Thursday, 18 February 2010

Meeting Caroline Lawrence

How did the Romans wipe their bottoms? How did they write shopping lists? What’s the one Roman experience that doesn’t really have a modern-day equivalent?
All this and more we learned at the Museum of London on Monday when my kids and I went to hear Caroline Lawrence talk about her latest Roman Mystery - and much else besides.
My children have very different tastes in books. There are very few authors that appeal to both of them. JK Rowling, C S Lewis and Michael Morpurgo all pass the test. But the one they talk about the most is Caroline Lawrence. They love her detective stories. They enjoy the characters. And they've learned tons about Roman times, without even noticing that they're being taught.
I was also keen to meet Caroline, because I’d ‘met’ her on Twitter – we were commenting on X Factor. Subsequently we’d friended each other on Facebook, and I discovered someone who loves going to the movies as much as I do. From a brief chat on Twitter she’d discovered that I was a debut author and asked to read my book. And then she posted a review on Amazon - on Christmas Day. And what’s more she’d sent signed books to my kids. So we were all a little star-struck, on our way to the museum.
Caroline’s talk was great. Dressed in a stola, shawl and sandals she looked every inch the Roman matron. She talked about structure and characterisation - fascinating for budding writers, whether they’re eight or new novelists – about Roman artefacts, and the joys of school visits. She introduced her new book – The Legionary from Londinium – brilliantly, explaining how she’d adapted ideas from Sherlock Holmes to fit her detective stories set in Roman times. A theatre full of children and parents were fascinated.
Afterwards the queue to get our books signed snaked around the museum entrance hall. ‘Why are there so many people?’ a little girl asked her mother. ‘Because we’re waiting to meet the writer,’ she replied. ‘She’s a very important person.’
We were lucky enough to have a coffee with Caroline afterwards, and my kids got the chance to ask the question they’d been debating for ages - why don’t two of the main characters end up in love and married? No chemistry, was the answer.
If Caroline could time travel to Roman times, then what experience would she want to have? She would pick something with no modern-day equivalent. Not a gladiator show - too similar to a Spanish bullfight. Not a Roman bath - you could go to a Turkish hamman. No, she would go to a chariot race for a uniquely Roman experience.
They used to have chariot races in Roman Britain - there was a race track at Colchester in Essex. It’s survived for thousands of years, but now there’s a plan to build over it. Campaigners have a month to raise £1million to preserve the site, where 15,000 spectators used to watch high speed chariot races.
Caroline Lawrence has been active in the campaign to save the track, and she’s going to be speaking at the Colchester Arts Centre tomorrow (Friday 19th February, 2pm) to raise money for the appeal. Do go if you can – whatever your age, you’re in for a treat.
Oh and how did Romans keep clean and fresh...find out here


  1. I'd love to go but it's a bit far away. Her books sound excellent though. I like books about ancient Rome, Simon Scarrow being one of my fave authors. I also love to hear about kids reading books. My daughter goes through books like a seven headed caterpillar through a lettuce patch but my son... well, he's of a different stroke.
    As ever, a great post Keren.

  2. Come on then, how did they wipe their bottoms?
    And yes, I am off work and laid up in agony with stomach cramps and sickness. Off to docs in morning.
    *Catch up with my dating disasters at plentymorefishoutofwater*

  3. I was hoping someone would you...they used a sponge on a stick. A surprisingly long stick. Very interesting.
    Hope you are better soon.

  4. Have just found a great page on Caroline's website all about Roman toilet techniques..added link above.

  5. What a fab way to spend a few hours! I'm so jealous. I love going to author talks!

  6. Yes... I've always wondered about what happened to the sponge afterwards...
    But I happen to know that medieval monks used handfuls of moss, or wisps of hay. Prickly!

  7. Sounds like the type of book I'd have devoured when I was young. And might still do these days. And I was always fascinated by the latrines at Housestead fort on Hadrian's Wall. I remember buying a postcard of an artist's interpretation of them, complete with sponges. My parents sighed.

  8. I love the way "the Sponge" and its associates have dominated the thread.