For a long time I've wanted to write a
Catholic novel, but the catalyst was a dream I had about ten years ago.
I saw Tarunculus in a Roman town, telling the odd passerby that he was
the one chosen by Fate to save the empire. No one was taking him
seriously. It eventually became part of the last chapter and the rest
of the novel was built around it.
The book is
obviously very well researched and follows the historical record very
closely. Did you have a particular interest in this period of history?
If so, what attracted you to it?
The Fall of Rome is a subject of perennial
interest, but beyond that the period is fascinating as it marks the
foundation of Christendom: a truly Christian mediaeval society as
opposed to the semi-Christianized Roman society that preceded it. The
Battle of Soissons was one of the pivotal moments of the western world
that helped determine whether that Christian mediaeval society would
come into existence in the first place. It was an exciting time in
which everything that happened, mattered.
has for young people today?
I don't know if a novel is meant to have a 'message'. To me a novel is
ideally a good story with interesting characters that reflects
something of the reality of human life. But if one is looking for a
message in Centurion's Daughter
it could be not to trust in a purely
human social order as it is built on sand. Or the sometimes very
winding and nearly invisible way Providence guides us. Or to realize
that the only thing that really matters in this world is to remain true
to God and love those near us.
Centurion's Daughter say
anything to South Africans that may
not be picked up by Americans or others in the English speaking world?
Oh yes! After 1994 the old order changed completely and forever. A lot
of what came with the new liberal dispensation has not done the country
any good but there is one thing at least that was an improvement: the
old stratification of the races was replaced by a much more relaxed
rapport between them -- it became easier to behave charitably towards
individuals of other races. I think a South African would pick up this
theme in the novel even though in other ways the rapport between Frank
and Roman was different.
illustrations and this seems to
make it a bit of a throw-back to the 1940s and 1950s when these types
of books for young adults were prevalent. Where do you think
Centurion's Daughter fits in
among more modern fiction for young
One needs to bear in mind that teenagers tend
to read books intended for adults, as any school curriculum
demonstrates. Centurion's Daughter
is not 'written down' to children. I intended it for mature thinking
readers, which -- depending on the individual -- can be anything from
early teens upwards. I chose to do illustrations as some of the books I
most enjoyed as a teen had pictures in them. There seems to be a
convention that rules out illustrating books for older readers -- a
pity to my mind.
Aemilia is a
very deep and intriguing character. As a
man, how difficult was it to create a teenaged girl protagonist?
It's a bit hackneyed but still the truth to
say that a writer doesn't
create his characters, he merely reports what they do. Aemilia and the
other characters really just developed in their own way. Of course one
needs raw material, but since like everyone else I interact with men
and women of all ages, there was plenty of raw material to draw from.
Aemilia is perhaps thoughtful rather than 'deep'. One mentally debates
the big questions in one's teens. Aemilia is not an especially great
thinker, but the complete overturning of her old settled way of life
has forced her to reappraise her assumptions. In doing so she begins to
think, and finally act, for herself.
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