London Tales: Coffee Pot Book Club Blog Tour.

This collection of eleven tales offers dramatic pinpricks in the rich tapestry of London’s timeline, a city with two thousand years of history. They are glimpses of imagined lives at key moments, starting with a prologue in verse from the point of view of a native Briton tribeswoman absorbing the shock of Roman invasion. The first story is a tense historical adventure set in Roman Londinium in 60 CE from the perspective of terrified legionaries and townsfolk facing the vengeful Iceni queen, Boudica, whose army burnt the fledgling city to the ground.

Further historical dramas take place in 1381 during the Peasant’s Revolt, the Great Fire of London in 1666 and the last ice fair on the frozen Thames in 1814. These are followed by a romance set during the Blitz in 1941, then the swinging Sixties and wide-flared seventies are remembered in the life story of fictional policeman, Brian Smith. Moving on, an East End family get a fright from copycat killings that are a throwback to the 1888 Jack the Ripper murders.

There’s a series of contemporary stories that reference recent events, including the London terrorist bombings of 2005, a literary pub crawl and a daring prison break, building to the imagined death throes of London in a chilling, dystopian vision. These stories are loosely inspired by the author’s personal experiences and reflections on his time living and working in London in the 1980’s and 90’s. Adaptability, resilience, conformity and resolve are recurring themes.

London Tales evokes the city’s rich history and the qualities that were needed by Londoners at various times to survive and prosper – from the base and brutal, devious and inspired, to the refined and civilized.

Available from Amazon in e-book, paperback, Kindle Unlimited and audiobook formats, London Tales is a companion volume to Thames Valley Tales.

Book cover designed by Sean McClean, shows elements from stories.

Londinium Falling

Marcellus searched the crowd again for Julia and Cato but couldn’t see them amongst the multitude of milling townsfolk and soldiers. He did see Procurator Decianus and Centurion Maximius standing on the prow of a galley, the latter bellowing out orders for a defensive square. Legionaries with shields and weapons intact started to move towards the outer edges of the square and stand side by side, awaiting the barbarian onslaught.

Septimus grabbed Marcellus by the arm and pointed to a small boat that was already bobbing freely in the river. On it, Julia and Cato were shouting and waving to them, their words snatched away by the breeze and hubbub. A broad smile cracked Marcellus’ cheeks as he waved back, relief etched on his blood-spattered face.

“Now we can fight barbarians,” he said, grinning at his friend. Septimus called his unit into a huddle and left them to go in search of a friendly sea captain. But no sooner was he gone than a boisterous optio commanded them to form up in the defensive wall. Marcellus duly complied with the rest of the unit, and they found themselves with members of the first cohort who hadn’t yet faced the enemy as they’d been guarding the docks and both ends of the bridge.

“What’s it like?” one of them asked the cut, bleeding, and battered unit.

Marcellus replied, “Imagine thousands of blue-painted screaming devils being chased through the Gates of Hades by the three-headed hound Cerberus. Look – here they come…!” He pointed with the tip of his gladius as the first group of warriors raced from the streets that fed into the open space before the docks, screaming and waving their bloody weapons. They stopped short of the wall of Roman shields and seemed to wait for one of their leaders to come. They shouted obscenities and banged their swords, spears, and axes against their round shields, and some threw the severed heads of soldiers and townsfolk at the Romans. The evacuation of non-combatants was swiftly completed and Maximius, from the safety of his galley, urged them to hold the line at all costs.

“General Paulinius is on his way!” Maximius shrieked, his lie barely carrying above the racket to a doubtful Marcellus. No one was coming to save them.

The warriors then quietened and parted to allow three chariots to enter from a side street. The lead chariot held Boudica, a tall, proud woman with long, flowing red hair and blue swirls on her cheeks, wearing a shining metal breastplate and silver torque around her neck, and clutching a spear. She glared over the heads of the soldiers, pointing her spear at the hated procurator on the galley deck. She urged her driver to ride between the two lines of opposing soldiers, periodically throwing severed heads over the line of Roman shields as she went. 

Marcellus gazed at her in awe, her authority over the seemingly wild rabble was undisputed. Some even bowed as she rode by. She lifted her spear again and screamed a command as her chariot reached the end of the line, and her faithful followers fell on the Roman shield wall with maddening ferocity.

Historical Note by the Author:

An early version of this story was modified after reading Life in Roman London by Simon Webb. I learned some useful facts, such as the decision by General Paulinus to withdraw Londinium’s garrison in advance of Boudicca’s attack as the settlement lacked proper defences and the modest-sized garrison would easily be overrun by superior numbers. However, some remained to be slaughtered, with evidence including many skulls of severed heads found in the Walbrook and washed into the Thames. Also, the main thoroughfare running east to west through the heart of the early city was called the Via Decumena, connecting two hills on which the first army camps would have been established.

Following the invasion of Britain by the Romans in 43 CE, they established a port lightly guarded on the north bank of the river Tamesis (named after a local river god, in time, the Thames). But from where did the Romans take their name,Londinium? Their tactic of appeasing local tribes by adapting their place names could provide a clue. 

Geoffrey of Monmouth in his 1136 work, The History of the Kings of Britain, gives his opinion that London/Londinium is named after a pre-Roman native king, King Lud. The western gate to the walled city built by the Romans (possibly on the site of a demolished iron age fort) is stilled called Ludgate, and a medieval statue to King Lud and his sons once stood there. One source gives a date of 66 BCE for the burial of King Lud under the Ludgate. He was succeeded as king of the Trinovantes by his son, Cassivellaunus, who opposed Julius Caesar on his second expedition in 54 BCE. Cassivellaunus is accepted as a historical figure as he is named by a Roman historian. Pre- and post-Roman history is hazy due to a lack of surviving written records.

Londinium grew into modest-sized settlement, hemmed in on three sides by a ditch, bank and perhaps a wooden stockade, by the time of the Iceni Uprising, led by Queen Boudica, in 60/61 CE. My story is from the point of view of the terrified defenders, few in number, and aware that nearby Camulodunum (Colchester) had already been burnt to the ground with all occupants slaughtered. When news of this catastrophe reached General Paulinus, he rode to Londinium with a cavalry unit, but to the inhabitant’s despair, ordered the abandonment of the city following his assessment that it could not be defended. He led the garrison, followed by those willing to leave, northwards to join up with the main body of the Ninth Legion. 

His tactics proved sound, as after Boudica had burnt both Londinium and Verulamium (St Albans) to the ground, the Ninth legion met them in battle and destroyed the rebel army. Boudica was thought to have committed suicide rather than be captured. 

My story is a work of fiction, although the sacking and burning of Londinium by Boudica’s vengeful army and slaughter of those they found there did happen. Procurator Decianus was in charge of the province’s treasury and was most likely based in Londinium. As controller of the military budget, he was at odds with General Paulinus, and therefore, for the purposes of my story, I’ve decided that he remained with a modest guard and an escape plan, gambling on the possibility that Boudica would not attack Londinium and instead choose to move north to Verulamium. As it turned out, she attacked both settlements.

Archaeologists have discovered a ‘red layer’ about 13 feet below present-day street level that is a stratum of fired clay about 18 inches thick – all that remains of the first city of Londinium. The red layer is clay that once covered the walls, roofs and floors of buildings burnt by Boudica’s army. This red layer has enabled archaeologists to map the outline and extent of pre-Boudican London.

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Tim Walker is an independent author living near Windsor in the UK. Although born in Hong Kong in the sixties, he grew up in Liverpool where he began his working life as a trainee reporter on a local newspaper. After attaining a degree in Communication Studies he moved to London where he worked in the newspaper publishing industry for ten years before relocating to Zambia where, following a period of voluntary work with VSO, he set up his own marketing and publishing business. He returned to the UK in 2009.

His creative writing journey began in earnest in 2013, as a therapeutic activity whilst recovering from cancer treatment. He began writing an historical fiction series, A Light in the Dark Ages, in 2014, inspired by a visit to the part-excavated site of former Roman town Calleva Atrebatum at Silchester in Hampshire. The series connects the end of Roman Britain to elements of the Arthurian legend and is inspired by historical source material, presenting an imagined historical fiction of Britain in the fifth and early sixth centuries.

The last book in the series, Arthur, Rex Brittonum, was published in June 2020. This is a re-imagining of the story of King Arthur and follows on from 2019’s Arthur Dux Bellorum. Both titles are Coffee Pot Book Club recommended reads. The series starts with Abandoned (second edition, 2018); followed by Ambrosius: Last of the Romans (2017); and book three, Uther’s Destiny (2018). Series book covers are designed by Canadian graphic artist, Cathy Walker.

Tim has also written two books of short stories, Thames Valley Tales (second edition 2023), London Tales (2023); a book of verse, Perverse (2020); a dystopian thriller, Devil Gate Dawn (2016); and three children’s books, co-authored with his daughter, Cathy – The Adventures of Charly Holmes (2017), Charly & the Superheroes (2018) and Charly in Space(2020).

Tim took early retirement on medical grounds and now divides his time between writing and helping out at a Berkshire-based charity, Men’s Matters.

Find out more about the author at his website:

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Audiobook Narrator:

London Tales and Thames Valley Tales audiobooks were narrated and produced by actor, author and playwright Richard James who has been appearing on stage and screen for over thirty years. Most recently, he played a guest role in Miss Scarlet & The Duke for PBS and Alibi Films and was nominated for ‘Best Supporting Performance’ at the Off West End Awards for his roles in A Sherlock Carol at the Marylebone Theatre in 2022. The play will be reprised in winter 2023/4.

Richard is on Twitter as @RichardNJames

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