Q-When did you first get the idea of writing these books about Natasha, Alex, Gabriella and Lorenzo?
Well, a long time ago! The Obsidian Mask was an idea I had when my children were approaching ‘double figures’. I wanted to write an adventure story that was realistic, and true to life. There were so many goblins, wizards and magic wands flooding the bookshelves, I felt there was a void in the children’s book market for exciting, down to earth real situation stories. I love history and archaeology, so it made perfect sense to me to incorporate my love of these subjects into my books.
Q-Why did you base the first one in Southern Mesopotamia?
That’s a fascinating region of the world. It’s the cradle of civilization. As Julia says in the book, it’s where it all began! There is so much to read and learn about it. They were very advanced in their technology and living very well compared to us in the west at the same time. I also found it fascinating how a great civilization can crumble to dust almost without a trace. There are whole cities buried under the sands that have yet to be discovered. We think we know it all, you know, but we are only relearning, repeating what has been done before... It’s so interesting.
Q-Is there any kind of message you want the reader to go away with when we’ve finished reading The Obsidian Mask?
I didn’t really have any special message in mind as I was writing the book, though in hind-sight I think we can probably learn a few things, like how not to be too selfish perhaps, or pre-judgmental. But it is primarily just a really interesting, fun adventure story, with realistic, characters. The reader will get to know the characters well, and relate to them in their own way. I had one American reader tell me he was going to focus more on his Spanish lessons at school, as he wanted to be more like Lorenzo, and speak different languages. That’s worth a million dollars to me. I didn’t intend that at all. But most of all, as far a message, I think I would like the reader to appreciate a little ancient history, and understand the importance of preserving ancient sites. And of course I would love the reader to finish the book wanting to read their next adventure!
Q-Have you ever been on a dig?
Yes, I have. I spent a summer in Cornwall, on a fascinating Mesolithic site. I actually uncovered a stone tool that hadn’t been touched by man for 7,500-9,000 years! It was a memorable moment for me, but to the archaeologists working around me, it was an, “oh, just put it over there in that pile with the others...” moment! I’ve been on a dig in America too, at Valley Forge, though they didn’t let us volunteers do much digging, we were mostly sieving the displaced earth. It was still very interesting; we found clay pipes, pottery shards, buttons and animal bones with knife marks on them.
Q-Where did you go to school?
In London, where I grew up. I don’t remember much about my very first school, except the sweetest summer uniform we had, with a blue and white striped pinafore dress and a straw panama hat. I remember looking forward to getting dressed to go to school just to wear the hat! Then I went to a Catholic, all girl’s school, until I was thirteen. I then went to Boarding School in the Hertfordshire countryside. Princess Helena College. Best days of my childhood.
Q-Did you go on to do history or archaeology at University?
Well, actually, neither. I always found reading and spelling very difficult. It never came easily to me. I suffered at school trying to cover for my inability to spell. Maths didn’t come easily, either. When the teacher would finish explaining something, and wiz her eyes around the class asking, “Everyone got it? Any questions before we move on?” I could never raise my hand and ask her to repeat anything. So because you needed Maths to go to university, (in England, anyway,) I wouldn’t have got in. It’s really a great shame as I would have done archaeology.
Q-So are you saying you are dyslexic?
Yes, I think I most definitely am. I saw on line all the tell-tell signs of dyslexia about eight ears ago, quite by chance, and it hit me like a ton of bricks that that’s me! It was actually a great relief. All those years of struggling at school, especially the early years. Later on, by the time I was twelve or thirteen I learned how to change sentences around and adapt what I needed to say to avoid certain words. It never worked, though, to my dismay there were always mistakes in every sentence! I learned to be very creative with my writing though! Perhaps this was a blessing.
Q-It sounds like you had a tough time in school, generally...
Not in every subject, I loved History and Geography, the Arts, and languages. Strangely I could spell better in French than my own language. I had two lovely teachers for History and Geography in my middle school, who, for the most part ignored my spelling and just graded me on the content of my work, so I did very well in those subjects. But you always remember the nasty teachers don’t you? One English teacher in particular, would love to read my essays out in class as she said they were the best, which was embarrassing enough, but she would sometimes humiliate me by reading the words as I had written them, mispronouncing them as a joke for the class. The whole class would laugh out loud. I remembered her on my dedication page of The Obsidian Mask. Unfortunately she doubled up as the Maths teacher too. I was doomed.
Q-So has writing your books been hard for you?
No, not at all. The stories come easily. I love to write, always have done! As I say, it’s the spelling that’s the problem. But Spell Check is my closest friend! It doesn’t just make it easier, it makes it possible.
Q-What are you writing at the moment?
I am writing the third book. I’m not calling it a trilogy any more, because who knows, there might be more! The Irish Queen of Algiers, book three, basically touches upon the horrific white slave trade, which, for some reason is never taught in schools, but it was as rampant as the terrible black slave trade. Hardly anyone knows about it. So through Natasha, Alex, Gabriella and Lorenzo, we learn about a young Irish girl who is taken from her Irish fishing village by Barbary Pirates from the North coast of Africa. There’s much more to the book of course, but I’m not giving it away!
Q-What is the second book, Secrets of The River, about?
Stolen art, buried secrets, a nasty, arrogant grandmother, and the distinct sense that the Nazis who occupied Gabriella and Lorenzo’s ancestral home during WW11 might still be around... roll this up together and you get another exciting story that takes Natasha and Alex to Northern Italy.
Q-You’ve seen a lot of places around the world, where is your favorite?
That changes with my mood. I think my favorite city will always be London. It’s pretty safe, comparatively, has very beautiful architecture and is very green. Did you know there are more parks and gardens in London that in any other city in the world? But I would love a little cottage somewhere away from it all, over looking the sea. Somewhere peaceful, where I can write. A cottage with thick walls and a big fireplace overlooking a fishing village in Cornwall, or in northwest Italy, somewhere where I would be comfortable and not feel like a tourist. But that is such a cliché, isn’t it! Everyone wants an old cottage somewhere pretty... Every country has somewhere lovely to escape to. It’s a tough choice. It’s where you know and where you don’t feel like a fish out of water...
Q-You have visited many archaeological sites and ruins in the world, which one is the most impressive to you?
Oh gosh, that’s a hard one. Two immediately spring to mind. Persepolis, in Iran, simply for the vastness and scale of the area and its many grand palaces, and because my father took me there, and Dugga in Tunisia, for its ability to transport you back in time so effortlessly, as it is so complete, that you feel the people of two thousand years ago might come back any moment and invite you into their home for a coffee. Very eerie place, because it is so intact. But just wonderful to experience. It makes you feel so insignificant.
Q-So are you Italian with a name like ‘Ludovici?’
No. Not since the 1600’s. The Ludovici’s are a branch of the Ludovisi’s, who originally came from Bologna and Rome. My Great-Great Grandfather was an artist who moved to London from Paris in 1850, and his ancestors were actually from Saxony. My father, however, was as English as they come! My mother’s side of the family were sea Captains, and all English.
Q-But don’t you live in the USA now?
Yes, we moved here about 16 years ago with my husband’s job. Our family spends a lot of time hopping back and forth across the ‘pond’.
Q-What do you do when you are not writing about Natasha Alex Gabriella and Lorenzo?
I write the odd article for magazines here and there, I have written a dozen short essays that I am collecting in a book of short stories. I’ve also written a short chapter book; The story about a boy who stumbles upon something in a wood in England, just outside a town called Dorking, in Surrey. He has a decision to make that could change the balance of the world. It was inspired by an artist friend of mine’s painting. But going back to The Obsidian Mask, I have to research quite a lot for each book. Although they are fictional stories, there is truth in all of them, I like to leave the reader interested enough to want to read more on the subject. I’ve had parents writing to tell me how much they enjoyed reading The Obsidian Mask, which is amazing to me! Oh and I am about to do a course on writing screenplays. I of course see The Obsidian Mask as a great film. Not a noisy, crash-bang- wallop Indiana Jones sort of movie, with over emphasized facial expressions and plastic props, but more of a David Lean, subtle, moving and believable movie.
That sounds intriguing! Thank you Caroline, it was great talking to you. The best of luck with The Obsidian Mask. We really enjoyed it, and can’t wait until you let us read Secrets of the River!
My pleasure, thank you.
Conatct Caroline Ludovici at firstname.lastname@example.org