When I finished my three wonderful years at Oxford I – like many graduates – had little idea what I would do next.

I’d got a 2/1 degree, which in theory would have been the passport to any number of jobs. None of which appealed to me at the time. I knew by now that I wasn’t the academic type, much as I’d enjoyed my studies. I did wonder whether my knowledge of early and medieval languages might be useful in the context of museum work. So I volunteered as a site worker for a dig in the heart of Lincoln.

It was a truly amazing experience – and i drew on it, heavily, when Mike Rohan and I came to write The Ice King.

The site was remarkable – an L-shaped area right at the heart of the city, bounded at one end by part of the Roman wall, with part of a monastic graveyard, a Roman road, and a Roman villa area overlaid by a medieval rubbish pit. Needless to say I got the rubbish job, and it soon became apparent what, precisely, a greenish layer at the bottom of the pits consisted of. After a few days of removing it I called over my supervisor and showed him a sausage-shaped sample. ‘What do you think?’ I said. ‘Medieval dog turd?’

He was suitably amused…

Our accommodation was extremely basic – a suite of down-at-heel ex-council offices with a few cookers installed for our evening meal, no bath (we had to go to the public baths to get clean – and yes, we needed to) and bare floors to sleep on. I learned more about independent living that week than I had over all my time at Oxford. And was gently amused to find that when we were trekking back to our digs from the site, covered in dirt, I and my fellow diggers were often getting admiring glances from the local girls…

I also did a stint in the finds warehouse at the Museum of London, processing the finds from the Baynards Castle dig. Which in my case mostly consisted of building Dexion shelving, sorting thousands of shells into left and right piles, and washing some of the timbers from the boat the dig had uncovered in water that was inevitably very, very cold. (There was one water heater in the whole building. It was small, inefficient, and failed repeatedly…)

That said, I did get more than a glimpse of the remarkable leather and wood finds from the site – perfectly preserved for centuries in the mud of the Thames embankment. Little did I know that many years later I’d be referring back to those finds as a would-be historical re-enactor…

Soon after that – thanks partly to Mike and Phil Gardner, another university friend, I had the offer of some freelance work writing articles for a single-volume encyclopaedia. My first samples were, apparently, exactly what they wanted – concise, easy to read, accurate, and exactly within the tight parameters demanded by the work. (Try writing an article on God in seven lines. With lots of cross-references…)

That kept me busy – and well paid – for eighteen months, at the end of which I was offered a full-time job by the publisher, Elsevier, at a salary of £2,000 per annum. At the same time I was also offered a job at Woodmansterne, in Watford, at a salary of £1,800 per annum. It involved – initially at least – writing scripts for the souvenir slide packs that were their principal product at the time.

Despite the lower salary, I chose to go to Watford. And that was where my professional scripting career took off…