A NOVELIST whose books have sold in their millions, will be signing copies of her latest book, The Warrior’s Princess, at Waterstone’s in Hereford on Saturday.

Barbara Erskine’s first novel, Lady of Hay, published in 1986, was an instant success, going on to sell more than a million copies around the world.

That first book, like her new one, is inspired by the dramatic Marches landscape she has come to know and love in the 40 years since her father bought a tiny farmworker’s cottage in the Black Mountains.

“It’s a very basic, very small farm cottage but we fell in love with it,” says Barbara.

Although the contemporary story in The Warrior’s Princess is set in the landscape surrounding her cottage, Barbara reveals that the house where Jess flees to escape memories in London is on a grander scale. “It’s much bigger, more of a farmhouse than a cottage.”

With another home on the other side of the country near Colchester, Barbara has chosen places to live that are rich in historical inspiration, although, as she is quick to point out, everywhere has a history.

“And one digs out the history of any place.”

In The Warrior’s Princess, the history Barbara has dug out is that of Eigon, the saint to whom a local church is dedicated.

Though there is some debate about whether Eigon was the daughter of a Celtic warrior defeated by the Romans or a male bishop, Barbara prefers to believe she was Caractacus’s daughter, taken to Rome and converted to Christianity.

But with Eigon having been taken to Rome, “getting her back to Wales is the difficult thing,” she says. “And having done that, my modern character, Jess, has to stumble across her story.”

In common with all but one of her previous novels, The Warrior’s Princess seamlessly combines past and present to create a page-turning read that offers an exciting and involving taste of history.

“Combining the two periods seems to make the history more palatable and more accessible,” says Barbara, whose Lady of Hay broke new ground with its ‘time-slip’ construction.

“I’d like to think that Lady of Hay changed the climate,” she says now.

Each book takes Barbara an average of two years to complete, principally because of the amount of research and the fact that she is writing two stories.

“People have asked if I write one period first and then the other,” she explains. “But it doesn’t work like that. The two are so closely interlinked that when I’m writing it I’m totally in whichever bit I’m writing. I switch in and out because, if the links don’t work for me, they won’t work for the reader.”

Writing historical fiction clearly involves large amounts of research, but opting for the Celtic period allows plenty of room for a novelist to allow her imagination free rein: “I get everything right that I possibly can but in the medieval ones, there are a certain number of gaps and in the new book there were more than usual,” Barbara explains. “As a novelist you get to fill in the gaps, which is lovely.”

Barbara Erskine will be signing copies of The Warrior’s Princess in Waterstone’s in High Town on Saturday, July 12, from 11am.