Many of the characters in my novels are based on real people. Take for instance Vivius Marcianus; an austere Roman Senator, feared yet admired by many in Rome.
As a motherless child, he knew what it was like to be neglected, ignored and abused by a strict military father. Too scared of a whipping to cry, Vivius buried his emotions – until Caesar sent him on that awful assignment to investigate Pontius Pilate.
Sadly, and as frequently happens when reaching middling years, a simple incident strikes a chord and, for some unexplainable reason, those deeply buried memories come flooding back and begin to affect our decisions and the way we behave. That’s what happened to Vivius.
So, when you read ‘The Senator’s Assignment’, you will forgive him I hope, when he behaves out of character at times. After all, he’s based on a real person.
Have events in your life dictated the way you behave?
Or, if you’re a writer, do your characters have a back story that affect the way they react to any given situation in your plot?
I was totally captivated by this quote, and then it began to dawn on me it was a clever parody.
It was the comment: ‘HerMajesty’s Men’ that awakened the old grey cells. ‘Her?’ I know that long curly hair, frills and fancy attire can be deceiving but then that was Charles the Second for you. Charles was King. The next queen wouldn’t be until William and Mary shared the throne 23 years later.
As for the Great Plague; London may have had a smattering of cases in 1664 but it didn’t swamp the city until 1665.
Still, it was an entertaining piece and it hasn’t stopped it from spreading around social media like the great fire which swept through London a year later, 1666.
And if you can actually be bothered to read what Pepys did say, I found some of his comments rather comforting, his fears not unlike ours today, and even though he was dealing with a situation far worse than the one we are currently facing, his outlook remained compassionate and on the whole, positive.
Doesn’t it show how careful we must be as writers to check authenticity of quotes and facts before using them?
The launch of my new book in March – the day of lockdown – and the cancellation of all my speaking engagements and book signings.
And that’s good news?
It is now. Being forced on to social media reconnected me with old friends, initiated contact with groups of writers who share the same ups and downs as me, and introduced me to new friends. Amazing how good things can come out of bad situations, isn’t it? Although I could do with a few more friends on my web site.
Every Christmas I pore over a jigsaw puzzle, religiously fitting the pieces together until I can stand back in satisfaction and admire the finished results.
And every Christmas I puzzle over why Jesus was born at the most troublesome period in history. Why then? The Romans had fought and plundered their way across three continents, demanding those under their rule acknowledge their superiority – which meant a very pregnant Mary had to trail all the way to Bethlehem to comply with a proud Caesar’s request for a census. Where did sending Jesus into that chaos fit in with … anything?
Jigsaws! It can be frustrating fitting the pieces together, can’t it?
During my research for ‘The Senator’s Assignment’ I found my answer. It wasn’t a perfect time for Jesus to be born, but what the most powerful nation in the world did bring, was freedom to travel without passports – and miles and miles of open roads. Just what God needed when thirty odd years later, the story of Jesus was ready to be told.
The world is always in turmoil. But, if you put off doing something to wait for the perfect moment, it’ll never happen.
God bless you this Christmas – and what will you do in 2021?
When you walk through a storm hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
Walk on through the wind. Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone.
Vivius was a man who had always walked alone, his tormented childhood had forced him into that.
He was a man who thought he was strong enough to protect the wife he had chosen, the children he had given life to, and the harsh realities of a Rome filled with conspiracy and intrigue – and then he discovered he wasn’t.
One night, an American B17 bomber, having dropped its bombs on a German industrial estate, was returning to its base on the English countryside, when the probing fingers of German searchlights picked up its silhouette. Within seconds, the powerful anti-aircraft batteries had opened up sending a barrage of shells towards the homebound plane.
The first thud rocked the aircraft sending a sickening apprehension through the crew. On nights like this it wasn’t unknown for less than half the squadron to return. More thuds, the plane trembled, and then one hit the fuselage. The young men clenched their teeth, waiting for the inevitable explosion. It never came.
The bomber made it back to base. Mechanics and support staff swarmed on to the runway, and within minutes an engineer emerged from under the belly of the plane. He had found a dozen or more unexploded shells. The one lodged in the fuselage was carefully dismantled but to the amazement of the crew and engineers it contained no explosive charges. It was empty, except inside they found a piece of paper, hastily written and in Czechoslovakian. It read: ‘This is all we can do for you for now.’
Somewhere in a Munitions factory in Germany, Czech slave labourers, who knew full well the penalty for sabotage, had, in an effort to help the Allies, made non-exploding shells.
It’s all about having the courage to persevere when the going gets rough, isn’t it?
It’s all about doing your bit – even if that means staying at home and co-operating with the rules and regulations to prevent the spread of the virus.
I wonder if Christopher Columbus had any idea that his name would become world-famous and that yesterday, October 12th, would become a national holiday because of his great achievements?
All he was doing was looking for a faster route to the Far East. But three months after setting sail across the Atlantic, as fate – or God – would have it, he ended up in the New World and the outcome introduced us to a new plants, animals and new cultures.
It struck me that we never really know where our ventures will lead us.
After my book, ‘The Senator’s Darkest Days’ was completed in March, Andrew Chamberlain interviewed me for one of his podcasts. Today, I received an e-mail from a discouraged writer in Kentucky, USA who was about to give us. Then she listened to Andrew’s podcast. Apparently, she was so encouraged by the questions and the transparency of answers on my writing journey that she decided to stick with it and she has asked for prayer.
Strange; but when Andrew asked me for an interview, I nearly turned him down – far too scared to set sail on a venture like that. In fact, I even felt like that when I started writing.
I wonder if Christopher Columbus felt the same when he set sail on his venture? After all, when you think about it, all you have to do is get on the boat and trust God to set the current in the right direction.
Inspiration for writing can come from anywhere; the fascinating life of someone you meet, a place filled with history, a wild idea, an exciting – or horrible – event; in fact, life in general. But to make a story of that idea buzzing around in your head you have to actually sit down and write it. Ah-ha! That’s the difficult part.
I’ve met countless people who tell me they’re going to write a book, but they never get round to it, and over the weeks the idea gradually fades because life gets in the way. So, you want to be a writer? Then if you’re serious, the first thing you have to do is find yourself a quiet corner, get out all those notes you’ve made – and loose yourself in your story.
This is my quiet corner. It’s tiny, usually messy but three out of my five books were worked on here. No distractions – other than a bird landing on the trees or squirrels racing up and down the branches.
I don’t think Rome would have been Colin’s first choice for a city break, but I really wanted to get a taste of the area I was writing about. So, we booked a short break in October. Nice and cool for walking around, or so I thought.
On the day we visited the Forum, Rome was in the middle of a heatwave.
And so, I found myself trailing a red-faced, sweating husband up Palatine Hill to the Caesar’s Palace. I loved it! In my imagination I could almost hear the tramping boots of the elite Praetorian Guards as they marched up and down this hill; see the colourful parades celebrating the Caesars; and the magnificent palatial villas of the rich and noble.
‘Just think,’ I panted halfway up the hill. ‘My hero, Vivius walked up this very hill to get his assignment from the Emperor Tiberius.’
He used this as an excuse to stop and frown at me. ‘I thoughtVivius was a figment of your imagination?’
It was no cooler when we trailed back down the hill to explore the market places, I swear I could feel the hustle and bustle of ancient Rome, smell the meat, the fish and vegetables and …
‘Wonder if there’s anywhere we could find a nice cool beer?’ he said wiping his brow.
I dragged him towards Mamertine Prison. It was dark, suffocating place. I explained that that was where the Roman authorities threw their political prisoners.
He examined it enviously. ‘Looks nice and cool in there.’
The Senate Building, the heart of the Roman Empire, stood tall and proud!
‘I can just imagine the crowds gathered around those huge doors waiting for the Senators’ to fling them open with important announcements,’ I enthused.
‘Yeh! Shame! All that’s left now is a derelict old building and a rubble of old stones’
He has no imagination. But then he wasn’t writing my book, was he?
‘What a strange world we live in.’ I mused later that night as we relaxed on our hotel balcony. ‘Who would have predicted that the Emperor Nero would persecute all those Christians in this city and years later it turns out to be the centre of the Christian Church – the Vatican – the Pope?’
There was no answer. He was enthusing over his ice-cold beer.
Anyone remember Kingsley Terrace Methodist Church in Newcastle.
I was devastated when it closed down in 1960-1 as it had been the church of my grandparents and parents, my Sunday School and youth club etc. It really knocked my faith. I couldn’t believe God would let such a thing happen.
It wasn’t until l reached a point in my life where l didn’t just believe in God but had a deep and meaningful relationship with him that l realised God is far bigger than any institution.
For me that’s one of the good things that’s come out of Covid-19- . I’ve discovered the pleasure of praying with friends further afield via Facetime. I’ve found new – and dredged up a few old preachers via U-tube. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed singing the worship songs I like and singing them as often as I want. Zoom I’m not too keen on but I’ve found friends who aren’t comfortable with church absolutely love it so that’s a bonus. Then, when lockdown began to lift, we had our bible study in a garden with tea and scones with strawberry jam. Never enjoyed bible study as much.