Hazel’s academic background is in archaeology and ancient history. She began studying both at A Level when she was sixteen, along with English Literature. When she was eighteen she attended Manchester University to study a BA (Hons) degree in Ancient History and Archaeology, and she followed this by attending Bangor University to study for an MA in Celtic Archaeology. Her first academic paper was published while she was studying at Bangor, and in addition to her studies she worked in the university’s library and taught undergraduates in subjects relating to history, archaeology, and heritage.
Her studies in archaeology are not only academic but also practical, as she began volunteering on archaeological excavations when she was studying for her A Levels. This included taking part in a reconstruction project that gave her the opportunity to build an Iron Age round house, and it was this that first piqued her interest in the Iron Age, which led to her choice of Masters programme. During her Masters Hazel spent a summer digging in Austria in a joint venture between Bangor University and the University of Vienna. When she finished her studies she spent a year in Corporate Archaeology working for two different companies in the South of England and publishing a second paper before returning to Bangor to begin a scholarship for her PhD.
Hazel’s main research interests lie in late Iron Age and Early Medieval Britain, ‘Celtic’ Archaeology, Gender Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Death and Burial.
Archaeology in Fiction
Hazel drew heavily on her archaeological knowledge and background, as well as her time spent at university and on excavations while writing her debut novel, Chasing Azrael. One of the central themes of the novel is death, and as such it made sense to Hazel to give the main character, Andee Tilbrook, a strong association with the dead, not only through her ability to see and communicate with ghosts, but also in her choice of career. As such, Chasing Azrael is an strong example of archaeology in fiction and a rare example of the author having first hand, extensive experience in the area.
Much of Chasing Azrael was written while Hazel was studying at Bangor, and as a result the novel is set in a city that is based heavily on Bangor itself. Geographically the fictional city of Draethen in the novel is in the same place as Bangor, and there are many familiar locations mentioned within the novel, in particular Menai Bridge, which is a focal point for the plot and one of the characters. Hazel fictionalised the city and the university to avoid giving the impression the places, events, and characters within the novel are in any way based on reality, which is not the case.
Draethen University’s library boasts a number of hidden rooms and secret passages – these are the result of many hours stacking shelves in Bangor’s real library, and the fascination that Hazel developed with some of the older rooms which, in her opinion, would have greatly benefited from the added mystique afforded by such a hidden network of tunnels.
If any exist, she has yet to find them – and not for lack of trying.
The office at the university, which Andee shares with her colleague and best friend, Lily, is based on a real office in the Department of History, Welsh History and Archaeology at Bangor University, which Hazel shared with her supervisor, friend, and mentor, Professor Raimund Karl throughout her Masters and PhD. The room has a distinctive L shape and an arch dividing it into two sections – in the novel, Andee occupies the section which was, during Hazel’s time at Bangor, occupied by Professor Karl, while Lily uses the half that housed Hazel’s desk and two comfy sofas. Andee’s finds room is based on one Hazel worked at in Cambridge during her time with Cambridge Archaeology East.
Throughout the novel Andee can be seen to be doing many of the things Hazel has done in her own career, including teaching seminars, grading papers, writing papers, and cataloguing finds. Her skills are set to be an integral aspect of not only her character but also the plots of future books in the series.
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