Queen of the Silver Arrow was published by Barrington Stoke, who specialise in fiction for dyslexic teens: it taught her ‘to make my writing simple and clear. You can have simple writing and still tell a great story. I try to keep my grandsons in mind when I’m writing now and make it so my ten year old grandson can understand, you know, what I’m writing.’

Lawrence is passionate about the importance of literature for the young: ‘One of the great things that books teach kids is empathy – you know it’s extraordinary that you can read a story’, and be in someone else’s mind, she continues. Books are thresholds? I suggest. ‘Exactly’, she beams, ‘they teach you empathy which is a huge asset today.’

Her PK Pinkerton series is set in the Wild West, and I ask her about the linkages with Ancient Rome. ‘They’re surprisingly similar’, she smiles. ‘They’re both civilisations surrounded by barbarians, right, horse powered cultures, medicine was about the same’. She pauses, and the alarm continues to swell in the background. ‘Well, it’s a sense of scratching the veneer of civilisation, and you find barbarity. And that is the human condition isn’t it, that we’re half god and half beast. We can be either, you know. And that’s what life’s all about: trying to be more god than beast’.

Given that she writes historical fiction, does she aim for a picture of reality? ‘You can’t make a picture of reality,’ she says. ‘So what you’ve got to do is find a balance of getting characters they can identify with and then putting it in a historical context – but I try to remind them of things. Like I have a character die in childbirth aged fifteen, and everyone goes, “Why did you do that?” And it shows them that childbirth was the main killer of women.’

Because Queen of the Silver Arrow is set in an ahistorical time, did she find it gave her more freedom in her writing? ‘What I tried to do is use the clues in Virgil, any clue… But there are huge gaps,’ she says, referring to the story of Camilla, which she has filled in herself. In terms of setting, ‘The bronze age did not have a lot of the wonderful accoutrements of Imperial Rome. They didn’t have iron … and they didn’t have mosaics or frescoes very much. So there are a few anachronisms, there’s a painted marble statue – it would have been archaic or something – they go into a bath of gold tiles – but you know, it’s that world, you want, I want to create a world that kids want be in, that they want to explore, hopefully they’ll read more of Virgil. Go and find out for yourself!’ she says, exhorting an imaginary child and – there is no other word for it – twinkling.

Books mentioned Roman Quests: Escape from Rome, Orion Children’s Books, 978-1-5101-0023-7, £6.99pbk Queen of the Silver Arrow, Barrington Stoke, 978-1-7811-2526-7, £6.99 pbk The Roman Mysteries and P.K. Pinkerton series are published by Orion Children’s Books

Philip Womack is an author and critic. His latest novel, The King’s Revenge, is published by Troika Books and concludes the Darkening Path trilogy.

Books for Keeps No.218 May 2016 9

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