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The Wisdom of Trees is a very personal look at our relationship with trees and woodlands - it is called The Wisdom of Trees not because I think they are wise, but because we would be wise to learn from them. It's the kind of book that I like to find in my stocking at Christmas: full of slightly geeky facts about the miracles of tree biology (how and why do oak trees communicate with each other; how to measure the height of a tree); what woodsmen get up to in the winter; and my favourite trees. It's not sentimental, but it does end with a call to bring woodlands back into our communal lives so that we can exploit and cherish them the way our ancestors did.
The King in the North is the first ever biography of a brilliant but obscure warlord and saint who straddles the transition between pagan and Christian worlds. Oswald was famed across Europe both before and after death: a powerful symbol of Dark Age heroism even though the reality of his life was brutal and short; a real life Beowulf or Aragorn. I have tried to construct a geography and political history of Britain in the 7th century to bring Oswald's dynasty, the Idings, to life. In doing so I hope readers will begin to see how the English state was born of their attempts to impose an idea of a rational kingship on a landscape of political chaos. The book has been beautifully produced by Head of Zeus: there are ample maps; genealogies to help fathom the complexity of unfamiliar names; and timelines to clarify the chronology. In a colour picture section images evoke aspects of Oswald's world - the world of the Lindisfarne gospels, of Sutton Hoo and the Staffordshire hoard.
An archaeologist turned historian, I was born in London in 1961, though for the last fifteen years or so I've lived in the North-east of England. My interest in Collingwood came about because I was asked to make a film about him. When I went to buy a book for my research I found there hadn't been one for forty-odd years: he was either very dull or very neglected. I'm glad it was the latter - few biographers still admire their subjects when they have spent years with them.
John Martin, the painter of seemingly lunatic biblical apocalypses and brother of the man who tried to burn down York Minster, is another neglected Geordie, but he turned into something rather different: the hub of a social and intellectual circle which included his friends Turner, Constable, the Brunels, Michael Faraday, Charles Babbage and William Godwin. When Karl Marx came along dressed as Prometheus I had my story. It took ages to get a publisher, but Quercus rescued me; we were rewarded with a very flattering Guardian Book of the Week review which adorns the new paperback.
I am a Consultant Fellow with the Royal Literary Fund. My current project is called In the Land of Giants. It's a series of ten journeys through the Dark Age landscapes of Britain, for release in October 2015.