Kept Alive by my Irritability

I recently awoke on a warm summer morning with an idea buzzing in my head. Call it the curse, or gift, of a writer. I reached for my phone and began tapping an email to self on re-connecting with the music of Manchester band, Magazine. I’d recently bought the re-mastered CD of a long-lost album from my youth, The Correct Use of Soap. Once I’d got my initial thoughts down, I performed my morning ablutions and a bit later roughed it up into this expanded article on early musical memories. We were once the young men Ian Curtis’s sang about, and I was a youth in Liverpool in the late 70s and early 80s.


How did the Greater Manchester area (yes, I know Salford is a city, Macclesfield and Stockport towns, each with their own identities) spawn so many soulful lyricists, backed up by searing post-industrial-wasteland self-taught rock musicians? We’d all grown up with 60s and 70s rock, pop and soul music ringing in our ears, but somehow the raw energy of Rock, the ragged anarchy of Punk Rock, seemed more appropriate to the task of observing, describing and reflecting life in a grim urban landscape. I’m talking about the front men of Magazine, Joy Division and the Smiths – Devoto, Curtis and Morrissey. I saw them all in concerts where I connected with their music, reflected on the power of youth to challenge, the sour lot of the working class, how to build hope out of urban decay, and how to be alone in a crowd. Add to this the notion that emerging young adults see the world around them with a clarity and purity of thought as yet unpolluted by the capitalist dogma that has created the consumer bubble in which we are trapped. I think my nostalgia for the punk and new wave bands of my youth is a recognition that the ideas conveyed through music helped with my orientation and gave me a sense of identity and location. I’m talking about roots. We all come from somewhere and home for me was Liverpool, where I had the freedom to meet up with my mates, jump on a bus and go into town to see bands at Erics Club, and others that followed, like the State, where I saw Howard Devoto and his band just after he left Magazine. He still performed some of the old classics – Shot by both sides, Philadelphia and Song from under the floorboards. A man made old and wise before his time by his sharp wit and trademark receding hairline. It’s his introspective, almost paranoid lyrics that I’ve recently rediscovered:
I am angry I am ill and I’m as ugly as sin, my irritability keeps me alive and kicking. The opening lines to A Song from Under the Floorboards – a track on Magazine’s third album, The Correct Use of Soap. I’m putting it on my funeral playlist, along with Decades by Joy Division (see below). Don’t be alarmed – I’m not ready to check out just yet.


This was in the early 80s and I was already a veteran of over 50 gigs. In my early 20s, perhaps a year or two younger than my onstage heroes, I also had a swagger and surety that I knew something, that the World and all its riches were waiting to be discovered. Armed with notebook and biro, I scribbled impressions to later be forged into pithy gig reviews for my music column in a local community news magazine. I interviewed the Stranglers at Brady’s in 1980 and chatted with Andy McClusky at a Psychedelic Furs gig.
By pure chance (or fate?) I had been the wide-eyed junior reporter in BBC Radio Merseyside’s studio on the morning of Tuesday 9th December 1980 when the breaking story that cleared the decks was the news that John Lennon had been shot in New York. I heard the news that day, oh boy. Janice Long, later Radio 1 and TOTP presenter, then Studio Assistant, was detailed to look after me. Yeah, I’ve had a mug of tea made for me by Cheggers’ sister. A truly surreal morning. Alan Jackson and Roger Phillips were true pros, conductors at the heart of a city waking up to shocking news, pulling together a reverential and sentimental wave of music and sound bites, a collage that portrayed an outpouring of grief over the fate of Liverpool’s best loved son (sorry Paul). I wince every time I hear Imagine – it was played to death that week. I’ve got a good face for memories.
The Beatles’ rock n roll legacy were the northern new wave bands I now spent my meagre wages going to see and buying their records. Echo and the Bunnymen were new on the block, my new favourite band in the fickle world of pop music, and I adopted their look with dark crombie overcoat, drainpipe black jeans and baseball boots. In those days my wild frizzy red mop of hair grew out in an unkempt afro. No gel required.


But back to my gig memories. In 1978 I made a good choice to go and see the north’s answer to the Pistols – the Buzzcocks. I’d bought their Spiral Scratch EP (with ‘Boredom’ on it – scan pictured) co-written by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, in his pre-Magazine days. Devoto had left the band by the time of the Buzzcock’s ’78 UK tour. The speed of delivery and energy were there, but the Buzzcocks had better-formed songs than the Pistols. I’d heard their support band, Joy Division, on the late night John Peel radio show, and was intrigued. But I was simply blown away. Joy Division’s set was mesmerising, and once I’d seen Ian Curtis’s manic butterfly dance to She’s lost Control, I was hooked. It was a performance that can only be compared to footage of Jim Morrison fronting the Doors, although this was no imitation. Like Morrison, he was a driven poet with a vision to share. Curtis was locked in his own world of pain, but his thoughtful, introspective lyrics painted graphic visual images of suffering, set against a bleak landscape, but tinted with hope, defiance and resilience. In reality, he was suffering with a debilitating condition – epilepsy, treated with mood-altering medication. Add to this a self-destructive ménage à trois that he couldn’t resolve, he reached overload and took his own life on the eve of what was to be the band’s first US tour in 1980. A poet and philosopher, his legacy survives in a huge global following for Joy Division’s slim body of work forty years on. I saw them three times, the third one of their last gigs in April 1980 at the Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Dead souls, Atrocity Exhibition, Decades and LWTUA stood out. I don’t mind admitting my eyes welled up with tears when I read Paul Morley’s obituary of Ian Curtis in the NME.
But let’s get back to the lyrics of these three great Northern poets/lyricists that are still inspiring new generations of young people. To hear today’s students singing along to Morrisey’s lyrics at a Smiths tribute band gig in 2020 was a pleasant surprise. So, now to some favourite lyrics and links to YouTube:

Philadelphia by Magazine (extract):
Buddha’s in the fireplace
The truth’s in drugs from outer space
Maybe it’s right to be nervous now
Everything’d be just fine
If I had the right pastime
I’d’ve been Raskolnikov
But Mother Nature ripped me off
In Philadelphia
I’m sure that I felt healthier
Maybe it’s right to be nervous now…

Where have I seen you before?
‘Same place you saw me, I expect
I’ve got a good face for memories’
In Philadelphia
I’m sure that I felt healthier
Maybe it’s right to be nervous now…
Lyrics: Howard Devoto – great guitar riffs from John McGeogh
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dBLEA2o3Gc

Decades by Joy Division (extract)
Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders
Here are the young men, well where have they been?
We knocked on the doors of Hell’s darker chamber
Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in
Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying
We saw ourselves now as we never had seen
Portrayal of the trauma and degeneration
The sorrows we suffered and never were free
Where have they been?

Weary inside, now our heart’s lost forever
Can’t replace the fear, or the thrill of the chase
Each ritual showed up the door for our wanderings
Open then shut, then slammed in our face
Where have they been?
Lyrics by Ian Curtis – an eerie foretelling of his fate? The track has a funereal feel and a timeless, compelling beauty…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n272UVfsciM

What difference does it make? By The Smiths.
All men have secrets and here is mine
So let it be known
For we have been through hell and high tide
I can surely rely on you
And yet you start to recoil
Heavy words are so lightly thrown
But still I’d leap in front of a flying bullet for you

So, what difference does it make?
So, what difference does it make?
It makes none
But now you have gone
And you must be looking very old tonight

The devil will find work for idle hands to do
I stole and I lied, and why?
Because you asked me to!
But now you make me feel so ashamed
Because I’ve only got two hands
But I’m still fond of you, oh-ho-oh

But no more apologies
No more, no more apologies
Oh, I’m too tired
I’m so sick and tired
And I’m feeling very sick and ill today
But I’m still fond of you,
Oh, my sacred one…
Lyrics by Morrissey
Impossible to pick a definitive example of Morrissey’s lyrics, given his wide body of work, but I’ve gone for an early hit and personal favourite, What difference does it make? I stood three feet from Johnny Marr as he played the jingly-jangly riff to this immortal classic when they supported the Sisters of Mercy at an impromptu University of London SU gig in 1983. My mate was from Manchester and had already ‘discovered’ the Smiths in early ’83, and we were familiar with their early singles Hand in Glove, its brilliant b-side Still Ill, and This Charming Man. I remember them slowing the tempo with Reel Around the Fountain – still a favourite from the first album. It’s time that the tale was told.

One of many great nights seeing raw emerging talent on tiny stages, belting out future hits. Snapshots in time, but music destined to be not only for their contemporary generation but future ones as well. Thank you Devoto, Curtis and Morrissey for sharing your thoughts and feelings with us through such inspiring and memorable songs.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbOx8TyvUmI

These songs, these lyrics, these memories have formed the soundtrack to my life. I followed my own muse and became the editor of the student magazine at the Polytechnic of Wales (now University of Glamorgan) in South Wales in the early 80s, reporting on such gigs as New Order, the band re-born from the ashes of Joy Division, in January 1983, when they first played Blue Monday to an audience at Cardiff Uni JSU. Musical taste evolves and I carried my love of now, happening live music forward with me on my journey through life, but occasionally pausing to listen to early loves and influences from the great days of my youth.
Viva music, viva la vida.

Checkout my books here: https://timwalkerwrites.co.uk

H.G Wells – the Father of Science Fiction

To celebrate the life and work of one of Britain’s greatest novelists, H.G. Wells, the Royal Mint has issued a new £2 coin.

Herbert George Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, and lived from 1866 – 1946. He is best known for his science fiction novels, The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man and The Time Machine. These three books are encapsulated in the design of the new coin.
These novels gripped the imagination of the Victorian public and were adapted for successful Hollywood movies and TV series’.

His fictionalised worlds created a sense of horror by preying on people’s fears of the unknown, leading him to be called ‘the father of science fiction’. During Orson Welles’ 1938 live radio adaptation of War of the Worlds, many listeners thought it was really happening, flooding the radio station and the police with calls.

His legacy is over 50 novels and 100 short stories – my favourite short story being The Valley of the Blind. Ever heard the saying, ‘in the valley of the blind, the one-eyed man is king’? Thank H.G. Wells for it.

#BookReview – Guardians at the Wall

Guardians at the Wall is the new dual timeline historical novel from Tim Walker, published in June 2021. I’m sharing this thoughtful review by multi-genre author Colin Garrow…

At Hadrian’s Wall, a group of archaeology students explore the area close to the ancient ruins, searching for buried artefacts left by the Romans while guarding the barrier separating Roman Britain from the Caledonian tribes. Twenty-year-old Noah is delighted to discover a figurine, and hopes it’ll put him in good stead with the enigmatic Professor Wilde as he researches material for his dissertation. Meanwhile, in the year 180 CE, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, strives to keep his men safe while negotiating more cordial relationships with marauding tribesmen.

The story segues between the modern-day dig and the Roman occupation, charting the progress of the heroes on each side. Surprisingly, the Roman narrative had a more realistic feel to it than the modern-day one, but that’s not to take anything away from the author’s skill in twisting the two stories together. 

As always with this author’s work, the research is impeccable, giving a level of detail that, especially in the Roman era, brings it to life vividly and realistically without getting in the way of the story. 

For me, the most interesting parts were those of the centurion as he deals with his men, his family and the constant threat of battle. However, the way Tim Walker entwines the stories of Noah and Gaius Atticianus is well done and creates an interesting interchange between the historical facts and the archaeologists searching for the truth behind the treasure they unearth.

A fascinating and realistic book that mixes fiction with an evocative picture of Roman life in Britain.

Buy from Amazon in Kindle, paperback or read on Kindle Unlimited: http://mybook.to/guardiansatthewall

Guardians at the Wall Character Profiles

In June 2021, author Tim Walker published his latest novel – a dual timeline historical novel, Guardians at the Wall. The novel consists of two parallel stories, of equal weight, each with a main character or protagonist. They are both men, based at the same location (Vindolanda at Hadrian’s Wall), but that is all they have in common. Each story is set in different periods, one contemporary, the other almost two thousand years earlier in Roman Britain.

Guardians at the Wall is a dual timeline historical novel

Modern day character profile

Name: Noah Jessop

Age: 20 years (story duration – 9 months)

Height: slightly above average, 5’ 9”

Hair: ash blond collar-length often uncombed.

Face: narrow, unblemished, clean-shaved or 2-3 days blond stubble

Eyes: Blue

Build: Slim, not athletic.

Clothes: Light blue slim fit jeans, an oversized crew neck grey jumper, standard black Adidas trainers.

Personality: he is reserved until familiar with people and surroundings, then quite self-assured. He is thoughtful and studious, enjoying his classical and archaeology studies. His boyish good looks and shy first impression attract women who want to mother him.

Appearance: Has been described as handsome, with Robert Redford-ish looks and a warm and welcoming smile. He knows he’s good looking and has no problem finding girlfriends and is comfortable in the company of women.

Hobbies/interests: Enjoys watching action movies, console war gaming with his mates, pub nights out, maybe the occasional kick about…

Family/issues/development: Middle class family in a northern (Durham) county town His mother died when he was very young and he misses her close attention. He did not easily accept his stepmother when his father remarried. This has caused abandonment issues and may explain his predilection for an older woman. He’s developed a lot since being at Uni. He was previously very sheltered and introverted but has since come out of his shell. The relationship with his ex-girlfriend was positive while it lasted, but they met when they were both young and emotionally immature. Essentially, they were still ‘children’ and during their time at Uni they grew in different directions (hence the fizzling out). He is motivated to get a good degree in archaeology as a means to forging a career as an archaeologist or archivist.

Roman character profile

Name: Gaius Vitellius Atticianus

Age: 41 – 45 (story duration – 4 years)

Height: Short, 5’

Hair: Dark brown, coarse and wavy, cut to collar length.

Face: round and weathered, dry and lined skin, clean shaven

Eyes: Dark brown

Build: Stocky and muscular.

Clothes: Roman military uniform from second century. Allowed woollen leggings in winter and foot enclosed in leather ankle boots. Woollen socks and undershirt, chainmail vest, leather belt and leather skirt strips, shoulder armour, red plumed centurion’s helmet, sword scabbard hung from a cross-shoulder strap. Red woollen cloak clipped to shoulder guards. Forearm and shin metal armour held with leather straps.

Personality: Gaius was raised on a farm in Asturia (Galicia, N.W. Spain) and has simple, family-centric, provincial values. His wife is from a Briton tribe. He is honest and trustworthy, intelligent and literate. He was promoted through the ranks to optio and centurion on merit, is courageous, loyal and respected by his men. He enjoys a drink of ale or wine when off duty, but has no relish for the brothel or gambling. He loves his wife, Aria, is faithful, and looks forward to getting home to her and their young son, Brutus, when off duty.

Issues/worries: Gaius has a young family but he is in his early 40’s, and hopes to live to see his retirement at the age of 45. He is courageous and leads from the front in battle, but becomes wary and more cautious as he nears retirement age. He is not afraid for himself, but dreams of a small farmstead on a retired soldier’s colony where he can settle his wife and son. This is his dream and his motivation.

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Guardians at the Wall

Guardians at the Wall has now been proof-read, beta-read and copyedited, and will be finalised in early May ahead of a planned 1st June launch. It might be released earlier if ready – I’m looking at Friday 28th May as a possible early release date.
I’m in the process of arranging book blog appearances in June. I’ve decided to not go wide and just put it out as an Amazon exclusive in Kindle e-book, paperback and Kindle Unlimited.

Every independent author needs favourable reviews to entice casual browsers to make a purchase decision, so if you are defined interested in reading and reviewing it on Amazon (and/or Goodreads) please email me to request a pdf (for ipad); epub (for Kobo reader) or mobi file (for Kindle) so you can get started.

Guardians at the Wall blurb:
A group of archaeology students in northern England scrape at the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes.

Twenty-year-old Noah makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He is living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding ancient riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.

In the same place, 1,800 years earlier, Commander of the Watch, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen.
These are the protagonists whose lives brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one trying to get himself noticed and the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.
How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology dirt rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by his gaming mates and the attentions of two very different women, work out who to trust?
Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.

May Day Book Blog

This is UK author Tim Walker’s monthly newsletter. It can include any of the following: author news, book launches, guest author profiles, book reviews, flash fiction and poetry.
Are you an author or a poet? If so, then please contact me for a guest author or poet’s corner slot in a future newsletter: timwalker1666@gmail.com

SOCIAL MEDIA
F O L L O W on F A C E B O O K
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F O L L O W on I N S T A G R A M

AUTHOR NEWS
In my own news, my new dual timeline historical novel, Guardians at the Wall, has been proof-read, beta-read and copyedited, and will be finalised in early May ahead of a planned 1st June launch. I intend to put the e-book on Amazon Kindle for pre-ordering from 14th May, when the official cover reveal promotion will commence. The paperback and Kindle e-book will be ‘live’ on Amazon from 1st June, although it may be available on Kindle Unlimited before the end of May.
Every independent author needs favourable reviews to entice casual browsers to make a purchase decision. So, should you pre-order the e-book (at the discounted price) from Amazon and wish to start reading right away, please email me to request a pdf (for ipad); epub (for Kobo reader) or mobi file (for Kindle) so you can get started.

Guardians at the Wall blurb:
A group of archaeology students in northern England scrape at the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes.

Twenty-year-old Noah makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He is living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding ancient riddle, and an artefact theft, as he comes to realise his future career prospects depend on it.

In the same place, 1,800 years earlier, Commander of the Watch, Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen.
These are the protagonists whose lives brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one trying to get himself noticed and the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.
How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology dirt rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by his gaming mates and the attentions of two very different women, work out who to trust?
Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.

This month’s guest author is S.J. Martin.  

I have had an abiding love of history from an early age. This interest not only influenced my academic choices at university but also my life choices and careers.

I spent several years with my trowel in the world of archaeology before finding my forte as a storyteller in the guise of a history teacher. I wanted to encourage young people to find that same interest in history that had enlivened my life.

I always wanted to write historical fiction. The opportunity came when I left education; I then gleefully re-entered the world of engaging and fascinating historical research into the background of some of my favourite historical periods. There are so many stories still waiting to be told, and my first series of books on ‘The Breton Horse Warriors’ proved to be one of them.

The Breton Lords, such as my fictional Luc De Malvais, played a significant role in the Battle of Hastings and helped to give William the Conqueror a decisive win. They were one of the most exciting troops of cavalry and swordmasters in Western Europe.
I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them.
Author website

Book Blurb:
It is 1071, in an England now harshly ruled and occupied by the Normans. Peace is a distant memory for the Saxon people as rebellions and retribution ravage the land and decimate the population.
Luc De Malvais is the leader of the famed Breton Horse Warriors, a legend in battle, a feared and ruthless swordsman who has spent months quelling the rebellions in Northumberland.

He suddenly finds himself in the eye of the storm in northern England when Alain Rufus orders him to manage and control a large rebel area around Ravensworth. However, it is not long before he is experiencing the full violence of the maelstrom that breaks around his head.

He faces the most dangerous challenges of his life when he finds unexpected forbidden love with a beautiful rebel but encounters a savage and merciless enemy. This brutal Saxon leader intends to take revenge against these invaders. Full of hatred and rage, he resolves not only to drive out the Normans and destroy Malvais, but he wants to make the Horse Warrior suffer before taking both his life and the woman he loves.

Tim Walker’s review of Ravensworth:
A northern village awaits the arrival of the feared Norman conquerors five years on from Hastings. The scene is set for this thrilling tale of love, hate and reconciliation in Ravensworth and the surrounding countryside. The author’s background as an historian shows through in the believable evocation of early Norman England, with their customs and laws being imposed on their new subjects. New Lord of the Manor, Breton Luc de Malvais, falls for the charms of a local beauty, but this leads to many complications that test them both to their limits. A well-researched and written novel that promises much for the unfolding series. Highly recommended.
Amazon book link

This month sees the return of Rick Warren aka Lyrick.

My name is Rick Warren and I enjoy writing stories and poems, mainly for my own enjoyment and as a way of trying to make sense of the world. 

Having stopped work in 2019 to attempt a thriller, (way harder than I imagined), I’m now writing and compiling poems and stories, hopefully putting out a book by the end of the year, to follow on from my first collection of poems “The Path to Redemption” which I self-published on Amazon under my pen name Lyrick.

I have always enjoyed the brevity and concise nature of poems, with their ability to distil sometimes complex thoughts and issues into a succinct and manageable format. Sometimes funny, sometimes not, the process of using fewer words to say more is challenging and one I really enjoy. 
You can see some of my work on my website 
Order your copy of Path to Redemption

Searching the Attic

I wish I’d taken more time to remember the little things, 
Youthful adventures lost, memories unmade sting, 
Small paper cuts of loss,
Disruptions of time and space,
Meaningful moments disappeared, only to reappear, replaced,
With static,
Buried beneath clutter,
In the attic,
Of my mind,

Forgotten phrases, unkind rhymes,
‘neath waves both dark and deep, 
Shipwrecked cargoes of unbound dreams, 
Lay hidden and asleep, 
Undisturbed on mapless shores, 
Beyond a compass’ perceptions reach
We are in no sense, innocent,
As we lay upon this beach

Treasure beyond comprehension… are we brave enough to fight?
To search our past for reasons as to why we hid the light
That once illuminated reason, to why we feel so lost,
Choices, once taken freely, come with a fearful cost,
Have we courage enough to search through our emotional detritus,
What awaits the foolish soul, what demons hide inside us,
Are we willing to awaken, the guardians of memory,
That deny and protect us from our sanity/insanity?
Forge swords of inquisition to fight and learn the truth
Prepare ourselves for battle with the shadows of our youth

Do we really want to remember everything?
Are we prepared for the consequences of all we have done and have ever been?
Sometimes things are hidden for a reason…
Where do we look for answers when questions are all we see?
Past life dreams becoming realities illusion
Caught between cliffs of clarity and confusion  
Between sky and sea, between ice and fire,
Who can escape what they truly desire?

Lyrick 2021

Guardians at the Wall


My new book, Guardians at the Wall, is due out on 1st June. It’s a dual timeline historical novel, set at Hadrian’s Wall. The main protagonist is Noah Jessop, a student undergraduate on a dig, who digs up a carved stone goddess. His professor, Maggie Wilde, identifies it as Brigantia, the protector of the local tribe, the Brigantes. This is the first of a few objects that connect the contemporary story to the historical account of Centurion Gaius Atticianus, in second century Britannia, that runs parallel through the novel.

I’ll share some of Professor Maggie Wilde’s research into the goddess Brigantia with you. The name of the tribe, ‘Brigante’ means ‘the high ones’, suggesting they were a dominant tribe over lesser neighbours, and Brigantia fulfils the function of being the high goddess over all others, the great protector of her people. The Romans recognised this and were keen to co-opt her into their belief system, twinning her with various deities including Minerva, Fortuna and Caelestis, the latter a North African moon goddess who was also co-opted by the Romans, from whom we get the word ‘celestial’.

Whilst the archaeologists are looking for meaning in their finds, Gaius is gifted the goddess statuette and presents it to his wife, Aria. Her reaction surprises him, as she is from a southern tribe and regards the Brigantes and their deities as foreign. She reminds her husband that their household is watched over by the water goddess of her people, Sulis, twinned with Minerva, and she won’t countenance having a rival deity in the house. Incidentally, the Roman name for the city of Bath was Aquae Sulis – ‘the waters of Sulis’.

This was too much for Gaius, who stalked off for a warming bath after a hard day in the saddle splitting enemy skulls. Aria picked her moment, one night, to return the offending goddess to her people.

The picture shows a stone altar carving of the goddess Brigantia, here twinned with the Roman goddess, Caelestis, that can be found in the Museum of Scotland.
(picture source: pinterest board)

Hadrian’s Wall Mystery Novel

RESEARCHING MY NEXT BOOK

I have recently completed the first draft of my next novel – Guardians at the Wall. This is dual timeline historical novel set at Hadrian’s Wall. It was inspired by a visit to a number of Roman sites and museums close to Hadrian’s Wall in September 2020. This is very much my Winter 20/21 novel, and it has helped keep me sane through this trying Covid-19 lockdown.
I have set the launch date for 1st June, and intend to reveal the cover in my 1st April newsletter. The book blurb is a work in progress, but this is the current version:

A group of archaeology students in northern England scrape at the soil near Hadrian’s Wall, once a barrier that divided Roman Britannia from wild Caledonian tribes.
Twenty-year-old Noah makes an intriguing find, but hasn’t anticipated becoming the object of desire in a developing love triangle in the isolated academic community at Vindolanda. He is living his best life, but must learn to prioritise in a race against time to solve an astounding 2,000-year-old riddle, and an artefact theft, as if his career depends on it, because it does.

In the same place, in the year 180 C.E., Centurion Gaius Atticianus, hungover and unaware of the bloody conflicts that will soon challenge him, is rattled by the hoot of an owl, a bad omen.
These are the protagonists whose lives will brush together in the alternating strands of this dual timeline historical novel, one trying to get himself noticed and the other trying to stay intact as he approaches retirement.
How will the breathless battles fought by a Roman officer influence the fortunes of a twenty-first century archaeology mud rat? Can naive Noah, distracted by the attentions of two very different women, work out who to trust?
Find out in Tim Walker’s thrilling historical dual timeline novel, Guardians at the Wall.

I have tried to link the contemporary and historical strands of my story through objects and through themes, such as trust, loyalty, societal attitudes and locations. One object that fascinated Noah that is on display in the Vindolanda museum, is fragment of a glass drinking tankard with a hand-painted colour frieze around it depicting gladiators fighting (pictured). In my historical story, Gaius and his mates drink a toast to Saturn on the eve of the Saturnalia festival, downing the ale poured by a serving girl and passing it on to the next in their circle, each having to tell a story of bravery in battle. To think that Roman legionaries over 1,800 years ago would have drunk from this tankard in the tavern outside the walls of Vindolanda fort is amazing to me.
Here is what the Vindolanda guidebook says about this incredible discovery:

“A long strip building, situated just outside the west gate of the fort, was the Vindolanda tavern. here the people of Vindolanda would have been able to enjoy locally brewed beer and wines from across the Empire and hot food. The front of the building, facing onto the street was where the common room or bar was situated. Its ceiling was held up by pillars to provide an open social area, with a small kitchen set behind to supply meals to travellers and patrons. You can imagine this would have been a noisy and smelly room, on of the focal social points of Vindolanda in the 3rd century.

When excavated, the tavern produced the highest concentration of drinking vessels from the site. One of those vessels is a fragment of the beautifully painted gladiator glass cup (now in the museum). The tavern owners had planned for their future by burying 270 coins below the floor of the kitchen. Unfortunately for them they never had the chance to spend the money as it remained hidden until excavators located the hoard in the 1977 excavation. It is likely that some of the money, which you can now see on display in the Vindolanda museum, was used to buy a round or two of beer in the tavern, almost 1,800 years ago.”

Here’s an extract from Guardians at the Wall. It is the scene where Gaius Atticianus, Officer of the Watch, meets auxiliary soldier, Amborix, on the battlements at Vindolanda in 180 C.E. on a cold winter’s night:

“Thank you, sir – although I have been told something different,” Amborix replied, also turning to watch the shimmering lights. He was only a few months at the Wall, and had already spent his meagre wages on woollen socks and a thick tunic he wore day and night. He watched in silence as the mysterious wave of light added in new colours – red, blue, violet and yellow – as it climbed into the night sky. “This is a strange land,” he added, throwing a stone in the direction of a hoot from an owl, “and a cursed one. Our protector, Sol Invictus, will only rise from his slumber for a few short hours.”

Gaius decided to ignore his insolence and let him prattle on. His head still throbbed from the beer he had drunk with his unit at the tavern that afternoon to celebrate the start of the feast of Saturnalia. They had sacrificed a goat to Saturn and had roasted the meat on a spit beside the tavern. Now he regretted the last two toasts, but grinned at the memory of drunken tales of bravery on their last posting in the wild lands north of the Wall. A glass tankard depicting colourful gladiators fighting for their lives had been passed around his carousing mates – each making a toast and downing the contents as a serving girl stood by ready to re-fill it from a pitcher.

“It is indeed a strange and wild land, but you will see in the coming weeks that Sol Invictus will gain more hours and Artemis will sulk in her hall. The long days of summer will come to give me more time with my horses.” He adjusted his shoulder guard and turned to the youth. “In Rome they say this is an empire without end, but here we are, boy, at the wild edge of Empire, hemmed in by the Wall.”

Hadrian’s Wall – Vindolanda and Chesters Forts

Vindolanda (Chesterholm)

From Corbridge I headed west on the A69 for 11 miles, following the Tyne valley, to Vindolanda Fort and Museum. ‘Vindolanda’ is though to mean ‘white or shining lawn’ or ‘enclosure’ in the local tribal language. The site, managed by the Vindolanda Trust, is nestled in rolling hills, about a mile south of the Wall. The site offers a comprehensive view of a Roman fort and its civilian settlement, including a part-excavated bath house located outside the walls of the fort. There are two reconstructions for visitors to climb on – a stone tower and parapet, and a wooden gatehouse. On the path to the museum there is a reconstructed Roman kiln, and a temple.

A wooden fort was built around 85 and later became a stone walled fort (re-built as many as nine times) in continuous occupation throughout the Roman period. At the centre of the fort is the Headquarters building, partly excavated, as is the Commanding Officer’s house next to it. At its height, Vindolanda fort and surrounding settlement would have supported a population of up to 5,000, of which 1,500 would have been soldiers.

Vindolanda has produced the most important find of the last fifty years – the writing tablets. These documents, some on display in the museum, not only provide valuable information about the details of life on the frontier of empire, but are also very similar in content to documents found on the eastern edge of empire, showing a similarity of experience. There may have been gaps between cohorts of a legion being billeted at Vindolanda, including a long gap from c. 280 to 305 when the site was derelict and needed re-building. All this building activity over the years has completely hidden the ‘white lawn’ and its landscape witnessed by the first Romans to come to Vindolanda. Archaeologists believe the site continued to be occupied after the Romans departed until the ninth century.

The Romans deliberately placed their temples and bath house close to the water supply (streams and wells) so that their gods could watch over this precious asset. From the wells and water tanks a series of aqueducts fed the bath houses, and went down village streets and into the fort. Stone and timber were used for carrying and holding water, but not lead, as used in other Roman sites.

The museum is one of the best Roman museums I have been in – no wonder it has award-winning status. The short films are well-made and add a layer of understanding to life in this most remote of Roman settlements. The writing tablets have their own room and the translations make fascinating reading. A tavern was excavated in the town, thought to be part timber with stone foundations and most likely two storeys, perhaps operating as a brothel as well as a beer-drinking meeting place. The owners buried 270 coins in a pouch under the kitchen floor, no doubt hoping to return one day to claim their savings. They did not return, and excavators uncovered the hoard in 1977 – some of the coins are on display, as is a part of a glass goblet painted with fighting gladiators (see picture).

The Vindolanda writing tablets contain a rich array of personal accounts from Romans based there, most from the early years of occupation up to the 120s. Letters were written by soldiers of all ranks and community members of both genders, giving a glimpse into their daily lives, interests and concerns. One such letter is a birthday party invitation from Claudia Severa to the Commander’s wife, Sulpicia Lepidina in the year 100. There are also letters between slaves, children’s writing lessons, doodles and demands for beer.

Emperor Hadrian display at Wallsend Museum

Chesters Roman Fort

From Vindolanda, I headed east on a B-road that followed the contours of rolling hills dotted with grazing sheep for 15 miles to Chesters Roman Fort. This incredibly beautiful site that slopes down to the rippling North Tyne River is managed by English Heritage. It sits on the estate of the Clayton family, who did much from the nineteenth century onwards to excavate and preserve Roman findings. Here can be viewed the remains of a fort laid out at foundations level, a bath house situated beside the river, and the 130-year-old museum built by the Clayton family to display many stone carved tablets and headstones.

Chesters was first occupied by a cavalry unit called ‘Augusta for valour’ according to an inscription, but throughout most of its life was the base of the Second Cavalry Regiment of Asturians (from Northern Spain). The fort was placed astride the Wall, with three of its four gates opening north of the Wall. A replica of the Chesters Bath House can be seen at Wallsend Roman fort and museum.

Hadrian’s Wall – Rome’s Most Northerly Outpost

In September 2020 I finally made the trip I had been dreaming of for many years – the museums and excavated sites along Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. I started at the most easterly end in South Shields, where the Roman fort of Arbeia once guarded the mouth of the River Tyne.

Replica West Gate of Arbeia Roman fort

The archaeological ruins were first uncovered and laid out in 1875. In more recent times, the local council have adopted the site that occupies an entire block in a residential area. Features include the restored and re-constructed Commanding Officer’s House, with courtyard and shaded portico, and the impressive replica gatehouse (pictured above). It is thought that the visible stone fort was built in the time of Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180), replacing an earlier wooden fort that dated from the time of Hadrian (117-138) when major construction of the wall commenced at Wallsend on the north Tyne. Arbeia’s function was expanded to include extensive granaries, and it became the main supply fort for Emperor Septimus Severus’s (193-211) campaign against the Caledonian (Scottish) tribes. The restored Commanding Officer’s house (pictures below) gives an insight into how the commander and his family lived and worked, and the many luxuries they had, including underfloor heating, in the second and third centuries.

Next stop was Wallsend (Segedunum) fort and museum on the north Tyne. In the 1970s the site was recovered from housing that had been built over it, and it is now a museum managed by the council. As the name suggests, Wallsend is literally the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, and my picture shows the excavated outcrop of wall that ran down to the riverside, leaving the marshy estuary beyond as a natural barrier to any incursions from the north. In the corner of the site is a replica of the bath house building whose ruins can be visited at Chesters fort in the middle section of Hadrian’s Wall. I am pictured standing in front of the replica building, that was unfortunately closed at the time of my visit. In the site is a reconstructed herb garden (pictured), and inside the museum is an interesting display of the hospital block with description what injuries and ailments would have been treated by legionary surgeons and healers. There is much information on the life and trials of the soldiers – mainly cavalrymen – who were stationed here. For instance, did you know that there is no mess hall or any evidence of communal eating? This is because each soldier was given a weekly ration of food and they had to bake their own bread (in a communal oven) and cook their meals on braziers, most likely in ‘buddy’ groups with those they bunked with in the barracks. Also pictured is a bronze bust of the Emperor Hadrian on display in the museum.

My next stop was eight miles to the west of Newcastle, at Heddon-on-the-Wall, where a lengthy outcrop of the Wall has been partially excavated. The Wall is 3m wide and there were no platforms for soldiers to stand or walk on between strategically-placed observation towers and more substantial mile towers. The forts that could garrison a cohort (480 men with stables for horses) were positioned off the east-west Stanegate road at intervals of roughly 13 miles, as this was the distance a legionary could march in a day with a full backpack weighing approximately 125 pounds or 57 kgs. The forts (often with civilian settlements adjacent) could be on the Wall (as with Chesters) or up to two miles south (as with Vindolanda). The Wall itself (when complete) ran for 73 miles across the narrowest part of the island, from Bowness-on-Solway (east of Carlisle) to Wallsend, and there were most likely seven forts in total – although not all have been excavated.

Heddon-on-the-Wall

Driving west for 10 miles along the A69 road, I arrived at the English Heritage-managed site of Corbridge Roman Town (Coria). This is an extensively excavated site of what was once a walled town and barracks that sits on a bluff above the River Tyne valley, where it once guarded a bridge no longer there. I was fortunate to be given an impromptu guided tour by a knowledgeable volunteer, who explained the layout and functions of a town where civilian tradesmen and women rubbed shoulders with a cavalry unit. It was a supply fort for legions marching north, west and east, and stands on an important crossroads where Dere Street (S-N) and Stanegate (E-W) intersect. The town was occupied throughout the Roman period from the 80s to late 390s, and beyond into the Dark Ages by Romano-British nobility. In the centre of the town lay an impressive fountain at a meeting point surrounded by temples to a wide range of gods from across the Empire, including deities from the far east, that have yielded many interesting stone carvings, some of which are on display in the adjacent museum. There is also evidence of some temples’ conversion to Christian churches from the early fourth century. The bustling town, located two miles south of the Wall, may have been home to as many as 3,000 people at the height of its occupancy. Pride of place in the museum is a sandstone carving of a lion standing over a slain goat (pictured) that is thought to have been a tombstone that was later employed as the centrepiece of a fountain.

In my next post, I’ll be describing my visits to Vindolanda and Chesters Roman forts.