These are answers to some interview questions posed in 1997 by Venue, the local listings magazine, based in Bath and Bristol, UK. The magazine later carried a feature on Moyra Caldecott and her new book Aquae Sulis (later republished as The Waters of Sul)
The novel Aquae Sulis uses the name of the town of Bath in Roman times because it is a story about the town, the people who lived there in c.72 AD – the loves, hates, the conflicts and reconciliations – all set against the back-drop of an ancient sacred place in the process of change. The Celts and the Romans, the conquered and the conquerors are trying to adjust to each other.
My husband and I left South Africa in 1951 at a time when the country was an efficient police state, and any protest against the very unjust system of apartheid was punished instantly and severely. Several of our friends were already in prison. We left hoping we could do something to alert the rest of the world to what was going on there. It was world opinion that finally forced a resolution and a change. We lived in London until 1989 when my husband was found to have cancer and given a year to live.
We came to Bath, seeking, and finding, a less stressful environment. It seemed the perfect human-sized town after London, and yet it had all the culture – theatre, bookshops, art galleries – and a fast train to London. A city beautiful architecturally, and rich in history. As an author of novels set in ancient times I was particularly interested in the Roman and pre-Roman era. I wrote one novel about King Bladud, the flying king, entitled The Winged Man (pub.Headline) set centuries before the Romans came, and then Aquae Sulis (just published by Bladud Books in Bath) about Roman Bath. At the time of writing I was visiting my daughter in Rome frequently and so the research I did was not only in books and museums, but also ‘on site’.
The novels I write are woven from many threads:
- Academic research into the place and time in books and museums and ‘on site’.
- My interest in the myths and legends of the people I describe. Stories handed down through generations carry not only certain profound truths about the general human condition, but are flavoured with the culture from which they come. We can understand a lot about the Celts and the Romans by taking account of their myths and legends.
- Certain experiences of my own. Some are from my travels e.g. in Rome itself, in Petra in Jordan, and in Pompeii in Italy. Some are from more esoteric experiences. I do a sort of ‘time travelling’. I cannot make it happen, but sometimes in some places I seem to slip out of my present persona and experience being someone else in another time. Whether this is reincarnational memory or just a very vivid imagination I don’t know, but the strange thing is that when I come to write the story of that experience I find out, often years later and after publication, confirmation that what I have written is accurate, though there was no evidence for it at the time. In Aquae Sulis the Greek priest of Orpheus slips in and out of time in the same way, experiencing the past, present and the future.
I know this can happen, because it has happened to me. The first time I used it to write a book was in Guardians Of The Tall Stones (pub. Celestial Arts, USA). I was in a stone circle in Scotland when I experienced that slip in time – this time to the Bronze Age. I wrote the trilogy during a series of heart attacks. There is nothing like believing you are about to die to concentrate the mind on important matters! The priesthood used a form of spirit-travel to cross the world. I had not yet heard about astral-travel, though I myself had experienced it as a child not knowing what it was. In Crete I ‘experienced’ a house that had not yet been excavated — but later was, and corresponded exactly to my vision of it. From this I wrote The Lily And The Bull set in Minoan Crete. My Egyptian novel about Akhenaten, The Son Of The Sun, sprang from an experience under hypnosis. The week it was published, without even knowing that I had written a book about Akhenaten, a medium saw Akhenaten standing behind me in my living room.
I have been asked if I am a religious person. I believe I am. I certainly believe in realities other than the physical. People have always tried to make sense of the mystery of life and death. They make up stories to explain it and give names to the mysterious forces and energies they feel around them influencing their lives. In Aquae Sulis in Roman times these names were Jupiter, Apollo, Isis, Orpheus, Sul, etc. In the Middle Ages they were called angels and archangels, saints etc. When I write about a period I go into the belief systems of that period and find, just as we do today, that some pay lip-service and some are deeply, mystically committed. Many of my characters are priests — for in the priesthood the responsibility for good and evil is powerfully concentrated. Corruption of those who lead, whether it be in the Church, or in the police, or in the State, is always devastating.
You ask if I write poems. Yes, I do. In my novels I am describing people outside myself yet familiar to me from people I have met, either in ‘real life’ or in ‘flash back’. In my poems I write from my own heart. I am currently gathering a volume together.
You ask if I fancy a dip in the Roman baths. Yes, I do. It would be a fitting celebration for the publication of Aquae Sulis. It may even be possible if I last out to the millennium!