the week before and the week after Christmas combined. No. 1 this week in the Daily Telegraph (which uses just data from the Waterstones chain, not the total consumer market).

1 January 2010

THES review of The Dying and the Doctors

Good review today in the THES. A positive start to the New Year!

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