I’ve just finished a Roman book.
It’s such a relief to type that – finally! – because it’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever written. I wrote a proposal and then charged full-steam into the story of my Roman/Caledonian widow Livia and Centurion Marius with more enthusiasm than actual knowledge and, whilst I enjoyed the research, the rapid approach of my deadline made it quite a stressful experience.
At this point, I’d like to blame my husband. I had no intention of writing a Roman story last year. I was actually about 10,000 words into a Victorian one when he suggested that we go to the Eboracum Festival in York last June (I can’t recommend this event enough – if only for the surprised reactions of shoppers when they come face-to-face with a Roman cohort marching through the city). It was also his idea to visit the Author Tent (I’m not kidding, the authors get a tent!) where we met Ben Kane, author of the Eagles trilogy. THEN he left one of his books lying around and I picked it up and got addicted to the story of Tullus and the Teutoburg Forest… So that’s how I ended up in the Roman era.
What I failed to take into account was the scale of Roman history. Whereas the Victorian era covers decades and the Medieval era centuries, the Roman era lasted for thousands of years. Which meant a LOT of research. My initial story was set on Hadrian’s Wall in the fourth century AD, but just when I thought I knew what I was talking about (for example, there were no Roman legionaries on the wall, only auxiliaries), I came across the military reforms of the Emperor Diocletian, making most of my earlier military research completely redundant. So I moved things around. It’s now set in the same place, but in a different era – 197AD, just 75 years after building work on the wall began.
Still, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with my book. The story was good (or so I hoped, optimistically) but I didn’t feel entirely confident with the dialogue or scenery. I needed a research trip and luckily my family were happy to come along. It turned out to be the best thing I could have done. Not only was the scenery (and weather!) wonderful as we walked along Hadrian’s Wall visiting every fort and museum we could find (The Roman Army Museum and Chesters were high points), but suddenly everything clicked into place. I could actually visualise the scenery, not to mention the cavalry fort where my hero and heroine spend the second half of the book.
I spent the month afterwards reworking and revising and the result was a much better book. It was a bit late, but I have a very supportive editor and altogether I’m pretty pleased with the way things have turned out. Having said that, I definitely won’t venture into a new historical period so lightly again. The Romans are complicated (if you don’t believe me, I challenge you to figure out how women’s names work). But on the upside, I have this, a shield my husband bought me by way of celebration/apology. We still haven’t found a place to put it, but it’s a good reminder of a wonderful and incredibly useful holiday.