Books

This 17-book series about a Roman girl who solves mysteries started when I had a lightbulb moment: Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome! But if 18-year-old Nancy (a fictional girl detective) had lived in Roman times she would be married with about three kids. So Flavia Gemina is only ten when she solves her first mystery and meets a diverse trio of friends: her Jewish next-door-neighbour Jonathan, shy slave girl Nubia and a feral beggar boy named Lupus who cannot speak but only growls. Over the next few years Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus grow up as they solve many mysteries and have adventures all over the empire. With compelling characters, thrilling plots and conscious accuracy about historical detail, The Roman Mysteries are beloved of teachers, parents and most of all, kids. Ten of the 17 episodes were televised by the BBC in 2007 and 2008. That seems like a long time ago, but ancient Rome is timeless. And so are The Roman Mysteries. Ages 7+

Threptus is beggar-boy with a heart of gold who lives in Rome’s seaport, Ostia. He idolises Lupus, a former beggar boy who solved many mysteries, had exciting adventures and now owns a ship. When Lupus and his friends are exiled at the end of the Roman Mysteries, Threptus organises a makeshift triumphal parade to bid them farewell. Before he boards his ship, Lupus bequeaths Threptus his wax-tablet with the written challenge: Carry on my good work. But it’s hard when you’re a penniless beggar. Together with Floridius the soothsayer and Aphrodite the sacred chicken, Threptus learns to read and write and solve mysteries like his idol. Ages 6+

Virginia City was a mining camp in America’s Wild West. During the American Civil War, it was a dangerous place, full of gamblers, desperados, pistol-packing widows and – worst of all – newspaper reporters. When twelve year-old P.K. Pinkerton arrives there homeless, penniless and hunted in 1862, things don’t look good. But P.K. soon finds allies in a young reporter named Mark Twain, a gambler called Poker Face Jace and Ping the photographer’s apprentice. With an inscrutable face, an inquiring mind and a penchant for disguises, P.K. sets up shop a detective. Full of real historical characters and events, the four P.K. Pinkerton Mysteries are unlike anything you’ve read before. Yee-haw! Ages 9+

Virgil was a Latin poet who lived just before the time of Jesus Christ, when Augustus came to power as Rome’s first emperor. His epic poem the Aeneid tells the story of the Trojan hero Aeneas who flees his burning city, gathers refugees and sets out to find a New Troy (which will one day be Rome). Some of the stories are tragic and brutal and I have retold two of them with bittersweet endings. In The Night Raid two teenage Trojans make a disastrous decision to raid the camp of their Italian enemies. In Queen of the Silver Arrow an Amazon-like girl named Camilla joins the Italian forces fighting against Aeneas and his followers. Written for specialist dyslexic publisher Barrington Stoke, the vocabulary is simple and the prose clear, but the dark themes make these books most suitable for teen readers. Ages 10+

The year is AD 94 and the place is Rome. When the corrupt Emperor Domitian sends soldiers to confiscate a rich property in the middle of the night, twelve-year-old Juba must escape with his brother and sisters, and journey to distant Britannia on the edge of the known world. There the siblings meet Bouda, a beautiful young cutpurse who attaches herself to them in a bid to escape her life of crime. As they try to elude the emperor’s hitmen, they visit Roman sites which can still be seen today in London, Fishbourne Roman Villa, Butser Iron Age Farm, Bath Spa, Caerleon Fort, Chester and York before a dramatic Return to Rome in the final book. The four-book series features appearances by grown up characters from The Roman Mysteries, so that we discover the eventual fates of Flavia, Jonathan, Nubia and Lupus. Ages 9+

Billionaire Solomon Daisy is obsessed with the skeleton of a blue eyed African girl from Roman London. When his tech guys accidentally invent a time machine he decides to send schoolboy Alex Papas on a mission to find her. Time travel is easier for kids, and Alex knows Greek and a little Latin. The portable portal is placed in London’s Mithraeum, recently restored to its original 3rd century AD location. So it should be simple for Alex to go through and find the blue-eyed girl.

But Time Travel is full of surprises, especially when one of the rules is Naked you go and naked you must return.  Ages 8+

For nearly twenty years I’ve been going into schools and sharing my best writing tips for plot, characters and unputdownability. I learned most of them from movies and Hollywood script gurus like John Truby and Blake Snyder. Because I reference films and TV as well as books, my approach appeals to children who are not necessarily good readers. After all, your story doesn’t have to be a book or short story. It could be a movie, a platform game, a music video, a play, a graphic novel, a ballet or even a tale told out loud to your friends or family. As well as sections such as Sample Writing Workshops and A Day in My Life as a Writer, I share over a hundred fun bite-sized tricks and tropes. I am thrilled that artist Linzie Hunter agreed to illustrate the book as my approach involves using the imaginative right hemisphere of the brain, the part in charge of humour and images!

Want to know a secret? Adult writers will love this book, too… Ages 8 to 80!

Sometimes books are printed in small numbers for special occasions and then go out of print. If you are a top fan of the Roman Mysteries you might like to add these ‘collectibles’ to your shelf. My favourite is the Travel Guide, From Ostia to Alexandria with Flavia Gemina. Some editions have colour plates of me and my husband-illustrator Richard on some of our research trips!