I remember quite clearly the day a brand new show came on CBBC; The Roman Mysteries. I was sat in my chair, school uniform still on. Mug of tea in one hand. Remote by my side. Eyes glued to the brand new show.
A mystery series, set in, yep, Rome. Ancient Rome! The first episode was about Vesuvius and boy was I hooked. I had never heard about this mountain in such great detail, let alone finding out about a town called Pompeii that was obliterated by it.
Thus a love of Ancient Rome was born and I quickly seeked out the books and demolished them. These wonderful mystery books were written by Caroline Lawrence.
And now she’s written a brand spanking new mystery story set in America for Egmont’s mystery anthology; Mystery and Mayhem.
Mystery and Mayhem features 12 short mystery stories that any lover of crime will devour. It allows you to be introduced to many authors you may not have heard of. And you get to live in worlds of mystery and intrigue.
I’m biased in that my favourite mystery was Caroline’s. I love her writing style and find it easy to imagine my surroundings and all of the characters.
Throughout May, there has been a blog tour to celebrate the release of Mystery and Mayhem and today is my stop; An Interview With Caroline Lawrence.
Before I get started with the questions, I want to thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with me. It means a lot as this is my first author interview so thank you!
Thanks Jemima! That means a lot to ME that you are a fan!
Q: In the mystery anthology; Mystery & Mayhem, your story is about a lost Shih-Tzu called Shane, what made you want to write a story about a missing dog?
A: I got the idea after a visit to my grandsons in Santa Clarita near Los Angeles, California in 2014. That part of the world really is a car culture. My grandsons were six and eight and had never been for a walk around their neighbourhood! One day I took them for a short jaunt around the corner and they spotted an animal skull as part of landscaping in front of
a house. Naturally they were fascinated, getting their noses close and prodding it with sticks and so forth. (see pix) I took a photo of it and we hurried back home to do an image search. We discovered that it was a coyote skull. I started to write a fantasy ghost story with them but when Egmont asked my to write a short mystery I thought it would be fun to do something more realistic, using the coyote skull as a major clue. Santa Clarita is where they filmed one of my favourite TV series, HBO’s Deadwood. I love Westerns and thought I would incorporate a Western theme. My mother’s family comes from California and she had just given me a book owned by my grandfather called These Were the Vaqueros. (‘Vaquero’ is Spanish for ‘cowboy’) This fascinating book mentions a unique dish made of milk, honey and roast pumpkin called ‘colachi’, which gave me the name of one of my suspects in the case of the missing lapdog. What is strange is that authors come back to certain themes again and again. It was only after I finished writing this short story that I realised it has the same crime as The Thieves of Ostia: a dog-killer!
(Here’s a page from my writer’s notebook listing the tropes that obsess me. I guess I should add canicide!)
Q: As well as Mystery & Mayhem coming out, you also have a new book series coming out this year; Roman Quests, a series set in Roman Britain. Did you find it harder to write a book set in Roman Britain as oppose to Ancient Rome?
A: Ancient Rome in the Mediterranean is sun-soaked, exotic and right at the centre of history. At first glance, Roman Britian is not as exciting. Then I brainstormed fun things about Roman Britain and listed Druids, Caesar, Boudica, Londinium, Fishbourne, Bath Spa and all the other exciting Romano British sites. Now I’m excited!
Q: As a massive fan of The Roman Mysteries, I have to ask, will you ever return to the world and the characters of The Roman Mysteries?
A: Yes! Characters from my original Roman Mysteries books will make cameo appearances in my Roman Quests books. The new series is set in AD 94-6 so Flavia will be about 25 Jonathan and Nubia 26 and Lupus 23 years old! Best of all we will find out what happened to Miriam’s identical twins, who have grown up on different continents! (photo shows me with the four actors in the Roman Mysteries at Boyana Studios, Bulgaria, Sept 2007)
From L-R. Top: Caroline Lawrence, Eli Machover, Francesca Isherwood. Bottom: Harry Stott & Rebekah Brookes-Murrell
Q: What made you want to write a mystery series set entirely in Ancient Rome?
A: My sister Jennifer inadvertently came up with the idea in 1999 when she said ‘Why don’t you write a book for kids set in Pompeii?’ I immediately thought ‘Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome’. That was my ‘light-bulb’ moment.
Q: What were the books you read that inspired you to write?
A: The book that changed my life was Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine. Until I read it I thought history was dull and had never heard of Classics. It transported me back to
Ancient Greece and I became so obsessed that I signed up for Ancient Greek at University. I loved it. They told me I had to do Latin, too, so I read Classics. Two years later I managed to get a scholarship to Cambridge and I have been living in the UK ever since… all because of a book! Forty years later I am still trying to do for others what that book did for me: open up an ancient but exciting world.
Q: What is your writing process? Can you offer any tips to budding authors?
A: I do a lot of planning and base my outlines on the same structure as many Hollywood films. My mentor is John Truby. His Story Structure cassette course was my secret weapon to getting published. You can see my seven steps of a great story (adapted from his) on my website: http://www.romanmysteries.com/writing-tips .
And here is a mind map of one of my most popular talks at schools, ‘How to Write a Great Story’.
Q: When you’re not writing, what would be the most perfect ‘time-out’ for you?
A: I love walking around London, going to the movies, travelling and eating food cooked by my husband Richard, who also does maps and headers for some of my books. (ox-cart by Richard Russell Lawrence)
Q: I’m pretty sure The Roman Mysteries led me to an obsession with Ancient Rome, particularly Pompeii. Were there any books you read growing up that led you to a love of a place/period of time that you still love today?
A: Yes! The Last of the Wine is still one of my favourite books. I also adore My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell and read or listen to it every other year. I love books by authors as disparate as Nikos Kazantzakis, Patrick O’Brian and Philip K. Dick. For me, the most important thing about a book is that it transports me to another time and place. Two of my favourite books are True Grit by Charles Portis and Boone’s Lick by Larry McMurtry; both are set in the Wild West and both inspired me to write my four P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries.
Q: You also have a set of mystery books set in Nevada in the early 1860’s. Was it weird to write a book not set in Ancient Rome?
A: Actually the two historical periods are strangely similar! Both Ostia and Virginia City were towns of about 80,000 people with a veneer of civilisation and surrounded by ‘barbarians’. Both were horse-powered cultures. In my period, during the American Civil War, medical knowledge was about the same, too! It was huge fun writing the P.K. Pinkerton books and involved a lot of fun research. The photo shows me in Santa Clarita, (setting of my Mystery & Mayhem story), dressed in buckskin to research my P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries!
Q: I just love your writing style, you truly manage to captivate and create a vivid image of the Ancient times, when reading your works, I can picture myself walking around the streets of Ostia and Nevada. But what book has been your favourite to write out of all of the books you have written?
A: Thank you so much, Jemima. One of my aims in writing is to make each book a time machine that will transport my reader to another time and place. Without a doubt my favourite book to write was my third book: The Pirates of Pompeii. I fell in love with the setting and characters and had so much fun writing it that I had to be dragged away from my computer. I remember thinking, ‘At last! I’ve cracked the art of writing!’ Boy, was I wrong! None of my thirty subsequent books have ever been that much fun or that easy to write. Still, I live in hope! (photo shows Richard Russell Lawrence’s drawing of the ‘Villa Limona’ AKA the Villa of Pollius Felix in Sorrento on the Bay of Naples)
As you can see, Caroline is a truly amazing and dedicated woman! I hope this has encouraged to you not only read, Mystery and Mayhem. But also pick up other works by Caroline.
If you click here, you will be transported to her website!
To buy her books please click here
I hope you’ve enjoyed finding out more about Caroline Lawrence today! Feel free to leave a comment and check out the other amazing blog posts for this epic blog tour!