Drawing Anglo-Saxon and Viking Treasure: Guest Post by Gilli Allan

To tie in with the release of the gorgeous new cover for Buried Treasure, I'm delighted to hand the blog over to author Gilli Allan: ...

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Drawing Anglo-Saxon and Viking Treasure: Guest Post by Gilli Allan

To tie in with the release of the gorgeous new cover for Buried Treasure, I'm delighted to hand the blog over to author Gilli Allan:

Drawing Anglo-Saxon and Viking Treasure

One of the reasons I chose to write my book, BURIED TREASURE, is because I have always had a fascination with archaeology. I grew up in the knowledge that my great uncle, Sydney Ford, ‘unearthed the Mildenhall Treasure on his farm’. I put this in quotation marks because the story is actually a lot more complicated and mysterious than I knew as a child. To find out more go to  http://gilliallan.blogspot.com/2020/06/my-connection-to-mildenhall-treasure.html

Maybe our family history also influenced my son, Thomas Williams. He is now a Medievalist and an Archaeologist, and the author of Viking Britain and Viking London. His interest has always been focused, not on the Roman occupation (and finds like the silver tableware his great great Uncle Syd discovered), but on the traces left in the landscape during the early medieval period often referred to as the Dark Ages, the half century between the Romans and the Normans. 

Growing up, Tom always claimed he wanted to be a writer. And aged four, produced his first dictated ‘book’ about ghosts and ghouls. I claim all the credit as his early influencer because as far back as Tom can remember I was forever scribbling in notebooks or tapping away at a ‘sit-up-and-beg’ typewriter. And he was just six when I became a published author. 

Before I had Tom and began writing, my career was as an illustrator in advertising.  So, for a few years when Tom was trying to find his feet after graduating, he talked about our doing some kind of project together. He flirted with the idea of rewriting some classic legends or fairy-stories, for which I would supply the illustrations.  

His first outing as an author did indeed turn out to be a children’s book, although not a fairy story. It was an account of the life of Harald ‘Hardrada’ Sigurdsson, the Viking King who launched an attack on the north of England in 1066 (ahead of William the Conqueror’s invasion in the South East), but he was defeated by our own King Harold Godwinson, at Stamford Bridge. ‘The Tale of King Harald – The Last Viking Adventure’ was written to accompany the ‘Vikings-Life and Legend’ exhibition, at the British Museum in 2014, for which my son was the project curator. True to his word, he asked me to illustrate the narrative, the map and the cover art. 

King Harald in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Praying for Forgiveness

After this, my first ever book illustration commission, my son’s writing career continued in a more adult direction. He contributed to and edited, an academic tome, Representing Beasts in Early Medieval England and Scandinavia.
Two artefacts from ‘Representing Beasts……’ The Clocmacnoise Plaque (above)
and The Lejre Throne (below)
One of the other contributors was unable to secure the rights (at a reasonable cost) to reproduce copy-righted images to illustrate her text. Tom suggested his mum could draw the artefacts for her.  Thus, my second book illustration commission came about. It was the kind of work I had never previously attempted (a British Museum artist undertook the depictions of the ‘real’ artefacts, which interleave the story of the ‘The Tale of King Harald’), but I found I really loved it. There is a certain security and comfort in drawing something that actually exists, something you can simply copy, rather than dreaming up what tenth century Constantinople, or the aftermath of a battle between Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, might have looked like!   

When Tom gained his original two-book contract with William Collins we were very proud and happy parents. It did not initially occur to me that I might be called upon yet again to illustrate anything.  But quite close to the deadline for delivery of his book, ‘Viking Britain’, guess who was on the phone. “Mu…um?” 

Northumbrian Coin of the 920s
For this book I produced ‘raven’ and ‘crossed-axe’ section dividers, and also ‘knotted snake’ chapter endings.  And I also produced the illustrations of two coins.  It may not be much, but it gave me enormous pleasure to be involved in some small way in our son’s career as a writer. And, when I came to write my own book, BURIED TREASURE, Tom was on hand to help me enormously both with the plausibility of my plot and the research required.  His expertise was invaluable. 
Coin of Cnut of Northumbria 900-5


About Gilli:

Gilli Allan began to write in childhood - a hobby pursued throughout her teenage. Writing was only abandoned when she left home, and real life supplanted the imaginary kind.  
After a few false starts she worked longest and most happily as an illustrator in advertising and only began writing again when she became a mother.  
Living in Gloucestershire with her husband Geoff, Gilli is still a keen artist. She draws and paints and has now moved into book illustration. 
All of her recent books TORN, LIFE CLASS, FLY or FALL and BURIED TREASURE have gained ‘Chill with a Book’ awards. 

Following in the family tradition, her son, historian Thomas Williams, is now also a writer. 

About Buried Treasure:

“I found Buried Treasure a compelling read. It was so many things: a love story, a hunt for clues to lost secrets, and a fascinating look at how our past experiences shape us, and how we can heal even after damage. The characters were wonderfully well drawn. ”

Jane thinks he sees her as shallow and ill-educated. Theo thinks she sees him as a snob, stuffy and out of touch.

Within the ancient precincts of the university the first encounter between the conference planner and the academic is accidental and unpromising. Just as well there’s no reason for them ever to meet again. But behind the armour they’ve each constructed from old scars, they’ve more in common than divides them. Both have an archaeological puzzle they are driven to solve. As their stories intertwine, their quest to uncover the past unearths more than expected.

Find Gilli:


Find Gilli’s other books TORN, LIFE CLASS and FLY or FALL at 

Contact Gilli at




  1. Thank you so much for having me, Annie. It is not just my book - BURIED TREASURE - which touches on the period you write about. I was pleased to be able to contribute the above post to your blog about my artistic involvement with early medieval artefacts. gx

    1. It's been my pleasure Gilli - thank you for such a wonderful article and for sharing your fabulous illustrations with us :)