The world of INCEPTIO glimmered into life several decades ago. My father, a numismatist, had introduced me to history, especially the Roman world. So much so, that it seemed perfectly normal to clamber over Roman aqueducts, walk on mosaic pavements, follow the German limes, pretend I was a Roman playactor in classic theatres all over Europe from Spain to then Yugoslavia, from Hadrian’s Wall to Pompeii.
We were in north-east Spain one holiday. I was eleven and fascinated by the mosaics in the Roman part of Ampurias (a huge Graeco-Roman site). There were so many of them. I wanted to know who had made them, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them.
After my father had told me about traders, senators, power and families, I tilted my head to one side and asked him, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe early feminism surfacing or maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smartarse question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”
Real life intervened (school, university, career, military, marriage, parenthood, business ownership, move to France), but the idea bubbled away in my mind and the INCEPTIO story slowly took shape.
Although I specialised in languages, I was never free of the tug of history. As well as reading academic books and watching series of documentaries, I grabbed every historical fiction book that came my way from Rosemary Sutcliff’s The Eagle of the Ninth via Jean Plaidy and Phillipa Gregory to C J Sansom’s Heartstone.
My mind was morphing the setting of ancient Rome into a new type of Rome, a state that survived the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire into the 21st century, but retained its Roman identity. And one where the social structure changed; women were going to be leading society. In my daydream haze, my heroine, Carina, was having all kinds of adventures, saving the world as well as herself. Of course, she’d be high-spirited, not stupid, but a bit rash and she’d make mistakes. Some of her conflicts would be personal and romantic - of course, there would be hero(es) - some against the establishment of which she was a part.
As I became an adult, I added in a lover for her, a blood–and-bone Roman; damaged, thus self-protective, even arrogant. And Carina would have been brought up elsewhere, just to introduce more conflict. A pleasant fantasy, she and Roma Nova were at this time firmly caged in my head while real life clunked along.
But one day, about three years ago, they flew out. What had opened the door?
Every Wednesday, I would go to the multiplex cinema with my husband on a 2-for-1 offer from our then mobile phone provider with a warm feeling that we were getting something back from the fortune they were making from our monthly contract.
None of the films looked anything special, but we eventually chose one. Thirty minutes into the film, we agreed it was really, really bad. The cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration jerky.
‘I could do better than that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.
‘So why don’t you?’ came my husband’s reply.
Ninety days later, I’d written 96,000 words, the first draft of INCEPTIO.
Book trailer: http://youtu.be/NJXrIn7QkiM