Monday, April 06, 2009

Classical Association Award

On Sunday 5 April something wonderful happened. I received the Classical Association Award for 2009. This award is given every year to a person (or team of people) who help make the Classics more accessible and popular to the public.

I was very honoured because – apart from my sponge-stick (ancient Roman toilet paper) – it is the first award I have ever won for my books. It means a lot to me that the award was chosen by Classics-lovers and experts in their fields. The four previous winners are all brilliant and it’s a huge honour for me to be in their company: Barbara Bell of the Minimus Latin Course; Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden for their War with Troy project; Tom Holland, who writes wonderfully readable historical best-sellers like Rubicon; and Peter Parsons, author of the fascinating City of the Sharp-nosed Fish (which I used a lot in my research for The Scribes from Alexandria).

I fly up to Glasgow on Saturday and arrive at the luxurious Crowne Plaza Hotel, close to some of Glasgow’s funkiest architecture. I explore Glasgow on Saturday evening and on Sunday I hear some fascinating talks, including one about the Villa of Pollius Felix (the speaker doesn’t suspect it plays a major part in two of my books) and one about about how teachers can use Latin poems as mnemonics to help you remember different meters. One of my favourite talks is given by Andrew Reinhard. It is about how to use Mobile Phones in Latin Class. (Only the title is longer) It’s great to meet Andrew. He is very enthusiastic and imaginative and has an exciting website, which is ‘more wired than a Roman internet cafĂ©’. I think I’ll be hanging out there a lot.

Some of the talks are so full of information that they make my brain hurt. Classicists are fiercely intelligent. You want to be careful not to get your brain snapped in two by their trap-like minds. Someone with a very trap-like mind is Richard Seaford, who gives a 50 minute speech without notes to all the delegates. They call this a ‘keynote’ speech. Sometimes they also call it ‘plenary’, which just means that everybody goes. (To see what he said, read Mary Beard’s great synopsis on her blog, A Don's Life.)

After the speech there is a drinks party. I see Classics celebrity Mary Beard. She was at Newnham College the same time I was, many years ago. I am really enjoying her new book on Pompeii and I tell her so. The drinks party soon becomes a bit of a scrum so I nip up to my room to do a quick ‘tweet’. (Hmmm. I hope you don't misunderstand this...) When I come back down, 400 people have disappeared! Finally some of the hotel staff see me wandering around. ‘There she is,’ one says. They show me to a massive banqueting room which has magically appeared, like Brigadoon. A man with a walkie-talkie shows me to the top table. Gulp! I find myself sitting up there like one of the gods on Mount Olympus, with lots of luminaries of the Classical world. I try not to get my brain pinched by their trap-like minds. Luckily I make it through to dessert.

After dessert and over coffee, Emma Stafford, the publicity officer for the Classical Association, gives a wonderful synopsis of my books and then presents me with the Classics Association Prize. It is an envelope with a cheque for £5000 inside. Euge!

I try to make my acceptance speech short and sweet. Thanks to my trusty sponge-on-a-stick, it gets a laugh. I then promise to give away some free copies of The Pirates of Pompeii at the end. When the banquet is officially over, there is a little rush to the top table, but like all good British, they form an orderly queue. However, one delegate gets wine spilled on her beautiful dress in her hurry not to lose a place in the queue. Luckily I have one book left. (BTW, if you were at the conference and didn’t get your free copy, email me at flaviagemina AT with your name and address, and I’ll send you a copy for free.)

After I have given away the last book and said thanks to the organizers, I go up to my room, buzzing with happiness and gratitude.

On Monday, the morning after the banquet, there are some more tempting talks, designed to discourage delegates from leaving early. I hear two different talks on Erotic Greek Pottery (which always makes me think of Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) and one about ‘Dr Who in Pompeii’! (only the title is longer) See? Classicists can have fun sometimes.

The best bit is when a stunningly beautiful Classicist named Joanna Paul gives a talk on Pompeii in the Modern Novel (only the title is longer) and I get a mention between Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Robert Harris. My joy is complete. I am laetissima.

Gratias maximas ago, Classical Association and Classical Association of Scotland!


  1. Hi Mary Beard here. This is just to say for all you reading this blog that Caroline's acceptance speech was was full of "sal" ("salt" or "wit") and she showed herself just as "urbana" ("smart") as you would expect...with or without the sponge.

  2. Hi Caroline,

    Well Done and Congratulations! You really deserve this prize.
    You have made life in Ancient Rome come alive for so many children and teenage readers ( and let's not forget the adults sneeking the kids books away to read too!).


    Vienna International School

  3. Anonymous11:00 PM

    You can't just go off and tweet when you're the star attraction!

  4. I'll try to remember that, Bookwitch! ;-)

  5. Another triumph for Flavia Gemina! The Classical Association could not have made a better or more deserving choice. Sounds as though it was a great meeting - where do get to see what you said in your speech?

    Maty Matyszak

  6. Thanks, Maty! My speech was really short: I just listed the things that influenced my choice of career: Nancy Drew Mystery stories, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, an afternoon in Ostia and Mary Renault's Last of the Wine. I finished by telling about the little girl in Year 3 asked if my sponge-stick was 'an award for my books' and said I was glad to finally have a real award!

  7. Congrats!
    I was there in Glasgow, saw and heard the whole thing and was very unhappy that I'd never heard of your books before! I should definitively buy some, the topic sounds fascinating!

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. Really delighted to have seen and heard your speech at the conference - and I have just finished watching the first disc from The Roman Mysteries (hoping to use if with my Year 7s come the end of the summer term). I will be emiling for a book - it's very kind of you!

    Imogen Goodier

  10. Salve, Imo! Yes, please do email me at flaviagemina AT and I'll be happy to send a book, a poster and some other goodies for you to use! Vale!

  11. Many, many congratulations on your award.
    I love The Roman Mysteries and am currently rereading the books in order to present a paper on them at the conference in July at Lampeter. I hope to meet you there.
    I'm also intending to inlcude them on my reading list for a module on Children's Literature which I'm introducing at the Univerity of Salford where I am a lecturer in Creative Writing and English.
    You may be interested to know that I do recommend your books to my students who are attempting to set their fiction in classical times.