24 August 2021

Special Guest Post by Heather Robinson, Author of Juno's Peacock

Available from Amazon UK and Amazon US

Exposed...cast aside...condemned...yet the gods must favour the slave girl Decima, saving her as Mount Vesuvius explodes. Vowing to fulfil whatever purpose the gods ask of her, she must first use guile to survive. "What you do is who you become," and Decima becomes Maia Secunda, free born citizen, liar and thief...

Thank you for inviting me to your blog Tony. I'm delighted to be here to tell you what inspired me to write Juno's Peacock. In short, it was research, one particular fact I unexpectedly unearthed.

I was plotting a sequel to my first novel, Wall of Stone, which is about how the lives of legionaries from the Twentieth Legion of Rome intermingle with the lives of a local Brigante family in northern Britannia during the reign of Emperor Hadrian, when, during a research session, I stumbled upon the practice of child-exposure in the Roman Empire.

My curiosity was piqued. What was child-exposure? It was the practice of abandoning an infant, so named because the child would be left exposed to the elements to die. I was already writing my first page:

“Tied by strips of leather to a cypress tree on the remote slopes of the mountain. Tied so she couldn't wander off even though she was barely beyond the age of crawling.”

Horrifying! I needed to learn more.

What I learned was that it was an ancient practice not limited to the Romans, as many other civilisations, excluding the ancient Jews and Etruscans, did the same. Focussing on the Romans, my continued research revealed that child-exposure was widespread in the Roman Empire and a familiar custom in most regions. It was a common way for infants to be killed. Although there was some disapproval to this practice, it was widely accepted as an unavoidable necessity. 

Shocking! I searched out more.

Things took an upturn for a moment when I discovered that although many infants did die this way, some were at least rescued as it was considered, and here we take a slump again, an acceptable and inexpensive way to bolster your number of household slaves. Slavery! Another appalling practice that, as I already knew, was a natural part of Roman life. I typed in another sentence::

“Abandoned, unwanted, exposed by her father, thus legally dead and available to be taken as a slave.”

The number of household slaves was an indication of a family's wealth, so, for a person struggling financially but needing to maintain an air of riches, the reward for saving an exposed infant was appealing. Interesting characters were leaping out at me. This research seed had rapidly swelled and I was already invested emotionally in my main character. What a tragic start to life, but 'my girl' was still alive, and whilst there is life there is hope, and this young girl was grabbing me firmly by the hand and screaming for her story to be told.

Yet I couldn't fit her into the lives of the legionaries of the Twentieth Legion who I'd left in Britannia about to build a certain wall made of stone. This girl's story had to be set in Italy, Pompeii to start with as my scribbled notes had the exposed infant tied to the slopes of Mount Vesuvius. 

Once I'd made the decision to postpone writing the sequel, it became an easy choice for me to start Juno's Peacock at the time of the destructive eruption that devastated Pompeii. When even further research of this period revealed the double disasters of fire and plague in Rome during the short reign of Emperor Titus, plus the opening of the Flavian Amphitheatre and the excitement of the inaugural games, I could clearly see my way ahead.

So, not only was research the inspiration behind Juno's Peacock, research was also the continuing driving force throughout the story. It gave me such a lot of material and ideas to work with. 

Heather Robinson

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About the Author

Heather Robinson is a novelist and short story award winner from Wiltshire, UK. Her academic background includes a Bachelor of Science degree and having spent most of her life as an Administration Manager locally, she is now exploring new work opportunities in the countryside, whilst also writing and broadcasting on Community Radio. Proud parents of two adult sons, Heather and her husband, Graham, share a passion for live music, hiking and motorcycling.  You can find Heather on Facebook and Twitter @HevRob1

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