What was New in 2011?


Forthcoming Appearances

Click on the link above for events at which I am booked to speak.

7 December 2011

Last event of the year

Did my nineteenth and twentieth events of the year at Marjon yesterday afternoon and last night, concluding my programme for 2011. Looking back over them I see quite a variety. But last night I found myself saying something unexpected, something that I had not thought of before. Hayden Gabriel (novelist, and the organiser of both events) expressed surprise that I didn't want to read from my work. To my mind, an appearance is a chance to say something new - to provoke debate, discussion and perhaps learn something. I remember the poet Fleur Adcock telling me at a poetry reading which I participated in as a student in about 1989 that I should say much more about myself and my poems at a reading because that's 'the bonus material the audience cannot get from a book' (or words to that effect). And it's true: everything written and published is finished. Like an epitaph. No sooner had I thought that than a line by one of the Romantic poets came into my mind: 'the poem starts to die as soon as it is written down'. Was that Shelley or Keats? It doesn't matter. Suddenly I found myself thinking much the same thing about history. That direct engagement with the past, that moment of historical inspiration which is the dialogue between past and present, starts to die as soon as it is written down. When writing history, I am addressing the modern audience, my readers now; but the real history is the inspiration, the understanding, the feeling and the life of the past - even if it cannot be properly articulated.

2 December 2011

Reading from The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England

Podcast (8 mins) of part of chapter ten (hygiene, illness and medicine) available on the Vintage website. The book will be published in March 2012. Click here for further publication details.

24 November 2011

Differences and similarities of history and historical fiction

Podcast of my short talk at the Novel Approaches conference at the Institute of Historical Research.

23 November 2011

Poster for forthcoming talk at Marjon, Plymouth

Here's the poster for my forthcoming talk on 'history in fiction and creative non-fiction'.

22 November 2011

Novel Approaches Conference Blog Entry for the Society of Authors

The Society of Authors asked if I would write a short piece for the blog about the recent conference at the Institute of Historical Research. Of course! Five thousand words later... the result is on the Society's website. A number of points about fiction and historical responsibility emerged.

17 November 2011

Past and Future

The Autumn 2011 issue of the Institute of Historical Research's magazine includes a short article by me on 'Why historians should write fiction'.

16 November 2011

Twelve hints for writing history for the general public

At an academic conference in the summer, which happened to be at the University of Nottingham, a worthy and distinguished senior professor said to me "I could never do what you do, Ian, because I could never write what someone was thinking about. Even if Henry IV was on the way to Walsingham to give an offering at the shrine of a saint who could help him with his sickness, I could never write the words: 'as Henry rode to Walsingham he was thinking about his sickness." I found this very interesting. It reminded me of a lecture I gave at the same university four months earlier. It seemed to me I should dust off my notes for that lecture and put them online. Re-reading them, I see there is a fair bit in there about the difference between academic history and popular history, which is not that far from the the subject of the conference I am attending at the Institute of Historical Research this week ('Novel approaches: from academic history to historical fiction').

13 November 2011

The Count of Hainault's Daughter

I thought I'd write something to celebrate Edward III's 699th birthday. As it happened, I ended up writing about the birth of his wife, Philippa, as I am just so irritated by fools mindlessly repeating the same old myth about her being inspected by Bishop Stapeldon in 1319. In reality the essay is about historical certainty, not about Philippa, and its implications. Something that is much on my mind at the moment.

25 July 2011

'The Adherents of Edmund Woodstock, earl of Kent, in March 1330'

Very pleased to see the above article by Kathryn Warner published by The English Historical Review. Among many other things, this shows that scholars such as Roy Martin Haines have been wrong to dismiss the plot of the earl of Kent (to free Edward II from Corfe Castle, three years after Edward's supposed death in Berkeley Castle) as the work of a few clerics disenchanted with Roger Mortimer's regime. It was a plot rooted in loyalty to the ex-king, not opposition to the regime, as I argue in Medieval Intrigue. I'm going to raise a glass to Kathryn this evening.

21 July 2011

Five questions from the Daily Telegraph

Ways with Words was the venue for five questions about my writing, namely, am I a big reader? What was the last novel I enjoyed? What book do I feel guilty about not having read? What was the most interesting thing I discovered in my recent research? And what era would I most like to live in?

13 July 2011

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England

Anyone interested in seeing what my next history book will look like can see a preview of the cover here.

7 July 2011

Article for the online Spectator

A short article provoked by the establishment of the Historical Writers Association, which plans to represent both historical fiction and popular history writers.

18 June 2011


My review of Justin Hill's Shieldwall appears in today's Guardian newspaper.

10 June 2011

Ways with Words, Dartington

The Telegraph have included a section on what makes the Dartington festival so special - I am not the only one who finds it so.

9 June 2011


I don't seem to have much to report. A new interview with Kathryn Hadley of History Today has been made available on their website. My book review of a study of the Mary Rose has been published by the Sixteenth Century Journal. Otherwise life is challenging as ever. I managed to lose the major part of chapter four of my current book, The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England and have had to rewrite it entirely, which has set me back somewhat.

26 April 2011

Roger Mortimer, 1st earl of March

I've spent some of today thinking about Roger Mortimer, the subject of my first book. Not because it was his birthday yesterday (he would have been 724) but because today I am exactly the same age as he was when he died. I imagined the man, or me as him, being drawn to the gallows on an ox-hide, and stripped naked, and hanged, as the leaves of the elms at Tyburn rustle in the spring breeze. I imagined making the speech that he made on the gallows - confessing that the earl of Kent, whom he had had judicially killed, was guilty of no crime. The juxtaposition of my position with his at forty-three years, seven months and four days was quite a mind-wrench. He was one of the most extraordinary men of medieval history, and yet there he was, swinging on the end of the rope, on the orders of a boy-king. I was wearing a linen suit, sitting on the veranda of a country house hotel, celebrating my wedding anniversary. It made me aware of the kaleidoscope of fates turning about this age, or any age: ten thousand shards of life that all look different with the turn of a single day. I looked at my drink at that moment. It seemed strangely appropriate to have ordered a Bloody Mary.

5 April 2011

Filthy Cities

I see I make a couple of brief appearances on the medieval London episode of the BBC 2 series, first aired this evening. Perhaps 'aired' is an apposite word; it is fronted by Dan Snow, who really gets into the filth of his subject, shovelling manure, slaughtering pigs and disembowelling them - you can almost smell it. Thank heavens they only asked me about the state of the streets! Highly entertaining, and quite visceral viewing.

24 March 2011

New appointment

I am very pleased to have been appointed to the new Forum on Historical Manuscripts and Archival Research. A new set of challenges, especially when you consider how rapidly things are changing in terms of records being created, being kept, used, and made publicly available. Most of us have a vision of how historical research will be conducted in the future; it will be very interesting to see how things progress.

1 March 2011

BBC 1 filming

Filmed a short interview for the BBC today about Edward III and Windsor Castle, due for broadcast later this year. I had no time to go up to London and so the film crew came here to Moreton - thanks to the churchwarden Joe Scaife and the rector for allowing us to use the parish church.

29 January 2011

BBC Radio Devon appearance

I joined John Govier on his show on BBC Radio Devon this morning. Had great fun - especially playing one of my songs (The Guilty Party) live on air with the ladies of the Galmpton and Churston Women's Institute all gathered round me. Thanks to another guest, Tom Nicholas, for the use of his guitar.

14 January 2011

Good and not-so-good news for the New Year

Random House sent me an email on 10th January to say that my book The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England was the highest-selling paperback history book in the UK for 2010. With 79,852 sales it was more than 15,000 copies ahead of the no. 2 book (Andrew Marr's The Making of Modern Britain). What was especially pleasing is that that was its second year in the top ten. Since receiving that email I've realised that Ben Mcintyre's Operation Mincemeat outsold me - a detail confirmed on further enquiry - but for some reason his book was not tagged 'history' by Nielsen's Bookscan. So really I'm second to Ben Mcintyre. I'm not complaining.

The not-so-good news is that I have had to delay the anticipated delivery date for the follow-up, The Time-Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England. This was scheduled to appear in early October this year: it should now appear next March (2012). My sincere apologies to those who are looking forward to it; I'm very sorry to have to disappoint you.

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