INTERVIEW: Children, Archaeology, and Novels

Caroline Ludovici has had a passion for history, archaeology, and adventure from an early age. Originally from London, Caroline has traveled extensively throughout the world, soaking in different cultures wherever she has ventured. Her experiences and her keen interest in history and archeology gave her the agency to become a novelist. As an author, she is committed to making her books interesting, exciting, true to life, and refreshingly different. In this interview with James Blake Wiener of the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Caroline discusses the art of crafting the “young adult novel” in addition to her desire to engender a love of history among children.

JW: Caroline Ludovici, I wanted to thank you on behalf of the Ancient History Encyclopedia for agreeing to speak with us about your series of novels for children. You were one of the very first individuals who reached out to us via social media and we are very pleased to be speaking to you at last.

CL: It is such a pleasure to be speaking with you, James! I was excited to learn more about the Ancient History Encyclopedia through Facebook this summer and I am glad to have the opportunity to speak with your readers and followers.

JW: Caroline, I wanted to begin by asking you what first enticed you to the disciplines of ancient history and archaeology? Had they always been an interest of yours from a young age or did they develop when you were an adult?

CL: Yes, I was always interested in the topic even as young child. I definitely have felt a strong interest in the histories of the ancient Near East and this interest has endured and continues to color my life. However, I cannot really pinpoint as to why I have always I felt so attracted to the region’s diverse cultures, histories, and mythologies.

As a child growing up in London, my parents had the loveliest Persian friends and they told me the most delightful stories and fables…I can remember being thoroughly intrigued and entertained! When I was a teenager, my father worked in Tehran for a couple of years. When visiting him in Iran on holiday, I would travel throughout the countryside visiting remarkable sites of antiquity.

JW: In addition to Persian culture and history, you seem to have some affinity for Mesopotamian civilization as well. Your first book, The Obsidian Mask, takes place at a fictional archaeological site in what is present day Iraq. Can you comment further without giving too much away?

CL: I have lived in Sweden, Australia, the UK, and now the United States, but I have never visited Iraq. I would love to go one day in the near future. There is so much work left for archaeologists to do there and so many artifacts to yet uncover! Fortunately, I have traveled across Northern Africa and have been lucky enough to visit many parts of the Middle East.

The setting of my first book required extensive research as our understanding and knowledge of Mesopotamian civilization is still growing. Although I write fiction for a younger audience, I have to know a bit of what I am writing about and include pertinent facts and stimulating anecdotes!

The Obsidian Mask is a modern tale involving four young teenagers, who are the children of archaeologists. It is my first book in a trilogy, which follows their adventures around the Middle East, Europe, and North Africa as they investigate unique archaeological sites as a family. The second book in the series is Secrets Of The River and the third book is The Irish Queen Of Algiers

JW: You mentioned the research process that awaits you as you write these books–did you enjoy the research? Has anything proven especially difficult when writing your series? I have met other novelists and writers and they have told me that penning books for children and adolescents is far more difficult than most people realize!

CL: I do like the research, but I find all the reading I have to do to be a bit laborious as I suffer from mild dyslexia! It is truly a daily battle. The ironic thing is that despite the struggling to read a book about Sumerian mythology or Etruscan art, I still love writing about such topics and learning as much as I can. I feel as though my passion for the subject is able to transcend the difficulties I face when it is time to begin writing.

At the moment, I am editing Secrets Of The River, which is set in beautiful northern Italy. It has been terribly interesting to learn about the ancient Trebbia Valley and the alluring city of Pisa, past and present. Recent archaeological work in the area has revealed some surprising discoveries, which have helped historians recognize the complexities of Etruscan life and culture. I have always wanted to know more about the Etruscans and their mysterious civilization: they were enormously influential to the Romans and had a love-hate relationship with the ancient Greeks. I intend to weave all of this into the narrative and plot structure of the novel, but I do not want to give too much away!

It is difficult indeed to write for children, but I write so as to entertain my reader’s parents too. Ideally, I would like to think that anyone, regardless of age or nationality, could pick up my books and enjoy them. I have received tremendous feedback from parents who have bought the books for their child (or children), and have found the stories to be equally compelling from an adult perspective. One thing that I make sure not do is to “dumb down” the dialogue between the younger characters. Children and adolescents are much more clever than we given them credit for being!

JW: On that note, how can we make archaeology and ancient history more enjoyable for children and teenagers, in your opinion? Do you believe that we can inspire a love for that which is ancient in such a notoriously fickle demographic?

CL: Absolutely! We can make it come alive by making it more accessible. History is all around us and it ought to be conceived as something very tangible. I like the “hands on” approach. It is funny that you ask this James, as this is a question that I used to ponder myself when I had to arrange book signings. Now, when I have book signings, I bring little clay tablets with me so that my readers can learn to write their names in ancient cuneiform. I wanted to give my readers something a bit more personalized and physical in order to spark their imagination.

I wish that more children could visit interactive museum exhibits and get a true feel for archaeology too. Children are curious by nature and they could wash pottery shards, glue them together, find bones, and so forth.

In addition to these approaches, I believe that it is useful to constantly think and review how we teach and interpret history in our schools and as a society. I am no historian, but I do believe that I can present “flavors” of history and archaeology from a slightly different perspective: a perspective that is not delineated from a dry textbook. History belongs to everyone. I want children to know that our perception of the past is constantly evolving and changing as archaeologists and scholars gather new facts and interpret them. They should be aware that they can become a part of this process too should they wish.

JW: Well said! To conclude Caroline, please tell us what is the most rewarding aspect of your work and what plans do you have for the future?

CL: It is wonderful to receive feedback from children commenting on how they like one or another character. I find it all very interesting–the diversity in opinions and interests. They see something different in each my characters. I was moved when one child wrote me and said that reading The Obsidian Mask inspired him to study languages like several of the characters in the series. Another child wrote and expressed their new found interest in the past and a sense of appreciation for all the hard work archaeologists do. These are the types of reactions I love to receive from my readers: a sense of appreciation and interest in the ancient world. I’m happy about it all. It’s sparking that seed of interest.

As to my future plans, around Christmas 2012, Secrets Of The River, will be published. This is the book set in Italy with sunken Etruscan ships and excursions in the Trebbia valley. Next year, The Irish Queen Of Algiers, about a girl abducted and sold into slavery in North Africa will be published.

JW: I thank you so much for your time and consideration Caroline! It’s been a pleasure to speak with you and congratulations on your success! We look forward to hearing about you and your work as time goes on.

CL: Thank you James! I look forward to seeing what the future brings the Ancient History Encyclopedia. It is such a great resource and I am pleased beyond words to see it thrive as a digital humanities resource.

Caroline Ludovici was born and raised in London, UK. In her youth, she traveled extensively across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Oceania, before ending up in the United States with her husband and children. Wanderlust and a love of the past led Caroline to become a novelist. To learn more about Caroline’s trilogy series, life, and other activities, please visit her homepage or connect with her directly via Facebook and Twitter. Her books are available for purchase directly through

James Blake Wiener is a Director and the Public Relations Manager of the Ancient History Encyclopedia, providing a continuous listing of must-read articles, exciting museum exhibitions, and interviews with experts in the field. Trained as a historian and researcher, and previously a professor of history, James is a freelance writer and who is keenly interested in cross-cultural exchange. Committed to fostering increased awareness of the ancient world, James welcomes you to the Ancient History Encyclopedia and hopes that you find his articles and interviews to be “illuminating.”

All photographs, images, and videos are the exclusive property of the interviewee mentioned herein. They have been given to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, as a courtesy, for the purposes of this interview. All rights reserved.

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James Blake Wiener is the Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia. Trained as a historian and researcher, and previously a professor, James is chiefly interested in cross-cultural exchange, world history, and international relations. Aside from his work at AHE, James is an avid Arabist, devotee of romance languages (French, Portuguese, and Spanish), reggaetoñero, and fan of ice hockey.