Q&A with Caroline Lawrence

Caroline Lawrence, author of the best selling Roman Mysteries books and CBBC series, has swung by Bookbabblers for a Q&A session..

Who were your favourite authors when you were a child?

I adored Nancy Drew mystery stories and devoured them all. In fact, my concept for the Roman Mysteries was ‘Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome’. My mother also used to read to us even when we were quite old (10 or so). She read things like Sherlock Holmes and Island of the Blue Dolphins. I also love a book called A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and when I was 18 I read the book that changed my life by getting me interested in Classics, the study of Greek and Latin. That book was The Last of the Wine, by Mary Renault.

What drew you to writing for children?

When I had my own son, Simon, I rediscovered some of my old favourites like The Cat in the Hat, but also some new classics like Goodnight Mr Tom, I Am David and My Family and Other Animals. I thought these were better than most adult books! Also, I taught art and Latin to kids aged 8 – 11 and I LOVE that age group. When I was teaching Latin, I noticed there were lots of good textbooks and resource books, but not really any books that ‘transported’ the reader to ancient times and told how it smelled and felt and looked and sounded. That was another reason for writing the Roman Mysteries.

For people who’ve not read the Roman Mysteries, can you tell us a little about them?

They are mystery-adventure stories set in Roman times for children aged 8 and up. I have four characters around the aged of ten: Flavia Gemina, a highborn Roman girl and the leader of the pack; Jonathan her clever but pessimistic Jewish next door neighbour; Nubia, her beautiful, intuitive slave-girl and Lupus, a half-wild mute beggar boy from the Greek island of Symi. They all live in Ostia, the port of Rome. In the first book, The Thieves of Ostia, they meet and become friends and solve their first mystery: who is killing the watchdogs of Ostia. In the subsequent sixteen books and dozen short stories, they solve other mysteries with romance and adventures. Flavia’s father is a sea captain and so they get the chance to solve mysteries in Greece, Egypt, Africa and Turkey, all part of the Roman Empire in the first century AD. My aim is to teach kids all about the classical world, but without them realising it! I even won the Classics Association Prize last year for ‘a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of Classics.’

There is also a glossy BBC TV series based on the books and they are repeating it now every weekday at 11.30am on CBBC.

You’re working on the Western Mysteries now, tell us more.

I love Westerns and thought I would do for the Wild West what I did for first century Rome, write a series of books that are exciting and adventurous, but are crammed with facts and tell it like it really was! The western hero is always a loner, so my Western detective won’t have pals like . Also, I had the idea of writing a book in the first person so the reader doesn’t know if the narrator is a boy or a girl! P.K. Pinkerton is a misfit, half Indian, half white, who wants to be a detective in the famous Pinkerton agency in Chicago. P.K. arrives in Virginia City, Nevada Territory on the same day as a famous real person, Sam Clemens, soon to be known as Mark Twain. The Western mysteries show P.K.’s struggle to become a detective in a rough and ready mining town in the days of the Silver Boom.

Here is the first paragraph or two of the first Western Mystery, The Case of the Counterfeit Injuns:

My name is P.K. Pinkerton and before this day is over I will be dead.

I am trapped down the deepest shaft of a Comstock mine with three desperados closing in on me.

Until they find me, I have my pencil & these ledger sheets and a couple of candles. If I write small & fast, I might be able to write an account of how I came to be here. Then whoever finds my body will know the unhappy events that lead to my demise.

And they will also know who done it.

This is what I would like my tombstone to say:

P.K. Pinkerton

Born in Hard Luck, September 26, 1850

Died in Virginia City, September 29, 1862

‘Ye are all one in Christ Jesus’ Galatians 3.28


It will be out in June of 2011.

If you could be any fictional character, who would you be?

If I could be any fictional character it would be Dr Who because he lives forever and can time travel! I would love to travel back to the days of Ancient Rome and the Wild West, and also forwards to the future. (But I would be a female Doctor Who.)

Share 3 of your passions with us

1. My biggest passion is STORIES. Books, TV and movies. I especially love films and watch at least one a day. Mostly I watch them at home on my wide screen DVD player but at least one or twice a week I go to the cinema. This afternoon I’m going to see Shrek Forever After!

2. I also love LONDON. My husband Richard and I live in a beautiful riverside flat on the River Thames and I can walk to the Kings Road in Chelsea in under half an hour. There are also some lovely parks within walking distance. And there are three Cineworld multiplexes within a half hour’s walk. (Handy for passion number 1.)

3. I love my iPHONE. I listen to music, podcasts, film reviews and talking books on it as I walk by the river and travel on tube, buses and trains to various events. My iPHONE has a little map and tells me the quickest way to the nearest cinema. I have cool Apps which tell me which tube lines are running on time or what platform my train will depart from. I can even watch tiny movies on it! I don’t know what I did before I had it.

Oh, and I am quite fond of my family, too. You can read more – and see pictures of them and me – on my FAQS page!

Thank you, Caroline! Visit Caroline’s website here to find out more, and you can follow her on Twitter here.

As if getting a sneak preview of the forthcoming The Case of the Counterfeit Injuns isn’t enough for you, Caroline’s gone one step better and has offered Bookbabblers a fantastic giveaway! One lucky winner will receive a signed first edition of The Slave-girl from Jerusalem AND a paperback omnibus of the first three Roman Mysteries, also signed – wow!! What more could we ask for??! To be in with a chance of winning, comment on this post, retweet it or Facebook ‘like’ it (UK only). The Roman Mysteries is on CBBC every morning at 11.30, with The Slave-girl from Jerusalem showing today and tomorrow. The competition will end when tomorrow’s programme does – you have until 11.55am Friday, Bookbabblers…!

If you’re tempted now to start reading The Roman Mysteries, we’ve added the first book in the series to our shop and below, and then just search the shop for the others – enjoy!