This month our Cockatoo subscribers are heading into Ancient Rome on a madcap, laugh-out-loud time travel adventure starring a brilliant cast of characters from both history and the present day. My Family and Other Romans is the perfect blend of two of our favourite genres: historical and funny! We asked author Marie Basting to tell us more about what inspired the book, the research she did and which other funny books she recommends for middle grade readers.
What inspired you to write My Family and Other Romans?
The idea for the story came to me in a dream! The dream was in glorious technicolour: red caped legionaries glowing amber as they boarded a gleaming silver bullet train. It seemed obvious these soldiers belonged to the god of fire, Vulcan. But Vulcan wasn’t child friendly enough to take the lead, so I gave him a niece – Silvia – a schoolgirl who just wants to blend in but is about to find out she’s a demigod.
What research did you do and did you learn anything that surprised you?
My research included reading printed and online sources, visits to Roman sites and museums, watching films, documentaries and history shorts, and I even signed up for online courses in Greco-Roman mythology and Roman architecture. There were lots of things that surprised me, but the thing that stuck with me the most was just how contradictory the Ancient Romans were: gentrified yet disgusting, civilised but barbaric, and forward thinking yet superstitious. They were absolutely fascinating.
Would you like to be immortal? Why or why not?
Oh, this is such a hard one. I guess it depends on whether I was fit and healthy and the people I loved were immortal too. Even then, I do wonder if things would eventually get a bit boring. I mean there’s only so much reality television a person can take. Maybe a long and happy life lived to the full is the better option.
How many of the characters and their experiences are based on real people or events?
Rather than real people or events, My Family and Other Romans is inspired by mythology. You will recognise some of the names – Vulcan, Bellona, Scylla for example – and even their back stories, but I have given these mythological characters my own unique twist. There are lots of Roman details and truths in the book, but Silvia’s adventures are all very much of my own imagination.
Which historical or fantasy world would you escape to if you could?
I’ve spent a lot of time in Ancient Rome recently so maybe I’ll go back to Ancient Greece. Throw me out at the Acropolis towards the end of the 5th century BCE and I’ll take it from there.
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
Children this age are so much fun. They are curious, knowledgeable, largely free of cynicism, and not afraid to laugh and allow their imaginations to run free. I love writing for them and there’s nothing better than meeting them on school visits ... except for when they pick their noses in my writing workshops.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
My favourite place to write is the wonderful Gladstone Library in Hawarden, North Wales. With its spiral staircases, floor to ceiling bookcases, and general gothic vibes, you can’t help but be inspired. I’ll often meet friends there to write, chat books and eat cake. Writers like cake.
Which other funny books for kids would you recommend our subscribers read next?
If readers are looking for other funny books about mythology, then the Loki series by Louie Stowell would be a perfect read. Maz Evans’ highly anticipated Oh Maya Gods! should also be on everyone’s list. For something more contemporary then Serena Patel’s Anisha, Accidental Detective series is a lot of fun.
Copies of our My Family and Other Romans pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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