An Archealogical site as an inspiration for the Bron Novels
For some time, the plough had been turning up Roman coins and pottery on this south-facing field between Beedon village and Stanmore, on top of the Berkshire downs north of Newbury. Local historian, Victor Pocock, organised a field walk and sufficient artefacts were picked up to warrant an exploratory dig.
To cut a long story short, Vic and his various teams worked on the site, with the permission of farmer John Gent, over a period of several decades. During that time, about a thousand bronze coins were found, as well as a couple of gold coins, a unique fish brooch (the sign of Christian activity), half a Medusa medallion, a dog skeleton, a ring and other jewellery, quern stones, loom weights, Samian ware (pottery of a high standard) as well as clay pottery that included several very large bowls that were broken but pieced together again, 70 tons of burnt flints, over 50 baby skeletons.
As there were not sufficient post holes to indicate a village, it is now thought that the site was a market place or a religious site (hence the gold coins) with people just passing through, perhaps on their way to the Ridgeway, a couple of miles to the north.
The site has now been closed and turned back to farmland. Modern thinking is that whatever is in the ground should be left there for future generations to find with their search equipment, without having to dig the ground.
At present, the finds and other interesting information gleaned from the site are being catalogued and the most interesting artefacts will be donated to Newbury Museum. The burnt flints have been reburied.
We do not know why the site was eventually abandoned and the village rebuilt half a mile away down the valley. It may be that the water source dried up, or there was plague. I have set the village on fire but there was no sign of fire in reality.
The parish church in Beedon is dated 1220 and there are Roman tiles embedded in the flint walls, so the people took the sensible course and raided the old for the new.
In Roman times, babies were of little value and were found buried all over the site in pits, post holes and trenches. They had been premature, still born and new born.
I was scraping out the side of a pit one day when I found what I thought was the pin at the back of a brooch. I called Vic over to show him and he said, “That’s not part of a brooch, it’s a baby’s rib bone”. I continued to scrape and uncovered the rest of the skeleton.
Only one adult skeleton has been found on the site, lying in a crouched position in a shallow grave, with no sign of foul play. We don’t know where they buried their adult dead or whether they left them out on stretchers for the birds to pick clean. Perhaps a graveyard has yet to be found.
These were used to heat water. Large flints (natural to the site) were placed in the fire then dropped into water to heat it.
During a coach ride south after an Alaskan cruise, the driver informed us that we were passing through land that belonged to the Stoney Indians. He said, “They were called Stoney Indians because they used to put stones into the fire then drop them into water to heat it.” Of course, I told him that we were using the same method in Britain thousands of years ago. I was telling this story to a visitor to my bookstall and she said, "My mother used to do that when the electricity was cut off during the war."
THE FISH BROOCH
A bronze fish brooch was found in the plough layer. The outline of the green fish stands proud of its red background. It is similar to another found in Kent, and four or five others of differing designs have been discovered in the south of England.
The fish was adopted as a Christian emblem.
THE MEDUSA MEDALLION
Part of a bronze Medusa’s head in a circular frame was found with a metal detector. The head showed an elongated eye and deeply grooved hair, probably depicting writhing snakes. It was broken but could have been part of a harness decoration.
And how my ideas developed...
At the time I was living half a mile from the site. I was driving home one evening in the wind and rain and, on passing the site, wondered what it was like to be living there in Roman times without central heating and double glazing. I decided that the best way to find out would be to write about it. The first few chapters took a long time because of all the research I had to do – what did they wear? What jewellery? What were their beliefs? What did they eat? What did they do all day? What were their houses like and what sort of furniture? And so on. However, I soon got into the swing of their life style and it became second nature.
Research is much easier these days with the help of Google, which takes away the necessity of visiting libraries and bookshops.
Research can be a great distraction (such a lot of interesting information that has nothing to do with what I am looking for! How about all those advertisements in old newspapers?!) so I soon learned to conduct research as I write, because I don't know what exact information I need until then.
For Part II, this included spending an afternoon in a blacksmith's forge, where I helped to make an ornamental log poker, of which I am very proud! The shaft should have had many more twists in it than it has because the blacksmith and I were chatting so much that the iron got too cold to work!
He told me that in former days, the young ladies of the village who wished to get pregnant would go to the smithy and drink from the quenching tank (where forged items were plunged in to cool them down), and this often did the trick. This could have been because the water contained iron and, if the would-be mother was anaemic, it could cure her condition – at least, that was the blacksmith’s story and who was to say otherwise?!
Having completed the BRON series, I felt quite bereft and so started FLASH BLACK, a stand-alone novel. I was captivated by a little village in Oxfordshire, where I happened to attend a meeting, but moved it to Dorset, which revels in dozens of quirkily-named places, and created Purton Tendril. I rely heavily on my satnav, whom I have christened Sabrina. She appears as one of the characters in the story and leads Sarah astray – five centuries astray, in fact.
After Flash Black
I am fascinated by these new village complexes that are springing up in southern counties offering, if you believe the brochures, ‘a great new way of living’ to the discerning purchasers of their luxury homes. They declare that residents will live among like-minded neighbours and will want for nothing, enjoying all the facilities of restaurant, café, leisure complex, shop, handybus, ground maintenance, etc. etc. etc. I thought, Life is never as perfect as that. There must be hidden flaws, and Hunterswick Green came to life!
My latest novel
I immodestly believe that all my books would make good TV series. I don’t write ‘stream of consciousness’ novels but pack them with plenty of dialogue and action, which comes naturally to me. So, jumping on the band wagon and following behind Dame Hilary Mantel, Philippa Gregory and Jane Feather (though never comparing myself with these great writers), I thought that the reign of Henry VIII was a fertile field – and who knows?
And so Lady Marian came to court.
As I did not receive an offer of publication from a mainstream publisher for Part I of Bron, though some positive comments accompanied rejection letters, I decided to self publish. At my age, I could not afford to wait around. In earlier days, it was considered good practice to send an MS out to one agent or publisher at a time, and some of them took seven months to reply, if they replied at all. Nowadays, with the email facility, it is acceptable to send to several agents at a time, as long as you let them know that is what you are doing. I have continued to self publish, pleased that readers are enjoying my novels and keep asking for more.
First, though, I have paid to have all my manuscripts critiqued by various editors. It is always advisable to have another, objective, pair of eyes look over your work before publication.
Always remember, the work is yours and you can do with it what you like. You can take notice of criticism or ignore it all together.
I remember receiving seven A4 pages of criticism from one editor. I hid it in a drawer then went back to it, more calmly, a day or so later. A writer has to realise that this is only one person’s view. I soon discovered that there are three ways of dealing with criticism: 1. Yes, I had a gut feeling about this and have to agree with her and will alter it. 2. I’m not sure about this point and will think about it and alter it if I come to the conclusion that she is right. 3. She has not understood this at all and is quite wrong so I will stick to my guns.
Regretfully, the publishers of my five Bron books, Pen Press, went out of business and the novels were taken over by Author Essentials, who published Flash Black. I did not realise that this was a one-woman set-up and, when she sadly died a few months later, her company also ceased business.
Consequently, Amazon have some of the books listed as "unavailable". However, I have a stock of them at home and can supply any reader, charging the cost of the book plus £2. postage. Just get in touch – my details are available through the 'Contact Me' banner.
As I paid for help to publish Hunterswick Green through CreateSpace (if you are cleverer than me, you can do this yourself at very little cost), this is readily available by print or Kindle from Amazon.
All the kindle versions eventually found their way to New Generation Publishing, but they do not have the printed formats, except for Flash Black. When I have exhausted my stocks at home, I will probably reprint through them.
New Generation Publishing have published my latest novel, My Lady Marian, at a sixth of the cost I paid my first publishers.