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Living memories that inspire the mythical writer

“Living memories that inspire the mythical writer”, an article by Susie Weldon from the Western Daily Press, 16th February 1998 (reprinted with permission).

Moyra Caldecott is fascinated by myth and religion, archaeology and history.

But whereas other authors rely only on research and imagination to recreate a period, Moyra calls upon actual memories to do so.

Bizarre as it may sound, Moyra, who was born in South Africa and moved to Britain in 1951, says she actually experiences much of what she uses in her novels.

“Most of my books come from very strong feelings of having been there before,” says the softly spoken 70-year-old author.

“I write in my experiences and my far memories, as well as research the period.”

Moyra can’t explain what occurs. She “sort of believes in reincarnation; it seems to fit so neatly” but accepts that there may be other explanations.

Perhaps memories can be put down in genes or maybe places become imprinted with strong impressions, which she then picks up. It is even possible, she concedes, that she just has a particularly strong imagination.

But Moyra clearly doesn’t believe that; her experiences are so vivid she can’t help but accept them as real.

“Things start to happen that seem to prove my experiences,” she says. “For instance, in one book I wrote about a priest who had lots of sea urchin shells in his little hut. I thought I must have imagined it but later I learned that sea urchins were often used in burials at that time.”

In any case, who knows what science will discover in the future, she points out. After all, if people had talked about television or radio 200 years ago, “it would have been, well, magic”.

Whatever the explanation, Moyra’s novels brilliantly convey the feel of a particular period. Much of this is due to her impeccable research but also to the masterful storytelling.

Her acclaimed Guardians Of The Tall Stones trilogy. which arose out of her fascination for Britain’s stone circles, earned for her a considerable cult following.

And her novels on Egypt, especially her biography of the Pharaoh Hatshepsut, led to a friendship with a world celebrity, Tina Turner. Tina became interested in Egypt after a psychic told her she was the reincarnation of Hatshepsut.

Their relationship was entirely based on Egyptology, “we never talked about her music” and eventually it led to them both visiting the pyramids together.

Moyra has stayed much closer to home for her latest novel. The Waters of Sul, the latest of her 24 books, is set in Roman Bath which is now her home.

Bath’s reputation as a centre of healing and religion go back to the days of the legendary King Bladud. She says: “Bath has never been a fort as far as we know, it’s always been a religious centre.”

The Waters Of Sul was originally entitled Aquae Sulis. But Moyra was forced to change it after a claim that it had been patented.

“It is ridiculous because Aquae Sulis is the old Roman name for Bath,” she says. “But I just can’t face the hassle of arguing about it in court.”

The novel transports the reader to Roman Bath, when pilgrims came from miles around to visit the hot waters gushing out of the earth at the Temple of Sulis Minerva.

It is set in 70 AD, a time of high tension and divided loyalties. The Celtic inhabitants are still coming to terms with their Roman overlords who began occupying Britain about 30 years beforehand.

Equally wrought are the tensions between different religions.

There is the Celtic goddess Sul, who reigned supreme in Bath before the Romans introduced their goddess Minerva; the Greek religion based around Orpheus; and the fledgling new religion, Christianity, which was just being introduced into Britain.

Then there are the emotional entanglements, the troubled romances, family conflicts, jealousies and hopes.

“I try to make history come alive for people but I’m not writing a straight history so I don’t have to stick absolutely to the facts,” she says.

Instead. she uses facts wherever they are appropriate to the story. For instance, one character in the novel throws a lead curse into a river. Examples of lead curses can still be seen at the Roman Baths.

Moyra is passionate about Bath. She moved there from London with her husband, Oliver, in 1989, shortly before he died. He was a talented artist and his stunning pastel drawings cover the walls of her Bath home.

Their children, Rachel, Stratford and julian, appear to have inherited their parents’ creativity and drive. Rachel is an artist and lives nearby with her glassblower husband Chris Thornton, whose workshop is off Walcot Street in Bath.

Stratford runs a centre for faith and culture in Oxford, while Julian is a conservationist fighting to save the world’s rainforests.

Moyra shares her son-in-law’s delight in glass: she creates beautiful leaded lamps and vases. But writing remains her chief love.

Writing, she says, is “a total drive. It’s the way I live my life, I live through my books.”

Published in the Western Daily Press on 16th February 1998, and copyright © Western Daily Press.

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