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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the characters of your favourite books

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Ancient Rome

Latona and Aula (of From Unseen Fire, by Cass Morris)

Dear readers, tonight with me are two women from a world reminiscent of our Ancient Rome, but with one distinct difference: she is a sorceress, a mage of Spirit and Fire.


Tell us a little about growing up in the Temple of Juno. What was it like there?

Latona: Blissful. Not all the priestesses and acolytes live in the house behind the Temple, of course, but my family thought it best, since my magic was so strong, that I stay with Gaia Claudia so that she could guide me. I missed my mother and my sister Aula, but Claudia was everything I could’ve hoped for in a mentor — and it was exciting, to be so small and yet feel a part of something so big. The most important people in Aven would come to consult the High Priestess of Juno, and Claudia let me observe at her side, even before I was really old enough to understand the politics of it all.

Any cherished memories from that time?

Latona: The first time I served as Claudia’s acolyte during the Cantrinalia. It was held at the House of the Vestals that year, and everything was so graceful and immaculate. I was only seven, the youngest girl there, and I’d never been around so many mages working in concert before. I only saw glimpses of the colors of the elements in action — I’m still a bit shaky with that particular talent, I’m afraid — but I could feel all of it, everyone’s hopes blending together. It was… euphoric.

You left the Temple after Gaia Claudia’s death a few years later. How have you been using your magic since then?

Latona: Oh, the… the usual ways. For a patrician wife, I mean. Just… just little things. I use Fire magic to keep the house’s hypocaust running properly in the winter, and little Spirit charms at parties and such, to liven up the mood. But that’s really — (A deep, long breath)  It was made quite clear to me that, outside the purview of the Temple, I needed to take care and remain within… appropriate boundaries.  (A thin smile)  It wouldn’t do to appear ostentatious, after all.

Because we heard that Dictator Ocella had asked for you to use your Spirit magic at his behest.

Latona: No. No, absolutely not. I– I am not capable of the sort of manipulative magic that Ocella requested of me. And even if I had been, I would not have sullied the gods’ gifts in such a way, whatever rumor may fabricate to the contrary.

Continue reading “Latona and Aula (of From Unseen Fire, by Cass Morris)”

Marcus Corvinus (of his eponymous series, by David Wishart)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a Roman nobleman, scion to the patrician Valerii Messallae family. Living in the times of the emperor Tiberius, he was privy to some of the most interesting events of the early Caesars, from a unique behind-the-scenes view. He’s here to tell us about his life and his times.


Tell us a little about your family and early life.

Gods! How much time have we got here?

I was born in Rome, where the family’s been a fixture practically ever since Romulus ploughed his first furrow eight hundred years back. Father Marcus Valerius Messalla Messalinus (yeah, all four of them; we Roman aristos don’t skimp when it comes to names), mother Vipsania (just the one name this time. Women have it easy). Paternal grandfather another Marcus Valerius Corvinus. That last is relevant. More about Grampa Marcus later.

Mother and Dad were different as chalk and cheese, which was one reason why they divorced around the time of my fourteenth birthday, just after the old Emperor Augustus popped his clogs. Became a god. Whatever. No coincidence there, mind, and not the only reason. As you might guess from her name, Mother was the daughter of Vipsanius Agrippa, the old guy’s erstwhile deputy and hoped-for successor, so contracted marriages at our end of the social scale being what they are it had been a pretty shrewd move originally on Dad’s part, politically speaking. And Dad was nothing if not political. Only it bombed. Agrippa pegged out not long afterwards, and by the time Augustus died (was promoted) where the succession – and political power – was concerned the only game in town was Tiberius, aka the Wart, son of his wife Livia by an earlier marriage (are you following all this? Questions later). No coincidence there, either, far from it. Believe me, I know; as things turned out, sussing out the details of that little bit of political engineering on the bitch’s part nearly had me in an urn before I hit twenty.

Anyway…

Okay, you know how things go for a kid with my background, from their mid-teens on. It’s pretty much standard, and mapped out from day one: a couple of years’ featherbedding with a legion so’s you’ll know, when the time comes, exactly how to beat the hell out of the poor buggers beyond the frontiers who are benighted enough to want to keep it that way, or stupid enough, if they’re inside them, to want out; followed by a strictly-regulated move up the political ladder ending in a consulship and the parking of your well-upholstered middle-aged bum on one of the benches in the senate and a lifelong place on the political gravy train. That, of course, was what Dad – being Dad – had planned for me originally. Only – equally of course, and fortunately – it didn’t work out that way. Thanks, primarily, to Grampa Marcus.

Oh, sure, he’d come up through the system himself. In spades. Unlike Dad, though, he was no political arse-licker: believe me – and again I know what I’m talking about here, having had personal experience of three of the buggers so far, plus Bitch Livia, who counts as an honorary fourth – it takes guts to tell a ruling emperor to take a hike. Which seemingly, on one memorable occasion, he did. Even as a know-nothing kid I had a lot of time for Grampa Marcus.

He had a lot of time for me, too, fortunately; surprisingly so, considering that, not to put too fine a point on it, I was an over-bred, snotty-nosed, spoilt brat, but there you are, that was Grampa Marcus for you. I can see now in retrospect (he died when I was eight) that we had a lot in common, character-wise, and he must’ve seen the same. Whatever his reasons were (although I have a sneaking suspicion they included a less-than-perfect liking for how Dad was turning out) he left me enough in his will – property and cash – to make me financially independent when I came of age. Which meant that when at fifteen I told Dad in no uncertain terms where he could stick his plans for my future the threat of being disinherited wasn’t something I needed to worry about.

Not that at fifteen I wasn’t still essentially an over-bred spoilt brat, mind (at least I’d got past the snotty-nosed stage). But then that’s par for the course: what upper-class Roman fifteen-year-old isn’t?

Enough about family. That side of it, anyway. And at least me and Dad made it up in the end, before he died, with allowances made on both sides. I’m really glad about that. You don’t want bad blood in a family, you really don’t.

So how did you get into sleuthing?

That was Perilla’s doing. My wife. Or she is now, at least, and has been for – gods! – the past twenty-five years. Her stepfather was Ovidius Naso, the poet exiled by Augustus and never pardoned. Grampa Marcus had been his principal patron, which meant that when Ovid died and Perilla wanted his bones brought back for burial she gave me the job of arranging it. Not Dad as his eldest son and head of the family, mark you; me. Which, it turned out, was my Uncle Cotta’s doing: elbow-in-the-ribs, nudge-nudge wink-wink stuff, which was typical Cotta. A nice enough guy in his opportunistic, duplicitous way, and he meant well, but the bugger almost got me killed.  Like I said, I was just an over-bred spoilt kid of nineteen at the time, party-party, smashed out of my skull for thirty days in the month. But that was a lady you couldn’t say no to – think Amazon minus the battle-axe but with added attitude – so I didn’t. And that was how it started.

She’s not as bad as she sounds, mind, Perilla. Or not really. Not when you get to know her.

Continue reading “Marcus Corvinus (of his eponymous series, by David Wishart)”

Lucia Atella (of Prelude to Fate, by Rosie Chapel)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a woman from a the far reaches in the provinces of the Roman Empire, from a time of relative peace. She is here to tell us about how her peaceful life as a weaver and healer suddenly changed 

Editor note: it’s always great to have authors come back here to introduce new characters and new worlds. You can meet Rosie’s previous protagonist – Hannah of Hannah’s Heirloom trilogy – here.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

My name is Lucia, I grew up, and still live, in a small town called Emerita Augusta in Lusitania… that’s in Hispania, if you’re not sure. Most people have never heard of it. Hmmm… it’s a lovely town and is all I know; I have never travelled far beyond the walls. If you have coin, there is always plenty to do. There are numerous thermopolia and popinae – although the latter can get a bit rowdy, so you need to have a care – and an eclectic collection of shops. We are lucky to have a theatre; it is the most incredible venue where they have all manner of entertainment. I love the plays, they are wonderful, and some make you laugh until you fall off the seat. Oh, and the amphitheatre, although I would rather not talk about that if you don’t mind, it holds bad memories for me.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Before my father died, he took us out, occasionally, for a picnic by the Anas – that’s the river on the outskirts of town… well one of them. I was very young, I was only maybe seven summers when he died, but I remember him carrying me on his shoulders and we would sing all the way to the river. My mother tried to hush him… father could not hold a tune… but she still laughed and sang along with us, so I do not think she minded. Goodness, I had forgotten those days, thank you, if you had not asked the question, that would have been lost to memory.

What is this ‘toy’ of which you speak? I am sorry; the word is unfamiliar to me.

What do you do now?

I am unsure how it all happened, but I seem to be very busy. I weave cloth; usually simple pieces such as mats or wall hangings, but I also make wraps, and tunics and, now I have a bigger loom, I can even make togas or cloaks if people are prepared to wait a little while. I paint, usually decorative tiles and such like, and occasionally I am asked to do a portrait. Two or three times a week, more if an animal is injured or sick, I visit the bestiariorum, that’s where the animals used in gladiatorial games are housed. I… err… well… I suppose I am a healer of sorts. Continue reading “Lucia Atella (of Prelude to Fate, by Rosie Chapel)”

Trajan Aurelius (of Druid’s Portal: The First Journey, by Cindy Tomamichel)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a soldier from Ancient Rome, right at the time of Commodus. He’s here to tell us about life in Roman Britain, about civilisation and and blue barbarians, and about surprising love that grew in between.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I lived on the family farm, in the foothills above Rome. Our family have farmed there since before the time of Caesar. Olive trees larger than any I have since seen, and fruits and grains that were in demand at the table of Apicius. So my Grandmother told me.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Toys? I was my Fathers only son, and expected to follow in his footsteps. My toys were weapons, a wooden sword I splintered with usage, a shield I scrawled the wolf of Rome on, and pretended to be a soldier repelling Hannibal.

And yet I well remember those long days of Summer when I ran hunting wild goats with the sons of slaves, the smell of crushed herbs underfoot. The heat of the sun is a welcome memory, for the sun in Britannia is never so warm as that of Rome.

What do you do now?

Aye, that is a tale long in the telling. For once I was a soldier of Rome, fighting the blue painted barbarians in this chill island of Britannia. The excesses of the emperor Commodus sickened me, and with my family gone, I left Rome. I served the Empire in the forts along Hadrian’s Wall, training men to fight, and bringing Roman civilization to a land of barbarians. I expected little else, and my life was filled with the sounds of fighting, and drinking to forget the faces of the men that I met in battle.

Yet that all changed, for on the verge of being killed by the Celts, I was rescued by a flame haired Goddess. Yes, after Janet appeared in my life, nothing was ever the same. I soon realized that protecting her was worth more to me than even my duty to Rome. She had enemies that wished her dead, and a bold spirit that leaps into adventure. I had my hands full – in many ways- keeping her safe. Roman Britain and the borderlands of Hadrian’s Wall was not a safe time or place for anyone. Continue reading “Trajan Aurelius (of Druid’s Portal: The First Journey, by Cindy Tomamichel)”

Tilla (of the Medicus Roman Mysteries series, by Ruth Downie)

Dear readers, tonight with me is the wife of an officer in Hadrian’s legions. We have interviewed her husband before, but we thought it only fair that we give her a voice too.

Born as Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae (really, she’s not quite sure why people prefer ‘Tilla’), on the furthest reaches of the Roman empire. Though married to a Roman officer, she is a healer (and now a Roman citizen) in her own right.

She is here to tell us about life bridging the British and Roman worlds.

This interview celebrates the release of Memento Mori, the 8th volume in the acclaimed Medicus series, which we’re just nuts about.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Well, it was NOT “some flea-bitten outpost beyond the last supply depot”, no matter what my husband’s friend might tell you.  One of the things I’ve learned about Romans is that they’re very good at having opinions on things they know nothing about.

Our farm used to overlook a beautiful wide river valley. I say ‘used to’ because there’s hardly a trace of any buildings there now. Sometimes when I listen to our old neighbours complaining about the emperor’s Great Wall across the land, I want to say to them, well at least you’ll never have to worry about the northerners coming in the night to steal your cattle and burn your house down, will you? But I‘ve learned to keep quiet.  Roman soldiers have a nasty habit of setting light to things, too. Which can be very awkward when you’re married to one of them.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I try not to think about when I was a child, because then I think about my brothers, and I start to wonder about the men they would have grown into and the girls they would have married and all the nieces and nephews that will never be, and as our Mam used to say, Nobody likes a girl who feels sorry for herself. I used to find that very annoying at the time, but it’s true.

What do you do now?

Ah. Even though I was the one who wanted the baby, I didn’t mean I wanted to have to look after her all day and all night, all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to think about something else. Sometimes it’s nice to get all the way to the end of a conversation without having to stop and wipe up somebody’s dribble or pat them on the bottom. So it’s much better now we have a babyminder.  I can go out and earn some money helping deliver other people’s babies, and when I’m not doing that I’m free to help my husband when he gets himself into trouble. Which he’s quite good at.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

We were asked to rush south to the spa town of Aquae Sulis, because my husband’s best friend was accused of murder. Really I think it was just my husband who was asked, but I guessed he would need some help, and I couldn’t leave the baby behind, so we all went.

What did you first think when you heard that Valens was accused of murdering his wife?

At first I thought, that’s impossible. Then I thought, but Valens was always a useless husband, and then I thought, surely being a useless husband and having opinions on things you know nothing about does not make you kill your wife.  But then my own husband found out more, and we both began to wonder.

What was the scariest thing in your adventures?

I would like to say it was the terrible thing that happened when my husband went missing, and that was indeed very frightening. But so was being tied up in a shed and lying awake listening to the rats. Of course I didn’t know my husband was going to go missing at the time. Perhaps that’s just as well. Is it possible to die of fright? I don’t want to find out.

What is the worst thing about being married to a doctor?

Usually it would be the people calling on him at strange hours, or the peculiar smells when he boils up medicines, or the disgusting topics of conversation. But the worst thing about being married to this doctor is the constant moving house. I thought things would improve when he left the Army, but we still don’t have a cow or even a vegetable patch.

What is the best thing about it?

I have seen parts of the world none of my own people will ever see. That is how I know that Britannia is best.

What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?

Beer, blue sky (rare and precious in my homeland) and singing songs about the great victories of my ancestors. My husband complains that the songs are very long, but my people have a lot of ancestors. We also had a lot of victories—until the Romans turned up. That is why we keep the memories alive: our children need to know where they come from, and that our land has not always been occupied by men from Rome.

What does the future hold for you?

I’d like to say a cow, a sunny vegetable patch and perhaps another baby. But I expect it will just be more packing and unpacking and getting my husband out of trouble.

Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?

I could, but once something is written down you never know who will find it and read it. That is why my people only pass on their secrets by word of mouth. So, do you promise not to write anything? Good. Come and sit beside me and I’ll whisper…


Ruth Downie read far too much Jane Austen at University, and ended up with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She took up writing fiction when she realized that she could make absolutely anything happen using only a piece of paper and a biro.

Her murder mysteries are mostly set in Roman Britain, because she’s fascinated by the idea of her ancestors living in the wild west of someone else’s empire. MEMENTO MORI, her eighth novel about a Roman army medic called Ruso and his British partner Tilla, is published in March 2018.

Join us next week to meet a the captain of a mercenary team. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.

Julius Brutus Caesar (of The Steam Empire Chronicles, by Daniel Ottalini)

Dear readers, 1800 years after Julius Caesar survived the assassination attempt, the Roman empire sits at the forefront of technological and industrial innovations.

We have made our way to the edge of a forest, where the men of the XIII Germania legion prepare for battle. We are going to interview one of the young officers of the legion, on the cracking facade, espionage, corruption, and revolution that are pulling the empire apart.


Can I help you? You must be one of our new recruits.

You’re Julius Brutus Caesar?

Yes, named after both the great founders of the Empire. My father was a traditionalist, what can I say.

And you’re actually from Brittenburg? I thought everyone there was dead!

Ha! Not a chance. It already felt like a swamp mixed with a giant factory. At least, the part where I lived. Don’t get me wrong, the palaces and marketplaces in Brittenburg are…were…will be beautiful again.  At least, once reconstruction has completed. Nortlander raids and destroyed seagates tend to ruin things, especially when your city is below sea level. That’s what we get for living in Germania Inferior.

I’m sorry, where?

You’ve never heard of it? Uh… It’s opposite Britannia and north of Gaul? The Belgicae used to live there… Anyways, long story short – big city next to the ocean, but big walls to keep out the ocean. Didn’t you study geography in the scholarum? Continue reading “Julius Brutus Caesar (of The Steam Empire Chronicles, by Daniel Ottalini)”

Thrasius (of Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a man, working in a profession we do not normally come across. He’s a former slave, originally bought as a cook.

However, he found himself the cook of none other than the Roman empire’s most notorious gourmand, Apicius. As anyone who have met Felix and me know, we are forever indebted to that great man, for relentlessly documenting the ancient cuisine we all know and love.

This makes this interview one of the most anticipated on our little blog, as the interviewer is a big fan of the interviewee.

Without further ado, let us have Thrasius tell us about his life.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

My very early childhood was in Greece. I was a twin, born to a slave woman who died in childbirth and whose name I never knew. My sister and I were raised by another slave in a respected house in Pompeii until we were four. When that patrician died, the household slaves were willed to several different relatives and we were separated. I never knew what happened to her. I barely remember anything about her, except her name, Thecla. I was lucky and my master saw that I was smart and had me taught to read and write from a very young age. I think he thought I might eventually become a scribe.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

One of the slaves in the household where I grew up carved some wooden animals for me. I played with them often and even back then I think my true colors as a cook were showing through. I often would pretend to capture and slaughter the animals, then take them home and roast them over the fire.

What do you do now?

I am a freedman working in the household of Marcus Gavius Apicius, one of the wealthiest men in Rome. I began my time in his household as a cook but eventually have become one of his most trusted advisors. My duties are wide. I do have a secondo, what would you say—a sous chef? But I am generally responsible for every dish in the kitchen, overseeing all the banquets, for managing the extensive guest lists and advising my master who should be invited; and I also am in charge of the Apicius School of Cooking. Continue reading “Thrasius (of Feast of Sorrow, by Crystal King)”

Aurelia Mitela (of Aurelia by Alison Morton)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a woman from Roma Nova, the sole remnant of the Roman Empire to survive into the 20th century.

A former Praetorian, she is sent to investigate who is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood. Mysterious smugglers, lethal traps, gang bosses, and back-stabbing countrymen are only the beginning.

She is here to tell us about her thrilling adventures.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Roma Nova? It’s in my blood and bones. Mountains, a big river, alpine pastures, vines, olives and grain fields, the smell of pines, the blue skies and the snowfields to the north, towards New Austria and west to the Italian Confederation. Then there’s Roma Nova city, the ‘urbs’. Gods, it’s beautiful; marble forum, statues, temples – our new Rome. Well, (grins) new since AD 395! Oh, and for my first adventure, it’s the late 1960s.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I loved my first gladius. Our estate carpenter out at Castra Lucilla made it for me. She polished and polished the oak until it almost shone like metal. Maybe that’s why I was so keen to become a soldier. I spent a lot of time at the farm as a youngster as my mother was busy as senator and the imperatrix’s advisor as well as running her businesses. I swam in the lake, rode, helped with the lambing and grape picking as long as I finished my schoolwork, and sometimes not. Continue reading “Aurelia Mitela (of Aurelia by Alison Morton)”

Hannah Valerius (of Hannah’s Heirloom Trilogy by Rosie Chapel)

the-pomegrante-tree-rosie-chapelDear readers, tonight with me are, in a way, two women named Hannah. The modern Hannah, while on an archaeological expedition to Masada, started to see the life of the ancient Hannah Bat Avigail – a woman straight out of biblical times. Hannah saw the Great Revolt of Masada, saw the life of the times, and even fell for a Roman legionary.

She is here to tell us about life in ancient Israel.

 

 

Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I grew up in Jerusalem; it’s a huge city and used to be very cosmopolitan – now I’m not so sure, I expect much has changed. Of course, it was my home and all I knew; families looked out for each other and it was a very happy community. Unfortunately, tension replaced concord, political unrest led to violent clashes between pro and anti Roman supporters and my beautiful city descended into chaos.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

Toys! Ha! I never played with toys, not sure we even had any in our house. If I wasn’t outside playing with my brother and his friends, I was helping my uncle in his surgery; he was a great physician you know. Far more interesting than toys! My mother would have preferred me to be more feminine — pah! Who wants that? Certainly not I – give me the sick and injured over girlish games any day.

Cherished memories? Ahh, well that’s a bit difficult. Oh dear, how can I explain this? Okay, here goes – I have a descendant, also called Hannah, whose soul connects to mine. She shares her knowledge of what will happen in order that I can save those I love from disaster (such as the slaughter on Masada, just before the Roman army re-took the fortress). Thing is, the first time our minds collided, almost everything that came before was lost. I experience the occasional flashback, but nothing of any substance. My cherished memories began on Masada. Continue reading “Hannah Valerius (of Hannah’s Heirloom Trilogy by Rosie Chapel)”

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