Monday, July 7, 2008

Feeling The Past

I have often wondered how my fellow writers come upon their ideas for their novels. Do they perchance just have a flash of inspiration, or is it far simpler than that - maybe a particular person, a book they read, or a TV show or movie they watch fires their imagination and helps them formulate a plot for a new book.

With me it is often a visit to some ancient historical site that sends my thoughts into overdrive and makes me decide that there must be a story to tell about the particular place that I find so fascinatingly compelling. Some people may think I’m a tad insane but I’ve always believed that there is far more to this world than what we see with our eyes and hear with our ears and that perhaps tales of metaphysical happening aren’t quite as far fetched as some believe them to be.

I have no idea why but for me some places have what I can only describe as an aura, a powerful sense of time displaced. You can almost believe that if you closed your eyes and wished very hard you could step back in time and see them as they once were, vibrant and full of people. One of the places that affected me very strongly was Pompeii, and it was a visit to this ancient monument that gave me the inspiration for my novel Barbarian Prize. For those who have never had the pleasure of visiting Pompeii it isn’t just a mass of ruins, surprisingly it looks more like a real city, with paved streets, shops, houses, bath houses and temples that have been dug out from the ash that covered it for century after century. Of course, due to the violence of that terrible day, almost two thousand years ago, some of the buildings are partially destroyed, others have missing upper stories and most no longer have a roof but you still get to see what life must have been like in AD79.

As soon as I laid eyes on Pompeii I knew it was the perfect setting for an erotic novel, and as I learnt more about the people that lived there the story began to form in my mind. Sex was a part of Roman life, they were sensual people. The wealthy lived a life of luxury, in huge villas with swimming pools, underfloor heating and running water. They had elaborate bath houses, where they would be cleansed and massaged by slaves, who would pander to their every whim. There were many slaves in the city of Pompeii, probably even more than there were free inhabitants. The wealthy male occupants used their female slaves to provide sexual pleasures but it was considered quite acceptable for them to slake their lust on their young male slaves as well, although once they reached full manhood the slaves would not be expected to provide such services for their masters any more. After all I enjoy writing m/m now and again, even if my editor doesn’t like it overmuch.

Women did have rights; rich women owned property and slaves of their own, but it was still a male dominated society. Nevertheless, some women purchased handsome young male slaves to service them in their beds at night, or visited the gladiator barracks regularly to avail themselves of the sexual services thy were also happy to provide. Some gladiators even attained the status of sex symbols much like attractive male pop stars do today.

The poor and the working class often visited brothels and there were at least 30 brothels in the city, maybe more, because some of it hasn’t even been excavated yet. These brothels were populated by whores from every corner of the Roman Empire and crude messages painted onto the walls of these buildings praised the erotic abilities of some of these women. I bet these ladies of the night never realised that their sexual abilities would be so widely known many centuries after they had perished. You can always tell where one of these houses is situated because there are crude pictures of phalluses carved at the corners of these streets and outside each brothel as well. Inside there are pictures painted on the walls in front of each tiny cubicle showing the specialties of each particular occupant.

They liked wall paintings, all the houses of the wealthier inhabitants have brightly coloured paintings decorating their walls, some of them highly erotic and there is always a small niche for a house god in the entrance hall – often this is Priapus, the god of fertility. A strange looking man with a cock so massive he has to support it in his hand.

How could I not fail to be stimulated to write about such a fascinating place, although

I’m not sure if I would have liked to live there with my 21st century sensibilities. I would have enjoyed the pleasant climate, the central heating to warm my villa and the elaborate dinner parties they held. Reclining on couches they ate and drunk their fill, wandered off to throw up and then returned to fill their stomachs again. Bulimia it appears was quite acceptable, not a habit I’d like to attain, but then how would my stomach react to a feast of things like lark’s tongues and stuffed dormice? I can’t say the thought appeals to me.

Nudity wasn’t considered at all unacceptable although the sexes still bathed apart, and don’t wince here but bodily hair was more often than not removed and the only method they had was plucking. Give me waxing any day; it must have been odd and very painful to have a slave girl crouching between your thighs painstakingly removing all your pubic hair! Apart from that I probably wouldn’t have minded a visit to the bath house because all the handsome young men did their regular exercise in the nude! Then there were the public loos! That I couldn’t accustom myself to as they were truly communal and often served as a place to chat as well as relieving oneself. Imagine a long line of holes carved into blocks of stone, placed over streams of running water. While instead of loo paper they had a sponge on stick.

History fascinates me, just as the life people lived in the past stimulates me to write stories about them but oddly enough in many ways we haven’t changed that much over the centuries.


Olivia Knight said...

I love that feeling of walking through ruins and imagining yourself back in time. Simply occupying the same space as those people did makes you feel as though you could reach through the air and into the past. There's an abbey nearby my home, with a chapel still standing but its roof vanished and the interior filled with bushes and vines, that gives me the same sensation.

Deanna said...

I glad I'm not the only one Olivia. My husband thinks I'm a little odd, he never feels like that at all.

Alcatraz gave me a similar sensation, but that place was genuinely creepy as well.

Apologies if the post was a little too much of a history lesson but Pompeii is truly a fascinating place.

Portia Da Costa said...

Pompei sounds fascinating, Deanna. Thanks for a wonderful post.

Haven't visited anywhere of historical interest or significance myself lately, although I suppose the past is around us everywhere, just masked by layers of modernity.

Janine Ashbless said...

Woohooh! I love visiting historic sites and ruins, and just about everywhere I go on holiday ends up as a location in my fiction - Delos in Sun Seeking (Love on the Dark Side), Venice in The Blood of the Martyrs (Lust at First Bite), Istanbul in Chimaera (Dark Enchantment) etc etc.

Sadly, I have all the psychic sensitivity of a brick. I don't feel good or bad "atmospheres" in places. I have friends who literally fled from Rosslyn Chapel because they thought the spiritual atmosphere was so hostile: Not me.
I think I respond to visual aesthetics, not to any sense of human history.

And Deanna - I loved the history lesson. Bet you enjoyed Rome, did you?

Deanna said...

I loved 'Rome' and I'm sorry there isn't going to be another series,Janine. Apparently the Dr Who episode in Pompeii was filmed on the same set.

Couldn't find a screen cap of the scene in 'Rome' where the naked slave with a generously sized organ was presented to Servilia. Maybe Blogger wouldn't have allowed it anyway.

I've never been to Rosslyn Chapel, so I can't say if it feels strange to me but parts of Warwick Castle are most definitely a little unsettling.

Madeline Moore said...

Interesting Deanna, and your choice of pics is impeccable. (is that pecs? no, pics)

I've been to ancient places in the Far East and entered a dream-like state, but that's likely because they were so exotic, with no hint of modernity.

When I see old buildings populated by modern people I don't get a sense of much beyond the grandeur of the architecture, etc.

I loved 'Rome'. The reason it ended was simply - too expensive.
Too bad!

I liked the scene which opened with the Domina whipping her slave. You ask yourself, 'I wonder what he did...' but he didn't DO anything, she's just taking out her frustrations on her 'whipping boy.'
When she stops he says, 'Will that be all, Domina?' and she waves him away with a flick of her hand.

Loved the opening, too, with the graffiti on the walls becoming animated...brilliant.

Thanks Deanna! Fun way to kick off the week!

Janine Ashbless said...

Couldn't find a screen cap of the scene in 'Rome' where the naked slave with a generously sized organ was presented to Servilia

Funnily enough I've looked for that screencap to, to no avail...

Now I think I'm going to go look for a video clip of Titus Pullo and Gaia doing it rough.

Kate Pearce said...

I'm totally with you on this Deanna-I get exactly the same vibe whenever I go somewhere like that-sometimes to the extent that I have to get out of a place because it affects me too much.
Great post and FAB pictures. I feel all inspired now!

Darmand said...

The concept of the wealthy Roman matron acquiring young male slaves for bedroom service is an intruiging one that I would like to know more about. Do you have any further information about that, Deanna? Seems like the second picture in your post might deal with that theme.

Kealie Shay said...

I really enjoyed this post. Didn't get the sense at all that there was too much history lesson in it... just that you were passionate about what you were writing about.

I did know a lot of that about Ancient Rome... I have a fascination for Ancient Greece too as well as Rome.

Living in Vegas we don't have a lot of "historical" sites as developers tend to tear down anything old to make way for the newer and more extravagant... *sigh* BUT, the old Moulin Rouge... you could practically hear the music, see the people danicng, smell the smoke in the air... so I DO understand what you're talking about. My family says it's an overactive imagination... whatever, I'll take what I can get.

Great post!