Come and join the conversation…

…in Blackwells Bookshop in Broad Street, Oxford, from 3.30 next Wednesday, 1 April.  It’s part of the ‘Fringe’ of the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival (and you can’t get a much more impressive title than that).

I’ll be talking with fellow-scribe Adrian Magson about crime writing . No charge, no tickets, no pressure – although from my point of view it looks like being an expensive day out. Not only am I incapable of leaving a shop like Blackwells without buying anything, but they also have Festival Marquee bookshop on Christ Church Meadow which it would be a shame to miss.

And… Oxford is also home to Oxbow Books, the archaeology/ history specialists, so it would make sense to pop in there too and save on postage…

Roman Day at Baldock…

…was a delight.  Lovely to see so many young families enthusiastic about history, helped by some inspiring re-enactors and a great team from the Museum service.

My own favourite discoveries of the day

1) Roman ‘must’ (grape juice) cake dolloped with honey

2) a pottery feeding-bottle for a baby (the ancient equivalent of our ‘training beaker’?)

3) a team of wooden pull-along toy horses based on one in the British Museum

4) Best of all – the discovery that it IS possible to put long hair up using only one of those big clunky Roman hair-pins, if you’re prepared to suffer  much twisting and pulling. (Many thanks here to  Cas, who knows about this sort of thing.)  The insecurity of the finished result also explains why so many lost hair-pins turn up on Roman excavations.

LATER – I’d delayed publishing this post to wait for a  photo of the lone Roman hair-pin in action.  (It’s very hard to photograph the back of your own head.) Sadly, now that we have a camera assistant, the hair refuses to co-operate. Please use your imagination.

Don’t ask me: I just work here

For anyone who’s read the second ‘Ruso’ book and fancies a little brain-stretching, there are some great discussion questions over at (Be warned, though – there are some potential plot spoilers in there so if you don’t want to know, don’t look.)

All of which raises an interesting point.

‘If you can prove it from the text,’ my English teacher used to say, ‘Then it’s the right answer. Even if I don’t agree with it.’

The truth is that my responses to those questions might differ from those of a reader. The reader would probably be ‘right’. Not because I can’t remember the novel (not quite that scatty – yet) but because what I remember isn’t necessarily the novel other people have read.

Every book so far has had whole scenes that never made it into print. Part of the brain, however, refuses to realise that it’s too late to change anything now. My response to ‘why do you think X does Y’ is likely to be, ‘well, it might be Z but of course he could have been thinking about A, B, or C.’

Indeed he might, but you’d be hard pushed to find that anywhere in the text. A, B and C either got cut out in an earlier draft or I’ve only just thought of them.

At last I’m beginning to understand why my brother, who’s an academic, says that if you want to know what a text ‘means’, asking the author isn’t necessarily much help.

(Re)built in a day?

Looking forward to joining in the Roman Day in Baldock on 14 March. It’s  part of the North Hertfordshire Book Festival . They’re keeping up a fine tradition, as it seems the Romano-British inhabitants of Baldock were a literary lot who enjoyed a trip to the theatre. As far as I’m aware the  theatre itself hasn’t been found, but fragments of a tragic actor’s mask dating back to Roman times have turned up.

This is a free event and there should be plenty of activities for all the family (and stray authors) to join in.  Writing is a bit of a static activity but I’m being stationed next to a demonstration of Roman cooking, so may be laying on my own demonstration of modern eating.