Rebecca The Editor : The
setting of your book (which I thoroughly enjoyed!) is Pompeii,
just before Mount Vesuvius blew. Have you seen Pompeii & what
was it like?
Rebecca East : Most
parts of Pompeii are just the skeleton of a city: streets
& walls & doorways. It's crowded with tourists & stray
dogs, & choked with weeds & dust. Unfortunately, the ruins
are gradually being destroyed by exposure to the weather, &
souvenir takers, & the wear & tear of more than two
million pairs of feet a year.
And yet there are places
that are absolutely magic: you enter a courtyard & see a
mural of Venus, & a few shrubs & plants, & from that
you can picture what it must have looked like when people lived
there. I found it helpful to bring along books such as the “Then
& Now” picture books, that pair a photograph of the ruins as
they look today with an overlay painting that reconstructs what
was once there.
I've visited three times, & I
haven't seen everything yet; many of the houses are locked &
off limits to visitors; all you can do is peer through the gates.
In some respects, a visit to Ostia is more rewarding; that's the
old port of Rome. Ostia is less popular with tourists & some
of the buildings are in better condition. The material that made
Pompeii truly wonderful as an archaeological find--the artifacts
of everyday life such as dishes, jewelry, tools--was mostly taken
Rebecca The Editor :
When did your story appear to you & how long did it
take you to write it?
Rebecca East : Like
many people, I've always wanted to write a novel; but I never
had a story to tell before. Several things came together. My
husband was teasing me; I spoke of wishing to go back in time to
see Pompeii in its heyday, & he said “A little woman like you
wouldn't last a day in the ancient world.” That got me started
thinking: what would it take to survive? I also overheard a woman
in the book shop at the gate to the Pompeii excavation; they sell
many scholarly books about archaeology, but not much to answer the
question she asked: “What did they do in those houses?” My first
visit inspired me to start collecting books about the ancient
world, & the details about daily life fascinated me; & I
wanted to weave that information into the story.
story didn't appear to me all at once: I started with the
beginning (a female time traveler stranded in Pompeii) & the
end (which I won't reveal here), & then tried to imagine the
events that would lead from one to the other. Often I was stuck. I
would be out taking a walk, or digging in the garden, &
suddenly I would see a scene (such as the one in which Miranda's
hair is cut off). Then I ran back to the word processor to write
it out in detail. Then I needed to decide where each scene
belonged in the sequence of events. I did a lot of rewriting &
rearranging. Most of the writing was complete after about a year
& a half of nights, weekends & holidays. I have no idea
how many hours went into the project: certainly a great
Rebecca The Editor : In this
time travel adventure, modern Miranda wishes she were a
heroine. What qualities does a woman from the present have to have
to be a heroine in the past?
East : She needs the courage to face
the unknown & to ask more of herself than she previously
thought she could do; & willingness to learn from her
mistakes. Gradually, Miranda became less self-centered & more
concerned with the welfare of others. These are the same qualities
it takes to be a heroine in any time period, I
Rebecca The Editor : What do
you think is the one reality modern women would have the most
trouble with living in that day & age?
East : Slavery was something people took
for granted in the ancient world. Many slaves had miserable
lives of overwork, beating, malnutrition, & misery. But, as
Miranda realizes in her musings: we haven't entirely gotten rid of
those evils in the modern world, either.
Editor : Yes, 9-5ers are slaves to the
paycheck, & whole countries are riddled with violence
& malnutrition just so some elite can live in luxury. What do
you think is the one thing from that long-ago time we could do
well to remember?
Rebecca East : The
Romans wrote, & built, with posterity in mind; they wanted
the things that they created to last forever. & in fact, there
is a Roman aqueduct near Segovia that still provides some of that
city's water; there are Roman roads still in use; & we still
read the words of Cicero, Catullus, & many other writers from
that period. By contrast, much of what we modern people build is
intended to wear out quickly: our roads & houses have design
life times of 30 to 50 years. We are a throw-away society, &
I think we might do well to think
about the future more than we do; & to act, & build, &
write, in the hope of leaving something of value for the people
who come after us.
Rebecca The Editor :
In England, where I came up, there are still Roman
aqueduct bridges & portions of Roman roads to see. What would
you like readers take away from your story?
East : I'd like readers to come away
with a sense that the stories we believe in can become self
fulfilling prophecies. Miranda tells the story of Dick
Whittington's cat early on; it's a story about a servant who works
hard & eventually finds success & love. She doesn't
realize it at the time, but that story foreshadows her own life.
Of course, having a dream is just the beginning; things don't
happen by themselves; we have to do things to make our dreams come
true. But having a vision of where we want to go & what we
want to be can help us to make things happen.
Editor : Are you at work on another
Rebecca East : Yes, I have several
stories in mind. One set of stories follows Marcus &
Miranda through the events of the next several years: the great
fire in Rome, the year of four emperors, & the eruption of
Vesuvius. I have ideas for other stories that are straight
historical fiction (without time travel).
fiction was hard work, of course, as any writer will tell you.
But it was also enormous fun. As I write the story unfolds for me
& it's often a surprise to see what develops. I can hardly
wait to see what happens next!
Editor : Oh good, a sequel! I look
forward to it anticipation! Thanks Rebecca for a great
Readers, do catch my review of Rebecca East's A.D.
62: Pompeii. If you're anything like me, you've always
wondered what living in the past might be like. Buy yourself a
copy & enjoy this mature & thoughtful historical
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