One of my favourite places in Ostia is the theatre. I visited Ostia for one afternoon when I was sixteen and never forgot the magical light of a late afternoon sunshine slanting through the umbrella pines.
Thirty years later, when I was writing my first book, The Thieves of Ostia, (concept: Nancy Drew in Ancient Rome) I returned for a single day on a cheap flight to check basic facts of topography, flora, fauna, mosaics, etc. That day was 19 May, 2000. I had been blissfully wandering the deserted site all morning, soaking up the warm sunshine and taking pictures of wildflowers and butterflies. Around 1pm I made my way to the theatre. Even from a distance I could hear a party of schoolchildren playing noisily, presumably during their lunchtime break. About ten girls were skipping rope on what would have been the ancient stage, chanting a song which included the names of fruits: arancia, banana, melone, etc…
As I walked past them towards the seating area I notice one girl in particular, whose hair was not as dark as the rest. She had a certain tomboyish energy and I thought ‘She could be my main character: Flavia!’ I sit down on one of the warm marble seats in the theatre and watched them. The day before, my editor Judith had said she hoped I would find Flavia in Ostia. It seemed a strange thing at the time, but here she was! As I sat there on my one and only day in Ostia, I thought, ‘What the heck. This opportunity has dropped into my lap, I’ll kick myself if I waste it.’ So I introduced myself to the teachers, explained who I was and got a photo with the girl who would partly inspire Flavia Gemina, heroine of a series that has since sold over a million copies.
1. Caroline Lawrence with Francesca Fogli (in long-sleeved hoodie) in Ostia’s theatre in May 2000 | 2. Beautiful umbrella pines in Ostia’s Forum of Corporations behind the theatre. May 2000 | 3. 11-year-old Francesca Fogli in May 2000 | 4. My drawing of Francesca Fogli as Flavia… | 5. How my publishers translated my drawing of Francesca Fogli into a mosiac portrait. (Look carefully and you can see her ponytail) | 6. First edition of the Thieves of Ostia, published a few days before 9/11! (11 September 2001)
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