May has seen a swift change of hats from thriller writer to archaeologist and traveller. And then back again. Quite literally, as my trusty leather packer hat is an essential piece of kit for two weeks in the sun. It folds into a suitcase and is tough enough to be thrown onto the dusty ground of the dig site many times a day. It will also hold off the rain when the weather turns.
First came Crimefest in Bristol, which has already been extensively reviewed in other blogs – there’s a thorough one in the latest Mystery People e-zine. Needless to say it was another hectic weekend of meeting friends and juggling between a choice of panels.
I flew straight from Bristol to Alderney to join this year’s excavation on Longis Common. I say ‘straight’ but ten hours delays due to weather and an unscheduled night in a hotel made for a trying experience. However I did manage to write 2,500 words of Blackshirt Rebellion whilst sitting in terminals amid a horde of other frustrated travellers. The late evening attempt to land in Alderney through a gap in the cloud, followed by an immediate return to Guernsey was a low point.
Archaeology often comes up with surprises and the site in the field behind the building known as Coastguards did not disappoint. To be honest it did disappoint in the sense that I expected to be planning Roman buildings before we ventured deeper to explore an Iron Age burial ground. In fact we missed the Roman settlement by perhaps 20 metres and instead hit their rubbish dumps. Deep under the sand we then came across what appears to be a Bronze Age monument. Buried to one side of it was this chap.
After spending much of my two weeks in Alderney recording over 1000 pieces of pottery and 2000 bones from the rubbish dump, it was back to the UK via a flying stop in Guernsey. All went totally smoothly this time, and I somehow managed to dodge the rail strikes too.
Spending nearly three weeks away from home demands an awful lot of laundry on return, and my garden was turning into a wildlife reserve. The hat was tossed aside as thriller writing returned to the fore. Blackshirt Conspiracy is bubbling under, and awaiting the cover reveal. Meanwhile I’m 45,000 words into Blackshirt Rebellion and aim to have a complete draft before I depart for Shetland in two weeks time. The focus of that trip will be Shetland Noir, behind which my friend Marsali Taylor is a leading force.
I’ll be appearing on the Old Bones panel on Sunday 18 June together with Lin Anderson, B K Bryce and Shetland archaeologist Dr Val Turner. This is particularly exciting as this is the first time I’ve been invited onto a panel at a convention devoted to crime writing in my 30 years as a published novelist. Given the theme of the panel, my focus will be on the Jeffrey Flint novels and what I may do with them in the future, rather than the current Blackshirt series.
Away from the murder and the mystery there will be some exciting archaeology to explore and stunning scenery to experience. So yes, the hat is already in my suitcase.