The Author as Trained Seal

Ever wondered what authors talk about when they get together?

Wonder no more. Nip across to Vicki Leon’s blog and eavesdrop on the virtual support group where  Steven Saylor, Vicky Alvear Shecter,  Adrienne Mayor, Caroline Lawrence, Gary Corby and I will be sharing our most embarrassing bookselling moments.

Having read the first instalment, I feel better already.

Coming shortly: the strangeness of the writer’s life

The irrepressible Vicki Leon got in touch the other day, in search of tales of the  woe, embarrassment, and sheer oddity that lurk behind the so-called glamour of writing about the Ancient World.

I’d imagine that anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will have had few illusions anyway,  but I’m longing to find out what she’s gleaned from the others on the list.  The link will appear here  as soon as it’s up. Apparently I’ll be in some fine company, so get ready for some shameless name-dropping.

Meanwhile, over on Jane Finnis’s blog there’s an interview with a chap who may not yet know what he’s let himself in for. Bruce Macbain’s first book is called ROMAN GAMES, and the detective is none other than Pliny the Younger. Macbain comes at the Classical world from an American perspective, and has some interesting things to say about why twenty-first century Westerners are attracted to it.

I wish him much joy in his new career, and the very minimum of embarrassment.

The thing I hadn’t realised about maps…

…is how political they are. Call me naive (although I’d rather you didn’t), but I’d always assumed that a map just – well, showed you what’s there. Or what used to be there, when it was drawn up. But no. Choices must be made.

This first began to dawn on me when the publishers wanted a map for the front of the second Ruso book. What to include? All the Roman roads and towns and forts? Even if we knew where they all were (and some float about, depending on who you ask) there wasn’t room. Besides, it would have looked a mess. Just how much of a mess may be surmised from the rough draft on the Book 2 page.

The places crucial to the story are there, but important Army bases like Gloucester and Exeter and Caerleon are invisible. Major towns like Silchester and Verulamium don’t seem to exist. And there’s not a road in sight. Leaving them out may have suggested that the story took place in a few key spots surrounded by vast tracts of emptiness, but at least no-one could complain that it was cluttered.

David Mattingley makes a telling point in ‘An Imperial Possession – Britain in the Roman Empire’ – a book I’ve just finished and found very thought-provoking. Observing the map-makers’ priorities, he points out that the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain is precisely that – a map of the Roman-style constructions found in Britain. He says, “In areas where Roman site ‘types’ are uncommon (notably… Cornwall, Wales and northern Britain), the maps appear empty apart from Roman military installations standing guard over large capital letters denoting ‘tribal’ names… what is omitted from such maps is the settlement evidence relating to the vast majority of the population.”

This isn’t a criticism. There just isn’t room for everything. Choices must be made. Don’t you think, though, that the Ordnance Survey’s choices would have gone down awfully well in Rome? Britannia without all those pesky barbarian round houses, brochs* and disused hillforts messing it up. Mission accomplished!

*brochs are those forbidding-looking ancient stone towers found mostly (only?) in Scotland.