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Friday, August 30, 2013

Taking Tea with - Elisabeth Storrs

Ms. Stuart is delighted (and slightly in awe) to welcome author, Elisabeth Storrs to take tea with her this week. Ms. Storrs may be a "new to you" author? 
As I have come to know Elisabeth over the last year, I am struck by how similar our backgrounds are...we are both lapsed (or is that 'recovering'?) lawyers, both corporate governance specialiasts and both writers of historical novels with romance. In fact, and I don't think I have told Elisabeth this, I also studied Ancient Civilisations at university and where I am in awe of her, is that she has landed on the Etruscans as her passion (and I thought the English Civil War was problematical!). With a language no one could translate, the Etruscans were...and I suspect, remain, an elusive and mysterious people so I am looking forward to reading Elisabeth's (highly regarded) books and find out more about them!

My dear Elisabeth, do sit down… do you take tea? If so what is your preference?
Twinings English Breakfast. White no sugar. In the morning and afternoon without fail.  Teabags, I’m afraid, although I do know how to use a tea strainer when my mother in law visits and I brew a ‘proper’ pot of tea. I’ve never worked out whether to put the milk in first or last, though. I don’t drink Earl Grey as I have my limits. ( see, we have so much in common!)

I am struck by the similarity in our backgrounds, from studying arts law to practicing as corporate lawyers and governance professionals. Quite eerie! The world tends to view lawyers as dry, crusty individuals but yet I know a great many lawyers practicing in different areas of the Arts, do you think there is a common thread that drives (some) lawyers to creativity?

There are definitely a lot of lawyers who have a creative side but they tend to keep it secret. I know my colleagues were astounded when they heard I’d been writing novels for years. I think people who study law tend to have expressive language skills which could be used for both analytical and creative purposes. When I left school I had the romantic notion I wanted to be a writer but the reality of having to pay my bills resulted in choosing law instead. I imagine it’s the same for many lawyers who have an artistic side. In a way I feel a little bit schizophrenic swapping between left and right sides of the brain. Lord knows what would happen if I worked out how to use both at once. Wait  – I do that when I write historical fiction! Research and writing. A perfect blend of the two.

(AS: It was my guilty little secret for many, many years. When I came "out", my colleagues may have been less surprised if I had announced I was converting to Hinduism!)

A question I am often asked is ‘Why don’t you write courtroom or “legal” dramas’, so I am going to throw that one over to you now! 

I think I’d be sued for libel if I wrote legal dramas as I’d subconsciously create characters who were suspiciously like people I’ve worked with!  

Mind you, I would never be short of inspiration. As a litigation lawyer I’ve certainly been involved in a few real life courtroom dramas. And truth is definitely stranger than fiction when it comes to the boardroom shenanigans I’ve encountered while working in corporations. But to answer your question, I’m not drawn to legal thrillers or courtroom novels because I use my writing to escape into an imagined historical world rather than remain in the modern one. Or maybe I should create a Roman lawyer embroiled in corruption and intrigue? There were certainly bizarre cases back then. Another cross genre perhaps? 

Your two novels are set in Ancient Rome. Has Ancient Rome always been a passion for you? Have you always written? And what was the first spark that kicked off the desire to write a novel?

Classical Greece and Rome have always fascinated me. I studied Classics because I wanted to read the works of the poets, Homer and Virgil, in their own language as well as understand the times in which they lived (yes, I’m a true nerd!).

Republican Rome is of particular interest to me but my greatest passion is for the Etruscans, a race of people who were conquered by Rome but who influenced the Romans into imperial times. The Etruscans afforded independence, education and sexual freedom to women. As a result there were considered wicked and corrupt by the rest of the ancient world who were busy repressing their wives and daughters.  

From the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Museum
My first book, THE WEDDING SHROUD, was inspired when I discovered a sarcophagus with a life size sculpture of a husband and wife lying on their bed in a tender embrace. Knowing that women were not commemorated in funerary art, I had to know what kind of ancient society would depict both a man and a woman in such a sensuous pose. The answer led me to the Etruscans who lived in an ancient equivalent of a sex, rock and roll culture. 

As for writing, my interest was sparked when I was 8 years old after a composition of mine was read out in school assembly. In my teens I started writing an atrocious novel (since lost to time, thank goodness) but it wasn’t until I had my own children that I decided to actually set aside time in my diary to write a little every week. Consequently, it took ten years to finish THE WEDDING SHROUD.

You are currently working on a new book, CALL TO JUNO, what is it about and is it a sequel to THE WEDDING SHROUD and THE GOLDEN DICE? 

CALL TO JUNO is the third book in my Tales of Ancient Rome series which has its genesis around two lovers who are blamed for starting a war. In The Wedding Shroud, the Roman treaty bride, Caecilia, is forced to marry Vel Mastarna, an enemy Etruscan nobleman, only to find love in his mystical and decadent society. Newly released, THE GOLDEN DICE continues Caecilia’s journey seven years later and poses an entirely different set of dilemmas for her as she is now seen as a traitor by Rome while being distrusted by her husband’s people. I have also introduced two other strong female characters in this book: Pinna, a Roman tomb whore, and Semni, a young Etruscan artisan who becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna. Call to Juno is set in the final stages of the ten year siege and continues to relate the challenges faced by these three women and the men they love. If you’re interested you’ll find more information on the background to the books in this post on my blog.

I’m an Australian author who lives in Sydney with my husband and two sons. A self-confessed Romaholic and Etruscomaniac, I sometimes forget to cook their dinner when I’m visiting ancient Rome and Etruria. Over the years I’ve worked as a solicitor, corporate lawyer and governance consultant but don’t hold that against me. Apart from living in real and imagined times I also exist in the ether at Facebook, Twitter and at my blog Triclinium where I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alison (two can play at this game!)
The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice are available on Amazon as an ebook and paperback or via other retailers listed on my website

The Golden Dice: A Tale of Ancient Rome

During a ten year siege between two age-old enemies, three women follow very different paths to survive:

Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes her city by marrying the Etruscan Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress…

Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia's children and her own chance for romance…

Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome's greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another…

In this second volume in the Tales of Ancient Rome series, the lives of women in war are explored together with the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.

Here's a question to get you thinking:  What would you do if asked to give up your family, beliefs and home to marry a stranger in an enemy world?