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Author Reveals Roman Mysteries

Monday, 27 February 2017

  • Caroline Lawrence - Author with pupils and books
  • Caroline Lawrence - Author on stage
  • Caroline Lawrence - Talking about thresholds

Caroline Lawrence, the author of the popular Roman Mysteries series of books, visited School to talk to Year 7 pupils in the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions and Junior Girls in Year 5 about her writing. In addition to the Roman Mysteries, Caroline has written the Roman Mystery Scrolls for younger readers, The Night Raid and Queen of the Silver Arrow based on stories from Virgil’s Aeneid, volumes of short stories, the Western Mysteries series, and is currently writing the Roman Quests: a new series set in Roman Britain.

Her talk opened with three recitations in ancient languages: the Iliad in Ancient Greek, the Lord’s Prayer in Latin, and the opening of Genesis in Hebrew. She then began with the statement that “books can change your life” and talked about reading The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault, set in Classical Greece, which sparked her life-long interest in Classics and set her on the path to becoming an author.

She went on to discuss her inspirations for the Roman Mysteries series, which she said she first envisaged as ‘Nancy Drew in Roman times’. She also talked about some of the decisions she made early in the writing process, such as having her characters visit Pompeii rather than live there, so that when Vesuvius erupted their home wouldn’t be destroyed, and her choice of the Roman port Ostia as her heroes’ home as it’s her “favourite ruin in the whole world”.

In addition to talking about writing, Caroline spoke about the destruction of Pompeii: a subject she covered in her book The Secrets of Vesuvius. She gave pupils a brief overview of the realities of a Plinian eruption, which would have been similar to the 2014 eruption of Mount Ontake in Japan. She also explained how the people in Pompeii died instantly, and how archaeologists obtained the famous plaster casts of the hollows their preserved bodies left in the hardened ash, sometimes even including facial expressions or clothing such as cloaks, giving a unique window into the town’s last moments.

For the writers in the audience, Caroline gave advice on how to create characters and plots by using archetypes but changing them slightly or doing something unexpected with them. She also mentioned how she based her own characters on the elements of Air, Earth, Fire and Water, as these were an important basis for character traits to the Romans. She was also able to talk about Roman superstitions about thresholds, and how crossing thresholds are often very important to the plot of any story.

Finally, Caroline went on to talk about her current series, the Roman Quests, which is about a group of siblings forced to flee to Roman Britain during the time of Emperor Domitian. She gave a gripping account of the first couple of chapters, in which twelve-year-old Juba is tasked with escaping Rome with his brother and sisters when the Emperor’s men come to take their parents, after which no doubt the pupils were eager to read the book for themselves and find out what happened next.

At the end of the talk, pupils were able to buy copies of Caroline’s books and have them signed by the author.

Caroline’s fascinating and informative talk not only gave lots of historical information about the Classical world, but also provided lots of tips for aspiring writers, as well as inspiring all of the pupils to try reading one of her exciting mysteries set in the Classical world.

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