Category Archives: Caroline Lawrence

How to Write a Great Story

I frequently wonder why authors write ‘how to write’ books. Are they mad? I know that they know how to, or at least what worked for them, but the competition! Keep it secret, I say.

In this latest one, How to Write a Great Story, Caroline Lawrence shares her tips. In fact, she shares how she wrote her books. And if you know her books, I’d say the advice is even better, because you’ll be able to see exactly what she means, and know what the references are about. She also mentions other famous pieces of writing, likely to be known to the reader.

Caroline Lawrence, How to Write a Great Story

(I brought her book to the hairdresser’s, and he said he’d never want to read a book like this. Could be because it’s not aimed at forty-something hairdressers, but more likely at Caroline’s fans, young and old. He wouldn’t object if I wrote a book about him, though.)

There are some sample workshops, and I envy students who’ve been able to work with Caroline on this. It looks interesting. You might start with a line from The Hobbit, and then you actually change everything, completely losing the Hobbit.

A long section explains writerly words, in case you wanted to know but were afraid to ask. Even the Vomit Draft sounds reasonably ‘appealing.’ Or do I mean appalling? And don’t you just hate those elevator pitches? Because you forgot to come up with one, or you forgot what it was. And there is Mr Spielberg, ready to listen for at least ten seconds…

I’d say Caroline doesn’t sleep enough. Some of us need more time. And preserve me from her lunches of broccoli and mayonnaise!

The Time Travel Diaries

I had such a lot of fun with Caroline Lawrence’s Time Travel Diaries that I kept returning to the book until I found out what happened and how it ended. Which I’m obviously not going to tell you about.

Caroline Lawrence, The Time Travel Diaries

And it’s not Caroline who’s time travelling, but her new main character Alex. At least to begin with, I felt he spoke rather like a hardboiled private eye, albeit as a Y8 London school boy who is a bit of a wimp.

What helps is that he speaks [modern] Greek because of his gran, with whom he lives, and Latin because of school. So he’s quite handy to have around if you suddenly encounter people from the olden days. In this case, Roman London.

Yep, Caroline hasn’t exhausted her knowledge of those days yet, and there is plenty to learn about old London. Or is there?

I can’t really tell you how or why Alex suddenly goes back in time, nor what happens when he does. But it’s fun. And you know things won’t go entirely to plan, because what would be the point of that?

Speaking for myself, I like seeing what it was like a long time ago, in places that I know today. Especially as I am not expecting to actually end up there, with their bad teeth and plagues and stuff.

It’s a bit of a mystery, and although you might feel for technical reasons that this time travel lark isn’t something to be repeated, even if Alex were to survive, it does seem as if this isn’t the last we’ve heard of him.

The Roman Quests – Return to Rome

Who’d have thought, that time about 15 years ago, when I discovered the [first] three Roman Mysteries in The Book People’s catalogue (yes, sorry about that) and felt they’d be perfect for my young reader of crime, who also happened to love school subjects such as the Romans, the Egyptians, and so on, that there would be another 27 books from Caroline Lawrence (so far), or that my young crime-reader would meet her (after all, she was an American…), or anything else?

I certainly didn’t think.

But here we are, with the – surely – last of her Roman adventures, Return to Rome. I was glad to see my second generation Roman adventurers back home, and in the company of some of the older characters. I like things tied up, and I would say Caroline has tied pretty well, and I think she’d find it hard to untie and continue. It is very satisfying when you know what happens to all your beloved characters.

Caroline Lawrence, Return to Rome

And yes, this is a spoiler, but you didn’t think Caroline would kill everyone off, did you? What we get is more history, learning more about Roman times, both in Britain and on the continent, while seeing how our young friends act in the face of adversity, and how they discover who they are and what they want in life.

While Roman Britain was interesting – and I especially enjoyed seeing Caudex in his natural habitat – I’m sure we all agree that we like Rome, and Ostia. And luckily, not all emperors are bad. Even Domitian had some good points.

So, our ‘old’ Roman friends did what adults do, and our younger Roman heroes are growing up, falling in love. Personally I’m relieved that Miriam’s twins were found. But they will always be a reminder that Caroline does kill when she needs to.

The Roman Quests – Death in the Arena

To be honest, I was afraid the death count might be bigger than I wanted it to be. Caroline Lawrence has been known to kill in the past, and people I didn’t want to see dead, too. And let’s face it; to make Roman Britain realistic, you can’t have too many lucky escapes, can you?

Well, I’m obviously not going to tell you if they live or not. There is quite a bit of blood. There are dangerous beasts, and at times even domestic cats can be life threatening.

Caroline Lawrence, Death in the Arena

The third Roman Quests and the turn has come to Ursula to have her tale. She loves her animals, and she loves being a Druid, which is all good apart from the fact that Druids are to be executed if found. The three siblings from Rome are then given a task by Flavia Gemina, which involves our old friends Lupus and Jonathan. Always nice to catch up with old friends.

There is the tricky task of attempting to reunite separated twins Castor and Raven, and getting rid of the Emperor Domitian while also staying alive is a big job.

And romance! These young people fall in love at the drop of a hat. It can be hard to know who you really, really love, and maybe it’s more than one? The modern reader has to keep in mind that the children are of an age to justifiably be thinking of who to marry.

Death in the Arena shows us what sort of entertainment they had back in AD 95. Audiences wanted to see blood from fights between beasts or ritual sacrifice, but also more normal fun, such as music and comedy. Mixed up in the one show, it feels rather over-powering. But nice to know that Lupus is now a superstar with fans! I always liked that boy.

Caroline continues to educate as she entertains. And I do like the long line of continuity from the early days of the Roman Mysteries. Carpe Diem.

The Roman Quests – The Archers of Isca

It is reassuring that I am not yet too old for Caroline Lawrence’s books. Occasionally I wonder if I will be, seeing as I’ve been reading her Roman mysteries for well over a dozen years. But I am still a child at heart.

Caroline Lawrence, The Roman Quests - The Archers of Isca

The second of four books set in Britain in AD 95, we follow the eldest boy, Fronto, as he sets off to be a soldier. It’s what he always wanted, albeit perhaps not quite like this. In Rome he could have been an officer, while now he must begin at the bottom. But for a boy who likes rules and knowing what’s happening and what he should do about it, army life is perfect.

Meanwhile, his two younger siblings continue as they were, living with the local people. At least, until Fronto’s little sister Ursula is kidnapped.

As with all Caroline’s books, this story educates as it entertains. I have learned more about life in Roman Britain through these books than I ever did from more historical texts. What’s more, I suspect I might remember facts for longer as well.

There are Druids and Romans, we learn about Roman baths and Boudica’s famous battle, and we find out how people lived; what they ate and how they worked and prayed.

And we are getting closer to knowing what happened to Miriam’s twin boys.

Nooooo..!

Please not the Cathy Hopkins books! Are we not finished with those? Are we not – both me and Daughter – over the age of 20? Are Cathy’s books not really quite fun?

Yes, they are. They are – almost entirely – staying. Three years on from The Move Clearances we are pruning here and there. Offspring’s sudden room switching (yes, no, neither live here any more) caused books to be looked at again. I thought maybe we could gain the half metre that Cathy’s books take up on the shelf.

But as you may have gathered, that didn’t go well. Although it depends on your point of view. Nearly all the Cathy Hopkins books will remain with us, minus the quiz books, etc.

Same with Caroline Lawrence. You can’t send the Roman Mysteries packing. Or Theresa Breslin. Definitely not Mary Hoffman. Oh no, those ladies are all just going walkabout in the house to rest elsewhere.

Jacqueline Wilson and Michael Morpurgo are semi-intact, with the very best still here. (I’m reminded of Son’s stash of toy cars. Age is no barrier to what you simply must keep. In fairness he recently parted with his third and fourth copies of His Dark Materials, sparing only two of each.)

But Doctor Who is leaving. Mostly. Even signed ones. (Yes, that was Daughter’s book you found in the charity shop. Lucky you.)

The Universe will make some other person happy, while the napkin folding guide stays. And she rather thought Helen Grant would want one of her cast-offs.

The other ‘great’ idea she had was to incorporate hers with mine, which only means taking every single book out and re-alphabetising the lot again; first and second rows on each shelf. I suggested her books might be in peril, come my next major pruning, but apparently her books can be post-it-ed.

Hah, as if I can be trusted!

Mystery & Mayhem

Perfect holiday reading if you already like crime, and hopefully also if you haven’t yet discovered it. The Crime Club’s Twelve Deliciously Intriguing Mysteries is great fun.

Katherine Woodfine, Mystery & Mayhem

Twelve criminally minded authors, herded and edited by Katerine Woodfine, offer up youthful versions of traditional crime styles. You have Impossible Mysteries, Canine Capers, Poison Plots and Closed-System Crimes, all equally intriguing and entertaining. Maybe some of the crimes are not as noir as what adults read these days, but there is murder and fraud and all kinds of trickery.

I liked them all. What I especially like is the fact that younger readers get a proper introduction both to crime reading, but also to crime vocabulary. You know, schools don’t always teach useful words such as purloined.

Some are set today, some in the past. Some stories take place in other countries and others right on your doorstep. The ones by authors I know lived up to my expectations, while those by new (to me) writers were great introductions.

Put a copy in the hands of someone young and bored this summer.