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Ovid - Background to the Book

Ovid was the first Corvinus book. After I Virgil (which isn’t historical crime but should’ve been) what I wanted to do was ‘solve’ a historical mystery, plausibly and keeping firmly within the framework of the historical facts, neither altering nor inventing. I wanted, too, to use real people as far as possible.

Corvinus and Perilla are (were) both real. Ovid’s chief patron was Marcus Valerius Corvinus, ‘my’ Corvinus’s grandfather; Perilla was Ovid’s stepdaughter, mentioned in the poems. By Roman convention, a request to the emperor – in this case for the return of the poet’s bones for burial – would go through the patron, so this gave me both the start of the story and my two main characters. Great. Perfect…

Only it wasn’t, because Corvinus as a stodgy Roman patron wouldn’t come alive for me, and as any writer will tell you if your characters are to work they have to have a voice of their own, independent of yours. It took me three days not to write the first chapter. On the fourth day I was sitting in front of my computer with a glass of red wine. I took a mouthful of it and slumped

And Corvinus started talking. I don’t know if, when he writes, a writer puts the character on like a glove or vice versa – perhaps a bit of both – but that’s what happened, and it’s essential that it does. Corvinus, it turned out, didn’t fit my picture of him at all. He was very young (he’s 19 in Ovid, much younger than the ‘real’ Marcus Corvinus, who was consul in the following year, AD20), immature, cocky, self-centred and opinionated; a laid-back, spoilt, over privileged Roman lad-about-town who didn’t think much beyond that night’s partying. On the plus side, he was good-hearted, generous, well-meaning, more sensitive than he gave himself credit for or was willing to admit to himself, and – most important of all – he had a very strong sense of justice and a streak of hard determination a yard wide…

He carried on talking, and the book virtually wrote itself. Fortunately – touch wood! – he still does. I can’t, at book launches etc, read Corvinus aloud: he’s not me, and although I can hear him I can’t speak him. Perilla, incidentally, isn’t my wife Rona, either: I don’t know who she is, except for herself, and in that sense she’s just as real as Corvinus. I’d find it very difficult to put ‘real’ people into my books, simply because they are real, and so have an existence outside my head.

I hope you enjoy Ovid. It has its faults and shortcomings, certainly – I’ve never yet written a book which, later, after publication, I haven’t wanted desperately to go back and edit – but it was fun to write, and, I hope, will be fun to read.

David Wishart

Comic, bawdy and extremely engrossing, OVID is an intriguing tale of
mystery and suspense

read the 1st chapter

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