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Ok – I Had An Idea – The Pomegranate Tree Comes To Life

Ok, I had an idea – that’s great – but how did I turn this into a story? How did I go from jottings in a notebook to The Pomegranate Tree? How did I create characters that I believed in? That others would believe in? My plot line should include all those things I researched – the ambush, the massacre, the Roman army and the woman who lived. Then within that plot line I wanted a romance, no, not just one – two – one in the modern era and one on ancient Masada. I needed to choose names, come up with back-stories for my characters and I had to find a solid reason why someone would suddenly decide to travel to Masada. Even though it is close to the Dead Sea, it’s still quite isolated.

Characters turned out to be quite easy. I based them, loosely, on people I know, but only described them enough for the reader to build up their own picture, preferring to leave something to the imagination.

Photo source: UNESCO.org
Photo source: UNESCO.org

Now for the story. While researching the history of Masada, I came across an article about some skeletal remains that had been discovered under a pile of debris on the lower tier of the Hanging Palace. Initially assumed to be one of the Zealots, further examination has suggested that it may well have been one of the Roman soldiers killed in the ambush of AD66. This peaked my interest and I started to play with the notion that one or two soldiers might have survived the rebel attack and were discovered some time later, badly wounded. Rather than being summarily killed however, the soldiers were treated and then held as captives to be used as bargaining tools should the need arise. All well and good, but how were they cared for? Who would treat their injuries? These men were an enemy; the Zealots would more likely have preferred to finish them off.

Enter my ancient heroine. Choosing to call her Hannah, meaning favour or grace, I decided that she would not be a typical Hebrew woman. A single woman, brought to Masada by her brother, she had been trained in the art of healing by an indulgent uncle, himself a great physician. Holding a unique status in the burgeoning community at the fortress, she would be central to the survival of the Roman soldiers.

So – now we have settled that problem, another arose – why would my modern heroine, also called Hannah, visit Masada? She receives a ruby clasp, a surprise birthday present from her grandmother, who died long ago, the accompanying letter telling her that it was a gift from a grateful solider at Masada. Hannah decided to try to trace its origins and, by sheer coincidence (hmm) her best friend, male – of course – is already going to the fortress on an archaeological dig.

Once on Masada, Hannah begins to have dreams or visions about the ambush and its aftermath. She realises she is seeing the events as they unfold through the eyes of her ancient counterpart. At the same time, while assisting on the dig, she finds artefacts that link her to the past. Artefacts that she, or rather her ancestor, has discarded or lost.

All well and good, now we needed the magic, something that would connect these two women, merging them into one, without either of them physically travelling through time (I did say I wanted it to be plausible). I also wanted anyone who read this book to believe in the love these two couples shared, hoping that they had a chance of living happily ever after.

So – how about this best friend who has travelled with her, accepts that what Hannah is experiencing is real and not her imagination and, that this same best friend has loved her for a long time. Then maybe allow one of the Roman soldiers to fall in love with the Hebrew woman who is treating him – a forbidden love and one that could have fatal consequences. Finally, I just had to arrange for Hannah to slip through time and then add a dash of rebellion, a jealous would-be suitor, an avenging army and one woman in love with two men across millennia. What on earth could go wrong?

How It Started

Ancient history in all its forms has always fascinated me and not very long ago, I was persuaded to return to University to immerse myself in it, rather than remain an armchair historian. A devotee of archaeology documentaries, initially I thought that this was my calling – two lectures and a tutorial convinced me otherwise. Already signed up for a unit on Roman history, I was lucky enough to have a lecturer whose passion for her subject was infectious. Before long I was completely spellbound by the Julio-Claudians and their successors during the first century AD.

I had no intention of leaving Uni, I wanted to continue along the academic path right up to a doctorate. I even had an idea for my thesis. Something shifted however in my last semester, there were changes afoot, which brought my decision into question. Deciding to take a break and see where the wind blew, I put everything on hold. It was at this point my husband suggested that I might like to write a book set in antiquity, putting my love for history to a different use. Although the idea appealed to me – writing a book has long been a dream of mine – I didn’t think I had it in me and wasn’t I too old anyway? Even if I decided to give it a go, what would I write about? How did I come up with an original storyline?

I let the concept play around in my head for a while, jotting down possibilities, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Then one day, while looking through my assignments, I came across one on the ancient port city of Caesarea Maritima, the background to which, covered information on King Herod’s entire building program including his restructuring of an isolated citadel in the Judaean desert. A spark flickered into life; this was the fortress at Masada, where in the first century AD there had been a rebel ambush, a massacre and the arrival of a vengeful Roman army. All great scenarios around which I could base a story, could I make something of this?

Devouring every piece of information I could find on the history of this fortress and the archaeological excavations, the spark became a little brighter and an idea started percolating, one that intrigued me, but one I struggled to pin down. Then I remembered that according to an ancient source, seven people, two women and five children had survived the massacre and inspiration hit. One of these women could be my heroine; I just needed to work it backwards to determine how on earth she might have been able to avoid being slain. Then, I added a further complication, deciding to include a modern heroine, related to the women who survived and that somehow they connected across time. Not time travel in the accepted sense, she wouldn’t actually disappear from her own world, but her soul would meld with that of her ancestor. She would see events as they unfolded and could use her knowledge of what would happen to save those she loved.

Sound easy? Well now I have to make it into a believable story.