AUTHOR Mary Jarratt is bringing a little part of Essex to the Malvern Hills.

The former Braintree-based teacher moved to the West Country back in 2005 but still regularly comes back to the area to visit friends, and with her new debut book to promote, she’s likely to be coming back a lot more.

That’s because the book is inspired by Colchester and perhaps its most historically important time - when the Romans were here.

Fires in the Night tells the story of two Roman boys, Justin and Titus, who stumble upon a Saxon longboat hidden in a creek near their city.

Their suspicions that one of the officers at the Roman garrison is a traitor are confirmed when they find a scroll containing a coded plan of a plot which they manage to decipher with help from Titus’ cousin, Julia.

The traitor is planning to let the Saxons into the city at night.

“I’ve always been a storyteller,” Mary tells me, “even when I was teaching. That’s where the idea for the book came, all those years ago when I was teaching and I couldn’t find a suitable story about when the Saxons first invaded Roman Britain.

“We used to take classes to Colchester Museum and that was a big inspiration too but the actual writing of it didn’t take place until I moved away.”

Born in Brentwood, when Mary got married the couple moved to Sible Hedingham, where not only did she teach in the local school, she also helped out in the Castle.

Years later the family moved to Braintree and once again Mary got involved with the town’s museum.

“I used to dress up as a stern Victorian teacher,” she laughs.

“History has always been a passion of mine and so when I finally decided to write the book I made sure I got all the facts right. Thanks to Philip Crummy of the Colchester Archeological Trust, I have had lots of help on the details of life here in Roman times.”

The book, which is aimed primarily at Key Stage 2 children, was published in June thanks to a local publisher close to where Mary now lives.

“I cannot remember when I actually started it,” she adds, “but I when I mentioned to the local publisher at a party he really liked the idea.

“We had a launch in Malvern and I’m just starting to get in contact with some local schools because as well as the historical aspects of it, there’s a lot of social issues.

“During the course of the adventure, Justin does a lot of growing up and learns some important things about himself and about relationships with family and friends, and I think that’s probably as relevant for today’s young people as it was back then.”

Except without the threat of invasion from the Saxon hordes of course!

  • Fires in the Night is available from Red Lion Books in Colchester. If any schoolteachers are interested in Mary coming along to do a talk, email her on