After the success of the INCEPTIO evening in Pembury Library in 2013, Susan Rogers, the community librarian, had long wanted me to give a talk in the area central library in Tunbridge Wells, so we arranged it to coincide with the publication of SUCCESSIO, the third of the Roma Nova stories. Susan was delighted to count seventeen in the audience plus other staff, myself, my husband (photographer) and my critique partner, Denise Barnes.
As my critique partner (or more informally, writing buddy), Denise knew the Roma Nova stories inside out. That in itself was mildly terrifying – she would find any weakness with the usual razor sharpness she applied to my writing. I smiled at her, she smiled at me, then we began.
She asked me about Roma Nova, heroine Carina and her hero, Conrad, how I’d even thought up the who setting and why. She probed into my own military experience, asking how much influence that had had on Carina’s character. The ‘in conversation’ format worked extremely well and drew the audience of readers fans and fellow writers in.
And didn’t they ask some good questions! One who was a historical writer herself asked how much I’d dug into myself to form the character of Carina. Inevitably, a writer draws on her own experience, certainly at first, but as the characters develop, they diverge from there and indeed take on their own life. Another reader asked how I’d got inside the head of a 24 year old. Well, I said, in my own head I’m 28. General laughter. I did check with some young students who were helping me with the American terminology and dialogue content for protagonist Carina who had been brought up (or raised) in America. I also watched a lot of films for that age group and visited a lot of forums!
An intriguing one was about religion as the Roma Novans had stuck to the traditional Roman gods and forms of worship rejecting Christianisation. Carina, although she uses the gods’ names when swearing, is pretty neutral about religion in general as her parents had been. For her religion played a ritual and social role rather than anything else.
Research and writing craft questions followed, plus one about the Roman idea of ‘virtus’ the masculine ideal in Ancient Rome which carries connotations of military courage, manliness, excellence, character, and worth, perceived as masculine strengths. In Roma Nova, I replied, it had developed into a shared ethical ideal of duty and service to the state shared by both women and men.
The last question was about whether I had a huge wall board with all the information about Roma Nova written on it. Now I know my critique partners, Denise, does with lines and arrows everywhere, but I’m not as organised as that. I smiled at the questioner and said. ‘No, I just live there in my head…’
And then on to signing…
Susan, Emma and Jane, the Tunbridge Wells library team couldn’t have been more helpful; positive, knowledgeable and smiling, they were everything that is best in the public service. And this morning, I received a lovely email from Susan:
‘Just to say thanks again for a brilliant evening last night.
We had 17 people attending, which I thought was a great turnout, who all really enjoyed your talk.
Hope we can do this again!’
So do I.
Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.