Natasha Sheldon: Guest Post

Today I welcome Natasha Sheldon to my blog.

Natasha Sheldon


1 Tell us about yourself and your writing.

Hello!  I’ve been a writer and historian for some years now although it’s only over the last eight months that I have taken a huge leap of fate and decided to do it full time. However, before that (many years ago now) I studied Ancient history, Archaeology and Classics at Leicester and Bristol Universities. I planned on doing a PhD but faced with the realities of life, I decided to get a ‘proper job’.

But I’d always loved writing as much as history so I decided to combine the two. So I began by writing for several websites, before moving onto local history books for The History Press, feeding my hunger for history with trips to ancient sites around Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. I’ve been privileged to experience some wonderful places such as Palmyra and Leptis Magna. Sadly they aren’t safe or accessible anymore. However, they have all informed my knowledge- and my writing.

2 How long have you been writing?

Essentially, ever since I could write. I was constantly making little books as a child. I began writing properly after university. So probably about twenty years.

3 What is at the root of your current book?

Pompeii was the first site to capture my imagination after a teacher read us the Letters of Pliny the Younger when I was about ten. After that, I became obsessed with the place. On my first adult holiday abroad, it was the place I made a bee line for and I’ve studied it ever since. Then in 2011, I had a chance to write a tour for an iPhone app so I chose Pompeii. I loved doing it but I also felt frustrated because the app greatly limited the amount of information I could put in it. So when the app folded, the rights reverted to me and I could tell the story I wanted to tell.

4 What is the best piece of advice you have been given about writing?

Persevere. Persevere with developing your style, persevere with getting published. Do not give up. You never stop learning or developing as a writer.

5 Where do you work? Chaos or calm?

I work at home now which is generally great because I have my own little office in the smallest bedroom. I need calm and quiet and have been known to stick earplugs in if my son and husband are being a bit noisy when they are home. However, in terms of office space, I tend to work in organised chaos. I keep the books and papers I’m using around me in what look like messy random piles to everyone else but make sense to me.

6 What is your typical working day?

I tend to be up early- around five as I love the early morning quiet. I’ll work for a couple of hours then break to have breakfast with my family or go for a swim. Then, from about 9am, its back to work until around 1pm. Late afternoons are out as I have to pick up my son but Sometimes fit in an hour or so in the evening.

7 Are you a planner or a punster?

A little bit of both. I’ll have a rough plan- but I usually do branch out from it as the work progresses.

8 How do you go about your research and do you enjoy the process?

Research is great fun. I love the fact-finding and investigating involved- but I do have to stop myself from going off on a tangent. I tend to use my own personal ‘library’ of books and notes and then move to the internet for alternative sources of information. I then follow any new leads thrown up. Its quite an organic process fro me I suppose.

9 What book/s has/have inspired you?

There are too many to list.

10 If you could invite six writers/historians living or dead to dinner who would you choose?

Lindsey Davis- wonderful writer who uses her extensive knowledge of Roman history very lightly. I’ve recently met her briefly at a conference and she gave me her crisps!

Mary Beard- clever, enthusiastic and passionate.

Steven Saylor- again, another very scholarly fiction writer.

Emily Bronte- not a historian but I love her writing and would love to have known more about the person behind it.

Discovering Pompeii jpeg


“Discovering Pompeii” is a tour of the ancient site of Pompeii with a difference. Using individual buildings and features as stopping points, it uses the archaeology to tell three stories from Pompeii’s life- and death.

Discover how Pompeii grew from a walled collection of farms into the impressive Roman colony in “Civic Pompeii” before moving onto an exploration of the sights, sounds smells, shops, houses, bars and baths of everyday Pompeii by taking “A Walk down the Via dell’Abbondanza.” Finally, in Pompeii’s Last Days experience how each stage of the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD affected Pompeii –and its people. ‘

Packed with plans and descriptions of individual buildings, explanations of terminology and fun and informative facts about Pompeian and Roman life in general, “Discovering Pompeii” is a guide that can be used on site- or enjoyed from the comfort of your own armchair.

What’s new in the Second Edition?

More detailed plans and descriptions of the layout of key buildings

Additional information on the eruption of Vesuvius, the earthquake of 62AD and the human body casts.

Key Latin terms and phrases explained throughout


Reviews for the first edition of Discovering Pompeii:

“…this is a perfect guide for all travellers and history enthusiasts with its superb overview of Pompeii. The tour is skilfully organized, with descriptions of the modern site and ancient times for every stop along the way. The depth of Sheldon’s knowledge of ancient history is evident and enlightening……” Readers Favourites

“…Discovering Pompeii  is the total guide for not only any visitor to the city but for anyone curious about the ancient world.” B McConnell

“….very informative and enlightening (even if you’re only on-site in the ruins of a messy living room)!”  Seuss777






Friday Favourites: The Bride of Lammermoor

The Bride of Lmmermoor

Sorting through my bookshelves in an attempt to find some room for the piles of books on my office floor, I came across a small, hardback copy of “The Bride of Lammermoor.” In all the years, and they are many, that I have owned this book, it has never been read, so it seemed a good choice for the charity shop. On the other hand, it felt wrong to discard a book, I’d never tried, let alone a writer whose works I’d never sampled.

“The Bride of Lammermoor” is very much a Gothic novel, with a ruined castle, Wolf’s Crag, a terrifying storm, a dashing hero and beautiful heroine. Their love is doomed, the marriage between their rival families cursed and everything ends badly.

The novel is over-written, the Scots dialect both annoying and incomprehensible and yet…There are moments of unexpected insight in the depiction of the relationship between Ravenswood and Lucy, most striking of all his acute assessment of what she is really like and his understanding that in spite of the fact that she is not the right sort of girl for him, he will link his destiny to hers.

There are also moments of sheer comic brilliance, once one has managed to plough through the Scots dialogue as when Cleb Balderstone, Ravenswood’s servant, steals the food for his master’s supper from the innkeeper’s spit.

Would I read more Walter Scott? The answer is no. But I am glad that I sampled at least one of the books of the most successful novelist of his time.



It’s all about food

Much as I love Italian food, there is nothing like an oatcake.

Being Britalian

Coming from Stoke on Trent in the UK I’ve discovered something that people from my town of birth have in common with the Italian people.

What can this be?

It’s food.

In Stoke people are always talking about food, you’ll often be asked what you had for breakfast, and even straight after dinner (we Stokies call lunch, dinner) you’ll be asked what you’re going to be having for your tea, (we Stokies call dinner, tea).


The Italian people are passionate about food, mention that you’re going to the coast for a fish lunch and they’ll ask where will you be eating? What will you be having? Talk about dinner the night before and they’ll ask how you prepared it and they are happy if you give them a step by step account of your cooking methods and ingredients.


In Stoke the local delicacy is the oatcake, a soft savoury pancake…

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Why do they do this?

DSC04113“Ballet Shoes” by Noel Streatfeild is one of my favourite books. As I kid, I read and re-read it until, as you can see from the photo, it fell to pieces.

The story was set in the 1930s and I loved the concept of the three feisty Fossil girls, Pauline, Petrova and Posy who, when the money ran out, had to earn their living. What made this even more enticing was that they worked in the world of theatre.

The three girls had been adopted, as babies, by fossil-hunting Great Uncle Mathew, GUM, who promptly disappeared leaving them in the care of his niece Sylvia and her old nanny.

When I discovered there was film of the book, starring Emma Watson, Lucy Boynton, Yasmin Paige, Emilia Fox and Victoria Wood, among other well-known stars of stage and screen, I couldn’t wait to see it. download (2)

However… Great though the acting was and the period detail was immaculate what really, really annoyed me was the gratuitous romantic sub-plot. It was, it had to be admitted very subtly done, but a blossoming love affair between Sylvia and the lodger Mr Simpson, who incidentally is neither a father nor a widower in the book, is totally unnecessary.

A rose tinted happy ending is not what this book is about. Noel Streatfeild is too good a writer to leave us with any romantic illusions.

Life as an actor or dancer is hard. The competition is fierce and you may be judged, as the talented but plan Winifred finds, on how you look, rather than how good you are. There is little security and a constant jockeying for jobs.

To succeed you have to be single minded, as Posy is, or be prepared to sacrifice your dream, as Pauline ultimately does for the good of the family.

Given the need for good role models for girls in the twenty-first century, the women in the book are outstanding. They make their own way in the world, never relying on the men around them but making their own decisions. They don’t need romance, or a rose petal wedding. So why did the makers of the film end on this saccharine note? Was it that they ultimately didn’t trust their audience? That they did not believe that without a romantic element the film would not work? If they did, then they were wrong. Sticking to the original would have made a much stronger story.






Fare La Scarpetta

Being Britalian

While having lunch with friends this week, Steve said, one of the things he likes about Italy is that it’s socially acceptable to dip your bread into your sauce.This reminded me of an article I wrote for Italy Magazine when I wrote for them. So I’ll share it with you all, and some images of bell’abruzzo.

Fare la scarpetta is a phrase in the Italian language that’s close to the heart of everyone who has enjoyed a delicious plate of pasta with sauce. Meaning “make the little shoe,” it refers to the small piece of bread used to mop up the last of the sauce on your plate.


This end to a meal ritual is vastly popular all over Italy; however, where it originates is still open to debate. There’s one theory that the practice began in Venice, though bread wasn’t usually served with pasta in northern Italy, whereas it…

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