An Interview with Nicola Ford
Nicola Ford is the pen-name for archaeologist Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust Archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. Through her day-job and now her writing, she’s spent more time than most people thinking about the dead. The Hidden Bones is her debut novel and the first of the Hills & Barbrook mysteries.
What inspired you to become an archaeologist?
It was a book token given to me by my grandmother! Or more precisely the book I bought with it aged seven. It was a copy of Noel Streatfeild’s The Boy Pharaoh: Tuthankhamen. As soon as I saw the front cover I was hooked.
What’s been your most fascinating project?
It must be excavating the remains of two children at the Bronze Age site Skalka at Velim in the Czech Republic. They’d been the victims of human sacrifice.
Is there a period of history that interests you most?
The period I love is the Neolithic and Bronze Age. The time when we first started farming and when metalworking was first introduced.
How did you become involved with Stonehenge?
I’d been working in the Avebury half of the World Heritage Site for several years when the National Trust asked me if I’d take on the Stonehenge landscape too. It’s an extraordinary privilege to be the archaeologist for two of the most extraordinary landscapes on the planet.
Do you have any fun facts about Stonehenge that might surprise people?
Stonehenge was built at a time when there were no horses in this country and the wheel hadn’t yet been introduced. But isotope evidence from the site where the builders of Stonehenge lived tells us that people came from at least as far away as Scotland to help build it.
Where’s been your favourite location that your work has taken you to?
Prissé-la-Charrière, in Deux-Sèvres in France. It turned out to be an amazing Neolithic tomb, and the three course lunches cooked for us by the local farmer’s wife were to die for.
Could you tell us a little bit about the inspiration behind The Hidden Bones?
As an archaeologist I spend a lot of time in museum archives. They’re an absolute treasure house packed with secrets from the ancient past. But they can also reveal some very unexpected things about the people who dug them up. That idea of an archaeologist digging up the lives of the archaeologists who’d worked on the site they were investigating was what led me to write The Hidden Bones.
Introduce us to the characters of Clare Hills and Dr David Barbrook. What’s facing them at the start of the book?
Clare Hills is recently widowed and looking for a fresh start when old college friend Dr David Barbrook asks her to help him sift through the effects of recently deceased archaeologist Gerald Hart. When Clare stumbles across the finds from his most glittering dig they think they’ve found every archaeologist’s dream. But instead they make a discovery that puts them at the centre of a murder inquiry.
The Hidden Bones is set around the Marlborough Downs. Did you already have a plot in mind or does the setting inspire the narrative?
The Marlborough Downs are a very special part of Wiltshire that I know intimately from my work at Avebury. The Hungerbourne Barrows and the Hungerbourne itself were inspired by a visit I made to a colleague’s real life excavation of a Bronze Age burial mound.
What encouraged you to turn your hand to writing novels?
I’ve always loved writing, and I’ve also always loved reading crime fiction. Somehow it just seemed inevitable that I’d turn my hand to crime at some stage.
This is your first foray into fiction – how does writing academically compare to fiction?
The most difficult thing was finding the time to write, as my day job keeps me so busy. Academic writing is very different to writing fiction. My head has to be in a very different place for each of them. But switching between the two isn’t as difficult as you might think. It’s just accessing another part of who I am. And after a hard day at work it can be very therapeutic to dive into another world.
How important are libraries for an author?
Without libraries I wouldn’t be an author. One of my fondest memories as a child is returning home with a pile of books from our village library. Libraries opened my mind to worlds that I would never have discovered without them. Libraries make authors.
What are you looking forward to most about your book being recorded in audio?
I’m hugely looking forward to hearing David, Clare and the team being brought to life. Though it will be a bit surreal travelling in to work listening to the characters whose heads I’ve inhabited for so long actually talking.
What’s next for Hills and Barbrook?
I’d like to get to know Hills and Barbrook and their team. I didn’t set out with a series in mind when I first started writing The Hidden Bones, but as soon as I came to know the characters in the team I knew I wanted to spend more time with them than just one book.