Travel back in time with Caroline Lawrence

By Saskia Calliste

Who wouldn’t want to discover the untold story of how the remains of a 14-year-old girl ended up buried with an ivory knife in Roman London? Caroline Lawrence, an author who needs little introduction after her widely successful award winning The Roman Mysteries, is here to catapult you back in time with her latest book The Time Travel Diaries. With the help of her new protagonist, Alex Papas—a schoolboy who has been roped into travelling back to 260 AD by an eccentric millionaire — Lawrence is doing what she does best, taking you on an exciting journey through Roman London, leaving just enough time for us to meet her marvelously talented self at the festival. Result!

Photograph of Caroline Lawrence by Ed Miller'.

What is the inspiration behind The Time Travel Diaries? 

Recently the Museum of London displayed the bones of a 14-year-old girl with an ivory knife buried in Roman London. DNA and other chemical studies showed that she grew up in North Africa but had blue eyes! They also tell us that she came to London aged 9 and died five years later. I was obsessed with her so decided to write a book about what her story might have been.

Why did you decide to make it a Time Travel book? 

I had the idea when visiting the London Mithraeum, a temple to a mysterious god called Mithras that has recently been re-opened in the city of London in its original position 7 meters below ground. As you go down black marble steps, letters etched into the wall tell you that you are now at the level of World War Two bombing, then at the Great Fire of 1666 and then at the coronation of William the Conqueror in 1066. In other words, as you go down you ‘go back in time’. That gave me the idea for a time travel book, where someone goes back to find her.

Why did you make your Time Traveller a 12-year-old London schoolboy rather than, say, an adult? 

Because I write for kids! I came up with an idea that for every hour an adult spends in the past it takes a year off their life expectancy, but kids only lose a month for each hour spent in the past. An eccentric bazillionaire named Solomon Daisy is obsessed with the girl with the ivory knife but can’t go back himself so he recruits Alex Papas, a boy who does Latin club!

What else inspires you? 

Ancient artifacts! The London Mithraeum has hundreds on display. So does the Museum of London. I got inspiration for one scene in the book from a pair of Roman leather bikini bottoms now on display in the Museum of London. Experts think the bikinis might have belonged to girl acrobats! Those, along with a wonderful model of the port of Roman London, gave me the idea that Alex and his friends have to cross the original London Bridge, which is at a standstill because of wheeled traffic, by walking along the guard rail like acrobats walk on a balance beam!

If you could go back in time when would you go and who would you see? 

I’d love to see what Cleopatra and Marc Anthony were really like in the privacy of their inner chambers!

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