PHIL Rickman, the author of the popular series of novels featuring Merrily Watkins, Hereford’s deliverance consultant (formerly known as a diocesan exorcist), makes his first journey into the past with his latest book, The Bones of Avalon.

It’s his first historical novel and not one he was initially keen to write.

“I never wanted to write a historical novel,” he says. “I don’t even read them much. Although most of my books have involved history, it’s always been kept where it belongs: in the past as backstory.

“So, when my editor, Nic Cheetham, asked for something historical I put him off for about two years.

“Unfortunately, this was after I’d been daft enough to float the vague idea of a mystical crime novel featuring the Elizabethan astrologer, John Dee.

“Nic loved the whole concept from the start. Every time we spoke on the phone, he’d say, ‘Don’t suppose you’ve had any more thoughts about Dr Dee?’. It ended up taking far more work than anything I’ve ever written. I wound up buying more than 30 books, new and secondhand, on Elizabethan history.”

The other challenge facing Rickman as he embarked on his first foray into historical territory was the language.

“I hate words like forsooth and prithee, but I really like writing dialogue and wanted it to sound right.

But how can you do authentic dialogue when there’s no aural record of it? I wanted it to be authentic, but didn’t want to sacrifice readability.”

He opted to use no words that weren’t in circulation in 1560, but will admit to having made some up to meet his needs. But he’s in good company.

“Shakespeare invented around 2,000 words so I invented some myself. Lots of them didn’t exist but I think they sound right.”

M e a n w h i l e , Merrily Watkins is set to reappear early next year in a new mystery with the working title of The Secrets of Pain.

Set this time in the area around Kenchester and Credenhill, Rickman reveals the new Merrily mystery will bring together Hereford’s only Roman site, Magnis at Kenchester, the SAS – and polytunnels.

“I wondered if there was a link, and the answer is, yes, there is.”

Ahead of publication of the new Merrily Watkins title, her creator is delighted that she has found an enthusiastic new audience in Germany, where leading publisher Rowohlt has bought all 10 titles.

Recently, six German journalists visited England to take the Merrily tour, taking in all the sites featured in the books.

Phil Rickman will be signing copies of The Bones of Avalon today (Thursday) at Waterstones, Hereford from 11am to 12.30pm and at the Monmouth Bookshop in Monmouth from 2.30pm.

Tomorrow he will be at Foxwoods Bookshop, Leominster (10.30am until noon) and Burway Books, Church Stretton (2.30pm to 4pm).

On Saturday, Phil will be signing in The Forest Bookshop, Coleford from 11am and at Ledbury’s Three Counties Bookshop from 2.30pm.

On Wednesday, April 7, he’ll be at the Castle Bookshop, Ludlow, 11am to 12.30pm, and then at Abergavenny Bookshop at 11am, on Saturday, April 10.