Ian Mortimer


What's New?

17 December 2015
Christmas poem

As the year draws to a close, the traditions and rituals rise up like a tide before us, and we end up frantically thrashing around, trying to stay afloat. And trying to smile at the same time. For me, there's an extra one to deal with - the 'Christmas poem'. For those who don't know, this is a piece of doggerel that is our Christmas card each year. I normally leave it until about 12 December to start thinking about it, and then panic. This year was no exception. But I am glad to report that 'Santa's true vocation' has now joined its predecessors on the relevant page of this website.

20 November 2015
Last talk of the year

Yesterday I drove over to Tavistock, on the other side of the moor, to speak to the U3A there. A lovely group of people, very appreciative of my talk. I like the town; it is full of memories of childhood which, as I don't go there often, remain intact. They used to have an old traction engine in the playground - serving as a climbing frame - and a three-storey slide built around a tree that had been struck by lightning. You couldn't have such things now for health and safety reasons. And the Tavy was the coldest river in the area in which to swim, even colder than those on the moor itself, because they were open to the sun and the Tavy flowed under the trees. Well, it was the last public talk of 2015 for me. Now I'm pushing ahead with The Time Traveller's Guide to Restoration Britain, which is scheduled for the spring of 2017. Thoroughly enjoying the writing of it. I have a pile of late seventeenth century coins on the desk to inspire me - plus a Civil War cannon ball dug up on the site of Mortimer's Cleaning and Dyeing Works in Plymouth after the war. It was probably fired during the siege of Plymouth in 1643. A friend of mine once looked at it and said: 'the remarkable thing about it is that someone thought that sending it flying through the air, red-hot, at 300 miles per second, was the solution, not the problem'.

17 November 2015

I've never been athletic. I can remember winning an 800m semi-final at school, when I was about eleven, but since then I've not 'done' running except after a tennis ball, and several years have now passed since I did that regularly. But I ended up doing a bit of jogging in order to lose weight in the summer. Then in September I registered for parkrun, in which people can run 5,000m together each Saturday morning and get an official time for it. It's a brillant idea. I've only done six parkruns to date but I can see it's quite obsessive, as one always wants to run faster than last time. And the performance percentages are related to age and sex, which is encouraging for someone who is 48 years old. My personal target is to run 5,000m on the flat in less than 21 minutes by the end of the year. I'd also like to do Parke parkrun, which is steep, leaf-slippery and muddy, in less than 24 mins - but that might take a little longer. (You can see whether or not I manage either or both targets here.) Therefore, tentatively, I've added running to my list of hobbies on the 'about' page. (I can always delete it again if everything goes terribly wrong...)

10 November 2015
200th, no, 201st public appearance

Today I went over to Plymouth to do an interview about historic changes for BBC Radio Devon. I was about to say it was my 200th public appearance as a speaker at an event (including TV and radio), but while checking, I realised that one radio interview had been missed off my list. So today was in fact my 201st public appearance as a historian.

27 October 2015
William Tyndale's Legacy

I've made available through Amazon.com the text of the speech I delivered to the International Tyndale Society at Hertford College, Oxford, on 2 October, which I retitled on the day: 'The only writer in English history more influential than Shakespeare'.

23 October 2015
Second trip to London this week

To London again yesterday: to have lunch with a writer friend; to collect some reference books I had bought from a collector in Islington; and to attend the opening of the Agincourt exhibition at the Tower. Lunch was wonderful: my friend now looks younger than she did when we first met twelve years ago (must be the Brighton sea air). But in Islington the kind chap who had sold me five volumes of Burke's Landed Gentry asked me if there was anything else I was interested in acquiring, and offered me an array of books at such reasonable prices I could not say no. A set of Boase's Modern English Biography (6 vols) for £42.50? Done. I ended up carrying exactly five stone of books away with me (I weighed them when I got home). Lugging them all back to the tube in Angel was bad enough, but then I had to repeat the ordeal from Tower Hill to the Tower main entrance and through the grounds to the cloakroom upstairs in the White Tower, and then back to the tube, and on to the train, and from the station (at 2 in the morning) almost a mile to where I had left my car. Carrying such a bulky 70lb weight for almost three miles was no joke. Suddenly, paperbacks seemed a great invention.

Talking of paperbacks, I see that the Daily Mail has today reviewed my new book, Human Race with the line 'Mortimer is an entertaining guide on this superb time-travel journey of human innovation.' Which is good.

Going back to last night, the Agincourt exhibition launch was fun. A great rendition of The Agincourt Carol, a chap introducing himself to me unassumingly as 'Richard Dannatt' (Lord Dannatt, former head of the army), a characteristically good speech by Prof. Anne Curry and then a spririted one by Princess Michael of Kent on the battle itself. Hearing a few things that weren't quite right in the latter's speech, I could not help but turn to a fellow medievalist and whisper 'I've not been told a fairytale by a real princess before'. But to be fair, it was refreshing to hear a member of the royal family speak freely on a subject, with character and feeling, without using a set of notes pre-prepared by a civil servant. Moreover, to do that in front of several dozen critical historical experts must have taken some courage. Bravo! Oh, and one last thing - do go and see the exhibition. The centepiece is a model of the battle. Everyone who has written on Agincourt will find something to criticise in it BUT it is truly superb as an information tool and as a discussion point. And, at the end of the day, the distant past is nothing if not a launchpad for discussion.

20 October 2015
Forum on Historical Manuscripts and Academic Research

Today up early to go to the Lord Chancellor's Forum on Historical Manuscripts and Academic Research. Except that it isn't called 'The Lord Chancellor's Forum' any more: the government has relocated the National Archives so that now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport is its sponsoring department. Myself, I'm slightly suspicious of moving the department with reposibility for information from the Ministry of Justice to the that of Fun, and even more suspicious that responsibility for setting government records management policy has gone to the Cabinet Office, but I am assured that it is all part of a vision for a portfolio of information at DCMS. We will see. As for the meeting itself, I made myself a complete pain, as usual, got quite passionate about archives at points, as usual, and ate too many sandwiches, as usual. The potential is there for some good work on a number of fronts, however, so a constructive meeting.

19 October 2015
Friends of Devon's Archives

I attended the AGM of the Friends of Devon's Archives, held in the splendid surrooundings of the medieval Guildhall in Exeter (the oldest in the country). The membership kindly elected me their chairman. At the subsequent conference I joined an array of fine speakers: Robin Ravilious, widow of the photographer James Ravilious; Scott Pettitt, editor of the Devon section of the Manorial Documents Register; and Ellie Jones, Exeter Cathedral Archivist, speaking about medical archival treasures in the Cathedral's collections. My own role was to discuss how you can write the socio-economic history of a community when you don't have any manorial records. A good day all round - I look forward to the next one in Barnstaple, in April.

6 October 2015
London, Oxford and Dartmoor

Last week I attended the launch of the Hogarth Shakespeare at the British Library. It is a series of new novels by well-loved and much-admired authors based on the plots of the Shakespeare plays, and is intended as a commemoration of the 400th anniversary of his death (23 April 1616) next year. Some people there, knowing that I don't often come to London to attend such events, asked me 'have you come up from Devon specially for this?' I answered that no, I hadn't; actually I was on my way to Oxford to give a keynote address at a conference celebrating the life and achievements of 'the only writer in English history more influential than William Shakespeare'. They were stumped as to whom that could possibly be. Someone suggested Chaucer, someone else Milton. When I said the man in question was also called William, someone said 'Blake'. All the guesses were literary figures, not historical ones. To the credit of those there, they did at least know what William Tyndale had done. They just had difficulty in comprehending how a writer can have such a massive impact on his countrymen's way of life in the decades after his death. I was interested by this - and so when I got to Oxford I changed the title of my talk from 'The Legacy of William Tyndale' to 'The only writer in English history more influential than William Shakespeare'. For as Professor David Daniels memorably put it, 'No Tyndale, no Shakespeare'. He could have added, 'No Tyndale, no Pepys', and 'No Tyndale, no Puritanism', and 'No Tyndale, no burgeoning of literacy, no King James Bible (84 percent of which was by Tyndale), no female literature, no sense of what we have in commmon being more important than what makes us unequal and divides us, greatly reduced individualism, and much slower development of responsible citizenship, and a restricted questioning of political hierarchy'. And so on. The last lines of the piece are as follows: 'There were many martyrs in the course of English social development, from Thomas Becket in 1170 to the suffragette Emily Davison in 1913, but none who consciously sought to improve the lives of his fellow men and women on so many levels, in both this world and the next. The person in the street today does not have the means to appreciate quite how much of our way of life is due to the vision of this great man.' It was an emotional moment, to deliver this tribute in the chapel of Hertford College - the place where Tyndale himself studied when it was Hart Hall. [The lecture is now available to buy as a Keynote Speech, either as a stand-alone piece or as part of the compendium of four keynote speeches.]

Returning to Devon I caught up with my friend the landscape artist, Ric Horner. We ascended medieval church towers for views, and went out on the moor. In the course of a trip to Scorhill, he took a series of publicity photographs of me for this website. I've added four to the gallery on the Contact Details page.

26 September 2015

I am in the throes of reading the whole of Pepys's Diary (today I'm in July 1663, volume four). My recent birthday was a luxury - everything unplanned and thus spontaneous. And the sun is shining. My study might be a mess of paper and books but things are good.

Recently I attended the excellent one-day conference on Agincourt's legacy, at the Society of Antiquaries, arranged by Professor Anne Curry. Sadly, I've had to decline a few enticing speaking opportunities on the subject of Agincourt as I'm just not up-to-speed enough with the subject to give my best. When so deeply embedded in the late seventeenth century it is very difficult to wrench oneself out and focus on the early fifteenth. It takes enormous energy. And then, having eyeballed Henry V and Thomas, duke of Clarence, it takes just as much energy to go back and get under the historical skin of the likes of Samuel Pepys, Celia Fiennes, Ralph Thoresby, William Schellincks, Thomas Rugge and John Evelyn.

A really startling event I attended recently was the show 'A portrait of Moretonhampstead' by the artist Nicky Thompson. Nicky had spent months taking photographs of the residents of Moreton - 164 of us in all - using a wet collodion process (better known as 'ambrotypes' amongst us archival sorts). Ambrotypes were popular - in fact ubiquitous - in the second half of the 1850s; I have a set of portraits of the Mortimer family (including my great-great-great grandmother, who died in 1860). Each picture by itself is strange: it has a haunting quality. But when you see the whole community arranged like this - everyone is familiar - it is as if you are looking at your own generation in a set of photographs taken in the 1850s, when Queen Victoria was still young. The community - even members of your own family - appear from long ago, as if we are our own descendants and we know all our distant ancestors. Your mind sees the past differently, layering imagery with this man's humour or that women's penchant for a glass of wine. The last image of the six on the Western Morning News website shows Sophie in the kitchen at Mearsdon: the method makes her appear as if she stepped out of 1930s 'Dust Bowl' America - anywhere but Moretonhampstead in 2015. But the process is time consuming and difficult - and not just for the photographer. As Nicky is a friend of ours, we were amongst the first of her subjects. As she wanted to photograph me in my library, which is a dark room, it took three and a half minutes to take the picture. Sitting absolutely still. Elsewhere, in a well-lit studio, she got the time down to 15 seconds but still, you can see why no one smiles in an ambrotype!

31 August 2015
New agent, work, holiday, weight loss

The principal piece of news is that I have changed agent. After fourteen years with Jim Gill, first at PFD and then United Agents, I've taken the decision to move to Georgina Capel Associates. The reason is that I want to push certain aspects of my career, especially with regard to broadcasting and experimental historical fiction. With regard to the latter, The Outcasts of Time - a novel about the two characters from 14th-century Devon who sell their souls in order to try and avoid the plague and who are sent back to live one day every ninety-nine years - is finished and currently being revised. Although fiction, it will be presented as an 'Ian Mortimer' book (not a 'James Forrester' one) as it is not genre historical fiction but rather about time travel, or juxtapositions of people and centuries.

My main work at present is The Time Traveller's Guide to Restoration Britain, the third in my series of time traveller's guides. I'm doing a lot of reading, noting, thinking and writing into the early hours. The years to be 'visited' are 1660-1699 but a key theme will be how much did life change in the period from Elizabeth's reign to the end of the seventeenth century? Peter Laslett, in his much-cherished 1965 book The World We Have Lost, famously declared that the changes in life for the ordinary English man and woman between the reigns of Elizabeth and Anne 'were not revolutionary'. I've come across two other historians who have quoted that conclusion with complete approval. I disagree strongly, and hope to illustrate why, subtly, over the course of the book. A case of making the point by demonstrating it - something not often possible in historical disputation.

Another thing I'm doing is getting myself back into shape. The morning after my talk at Ightham Mote (27 June) I rolled out of bed and thought, 'this is ridiculous: I feel like my belly is a medicine ball.' My BMI proved to be 27.8. Not good. A combination of two days fasting and two more days alcohol-free per week, and an average 6-miles per day walk, plus press-ups, plank and sit-ups, reduced my weight by a stone in the first month. I gave up the sit-ups when I found out how bad they are for your back.) I then lost another six pounds over the next two weeks, until a family holiday put paid to any further weight loss. I started running to keep things under control. My target is to lose another ten pounds by the end of September. What amazes me is just how much mental energy goes into the whole process. It is very distracting.

The recent holiday, I should say, also included a couple of visits to houses which I want to recommend. The first was Somerleyton Hall, in Suffolk. Beautiful gardens framing a very relaxed and elegant early nineteenth-century Italianate house (remodelled from a seventeenth-century manor house). Not at all busy, fascinating in many degrees, the whole place seemed like a lesson in how to live well, in all times. Walking around the gardens was one of the most relaxing things I've done all year.

The other house I want to recommend is really rather special. Burghley, the creation of Sir William Cecil, which I mentioned in The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England. Obviously I've known of it for years - it is one of the greatest of the many great stately homes in England (in the top five, along with Blenheim Palace, Longleat, Chatsworth and Castle Howard) - but I'd never previously been there. So, off we trotted, the Mortimer family, to see this place of pilgrimage. The house did not disappoint in any way, but nor did it surprise me. Nor, to be honest, was I surprised by the contents. What knocked me for six was the Verrio paintings. Prior to working on the current book, The Time Traveller's Guide to Restoration Britain, I'd not come across Verrio. Indeed, I don't think that many people know his name. He is not famous because you cannot put one of his great paintings on a wall in the National Gallery. But truly, what he did at Windsor Castle (although that work is now destroyed) and at Burghley was libertinism on the scale of Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling. Coming just after the decades of Puritanism this was shocking stuff. But to stand in the Heaven Room, and just to look around, was astonishing. I think that this it is probably the most amazing room I've seen in the whole of England. I wrote in the visitor's book as I departed 'everyone interested in history should come here'.

9 July 2015
The Meaning of War

The University of Southampton have put up a page about the public lectures which form part of their commemorative conference on the Battle of Agincourt. I am giving a 'special' talk on The Meaning of War. I'm doing the corrections now. [PS This is now available to buy as a Keynote Speech, either as a stand-alone piece or as part of the compendium of four keynote speeches.]

30 June 2015
Current work, bad history, and angry audience members

I'm working on The Time Traveller's Guide to Restoration Britain at the moment. Reading a lot of diaries, sketching ideas, and making thousands of notes; and noting as well for a talk in October on 'The place of William Tyndale in history' for the Tyndale Society's annual conference, at Hertford College, Oxford. In all this, it is how quickly things happen that most impresses me. In just six generations we went from a Catholic kingdom of illiterate, superstitious, sword-waving men, with complete obeisance to the sovereign and little awareness of the wider world or attention to women, to globe-encompassing superpowers of largely literate, rational, gun-toting individuals who no longer believed in witches, who understood statistical methods of forming policy, whose womenfolk were strident in their opinions, and whose utmost loyalty was to the government, not the king. I find myself strongly denying Peter Laslett's line that 'the truth is that the changes in English society that affected England between the reign of Elizabeth and the reign of Anne were not revolutionary'. I think that is only true of the sort of things that Peter Laslett measured, such as life expectancy at birth and age at marriage; there was so much deeper change, in terms of attitude and faith, that I find his statement deeply flawed and fundamentally misleading.

It's not the most 'deeply flawed and fundamentally misleading' statement by a historian that I've come across, however. I reckon that prize belongs to Yuval Noah Harari for the first line of chapter fourteen of his book Sapiens. He writes: 'Were, say, a Spanish peasant to have fallen asleep in AD 1000 and woken up 500 years later, to the din of Columbus' sailors boarding the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria, the world would have seemed to him quite familiar. Despite many changes in technology, manners and political boundaries, this medieval Rip van Winkle would have felt at home.' (Sapiens, p. 248). Heavens above! Felt at home? I could not believe that he actually wrote that line, and it really shows the ignorance of some people - even some respected historians - when it comes to the social history of the Middle Ages. Those five hundred years saw the Iberian peninsula shift from being part of a Moslem Caliphate to a series of reconquered Christian states, which by 1492 had finally been united as one kingdom of Spain and a second kingdom of Portugal. Those five centuries saw the rise of castle-building and the stabilisation of states, so that kings now ruled territories, not tribes or peoples, and recognised the concept of legal borders. They saw the discontinuation of slavery. They saw the rise of the power of the pope, and the application throughout Christendom of one moral code (the ecclesiastical law) and the widespread adoption of Roman Law (except England, which saw the codification and application of the common law). Those centuries saw kings held to account (Magna Carta ring any bells? Parliament?) and a massive rise in record keeping, so that we shifted 'from memory to written record' and legal accountability. No more trials by ordeal. They saw the standardisation of priesthood and its language (Latin), the reintroduction of reasoning through the rediscovery of Aristotle's works, the rise of individualism, humanism and renaissance art. They saw the Black Death for heaven's sake, and the redefinition of our relationship with illness and death, and the economic redistribution of capital that came in its wake. Those centuries saw the discovery of the west coast of Africa, and many expeditions to the Far East. They saw the invention of glass mirrors, windmills and clocks - and thus the shift from solar hours of varying length to regulated hours. They saw literacy and trade rise dramatically. Indeed the whole dependence on money was a novelty. The illiterate peasant of 1000 would have largely depended on barter and thus been able to buy only local produce; he would not have believed the silks and spices form the East in his local marketplace. And what about guns? He would have understood violence as something committed hand to hand. Nor would he have understood the moral codes of those around him, nor the diseases, nor the potential of medicine, nor the language of authority, nor the fact that someone could blow his head off from a distance. Would he have felt at home? No. He would have felt less at home than Oxford-educated Professor Harari would if you were to pluck him out of the University of Jerusalem and set him down in the heart of terrorist-controlled Iraq.

On 27 June I went to medieval Ightham Mote in Kent to speak about Centuries of Change. It would have been my father's eightieth birthday, had he not died twenty-two years ago, at the age of fifty-eight, and so it was a fitting way to spend the day. It was my parents who first took me to Ightham just after it opened to the public, in 1985. My mother and both my brothers were in the audience, which filled the hall. John Morrison gave me a splendid introduction and I thoroughly enjoyed speaking for the next hour and a half. The day was only marred for me by an elderly man in the audience who asked a series of questions in such an angry and demanding way, he really should have been told to behave. Or leave. In my experience it is best to treat such irate people exactly as you would treat anyone else, calmly, and using intelligence to deflate their bulging balloons. In this case, on reflection, I should have done otherwise because of the sheer anger of his tone - coupled with his petulant and unwarranted insistence that technology will solve all our problems. Such complacency is dangerous. It left me thinking: I've got four degrees in history yet I know I don't have all the answers, so why are some people, who clearly have no great historical expertise, so confident that they are absolutely right?

Looking at my appointments diary for the month ahead, I see I have no talks lined up until a challenging one at the University of Southampton on 1 August, on 'The Meaning of War'. In the meantime, I see meetings to be attended: three for Dartmoor National Park Authority, three on behalf of the Friends of Devon's Archives, and two for Moretonhampstead History Society. I'm looking forward to the preview night of a play, Across the dark water at Porchester Castle, for which the playwright Ben Musgrave made use of my book, 1415. But perhaps most of all I'm looking forward to seeing my eldest son, Alexander, playing a Battle of the Bands heat in Okehampton. As lead singer and bassist of his group 'Shoot the Messenger', he played a great set at this year's Moretonhampstead Music Day. It is wonderful to see him on stage talking to an audience with all the confidence in the world. I wish I'd been able to do that when I was sixteen.

12 May 2015
The supposed Mortimer family motto

I am reviewing a book which makes repeated references to the Mortimer family motto. I think it's spurious - so wrote a note to explain why.

24 April 2015
The Shakespeare Authorship Debate and Historical Responsibility

Last night I delivered my lecture on the above themes in the Chapter House of Exeter Cathedral. This is now available to buy as a Keynote Speech, either as a stand-alone piece or as part of the compendium of four keynote speeches.

20 March 2015
Elizabethan England: a sensory ride - FREE!

In 2013 my publishers, TV production company and I collaborated on a short enhanced ebook about the senses in Elizabethan England - what it was to see, hear, taste, smell, touch and fear in the late sixteenth century. This is now available at no cost. It can be viewed on iplayers on pcs or on macs, iphones, ipads etc. Details are available through following this link.

19 March 2015

I am most honoured now to be a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. I went up to London today and signed the register, and was formally admitted by the president, Gill Andrews.

22 February 2015

I've been putting together my presentation 'Documentary sources for understanding medieval localities' for the symposium on Saturday 28th, which I've helped organise for Dartmoor National Park Authority, 'Long houses and hard lives: daily life on Eastern Dartmoor in the Middle Ages'. Very much looking forward to that. Also I've agreed that the first reading of my long-awaited paper, 'The Shakespeare Authorship Question and Historical Responsibility' will be be given in the Chapter House of Exeter Cathedral on what is supposed to be the 451st anniversay of the Bard's birthday and the 399th anniversary of his death, 23 April 2015 (tickets go on sale soon). Otherwise, I've been busy pushing ahead with my new novel, which will be my first work of fiction published as 'by Ian Mortimer' (as opposed to James Forrester). I've attended the regular meetings of the Exeter Cathedral Fabric Advisory Committee, the Lord Chancellor's Forum on Historical Manuscripts and Academic Research, Friends of Devon's Archives and Dartmoor National Park Authority. I've thoroughly enjoyed a recent production of The Tempest by the Whiddon Community in conjunction with Tymescythe Theatre Company in Chagford Church, starring the brilliant Bob Mundee as Prospero. (Prospero, with a daughter aged about fifteen and with an ambition to regain his ducal title, really should be played by someone in his late forties, not an old man; Bob was just right.) Likewise I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the highly accomplished folk group Lady Maisery at Lustleigh Parish Hall last night. And just in case you were about to ask, no, I haven't seen any of the BBC's adaptation of Wolf Hall. I've been asked for my opinion more than a dozen times now but I haven't had time to watch any television yet this year, so I'm afraid I can't give you an opinion. One day, perhaps, but with a new Time Traveller's Guide to write, and half a dozen talks to prepare on subjects as diverse as the loyalties of the Medieval Mortimers of Wigmore 1075-1425, the long-term legacy of William Tyndale (for the Tyndale Society), the horizons of medieval people, and 'The Meaning of War' (as part of the commemorations of the Battle of Agincourt anniversary), I really don't think I'm going to get to see any TV this year.

26 January 2015
The Legitimacy of Richard III - and the rest of the Yorkists

The other day there was a great to-do in the press about the Y-chromosome DNA of Richard III. His DNA does not match that of another supposed descendant of Edward III, the 5th duke of Beaufort. Shock! Horror! Suddenly science correspondents for national newspapers were writing articles of medieval history, stating how the likely culprit was John of Gaunt, following a lead by an ill-informed professor, who gave a press briefing on the matter. This writing of medieval history by scientists is not to be encouraged as I did not read one account that was both accurate and informative. Anyway, I decided to put pen to paper in a corrective way. I also wanted to draw attention to an aspect of this that has been on my mind for a little while - namely, the timing of the affair between John Holland and Isabella of Castile, duchess of York. Although no one seems to have noticed this before (and few have even commented on the affair except T. B. Pugh), we can tie down when it happened to two short periods of time, and one of those is nine months before the birth of Richard of Conisbrough, grandfather of the Yorkist kings. It looks to me very much as though the Yorkist dynasty was conceived on the wrong side of the bed sheets. My thoughts on this matter appear in the current edition of History Today. Of course, the real questions arising from this are far more significant than the DNA itself. Who suspected it? Who believed it? Who acted on it?

5 January 2015

Today is the twentieth anniversary of the day I met my wife, Sophie. She worked for Waterstones bookshop at the time. We met in the upstairs bar of the Lamb & Flag in Covent Garden in order to discuss an idea of mine for a guide to medieval England, written as if you could actually go there. In 2008, after we had been married for eleven years and had three children, it was published as The Time Traveller's Guide to Medieval England. It has so far sold about 300,000 copies in the UK and USA (not including audiobooks, audio downloads or foreign-language editions). A day, therefore, to celebrate - for lots of reasons.

I failed to note it at the end of last year but I am pleased to report that the lyrics to one of my songs, 'If the silence hurts' was judged one of the twelve finalists in the lyrics category of the UK Songwriting Competition. Three other songs of mine made the semi-final stage in the lyrics category: these are all published in my book Flickering Antiquity. I'll put the lyrics to 'If the silence hurts' online before long - when I have a spare moment to record the song.

What was new in other years