Friday, 23 October 2009

A new chapter

You have been found guilty of neglecting your blog!

I can't believe I haven't written anything here for a month, it's ridiculous. Anyway here's an update of what's been happening in the life of Doug Jackson, writer.

On October 3 I appeared at the Wigtown book festival with the brilliant Allan Massie (who's also the author of a book called Caligula, as well as many others), Charlotte Higgins (It's all Greek to Me) and Philip Parker, who circumnavigated the borders of the Roman Empire for his epic The Empire Stops Here. We were to discuss Why the Classics still matter. We all met very fortuitously in the Writers' Retreat about an hour before we were due to go on and discovered we had no real idea what was about to happen, or what kind of audience we would attract - it could be five or fifty. It actually turned out to be upwards of a hundred and fifty and they were still bringing in more chairs up to the kick off! I'd probably been more worried about this appearance than anything I've done so far. I enjoy history in general and the Romans in particular, but I'm no classicist. I needn't have worried, we all had a more or less equal contribution to make and the audience thoroughly enjoyed themselves. One thing it brought home to me, though, is the difference between 'knowing' and 'understanding'. I know a lot about my area of expertise, but the depth of understanding of the impact of the Classics on history and the present day my co-panellists showed was phenomenal.

The following week, I headed off to Italy for a research trip. The town of Herculaneum will have a big role to play in a forthcoming book and I wanted to get an idea of the geography of the place as well as taking a wider look at the other historical sites around the Bay of Naples. I'd been to Pompeii and we visited it again, but I enjoyed Herculaneum, which is still 75 per cent buried under a rather grubby suburb of Naples, more. We hired our own guide, Carlo, who gave us more insight than any book could and had a wonderful time walking the ancient streets and marvelling at the incredible state of preservation. On the way back to our hotel in Sorrento (The Bristol, great place, great service and some of the best views in the world) we stopped off at Torre Anunziata (another grubby Naples suburb) and the wonderful Vill Oplontis, which, though on a much smaller scale, even outdid Herculaneum. The incredible frescoes, battered but still where they were two thousand years ago, are stunning and give a real insight into the lost grandeur of this wonderful place. We also stumbled, almost by mistake, on the Greek temples at Paestum, south of Salerno, which must be Europe's best kept historical hidden secret. The three enormous temples dominate a site that rivals Pompeii for scale, if nor preservation, and are quite astonishing.

This week I've been completing the rewrite of Hero of Rome. I'd been a little nervous about it, but Simon, my editor was very complimentary. When I sent it off this morning, I had that little tingle of excitement you always get at times like these. Could this be the one?