Writing the story of britain

When I was at school we were given a blue pamphlet called Notes of British History. It began with Julius Caesar and we went through it every year. We spent most of the time learning kings and memorizing dates. It was boring.

Even so, I loved history. I loved the story of Alfred burning the cakes and the Six Wives of Henry VIII. And later my children loved those stories too.

What my children learned at school wasn't kings and dates, but it wasn't stories either. They did topics like 'the Vikings' and 'the Victorians'. The topics were quite fun, but no one ever said which came first, the Vikings or the Victorians, so none of it made much sense. The past felt like a town where they didn't know their way around. None of us enjoys a place when we're lost.

When I sat down to write The Story of Britain, I knew exactly what I wanted to say. I wanted the stories to come in order and add up to one big story, so people could see how they fitted together. I didn't want to fill the book with dates (although you can find all the dates you like in the Timelines). And I didn't want The Story of Britain to be only about kings, but about politicians and paupers, writers, playwrights, inventors and musicians.

Most of all, I wanted it to be a book of stories, not facts. Partly that's because I wanted to tell all my favourite stories again, from the Norman Conquest to the discovery of DNA, from Henry VIII to highwaymen. And partly it's because stories answer the two questions none of us can resist: Why did that happen? and What happened next?

And that was what made me fall in love with history in the first place.