About half way through writing The Pomegranate Tree, I realised that I could not say goodbye to my characters after one book. Hannah’s journey, in fact the journeys of both my Hannahs refused to be contained within one novel. My challenge then, was to come up with another scenario, another plot line, one that would cause my modern heroine to reconnect with her ancient ancestor.
Masada was retaken by the Romans around AD72/3 after a lengthy siege and countless deaths. Whatever I wrote about should not take place many years after this event or all of my characters would be too old, especially Maxentius who was about 33 at the end of the first book. It didn’t take me long to recall that the eruption of Vesuvius and the destruction of Pompeii in AD79, was close enough in time to work. All I needed to do was come up with a valid reason why Maxentius and Hannah would be living in the doomed city, so far from Masada and what would prompt my modern couple to be visiting.
I have been lucky enough to spend time in the ruins of Pompeii; an endlessly fascinating and unique centre, especially to those of us who love history. This meant that I could, at the very least, picture the places I was talking about, the streets, the houses, the Forum, the amphitheatre, the Gladiators’ School and the Palaestra.
Pompeii appeared to have been a hot bed of tension for several years leading up to the eruption. Nearly twenty years previously, Nero had banned all gladiatorial games for ten years after a wild riot and it seems that there was an ongoing disaffection in the town following the political upheaval caused during AD69, the Year of the Four Emperors.
It was as good a reason as any to require a peacekeeping force to be stationed at Pompeii. So Maxentius could be recalled to Rome and posted there as Garrison Commander of this peacekeeping unit. The main garrison was based outside of the town walls, but a house had been appropriated as a headquarters within the walls. This meant that there were always a soldiers on hand, should their presence be required urgently.
Unable to determine whether or not this headquarters had even been uncovered in any of the excavations, I decided to choose one myself – well the story is fictional. By chance I came across the most incredible web page called Pompeii In Pictures. A complete photographic plan of the town, enabling me to select a building, or city block and see what had been excavated within each one. It included public buildings, villas, baths and so on – absolutely amazing and very detailed.
While I was trying to decide where to place the headquarters, I chanced upon an excavated building in Regio I, situated within Insula 11 and close to the amphitheatre. This house had been named The House of the Hebrew by the excavators because of an inscription in the entrance hall. This two storey house was next door to another substantial building, which could prove very handy as my headquarters. It was too good to be true and I was hooked. The webpage has plenty of photos of the excavated buildings, giving me an idea of what they might have looked like in antiquity. I spent hours looking through all the images, reading about the houses and how they were positioned relative to the rest of the town.
Right then, Maxentius will be Garrison Commander, he’s sorted – what about Hannah? I really wanted her to continue to use her healing skills and what better way than as a medica, or physician, to the men who trained at the Palaestra, or sports ground, as well as to those living at the Gladiators’ School, which included prisoners of war and condemned criminals. This would be a very usual job for a woman, but then Hannah is no ordinary woman.
So, I have a town where riotous mobs roam the streets, prisoners and criminals are forced to fight in the arena and a mountain is about to blow it’s top. Getting my modern couple there was probably the easiest part. A holiday in Rome, with an unexpected side trip to Pompeii to assist with an investigation into what might be found beneath the current excavations. What’s not to love about that? Okay, so I still needed to work out how my modern and ancient heroines would reconnect but finally, I had my plot. Hannah’s journey was about to become a whole lot more interesting and Echoes of Stone and Fire was born.