IN THE SHOES OF... Ally Sherrick

What's life like in someone else's shoes? This month Deputy Editor Françoise Price invites Ally Sherrick to tell us about her day.

'In my element at Penrith Castle'


The alarm goes off. Yes, I confess it up front: though I love their beautiful flight and song, I am definitely not a lark! Much more an owl, which is why I’m doubly pleased with this little beauty bought for me by my lovely sister in advance of the publication of my latest book, Vita and the Gladiator*, because my heroine’s pet-name is ‘Little Owl.’


'Little wooden owl, a gift from my lovely sister to celebrate my new book's publication'

Where was I? Oh yes, having thoughts about getting up. The thoughts convert to action about half an hour after the radio goes on – especially at this time of year when it feels like we should really all be hibernating anyway...


After a refreshing shower I set off on my daily jogging and yoga ritual. I say ‘set off’, but in fact I do this indoors, listening to whatever’s on Radio 4 including the regular daily ‘Book of the Week’ slot.


Now for breakfast – the best meal of the day! I’m a creature of habit in that department so it’s usually an oat-based muesli, a scattering of sliced bananas and blueberries, a dollop of natural yoghurt plus a lovely cup of Rooibos tea. Perfect fuel for the writer’s brain!


Though actually my first task after breakfast is to get on with my admin. Replying to emails about enquiries for author events; checking social media and updating my website; maybe responding to letters from readers. Or perhaps writing a blog article or doing a spot of filming for the Time Tunnellers, a group of historical fiction authors I helped found a year and a half ago with friends Susan Brownrigg, Barbara Henderson, Catherine Randall and Jeannie Waudby.


Perfect fuel for the writer’s brain


12 noon

Time for a bit of fresh air. I exchange my cosy slippers for a pair of trainers (didn’t someone say this was a feature about shoes?) and set off on a three-mile walk round the block with my husband, Steve. We do this every other day. It’s good to get out whatever the weather and limber up for the serious work to come. It’s especially helpful if I’ve encountered a plot-knot or a character that won’t play ball the day before. Then, while we’re walking, I can sound Steve out. We’ve dug me out of many a writing hole that way in the past...


Back home for coffee and a slice or two of toast with marmalade or honey plus a chance to catch up with the latest news on the radio, then...



... up to my writing room to get on – finally – with the actual business of writing! The walls are insulated with shelves of books and keepsakes I’ve collected over the years, all of which helps to put me in the mood to write. The side of the bookcase by my desk is plastered with inspirational quotes and thoughts from other people in the story-making business – Charles Dickens, Deborah Moggach, David Almond, the film director Paul Greengrass and my own publisher, Barry Cunningham to name but a few. Dotted in between these are pictures linked to my current work in progress (WIP) which I leave up until the book is published and off finding its readers.

Though I front-load my research, I keep all my reference books close by in case I need to look anything extra up as I go along. You know the kind of thing. Were there humane mouse-traps at the time of the Gunpowder Plot? (Yes as it turns out, which was lucky for me as I needed for my hero to have been able to capture his travelling companion, a white mouse, safely.) Was sugar rationed in 1940? (Yes, but not bread which, incredible though it may seem, was first rationed after the war.) And what did a gladiator have for dinner? (Barley stew with vegetables and dried or fresh fruit – a sure-fire recipe for an explosive night!)



2.00pm  8.00pm (sometimes later)


This is peak time-travelling time for me, when I’m immersed in the world of my story, except for the half hour when I surface for lunch. Depending on the stage I’m at with my WIP, I might have Spotify up and running playing music from a story-playlist I’ve created, or more likely an album of film music. Favourites in the past have included music from the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones, The Tudors, Westworld and yes, you guessed it – Gladiator, which happens to be one of my all-time favourite movies too. When I’m laying down the first draft of a story, music is great for powering me on. But I can’t have it on when I’m in editing mode.


I’m pretty disciplined at not heading off for some distraction therapy on social media or via Google while I’m in this zone. Any online forays I make are pretty much always in the pursuit of needing to do a bit more research. The ‘R’ word again. As you might guess, or else know from your own experience, writing historical fiction is research-intensive. The trick is in knowing when to stop!



As you might guess, or else know from your own experience, writing historical fiction is research-intensive



Time to sign off and go downstairs to eat. We’re late diners – probably not good for you – but it’s the rhythm our body clocks seem to have got into since we’ve both been based at home. If it’s my turn to cook, I’ll head down a bit earlier, but if it’s Steve’s I have the luxury of a bit more time at my desk.
Then, after dinner, time to disappear off into someone else’s story-telling world. A film perhaps, or maybe a favourite detective show.


And so to bed where finally I get the chance to curl up for half an hour with a good book. This could be a middle grade or YA story, or else a fiction book for grown-ups, which I guess I have to concede in my sixth decade, I am!
Recent favourites have included The Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins – someone whose books I studied avidly when I was writing the book that became Black Powder to see how she made them so compellingly page-turning. And Hurdy Gurdy (for adults) about a young monk who escapes from his plague-ridden monastery into a world turned upside down during the Black Death – much funnier than it sounds!

'Current reads: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins and Hurdy Gurdy by Christopher Wilson'

Then lights out and perhaps a dream or two as my brain prepares itself for another day of time-travelling tomorrow. The question is, where to next?

*Ally’s latest middle-grade historical mystery adventure, Vita and the Gladiator, the story of a young girl’s fight for justice in the high-stakes world of London’s gladiatorial arena, is out now with Chicken House Books.

*Header image: Alex Crump;
All other images courtesy of Ally Sherrick.




Ally Sherrick is an award-winning author of middle-grade historical mystery adventures.Black Powder, her debut novel about a boy caught up in the Gunpowder Plot, won the Historical Association’s Young Quills Award. Her latest book, Vita and the Gladiator was published earlier this month (February 2023). Ally has been a judge for the Historical Association’s Young Quills Awards and their Young Writers Competition, a writing mentor for Write East Midlands, and is a founding member of children’s historical fiction authors’ group The Time Tunnellers. Twitter: @ally_sherrick

Alex Crump is an illustrator based in Wiltshire, with past careers as both a teacher and a zookeeper, as well as other current side-lines of storyteller and charity/museum educator.
Instagram: @alexcrumpillustration


Françoise Price is Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact:
Twitter: @FranGPrice

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