Fire in the East

Great to see Harry Sidebottom’s first ‘Warrior of Rome’ book up in the bestsellers lists. All the people who got hold of signed first editions last summer at Heffers should be rubbing their hands with glee…

Cover of Warrior of Rome

For those who don’t know, ‘Fire in the East’ is a military adventure featuring Ballista, a Roman officer who’s risen through the ranks of ‘expendable barbarians’. He’s  sent to the Eastern fringes of the Empire on a risky mission which is both ill-conceived and under-resourced in every area – except one. Unknown to him, Rome has sent him an abundant supply of spies and informers.

There’s a strong whiff of authenticity about this novel, which is hardly surprising since the author is a ‘real’ specialist in ancient warfare based in Oxford. (I was about to retype that sentence to make it clear that it’s the specialism that’s based in Oxford, not the warfare, but in the light of the recent hoo-hah about the Poetry chair, I’ve decided to let it stand.)

Modesty should forbid me to mention that Harry Sidebottom also has very fine tastes in fiction, but modesty is not a quality much prized in publishers’ marketing departments, so his views on Ruso can be found here under ‘Book 2’.

The Wisdom of Mr Brett

Simon Brett began his speech at the Crimefest Gala Dinner with a line that ran something like, ‘It’s very exciting for a writer to be in a room with more than one person in it.’

How true. Having spent the weekend in a perpetual state of excitement, I now feel the need to lie down quietly in a darkened room for a considerable length of time.

Crimefest was entertaining, educational, and overwhelming. I have a strong suspicion that by the end I was talking complete rubbish, so apologies to anyone who thinks the same thing.  With luck I’ll recover the power of coherent speech  in time for the Historical Mystery Writers panel at the Steyning Festival on 28 May.


It’s nearly here! Just thought I’d mention it.

I’m on a ‘Mystery in History’ panel with Cassandra Clark (Medieval mysteries), Jane Finnis (Roman Britain),  and Roger Hudson (Ancient Greek) at 3 o’clock on Thursday afternoon. Edward Marston has been given the challenge of pulling it all together.

Having done my part early, I’m hoping to relax, sit back and enjoy all the other splendid events on offer. Here’s the rest of the Crimefest programme.

If only they were all like this…

As one who knows nothing about architecture it’s not often I’m impressed by it – but I’ve been pondering what makes Winchester’s new library so fabulous, and that’s it.


Outside, it’s a fine old building:

Once a Corn Exchange, a market, a roller rink, a cinema... now Winchester Discovery Centre
Once a Corn Exchange, a market, a roller-skating rink, a cinema... now Winchester Discovery Centre

Inside, you’re drawn into an atrium with natural light above, and bookcases radiating away from you like spokes of a wheel. The ends of the cases are labelled in huge lettering so you know immediately where you are, and that if you go up the staircase opposite you’ll find the non-fiction ranged around you on the circular gallery.

All very imposing, but in amongst the grand design are plenty of hidey-holes to sit and browse, work tables with plug sockets underneath (joy for those of us whose laptop batteries are useless), wi-fi, and even a sofa. Decent loos (more joy!) and heaps of ‘spaces’ where other things happen. For once the consumption of coffee has been embraced as the central ritual it is, and instead of being relegated to a corner, the coffee bar faces the Library enquiry desk in an airy extension with a terrace outside.

I know most places don’t have the space or the cash to do this sort of thing, but when you see it done well, it’s truly inspiring. And yes, in case you were wondering, they do still have plenty of books.