The highlight of last year for me was a three-day trip to Hadrian’s Wall. It was a trip I had been planning for a few years. Wedged between Lockdown One and Lockdown Two, I spent a night in a hotel in Newcastle and a night with a friend in Harrogate.
It was such a relief to get into the car and drive out of area after so long spent at home. I had pre-booked my museum visits and was grateful for the reduced numbers and staggered time slots. On the first day, I joined a small group (in masks) on a curator’s tour of Arbeia Roman Fort in South Shields, on the south Tyne estuary. This fascinating tour centred on the reconstructed Commanding Officer’s House, and ended at the reconstructed gatehouse, giving a valuable insight into daily life in a Roman garrison and supply fort 1,800 years ago.
In the afternoon, I crossed the famous Tyne road bridge and made my way to Wallsend, and the part-excavated Roman fort and museum of Segedunum. The museum is well laid out with creative displays that give an excellent insight into the daily life of Roman soldiers and an overview of the history of Hadrian’s Wall. This is literally the end (or starting point) of the Wall, that runs for almost 80 miles to Carlisle in the east. On day two I visited Corbridge Roman town and museum; Vindolanda fort, reconstructions and museum; and Chesters Roman fort and baths, right in the middle of Hadrian’s Wall and next to the fast-flowing waters of the upper Tyne, in the beautiful Clayton family estate.
From this visit, I got the idea for my next book. It’s title is ‘Guardians at the Wall’ and it’s a dual timeline novel with contemporary and historical (Roman) plot lines in alternating chapters. The two stories are connected by location (Vindolanda), themes and objects. It is proving a challenge to plan and write, but I am half way through and am working towards a mid-May publication date.
By the way, are you watching Robson Green’s excellent mini-series on walking Hadrian’s Wall? He’s a Northumbrian lad and brings a very personal touch to his tour along the Hadrian’s Wall footpath. I’ve recently leant that 2022 is the 1,900th anniversary of the construction of Hadrian’s Wall, to be marked by activities at the various sites and museums (covid-permitting).
This month’s guest author is Jonathan Posner. My daughter, Cathy, is currently reading his new book, Mary Fox and the Broken Sword, aimed at young adult readers.
Jonathan Posner has pursued his love of creative writing as a hobby, alongside raising a family and a career in marketing.
It was at school in Suffolk that he first developed a love of literature, spending much of his free time in Narnia, or in the company of contemporary heroes such as William Brown, Molesworth and Jennings.
This led to a burning desire to write something himself – which finally reached boiling point at Exeter University, when he wrote two plays and a musical (book & lyrics). One of the plays, Private Eyes, was performed by students, but the other play and the musical were put on a shelf and thankfully, never seen again.
Three further musicals followed as Jonathan started to build both a marketing career and a young family, and all three of these musicals were considered to be of a high enough standard to be performed on stage.
The family and career then took precedence, until he got up one morning in the early 2010s with an overwhelming urge to write a novel. Casting about for an idea, he spotted one of his original musicals. It was a time-travel story set in Tudor England – and he decided to post-rationally write the book ‘behind’ the musical.
To start with, it went swimmingly well. Large chunks of dialogue were lifted from the libretto and pasted into the manuscript – until he realised that what works in a musical doesn’t necessarily work in a novel, and a completely new plot had to be built around the original time-travel Tudor idea.
Thankfully the resulting 2015 novel, The Witchfinder’s Well, has received many positive reviews and demands for a sequel. The Alchemist’s Arms was therefore published in 2019, and a third novel in the trilogy is planned for 2022/23.
Jonathan is ever one for getting the most out of an idea. In The Witchfinder’s Well, the lead character develops her love of all things Tudor when she finds a series of adventure novels set in the reign of Henry VIII, featuring a swashbuckling heroine called Mary Fox. So Jonathan has now written the first book in this series, called Mary Fox and the Broken Sword.
In this story, teenage Mary Fox has to return the Broken Sword to a house in Suffolk in order to lift a centuries-old curse, while keeping one step ahead of her arch-enemy Sir Reginald de Courtney.
Tudor England – where young girls are expected to marry the man their father decides…
Mary Fox is a rebellious teenager who needs to escape from the evil Sir Reginald de Courtney, the older man her stepfather says she must marry.
From desperate swordfights to daring escapes, Mary battles to keep one step ahead of Sir Reginald. Will he catch her? And will he stop her in her quest to return the mysterious Broken Sword to its rightful home – and so lift a centuries-old curse?
In the Tudor world of men, Mary Fox is an unexpected heroine!
Comments from readers:
“A rollicking, exciting ride with a lot of unexpected twists and turns which kept surprising me along the way.”
“…definitely a good story to get younger readers interested in historical genre novels as it had excitement, intrigue, mystery and unrequited love!”
“I will admit to being quite a fan of our ass-kicking Tudor heroine.”
As we stagger on through Lockdown Three Whilst Covid morphs and creeps ever on A shape-shifting ghoul after you and me Described in a poem from Lockdown One…
The Plague I walked through Corona though some call it Slough Through the wreckage of many lives – I don’t know how My blood was boiling, a life beyond care Eyes bulging as I inhaled the fetid air
My pulse quickening as my shuffle became slow Passing tumbleweed creepers with nowhere to go Past doorway sleepers whose lives forsake pleasure Block no one no more, those doors closed forever A mangy dog howls and chases its tail Side-stepped by droogs and a postman with mail I stagger on through filthy, gritty drizzling rain Oblivious to rubbing shoes and the dull throbbing pain
MacDonald’s is empty with no one in line Beyond, the bright lights of Boots just in time My empty back pack I then stuff with loo roll Before cleaning out pain killers and a lonely Swiss roll
I adjust my mask and make for the tills Join a queue, keep my distance and popped a few pills Outside I look about, jealously guarding my haul Make my way to the bus stop passing through a mall Then leave the cold drizzle for lightness and warmth Lowered mask, ignoring stares, I embrace the storm Then look out of the window whilst clutching my wares At the hunched over shufflers weighed down by their cares Boarded up plots speak of urban decay A harrowing graveyard for those who fall by the way The window steams up and it all becomes vague As I wonder when I’ll succumb to the plague.