You have written a lot of books about Roman antiquity. How did that come about?
My interest in classics was sparked when, aged 19, I read a book set in classical Greece called The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault. When I went to university I signed up for Ancient Greek and loved it. That led me to Latin which led me to Cambridge to do a degree in classics. After Cambridge I got married and became a primary school teacher. I realised I love teaching kids about the ancient world and in the summer of 1999 when my sister recommended I wrote some books for kids set in Pompeii I thought of Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome! I began to explore the first century A.D. and I’m still fascinated by it!
Your book series "The Roman Mysteries" was even made into a film. Can you remember how you found out about it? What was the filming like for you?
When I was about halfway through writing the Roman Mysteries (there turned out to be 17 of them in the end) a TV producer contacted me. I can’t remember if he emailed me directly or got in touch to my agent but he had seen my books in the window of a bookstore in Chiswick and wanted to make them into a TV series. Unlike Movies, TV Series can get made very quickly and I was over the moon when less than a year later I was in Tunisia North Africa watching them film. There ended up being two seasons filmed in 2007 and 2008.
What fascinates you most about the ancient Romans?
What fascinates me most about the ancient Romans is how much they were like us… And how much they weren’t like us. I would love a time machine to go back and see what it was really like.
Could you imagine living in those times?
Yes, I can totally imagine living back then. As a writer that’s my job: to use my informed imagination. But I still believe there is about 5% of that world which would utterly surprise me (and any other historian). I think the closest I might get to living in ancient Rome might be living in poor parts of rural India with colourful buildings and clothing, altars everywhere, open sewage, and strong smells!
In your book series "Roman Quest" there was a person called "Flavia Gemina". After some research I found out that you also used this name in your book series "The Roman Mysteries". You also use this name on Instagram. Is this how you incorporated yourself into your books?
Flavia Gemina is the name of the main character in my 17 Roman-Mysteries. She also appears in a cameo role as an adult in my spin-off series The Roman Quests. I use this name on Instagram and in some emails because I guess I identify with her. After all, most main characters are versions of the author. Or the author as they would like to be!
Where do you get all the ideas for your stories?
People ask me where I get the ideas for my stories. The answer is from my research. About 70% of the ideas I use in my books come from reading Greek, Latin and Hebrew primary sources. For example, I got the idea of a character with no tongue after reading and epigram by the Latin poet Martial. But I also get ideas from movies, books, snippets of overheard conversation, dreams, and also from going to museums and re-enactment events.
Where do you prefer to write?
My husband and I live in a small but charming flat on the River Thames in London. You’ve probably seen lots of photos taken from the windows on my Insta account! I have taken over the second bedroom as my office and that is where I love to write. Some writers can write anywhere: on the train, in different rooms of the house, in a café, even on a plane but I prefer to write in my study.
Would you like to travel to Austria or Germany one day?
I’ve done lots of travelling around Europe to research my books. For the Roman Mysteries I’ve been to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Sicily and even North Africa! I’ve only been to Germany once in my life when I was about 18 and backpacking around Europe. We were in Luxembourg and nipped across the border to Trier. In 2006 I was invited to visit the Vienna International School to speak about my books the librarian took me to the archaeological site of Carnuntum which was great. I would love to return to Austria and Germany, especially Berlin.
Have you visited the places in your books?
I’ve visited all the places in my books except the site of Masada in Israel which appears in a backstory of my 13th Roman Mystery. My favourite ruins in the whole world are the ruins at Ostia Antica the ancient sea port of Rome. There is something magical about it or should I say *numinous*!
Do you collect artefacts from Roman times?
I don’t have many artefacts from Roman times — just a few coins and an oil lamp from Egypt — because those are quite expensive. However I do collect replica artefacts because those really inspire my writing. My most popular replica artefact when I go into schools is a sponge on a stick: ancient Roman toilet paper! I also have quite a few wax-tablets, styluses, a small papyrus scroll, modern handwoven linen, a copper goat’s bell from Greece, and several replica amulets.
Your books have been translated into several languages (for example German or Russian). Do you have these books at home?
I have written almost 35 books in the past twenty years and various ones of them have been translated into over 20 languages including German, Russian and Romanian. I do have quite a few of these books at home. In fact I have so many books I have to stack some of them horizontally against the wall in our corridor!
What other hobbies do you have besides writing?
I don’t really have any hobbies, but I have passions like reading, watching good television and movies, going for long walks around London, and learning dead languages. At the moment I am studying Biblical Hebrew.
How do you start writing your books?
My books start with an idea. Then I usually plot out my story using the Seven Plot Beats I learn from a Hollywood screenwriter called John Truby. I then build that into a chapter outline — a sentence per chapter —and finally I start writing! When I go into primary schools or to literary festivals I always talk about the Seven Plot Beats and if you google my name and Seven Beats you’ll find lots of blogs and other interviews mentioning them. I also describe my writing process in my most recent book modestly entitled How to Write a Great Story!
What tips can you give to aspiring authors?
There are hundreds of tips for aspiring writers in How to Write a Great Story. But my most valuable tip is probably this: train yourself to write by doing it every day, as regularly as brushing your teeth. Even if it’s just for five or 10 minutes!
Your "Roman Quest" series is now over. Can we already look forward to a new series?
I finished my Roman Quests series a few years ago and I’m now working on a new series called The Time Travel Diaries. There are two books published and another one on the way… I hope!