This post is by Nancy Jardine.
My recent trip to Rome was educational, visually gobsmacking and also quizzically amusing. Additionally, the trip made me think about how it equates to the techniques of writing a novel.
I wandered the open ruins of Rome with a couple of targets in mind. One was to enjoy a big fat vista of everything I could manage in a condensed time and another was to focus on building projects constructed during the eras I’ve written about in my historical novels- in particular during the reigns of emperors Vespasian, Domitian and Severus. In a writing parallel, that’s a bit like an author creating a novel which is sufficiently entertaining to be read seamlessly and entertainingly whilst still ensuring that the reader is reading work that’s in their specifically targeted genre.
I visited the Colosseum which is attributed to the Emperor Vespasian. In AD 72, he started building the biggest amphitheatre in the world (and still is, I think). Vespasian sadly died in June AD 79, a short time before it was fully completed in AD 80. (by Vespasian’s son Titus.) The saying ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ also holds true in novel writing. It takes time, effort and some degree of expense to bring a novel to final proof stage- and then on to the publishing processes. Of course, unlike Vespasian the author is working towards being still alive when launch date comes around!
I wanted to see the huge Flavian Palace complex in Rome, built by Emperor Domitian in AD 84. On the top of the Palatine Hill, the Flavian Palace was intended to be bigger and better than any palace that had been erected before. Many of Domitian’s 50 or so building projects were intended to be used and admired by the general populace, thus endearing him in their eyes. Romans were no doubt rejoicing over his achievements but at the same time his Roman Armies were ravaging northern Britannia, under the governorship of General Agricola. Domitian’s Roman troops were causing havoc to the indigenous people of north-east Britannia and imposing Roman forts and fortresses on tribal lands– tribes like the Garrigill hillfort characters in my Celtic Fervour Series. While Domitian was providing entertainment for the masses in Rome, his legionary and auxiliary troops were fighting a decisive battle somewhere in north-east Scotland against the Caledonians- possibly only 9 miles from where I live now. What I’ve named as the battlegrounds of Beinn Na Chiche in my Celtic Fervour Book 3 are what the Roman writer, Tactitus, referred to as the Battle of Mons Graupius. Domitian and Agricola were out to impress both in Rome and across the Empire, especially on its boundaries. In writing terms this equates to an author making a name for themselves by creating something very innovative—something which appeals to the masses and gains the author success and recognition. Though there aren’t all that many, there are some hugely successful authors, like J.K. Rowling, George R R Martin, Stephen King and so on. At the other end of the scale, it sometimes seems like a huge battle or uphill struggle for the remaining millions of authors to get some reader attention or recognition. A sense of failure can pervade at the crushing lack of success but like the Caledonians whose guerrilla warfare tactics were persistent, knocking back some of the opposing forces, an author can nibble away slowly up the ladder to some degree of happy success.
I did advance research before visiting the Baths of Severus on the Palatine Hill. Viewing the Triumphal Arch of Severus was an absolute must. Emperor Severus and his son Caracalla are minor characters in my time travel historical for Teens and they are a downright nasty pair. Other references to them in Rome were also on my list, like some marble busts in the Capitoline Museums. All fiction writing needs some advance knowledge of the terrain, the degree of research in a novel depending on the depth of detail a writer might go to. There’s also the knowledge that the author has already gleaned through prior personal experience which is sometimes used to construct the story.
I was in awe of all the ancient splendours and literally caught the rain on my tongue as I drooled at the sheer density of ancient ruins all stacked in and around the Ancient Forum. Avoiding the heavy downpours, which only vaguely dimmed my visit to the Forum, I scurried past some ruins that I thought I knew enough about and didn’t need to read the inscription plate.
Wrong. Was I wrong!
I’d read about the Temple of Vesta in various novels where the famous Vestal Virgins were guardians of the shrine of the eternal flame of Rome. Compared to the height of some of the other columns in the Forum area, the few columns to be viewed of the Temple of Vesta are quite low. But just sometimes it’s what seems to be less significant detail that’s actually quite important. The three pillars of the Temple of Vesta sitting on the circular base look as ancient as the rest of the ruined buildings but it turns out that actually they aren’t! This would be the timely spot to mention plot twists, and maybe even the red herrings that are sometimes inserted in mysteries to lure the reader to make certain conclusions. Or in another genre it might be extra characters who seem one thing but are actually another!
What the tourist now sees is reconstruction of part of the Temple of Vesta, a rebuild done during the fascist era of the 1930s during the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini.
The historian in me applauded that this reconstruction gave me a better idea of what the temple was like some 2000 years ago. However, the historian in me also cringed at the sad tale of the Shrine of Vesta. In AD 191, a fire ravaged central Rome and caused huge destruction- including the Shrine of Vesta. Julia Domna (Emperor Severus’ wife) took charge of the building of a new and better Shrine to Vesta in marble and stone which lasted almost intact until 1549. Having been the most important pagan temple in Rome for a few hundred years the building was pulled down in 1549 and its marble and fine decorative stonework was used to build part of the Papal palaces and churches around Rome. By the 1930s, Benito Mussolini wanted to build a new fascist Rome which aped the grandeur of Ancient Rome and was instrumental in uncovering more of the layers of the Ancient Forum. Having identified the site of the Temple of Vesta and its adjacent House of the Vestal Virgins, he scoured Rome for stones purloined in 1549 and in jig-saw fashion, used enough to reconstruct what we see today. Ah, that WYSIWYG acronym (Or maybe I just adapted that one to suit my purposes) WHAT YOU SEE on the cover design of a book might not be exactly WHAT YOU GET in the story. The blurb might give some great clues but only a read of the story will give the reader the whole background to the package. Any red herrings or marginally misleading clues will be uncovered as the ending looms…
My hundreds of Rome photographs have eventually been stored on my computer and will await use in future blog posts but since the Vestalia, the festival of Vesta, was from the 7th – 15th of June I’ve been writing about it on my blog. If you’d like more details about it hop on over HERE.
Have a good weekend!
Nancy Jardine writes:
Historical Romantic Adventure; Time Travel Historical Adventure for Teens; Contemporary Romantic Mysteries.
http://nancyjardine.blogspot.co.uk http://nancyjardineauthor.com/ Twitter @nansjar Facebook: http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG and http://on.fb.me/1Kaeh5G (for The Rubidium time Travel Novels.) email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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