Thursday 9 November 2023

Giving History a Twist –by Marie Basting


The idea for My Family and Other Romans came to me in a dream. Red caped legionaries, glowing amber as they boarded a gleaming silver bullet train. It seemed obvious to me that these soldiers must have belonged to Vulcan, the Roman god of fire. And I just had to tell their story.

But that meant writing a historical novel, right? Legionaries equalled Rome, even if these soldiers were made of lava. And I didn’t write historical fiction. I write fantasy, funny books that help us escape the present rather than delve into our past. I couldn’t write a book set in Ancient Rome…?

But I couldn’t not. Fortuna had gifted me too good a story seed not to plant. And, so, I did three things. I swallowed back the imposter syndrome, set to work on the research and I gave the story a twist.

That twist was LARP.

Live Action Role Play -  LARP -  is a  type of role play game where players choose and develop a character, dress up like that character and, guided by a loose script and series of rules, meet up with other players to bring the game to life.  It is sometimes described as a form of interactive storytelling, with the player fully immersed in the story world. As Silvia, our protagonist, says in the book, ‘it’s part acting, part dressing up and one hundred percent awesome!’

Impressions from the LARP "ConQuest of Mythodea" 
2018 in Brokeloh, Credit Frank fotografiert

There are lots of types of LARP including fantasy, horror, sci-fi and, yes, even historical. Many LARPs are pretty simple, relying mostly on the imagination, but others have elaborate sets inhabited by people in spectacular costumes. It’s perhaps the only place where you can be a centurion, cyclops or sorceress for the day and still go the chippy on the way home for your tea.

As a writer who likes to mix things up, I thought it would be interesting to ask the question, what if a keen LARPer thought they were on the set of a major LARP event but had actually stumbled through a portal back to Ancient Rome?

This is what happens to Silvia. A resident of Once Brewed, a tiny village off Hadrian’s Wall, she’s no stranger to history. But nothing could prepare her for what she uncovers as she journeys back to Ancient Rome. 

My dog looking for Silvia’s portal at Housesteads
 Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall.

Or rather an alternative version of Ancient Rome, for the world Silvia finds herself in has all the quirks you’d expect from the Romans – like having to wipe your bum with a communal sponge and rich people eating flamingo tongues and stuffed dormice – but there are also elements that take Silvia by surprise. Not least the fact she has a baby cyclops for a sister.

The Research  

Even though My Family and Other Romans is very much a fantasy, I worked really hard to get the historical setting right; to make the world as vivid as possible and immerse the reader in the sights, sounds and tastes of Rome. You want me to tell you how I did this? Oh, OK, then.

Well, first off, I read lots of Roman books and articles. And when I say lots, I mean LOTS! In fact, my brain is now so full of Roman facts every time I blow my nose one appears on the tissue.

I also watched lots of documentaries and films set in the era which meant I got to eat lots of ice cream – you can’t watch a film without ice cream right?

Finally, I had fun visiting lots of historic sites and I even did a course in both Classical Mythology and Roman Architecture. 

Bye Bye Imposter Syndrome…Sort Of

Impressed? Well, I have to be honest, eating up Roman facts like Pac-Man eating up dots was driven partly by the imposter syndrome – by the fact I still wasn’t sure if I could pull this off. Sure, I’d done shed loads of research and been interested in the Romans ever since my collage of Pompei was hung in the head teacher’s office at primary school but there are lots of people far more knowledgeable about the classics than me.

But I’d learnt the hard way we can’t let self-doubt stop us doing things and so I decided I’d just do my best and see what happened. And look where that led to – a published book that people seem to like and which has a dog on the front just like my dog Polly.

So maybe next time you’re worried you can’t do something, you’ll remember this blog and think, hey if that Marie woman with the cute dog could put away her imposter syndrome and be good at history and writing maybe I can too. Maybe I too can look at things in a new way and give them a twist? Maybe my difference is my strength.

Writing Challenge

And so that’s my challenge to you. I want you to take a story or myth and give it your own modern twist. Because after all that’s what many of the great Roman story tellers did – they took myths that were centuries old and gave them a new flavour to better suit the times.

So how might you approach this? How about dropping a Roman god in your local shopping centre and seeing how they get along in the food court? Or imagine your favourite mythological character reborn as a child? A child attending your school, maybe, who can’t control their powers? What kind of trouble would that bring? Or maybe you want to invent a totally new mythological character – Ducklius Ceaser here suggests a cross between Jupiter and a duck. 

So, off you go. Fire up your imaginations and rewrite the myths. Have fun and may the gods be with you!

Marie Basting

Marie Basting writes funny fiction for middle-graders. Her debut novel, the critically acclaimed Princess BMX, was listed by the Guardian and BookTrust in their ‘best new books’ category and has been praised by Gender Collect as one of the best books out there for smashing stereotypes. Her latest book, My Family and Other Romans, is a laugh-out-loud funny family caper full of excitement and heart and has been equally well received by critics.

Told by a career adviser, that girls like her don’t become writers, Marie loves nothing more than inspiring others to believe in themselves and achieve their dreams whatever the limits put on them. Her school and festival events have inspired thousands of children to smash stereotypes and to read and write for pleasure.

Find out more at:


Twitter - @riewriting

Instagram  - @marie_basting_author

Facebook -

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