Children's Literature Interest Group: Interview with Caroline Lawrence

Caroline LawrenceCaroline Lawrence studied Classics at Berkeley, where she won a Marshall Scholarship to Cambridge. There, at Newnham College, she studied Classical Art and Archaeology and later took an MA in Hebrew and Jewish Studies at University College, London. In 2000 she wrote The Thieves of Ostia, the first in a series of children's adventure stories set in Ancient Rome. The Roman Mysteries combine Caroline's love of art history, ancient languages and travel.

What comes first - plot, character or situation?

Although my books are very strongly "plot-led", the character always comes first. Flavia Gemina is my "Roman Nancy Drew" and P.K. Pinkerton my "Misfit Western Detective". When I first got the idea for the Western Mysteries I sat down and wrote a first page almost immediately:

My name is Pinky, and I was born in Hard Luck, not far from Mount Disappointment. That pretty much sums up my short and miserable life.
Which is anyways soon about to end.
I may not be rich or good-looking but I am smart, and that is what got me in the Mess I’m in today. By ‘Mess’ I mean the three prospectors, two Injuns and one Yankee outside this cabin: all intent on killing me.

If you compare that with the final version you'll see much is different, but the TONE is the same.

When you start to write a book, do you know how it will end?

Yes, because I carefully plot them all out! I mainly use two story structures as my framework: John Truby's 22 plot beats and The Hero's Journey.

Do you base your characters on real people?

Yes, mainly myself or variations of me. I think most authors do this.

What inspired you to write?

I love stories in all forms, especially movies and great TV shows.

My fave films?

Star Wars,The Good The Bad & the Ugly, Moonstruck, The Big Lebowski, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Annie Hall, Blade Runner, Pride & Prejudice, Before Sunset, Children of Men, Twelve Monkeys, Con Air, The Music Man & WALL-E... just to name a few!

Fave TV shows?

Frasier, HBO's Deadwood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Monk, Friday Night Lights, Breaking Bad, Scrubs, The Wire, Boston Legal, Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, Caprica, Game of Thrones, Firefly... just to name a few!

At what stage in your writing process do you use a computer?

Almost from the beginning.

Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do about it?

I never get writer's block but I sometimes have very complicated plots or problems that need untangling. In such a case I put the problem in the back of my mind and then go for a long walk. It almost always works.

What is the hardest thing about being a writer?

Sitting down and actually writing. There are SO many distractions and temptations to procrastinate.

What is the best thing about being a writer?

Creating another world and inhabiting it with wonderful characters. It's a bit like being God!

How much does your editor change what you write?

Not too much. She mainly finds inconsistencies and reins me in on passages which might be too strong for kids.

What made you interested in westerns?

My main motivation in writing is time travel. I want to be transported to another world. Whenever I see a piece of brilliant historical writing I get excited. HBO's Deadwood excited me. I thought "THAT's what it would have been like in the old West." I have some ancestors who were pioneers and I have great gaps in my knowledge of American history, plus I adore vast desert landscapes, so I thought I'd spend a decade writing historical novels set in the Wild West.

How does writing westerns differ from writing Roman mysteries?

Very little. First of all, the two societies are surprisingly similar: both were horse-powered communities of very literate people surrounded by "barbarians" and working out their own notion of Law & Order.

I research both periods in the same way: I read primary sources, talk to experts, hang out with re-enactors and visit the places my books are set. One wonderful aspect about researching the West in the 1860s is that we know what the MUSIC sounded like, whereas for ancient Rome it's anybody's guess. Also, photography had just was developing in the 1860s so we know exactly how they looked and dressed.

What is your attitude to kindles and ebooks?

I love them! I don't yet have an iPad but will soon. In the meantime I read them on my iPhone. I also adore audiobooks and listen to them when I walk and travel. And I love "old-fashioned" paper books, too.

Which children's books/authors do you admire?

Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew), Gerald Durrell (My Family & Other Animals), Mark Haddon (Curious Incident), Robert Muchamore (CHERUB), Sophie McKenzie (Girl Missing) & Laura Ingalls Wilder (Little House on the Prairie Books).

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Don't wait for inspiration. Be self-disciplined and learn the craft, for that is what it is. Most of all, have fun!

P.S. You can see my best writing tips and my five fave books on writing HERE

The Western Mysteries Website


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