First, the bad news…

The live webchat about ‘Medicus’ which was to have taken place with the Roman History Reading Group on 2 July won’t be happening – at least, not live, since there’s a problem with the software. This is disappointing as the to-and-fro of a live chat is always fun. However… the good news from my point of view is that I won’t have to be awake at 2.30 am to do it.

This was worrying me somewhat, as I’m not at my best in the small hours, but unfortunately am not always aware of it. More than once I’ve woken in daylight to find that the brilliant idea scrawled down during a moment of nocturnal inspiration turns out to be a) almost illegible, and b) when deciphered, complete rubbish. On the other hand, at least the late hour would have provided a good excuse for any unintentional nonsense dispensed from the Downie residence. Hopefully there will be a ‘static’ Q&A for which I shall aim to be fully conscious and reasonably sensible.

In the meantime, the Roman History Books and More blog has links to all sorts of goodies including aspects of the factual background to the book (yes, there is some).

A Day on a Dig

Congratulations to Andrew and Karl, two of the winners of the Penguin/Waterstones/Tiscali competition to win a day at Whitehall Roman Villa. After a tour of the site and a peek at some of the best finds – some of which I’d never seen before either – they pitched in to join the diggers.

Barbara, Ruth, Andrew, Karl and a shovel

…and here they are with their first finds…

Karl & Andrew holding up finds

Andrew (right) unearthed a piece of box flue, which would have been part of the bath house heating system. Karl is holding a tessera – one of the cubes used to make a mosaic. Sadly they were only there for a day so there wasn’t time for them to help dig out the other 249,999 or so required to reconstruct the rest of the floor.

Commiserations to Kirsty and Daniel who should also have been there but were unable to make it on the day, and many thanks to Penguin, Waterstones and the good folk at the Villa who helped to make it all happen.

(More pics, including some of the squelchy conditions the regular diggers were having to put up with while we were enjoying our posh picnic, can be seen on the Whitehall blog.)

Any questions?

The best part of ‘author events’ (mine, that is) is when I stop talking and people have the chance to wake up and ask questions. I’m very grateful to the lovely people who came to Olney Library on Wednesday evening and who came up with some interesting challenges, one of which was, ‘What’s your theory about the end of Roman Britain?’ Frankly, I don’t know enough to have a theory. Somebody who does is Guy de la Bedoyere. This is a link to the article and the rest of his website is well worth exploring.

For some bizarre and frustrating reason, Google refused to reveal the whereabouts of Martin Weaver’s website on the night, so people weren’t able to see Dug’s brothers. (Dug, for the uninitiated, is a beginner’s attempt at forensic facial reconstruction who keeps me company at events, stares at the audience and looks worryingly glum.) There’s now a permanent link here in the column on the right.

Many thanks to Gill, Angela and the other library staff who made all the arrangements, and to everyone who came and made it such an enjoyable evening. Sadly none of them knew of a lady who used to live just down the road from the Library and was one of my English teachers at school. If anybody knows the whereabouts of Mrs. Whitehouse, or indeed Mrs. Muriel – please tell them that their efforts have finally paid off. But please don’t mention that this last sentence starts with a conjunction.

Mud, glorious mud

The Whitehall Villa excavation is up and running again – rather too literally. It always seems miraculous that water can emerge from the ground near the top of a hill, instead of further down the valley where those of us who know nothing about geology might expect it. Most of the team spent hours yesterday clearing drainage ditches and baling out trenches – some of them nobly clearing the same pools they’d emptied not only last week, but earlier the same day.

For the texture and smell of the mud, you’ll have to use your imagination. For some fine photos and the latest info on the dig and people who are doing all the hard work (as opposed to those of us who just drop in as a break from writing), visit Jeremy Cooper’s blog. The large straw hat seen in the second photo down (Day 1) has an escaped author hiding underneath it, attempting to sponge the last puddle out of a trench.

A small confession here… although it’s not great for the purposes of research into Roman Britain, playing around in mud and building dams and streams is enormous fun.

What sort of a writer are you…

… if you go to a great event that brings together well over 300 readers, writers and publishing folk who all share a love of crime fiction – and then you can’t think what to write about it on the blog? (That, incidentally, is a rhetorical question. If you feel inspired to answer it, please go and lie down quietly until the urge passes.)

Fortunately Crimefest was stuffed with people who know how to do things properly. Check out Crime Always Pays and the Bookwitch.

I do have an exclusive photo of Ian Rankin giving his acceptance speech for the Audible Sounds of Crime award (for James McPherson’s reading of ‘Exit Music’). It reveals that Ian’s speech was actually given by a blurred relative of Herman Munster whose eyes glowed red in the dark. Sadly it won’t be appearing here as I imagine he wants to keep this quiet and I can’t afford to be sued.

Meanwhile, in the unsuspecting world outside… I was going to call this section of the post ‘Down Among the Dead Men’ but probably only those compelled to singalong with the radio at Junior School will remember the song.

Bristol Cathedral Gardens

This is the garden/graveyard of Bristol Cathedral, almost next door to the Crimefest venue. Several inventors of fiendish crimes could be spotted here between sessions, relaxing and enjoying the produce of the cathedral teashop. Sitting down to picnic with the ancestors would have seemed perfectly reasonable to the Romans, although one assumes they’d have dined with their own relatives rather than somebody else’s.