Thursday, November 05, 2015

Boudicca's Hair

First of all let’s get one thing straight. 

There is absolutely no evidence that Boudicca, the famous warrior queen of the Iceni, had red hair. 

The only archaeological evidence we have for Boudicca is a layer of burnt deposits up to half a metre thick in the three British towns she is said to have destroyed in AD 61: Camulodunum (Colchester), Londinium (London) and Verulamium (St Albans). But there is no graffiti that says BOUDICCA WAS HERE. Even in variant spellings of her name such as BOADICEA, BOUDICA (one C) or BUDDUG.
photo by Caroline, hair colour by Richard
That exciting tombstone recently found at Cirencester which read BODICACIA? It turns out it probably marked the grave of a man BODUS erected by his wife CACIA (both names already attested in Britain). The most likely Latin reading and the bones underneath confirm that. If by some chance it does read BODICACIA, that is nowhere near enough evidence for BOUDICCA.

Even the fabulous Romano-Celtic head (above) that I've used to illustrate this article is probably too late to be Boudicca, though it was found near Lactodurum (Towcester), the possible site of her final battle against the Romans.

So no firm archaeological evidence, then. 

Our only ancient literary evidence for Boudicca is from a few passages in three histories, two by Tacitus and one by Cassius Dio. 

The only physical description of her is in the single passage of Cassius Dio, a Roman writing in Greek more than a hundred years after Boudicca's death. This makes it highly unlikely that Dio had an eye-witness. And yet he is the one who gives us the sensational description of her as having a terrifying appearance: tall, fierce in eye, harsh in voice and with long hair down to her waist. He even tells us what she was wearing. Here it is in the original Greek and in translation:

Dio's description of Boudicca in Greek and English in the Loeb version

In ancient Greek, if you add the suffix -otatos to a word it means 'very' or 'extremely'. Dio has added -otatos to the word xanthos (having put both in feminine singular accusative form) to describe Boudicca's hair. But xanthos does not mean red. It means yellow, blonde or tawny. In other ancient passages, xanthos is used to describe gold, sand, corn, bile and lions, none of which are red (though they might have a tinge of red.)

photo by Caroline, hair colour by Richard
So really, we should translate that bit of passage as ‘she had masses of very blonde hair reaching as far as her buttocks’! 

But wait! We now think that Greek and Roman colours didn’t have quite the same meanings as they do today. 

You might say, ‘A colour is a colour’. But some scholars claim that ancient Greeks and Romans never thought about pure colours on their own but always linked colours to other things. 

Mark Bradley, professor of Classics at the University of Nottingham, is one of the scholars who claims that the ancients did not separate emotion from colour. 

In one article he likens the ancient concept of colour to the condition neurologists call synaesthesia where certain people might ‘see’ Monday as a red colour or the number 5 as purple. But synaesthetic associations vary from person to person. For the Greeks and Romans there were always specific emotional links to the colours. 

We have traces of that in modern English. We say ‘She's green with envy’ or ‘He's feeling blue’. 

In his book, Colour and Meaning in Ancient Rome, Professor Bradley suggests that Greeks associated chloros (yellow-green) with fertility, argos (silver-white) with quick and flashing things, porphureos (purple) with swollen things and oinops (wine) with passion or melancholy. 

The most famous example is Homer's 'wine-dark' sea. Of course the sea isn't the colour of wine. But Homer knows that drinking too much wine can make you violent, passionate or sad. So when he describes the sea as 'wine-dark' there is a hint of violence, passion and the potential for grief. 

Hercules fights a tawny lion in this Roman mosaic from Paphos
So let's go back to xanthos (yellow) and its extra strong version xanthotatos (very yellow). If we agree to translate it 'tawny' as the translator above did, we get associations of a lion: savage, rough, and fearless. 

photo by Caroline, hair colour by Richard
Dio's description of Boudicca's tawniest hair makes us think of a fierce shaggy lion, but then the mention of buttocks reminds us that she is a woman. So we get another flavour – sexy! – added to her lioness-like qualities.

Do you see what Dio is doing? He is talking more about the emotions Boudicca aroused than the actual colour of her hair. 

So why am I sticking to the translation of red hair for mentions of Boudicca in my new series set in Roman Britain

Three reasons:

1. I don't want to defend my translation of xanthotatos as 'very blonde' or 'extremely lion-coloured' for the next five years with teachers, primary school pupils and fans. 

2. The colour red has similar associations today (fire, hot-tempered, dangerous) as tawny did in Roman times. 

3. More than one primary school teacher has told me that she can encourage the ginger-haired girls in her class with these words: 'Don't be ashamed of your red hair. Queen Boudicca had red hair and she was awesome!' 

That last reason, most of all, is why any references I make to Boudicca will include her red hair.

Caroline Lawrence's new series set in Roman Britain is The Roman Quests. Book one, Escape from Rome, is out in May 2016.

P.S. A collection of seven stories about Boudica is now out, each written by a different author. But A Year of Ravens is aimed at adults, not children. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Gladiator Games Fun Facts by Caroline Lawrence

Yesterday I attended the final event (of nine) of the 2015 Gladiator Games held at London's Guildhall and sponsored by the Museum of London. Before the event I visited Londinium's real underground amphitheatre (under the Guildhall Art Gallery) where I chatted with resident archaeologist Andrew and ancient musician John. 

Dan Shadrake AKA Draco was a brilliant announcer
During the event I listened with delight to Dan Shadrake (AKA Draco) who was a brilliant commentator. I also talked to people in the audience including Roman expert Charlie (aged 7). Afterwards I grilled tired but happy members of Britannia, the fabulous group who provided the talent. I even went behind the scenes to visit a potter, carpenter and a family of belt-pouch makers! 

In the course of a hugely enjoyable afternoon, I learned some useful facts that might well appear in my next series, The Roman Quests, which will be set in Roman Britain between the years AD 94-96. (Two of these "facts" are bogus! Can you guess which ones?)

John Warren AKA Vitellius
1. John Wheeler AKA Vitellius told me that fighting a gladiatorial combat in the rain is pretty much the same as fighting in sunshine. (Only instead of the sun getting in your eyes, raindrops keep falling on your head.) Gladiators fight barefoot on sand, which does not get slippery in rain, unlike grass or marble. 

Chris Luck and Jo Bishop
2. Chris Luck AKA Titus told me it had rained on the Friday evening event and there had been thunder and lightning. Idea for future book: Have a gladiator struck by lightning on his metal helmet!

The Emperor Domitian - you never saw him!
3. It is a Little Known Fact that the Emperor Domitian visited Britannia during his reign. But when he sponsored some games at Londinium's amphitheatre, one of the gladiators tried to assassinate him. The emperor was rushed back to Rome. Because of the humiliating attempt on his life, all records of his visit to Britannia were expunged. It must be true: Draco said it!

information board in London's Guildhall Art Gallery
4. Today, Londinium's amphitheatre is underground but its position is marked by an oval of dark grey marble paving stones in the courtyard of London's Guildhall, right where they held yesterday's games!

Draco, Mercury and Charon
5. "Mercury" is the guy in the scary mask who pokes fallen gladiators with a red-hot poker to see if they are really dead or just pretending. 

Charon's belt is scary!

6. "Charon" is the guy dressed all in black in the not so scary mask (but scary belt) who bashes fallen gladiators on the head with his mallet if they twitch at the jab of a red-hot poker. I touched his mallet after: it was really, really heavy and also sticky with blood. Ew. 

The referee at Gladiator games was called the summa rudis
7. We know there were referees at Gladiatorial Games and even what they wore, thanks to several images from antiquity, including a scene of gladiators painted on a glass beaker from the Roman fort at Vindolanda. 

Carpenter Graham and wooden crocodile
8. Carpenter Graham showed me how to use a wooden crocodile instead of a strigil to scrape off dead skin, oil and sweat at the baths. 

Chris Lydamore and carrot amphora
9. Chris Lydamore, re-enactor, potter and curator of the Bishops Stortford Museum, showed me that some amphorae (storage jars) looked like giant carrots!

lemon in water kept wasps away from this lunch
10. A punctured lemon in a bowl of water (sea-sponge optional) keeps wasps away from your Roman lunch of cheese and grapes. Same principle as citronella candles, I guess!

The Gladiators from Capua
Of course I knew most of these facts already: I put them in my 8th Roman Mystery, The Gladiators from Capua. But I did learn a few new things and I had huge fun. Thank you Britannia and Museum of London!
Caroline (2nd left) with fab Gladiator Games helpers!
P.S. Look out for Escape from Rome, the first book in my new Roman Quests series, coming in May 2016.

P.P.S. For more pictures of this and other Roman re-enactment events, go HERE

P.P.P.S. The two "facts" that are NOT true are numbers 3 and 8! Did you get them?

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Thirteen Perks of Being a Kidslit Author

Philip Ardagh and his beard
1. You can dress however you like (within reason). Sometimes you can even indulge your eccentricities and make it your trademark.

2. You are your own boss.

3. You can "play God" by making up whole worlds.

Robert Muchamore in London
4. You can be "famous" without being recognised and hassled.

5. You can "escape" to another world inside your head.

6. You are creating something new and exciting that blesses and inspires others.

7. You can work anywhere

Steve Cole and his iPhone
8. You can play with cool toys and gadgets.

9. You can call travel, cinema and reading "research".

10. You meet fun and interesting people (especially other kidslit authors) and learn new things.
CBBC Roman Mysteries season one
11. It is a huge thrill to see artists and/or film-makers bring your world to life.

12. Every bad experience can be used and is grist to the writer's mill

13. Kids are the best fans and audiences ever! 

enthusiastic pupils at an unnamed school

All photos by Caroline Lawrence, author of The Roman Mysteries, The P.K. Pinkerton MysteriesThe Night Raid and the forthcoming Roman Quests

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Minions' Journey

Kevin the Hero
Yesterday at Seaton House School I gave a short version of my Hero’s Journeys speech to 11-year-old girls and their families. As I spoke, I wondered if the steps of Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth template applied to Minions, the movie. 

Here’s how you could do it:

1. The Hero’s World. 
The Minions have lots of worlds: underwater, onto the shore, the Age of Dinosaurs and Napoleon’s Army... until they are stuck in the Ice Cave. That is their World. At first they have fun: eating snow cones and building ice houses. But the Hero can’t stay in the world forever, so sometimes there is a whiff of death: the sense that if you stay somewhere any longer, you might as well be dead.

2. The Call to Adventure. 
Sometimes the call is a phone call, letter, or knock on the door. But it can also be that “whiff of death”. Joy has gone out of their lives as they play football with no enthusiasm; without a boss they have no purpose.

3. The Refusal of the Call
Most heros go on a quest to discover more about themselves. But the Minions know their calling. They are meant to be faithful sidekicks. One of the qualities of a side-kick is that they are easy-going and like to have fun. They don’t have to take responsibility. “But one minion had a PLAN. His name was Kevin.” Kevin’s plan is to leave the cave in search of a boss. He asks others to come with him. Bob is the only other Minion who really wants to go but Stuart gets persuaded. 

4. The Mentor
There really isn’t a Mentor in this story. And that means no talisman. It’s a fun step but this movie shows it’s not absolutely essential. 

5. Crossing the Threshold
There are several Crossings of the Threshold in the Minions movie. The first major one is where Kevin and his sidekicks leave the ice cave. They cross snow, polar bears, rivers and finally an ocean before they arrive in the World of Adventure: New York in 1968.

The Nelson family are evil allies
6. Allies, Opponents, Tests and Training
The Minions are taken to Orlando by the Nelsons, a family of crooks. They cross another fun threshold to Break On Through by The Doors. They meet Scarlett Overkill the baddest villain around and complete some tests to become her henchmen. Back in London, they undergo more tests and training and are assigned a quest: to steal the Crown Jewels la crowna

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
As the hero trains and prepares to Grasp the Prize, he often descends to the underworld or goes up to a high place. Kevin, Bob and Stuart infiltrate the Tower of London, ascend to a tower, descend via a kind of gauntlet and chase the Queen. When Bob pulls a Sword from a Stone he becomes King Bob, gets the crown, adoring subjects and free run of Buckingham Palace. But when the minions realise that they have upset Scarlett, they offer to give her back the crown. They don't want power, they want a boss. 

[These middle steps are often repeated, increasing in intensity and stakes, like heats before a big race.]
8. Supreme ordeal - Visit to death
For the Hero, this moment is often the one when he must be prepared to sacrifice himself. The Minions are happy to give la crowna to Scarlet, but she is a villain and has not forgiven them. She sends them to the dungeon with orders that they are to be tortured. They escape but Scarlet captures Bob and Stuart and threatens to kill them. Kevin must come to the rescue of “les buddies”. When he sees Scarlets bomb dropping onto his friends he cant bear the thought of them being hurt, so he swallows it! Thanks to our Hero’s willingness to sacrifice himself, Kevin saves the day... (and doesn’t die!)

9. The Reward 
Having vanquished Scarlet Overkill and her sidekick, the Minions return the Crown Jewels to the Queen and each get a reward. 

10. The Cycle Begins Again 
During the reward ceremony the Queen’s crown goes missing again. It is Scarlet again, but this time she is vanquished by a boy with a freeze ray. Kevin, Stuart and Bob, now joined by the other Minions, have found a new Boss and he is DESPICABLE! 

P.S. If you go to see Minions stay right to the very end of the credits! 

P.P.S. The images on this blog are from The Minions Junior Novel

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Your Hero's Journeys

[This is the talk I gave at Speech Day for the prize giving ceremony at Princess Helena College on Saturday 27 June 2015. Because I wrote the speech as notes on index cards, it is not verbatim.]

Ladies and gentlemen, girls. It is a huge honour to be here on this very special day of your Prize Giving Ceremony. It is also a bit daunting to be asked to give inspirational advice in fifteen or twenty minutes. So when I started to write this talk a few days ago I posted a thread on my Facebook page. I asked my Facebook friends a question: If you could go back in time and give your teenaged self ONE BIT OF ADVICE what would it be?

My writer friend Robert Muchamore said:
5 11 24 30 31 36 will win you 200 million pounds in the first ever euro millions...

My writer friend Sarah Naughton said: Don’t go on Jim’ll Fix It

My writer friend Anthony McGowan’s advice to his teenage self was: You should have snogged Carmel Byrne when you had the chance.

But most of my friends essentially said Find out who you are and be true to that, or Follow your dreams!

I think my advice to my teenaged self would be: Go for it and enjoy the ride!

In my life I have had many passions, but the most abiding is my love of stories, especially books, TV and movies. At this cycle of my life, I am a storyteller so I’m going to share some wisdom gleaned from writing my books and from Going to the Movies.

About 50 years ago, a famous anthropologist named Joseph Campbell made a study of world mythologies and discovered that they all have stories about a Hero who goes on a journey, and the steps of that Journey are essentially the same. He called his ground-breaking book The Hero With a Thousand Faces. The reason the story beats are so powerful and compelling is that they are the steps we take in our own lives, over and over, big and small.

1. Hero’s Ordinary World
The first step of the Hero’s Journey is when we find the hero in their ordinary world. Think of Luke Skywalker from the 1977 film Star Wars, watching a double sunset on the desert planet of Tatooine, dreaming of fighting the evil Empire. Or think of Katniss from The Hunger Games, supporting her little sister and dysfunctional mother in District 12. My journey to becoming a writer started about 20 years ago, in 1995. I was living in London, on my second marriage, with a son from my first. I was teaching Latin and art at a small primary school after having done a degree in Classics from Cambridge.

2. Herald - The Call to Adventure
In Star Wars, Luke’s ‘call to adventure’ is a holographic message from Princess Leia.
For Katniss, it is the moment when her younger sister is called to participate in deadly games from which only one teen will emerge victorious. Katniss impulsively volunteers to take her younger sister’s place.

Sometimes in our ‘ordinary lives’ the Call to Adventure is something the screenwriter Blake Snyder calls the Whiff of Death. It is the moment when we realise we are stagnating. I loved teaching but it was exhausting. I remember thinking, I can’t keep this up forever. An idea popped into my head, You’ve always toyed with the idea of being a writer. Maybe now is the time to try!

3. Refusal of the Call
In many (but not all) mythic journeys, the hero often gets ‘cold feet’ at this point as she is called out of her comfort zone. In Star Wars, Luke protests that he has too much homework and has to help Uncle Owen on the farm. Katniss didn’t hesitate because she acted on impulse. In our own lives we often hesitate because we doubt if we have what it takes to achieve our dreams.

4. The Mentor
Step four of the Hero’s Journey is the Mentor. This is someone who encourages the hero to ‘go for it!’ The Mentor is often a wizard, teacher or librarian who can give the hero the knowledge they need. Obi Wan is a good mentor. At the beginning of The Hunger Games, Haymitch is a bad one; he tells Katniss and Peeta ‘You’re going to die.’ He becomes a better mentor over the course of the story and near the end he can tell Katniss You can do this, and mean it. 

My mentors were my parents. They were five thousand miles away, but their belief in me gave me the confidence I needed to embark on a career as a writer in my 30s. Your new Headmistress, Mrs Sue W-W, has just told us how she was hugely encouraged when her coach had told her You can’t do better than a personal best.

When I asked my Facebook friends to post advice, I got several very moving replies. Marcus White, who directed some episodes of the Roman Mysteries TV series based on my books, wrote this: “I was an outsider as a teenager for lots of reasons. I felt confused and lacked confidence. I did have a secret ambition, however, to work in Television. When I eventually found the courage to confide in family or friends I was told that this was just a pipe dream. And that people like me could never achieve this. I was lucky that I had a much older friend, my godmother, to talk to and share my dreams. Advice - you need a champion in your life.”

At that stage of Marcus’s life his family and friends were opponents, but he found a Mentor in his godmother.

One fun thing about the mentor is that they often give the hero a Talisman. This is a physical object designed to help and encourage the hero. The talisman is often magic and sometimes glows, like Luke’s lightsaber, Dorothy’s ruby slippers or Frodo’s ring, (the most famous talisman in 20th century literature.) But the Talisman is not always magic. Think of Katniss’s mockingjay pin. 

The Talisman often looks back as well as ahead. Katniss’s pin reminds her of her home in District 12, but it will become a good luck charm and later a symbol of a whole freedom movement. Luke’s lightsaber belonged to his father and is the weapon of the Jedi Knight. Paddington’s hat belonged to his Uncle Pastuzo, and before that to the Explorer, who once told Paddington’s family If ever you come to London you will be assured a warm welcome. That hat will save Paddington's life at one point and lead him to his ultimate destiny.

My Talisman was a battered paperback copy of The Last of the Wine, the book that had changed my life by sparking my lifelong study of Classics. It would also be an inspiration for my first book. 

5. Crossing the Threshold
In life, as in any Hero’s Journey, the Mentor can only go so far. After a certain point, the hero is on her own. That point often comes when the hero Crosses a Threshold. In movies, Crossing the Threshold is one of the most visually exciting moments. Think of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. Luke leaving Mos Eisley. Neo melting into a mirror. We can even visit the first big threshold Harry Potter crosses at platform 9 3/4s at King's Cross Station. In her address to us a few minutes ago, Sue W-W talked about the moment she first crossed the threshold of Princess Helena College… 

Paddington has to leave darkest Peru and go on the lifeboat across a great ocean… ALL BY HIMSELF. The best movies have several crossings of the threshold. There are at least a dozen in Paddington, including the moment when he actually steps over the threshold of the Brown’s house. The camera shows us his little paws as he hesitates for a moment, standing outside in the rain, before stepping over. A Chinese philosopher famously said, ‘The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.’ Sometimes just one step takes you over the threshold. Think of the moment when Katniss steps onto the train.

Your hero will often encounter Threshold Guardians at this point. They are there to make sure you are equipped and worthy of the journey. Threshold guardians are the people who interview you for your university place, gatekeepers, We all know threshold guardians from security at airports, because crossing a border is like crossing a threshold. You leave one world for another.

6. Allies, Opponents, Tests and Training
The hero must learn the rules of the new world and how it operates. And she must prepare herself for a Test or Battle. For this reason, the Opponent is often one of the most important people our hero will meet in the new world. We learn much better after a struggle. Sometimes, our opponents are internal ones, like self-doubt. There is often a Training sequence which is usually shown by a Montage with upbeat music, because it is often long and tedious, and storytellers have to condense it for storytelling purposes. IN YOUR LIVES THERE ARE NO MONTAGES. You have to practice your sport, learn your declensions, master your art. 

My allies were script doctor John Truby who recorded a story structure course on twelve cassette tapes and gave me a structure on which I could build plot. Other teachers and allies, though I never met them, were Joseph Campbell who said ‘Follow your Bliss’ and Christopher Vogler, a screenwriter who made Campbell's dry book accessible. I had to learn other aspects of the craft of writing, including how to touch type. 

The tests and training part of a story it is a slog, but is very important in preparing the hero for the ultimate test or battle.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave - The Battle
There have been many tests and battles but there is often a big battle that comes before a breakthrough. The hero often descends into the underworld, a maze or a cave to fight the ultimate opponent. Or they may go to the top of a building or a mountaintop. There is often a DRAT, a Desperate Race Against Time or a Ticking Clock. Anyone who has sat an exam can identify with that. I’d been learning the techniques of writing for five years but my sister gave me a good idea and I knew I had to get it on paper in the last two weeks of the summer holiday.

8. Supreme Ordeal or Visit to Death
There comes a moment after all the work, training, sweat and tears when you have to leave your desire on the altar. You have to be willing to give it up. You have wanted nothing else for days, weeks, months, years… But you must also hold your dreams lightly, trusting that God or the Universe knows what’s best. Luke Skywalker pushes away the electronic controls to use The Force for his one chance at blowing away the Death Star. If he fails, he dies. Katniss and Peeta are prepared to eat poisonous berries which will kill them. As a Christian, I offered up my first book and desire to be a published author to God, praying that His ‘will be done’

9. The Reward
Sometimes the hero gets exactly what she dreamed of.  Luke destroys the Death Star. Katniss wins the Hunger Games, and saves her friend Peeta. Paddington finds a home. I got a publishing deal. 

But sometimes the answer is NO. Sometimes the hero doesn’t get the prize but she gets something more valuable: knowledge. I once had a student who later wanted to read Classics at Oxford. He was rejected twice but is now a member of a famous pop band. Not only is he rich and famous, but more importantly he has enriched the world by blessing others through his creativity. Where would he be if Oxford had accepted him? Sometimes APPARENT DEFEAT is the best possible outcome.

10. The cycle begins again.
The hero has got her desire. In a movie she grasps the prize, she rides into the sunset or kisses her lover. In real life we are never satisfied and we want something else. 

By the way, although we are always the hero of our own story sometimes we are not always called to be a leader. Sometimes was are called to be someone else’s ally, teacher, mentor or even opponent. I think I am being called to be a Mentor. Think how powerful Malala has been in her journey as an opponent. 

The prizes I am about to give out are like Talismans given to you by your Mentors.

Take them with you into the new world you’re about to enter. (I’m not going to call it the Real World because you’re already in the real world.) The world you’re about to enter is just one of many you will enter throughout your lives.

These prizes look back at your past achievements but they hint at the untapped possibilities for you in the future. Most of all they will remind you that here at Princess Helena College you have friends, teachers, allies and mentors who believe in you and LOVE you. They – and I – wish you joy and fulfilment on your Hero's Journeys.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Story Cakes

Stories are like cakes.

They nourish, comfort and console us. They delight us with their flavour, colour and texture. We eat up the words with the mouths of our eyes. Some stories give us a sugar rush. Others have an aftertaste that lingers. Some are dry, others moist. Some are light, others dense. But we always come back for more. 

Like the EAT ME cake from Alice in Wonderland, stories can transform us. They take us to other places and times. They put us inside the heads of other people or even creatures. They teach us empathy. This is how they feed us and help us grow. 

If stories are like cakes, writers are like cooks. 

Some writer-cooks plan their project in meticulous detail. We start with a recipe and carefully measured ingredients: one good opening sentence, one problem, one strong desire, one fascinating foe, one plan, one faithful friend (or pet), a handful of other allies (to taste), one big battle near the end and one Lesson Learned. Sometimes – but not always – we add a mentor, a talisman and a journey. We salt it with humour and we frost it with sensory details. 

Other writer-cooks create by pure instinct. They waltz into the kitchen of their imagination, throw some ideas in a mental bowl, stir them up and bake them in the oven of inspiration. And voilà! They have created a masterpiece, seemingly without effort. 

In Daunt Books Children's Short Story Competition (a collection of the sixteen winning short stories from their 2015 competition) you will find some delicious stories baked by cooks aged four to fourteen years. 

Piper, eight, has created slice of double layer cake with lavender frosting and a flavour of Japan.

Fourteen-year-old Alexandra combines rose petals, orange juice, purple paint and glitter into a deliciously evil concoction.

Joey – only five! – has baked a comforting marmalade scone: warm and fluffy, and perfect for tea. 

Caterina’s creation incorporates familiar elements – ‘a spoonful of sugar’, a picnic lunch and sour mash for a War Horse – to make something unique.

Layla, aged eight, wrote my personal favourite, a fairy cake of a fairy tale with equal parts lemony-tart wit and honey-sweet wisdom.

Twelve-year-old Ruby May’s cake has thoughtful layers of white, black and red, with a bittersweet aftertaste.

Chloe, six, has concocted a story that features dangerous cakes and meringues, but ends happily with the baking of cupcakes: one medium and one tiny.

Ten-year-old Sam has crafted a salted caramel brownie so clever it makes you laugh.

Marie, nine, gives us story about a Sherpa as chilly as the Kendal Mint Cakes that climbers often munch.

I see Will’s story as a surreal upside-down version of Baked Alaska, with a moose rather than mousse.

Maia’s confection has twin sponges separated by a buttercream layer of fantasy with candied fruit jewels on top; read it: you’ll see what I mean.

Two of my favourite elements in stories are Journeys and Surprising Heroes, so you can bet I gobbled up Charlie’s scrumptious offering, frosted to look like a five pound note.

Douglas, eight, wrote a wartime Battenberg that was thoughtful and satisfying.

Our youngest cook, Riley, aged just four, baked a charming cupcake of a story with rice-paper animals running around the outside: fish, ostrich, kangaroo, cat and a little bear.

Eliza’s slice of Christmas fruitcake includes seasonal ingredients, but combined in a tasty new way.

To round off our feast of tales, Hannah’s offering seems as straightforward as shortbread until a haunting secret twist is revealed.

Caroline with some of the winners May 2015
photo by Laura McVeigh
You’re going to relish all these stories and I have a feeling they’ll inspire you to bake some of your own. Bon appétit!Caroline Lawrence, London, May 2015. 

[This is my foreword to the volume of winning entries for the Daunt Short Story Competition of 2015. The book is available in branches of Daunt Books or you can order them by phone or email. For details of how to enter the 2016 competition, go HERE.]

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Roman Egypt Quiz!

Caroline and fans at the Petrie 18 Feb 2015
I have just returned from the fabulous Petrie Museum in London, where I was doing a family event about Roman Egypt. The museum put on a Treasure Trail (and everybody got a signed book) but I made a more challenging quiz which I handed out at the end. One of the things I wanted to emphasise was that the Romans thought of Egypt as upside down (from our modern perspective). So here is my ROMAN EGYPT QUIZ, along with the answers (right at the bottom). Bona fortuna! Good luck! 

In Roman times, people though of Egypt as being upside down. In other words you went UP the Nile to go to Nubia, which is in the south! Also, the wind usually blew from north to south and the current flowed from south to north. Those tricky facts (and my map) will help you answer some – but not all – of the following multiple choice questions. But be careful... thinking about upside down Egypt too much might do your head in!

© Copyright Roman Mysteries Ltd.
1. In Roman Egypt, during the first century AD, most people spoke: 
a Roman
b Latin
c Greek
d Egyptian

2. The mouth of the Nile resembled 
a the Latin capital letter V
b the Greek capital letter delta (a triangle)
c the hieroglyphic for an eye
d the Latin capital letter O

3. As you travelled upriver in Roman times, the country on the left was known as
a Scotland
b Arabia
c Libya
d Nubia

4. When you see a picture or model of an Egyptian ship with the sail up, it is probably travelling
a upriver
b downriver
c to Rome
d to Alexandria

5. When you see a picture or model of an Egyptian ship with the sail down, it is probably travelling
a upriver
b downriver
c to Rome
d to Nubia

6. In the early Roman Empire (first century AD) the greatest city in Egypt was
a Cairo
b Crocodilopolis
c Aswan (Syene)
d Alexandria 

7. A cataract is a place where the river changes level. How many cataracts would a Roman have found travelling from Alexandria to Nubia? 
a 7
b 70
c 700
d only one, but it marked the border of Egypt and Nubia.

8. In ancient times, the great Pyramids of Giza were covered with 
a dazzling gold leaf
b thin sheets of white limestone
c sticky pitch to discourage climbing
d colourful paintings of the pharaohs

9. In Egyptian wall paintings, which three things show that a figure is meant to be a child?
a wearing nappy, dummy in mouth, no hair
b wearing kilt, open mouth, short hair
c wearing nothing, finger at mouth, one lock of hair over ear
c wearing amulet, sticking out tongue, no hair

10. Which hieroglyph was considered very bad luck:
a the crocodile king
b the anubis dog
c the ankh
d the seth animal

11. Cleopatra VII (the one who liked Caesar and Mark Antony) was not actually Egyptian by background. Her ethnic background was mainly
a Arabian
b Roman
c Greek
d American

12. Speaking of Mark Antony, his actual Roman name was:
a Marcus Antonius
b Marcus Antonius Postumus
c Marcus Antonius Superbus
d Marcus Antonius Ptolomeus

If this post has whetted your appetite for more, check out The Scribes from Alexandria, my Roman Mystery set in 1st century AD Egypt. It's available in paperback, Kindle and abridged audiobook. You might also enjoy my blog posts called Ugly Cleopatra and one called Upside Down Egypt

Answers to Roman Egypt Quiz: 1c; 2b; 3b; 4a; 5b; 6d; 7d; 8b; 9c; 10d; 11c; 12a