Questions to the author as published on Goodreads. Got more questions? Send me a message here or on Goodreads!

How do you get inspired to write?

I’m really lucky that I am never short of inspiration. At the moment, ancient history is rocking my world and there are so many stories that so many people don’t know. So many instances where we know only the burial site or tomb contents and have to piece together the life. I’m also fascinated right now with the sacred feminine, and with the idea of people – priestesses, witches, shamans, etc – who lived lives in touch with their divinity every day, and the everyday things like gathering food and water. These were real people, so there are things in there that we can apply to our own lives even just by remembering to look up at the moon every night and notice it changing. Writing gives me a way to explore and connect with this, and share it with others – I become one little voice in a big chorus of people exploring similar ideas.

What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

Victoria Collins, Author

Be you. Even if it’s a story that’s been told before, no one tells it quite like you.

Some of the best advice I ever got was ‘write from inside the story’, and ‘get clear on why YOU are the one to write THIS story, NOW’. That showed me the way and connected me to my story with more confidence than ever before.

Where did you get the idea for your most recent book?

Fire and Sacrifice was first inspired by a holiday in Rome 10 years ago, when I first saw the ruins of the Temple of Vesta. I was fascinated by this little round temple, so different to all the other megaliths in the forum, and it’s all-female cult. I started drafting a story about a priestess called Aemilia, which I thought was a good Roman name, who’d been accused of breaking her vows, and then I found a REAL priestess Aemilia who suffered that very fate.

Gather your girlfriends and get your groove on, December 1-5 is time for the festival of the Good Goddess Bona Dea, traditionally a girls-night-in led by ancient Rome’s priestesses of fire.

Get five top tips for hosting your own Bona Dea goddess party, here.

This mysterious Earth Mother of ancient Rome represents all things goddessy and feminine, from our wild, fierce and flirty to our nurturing, smart and sensual. She loved the forests, and her temples contained herb dispensaries.

In ancient Rome, this secretive celebration was held on 1-5 December (it’s too ancient to know exactly which date and seems to have varied) in the home of the chief magistrate or consul (who was sent away with the boys) and presided by the famous Vestal Virgins. With this privacy, women partied like they were rarely allowed with loads of wine and food, music, blood sacrifice and offerings.

Bona Dea’s festival invites you to reconnect, re-energise and revive all that you love about being woman (sans live sacrifice).

1. Invite guests to dress like a goddess

Explore your nature goddess in whatever outfit feels naturally beautiful, your own way.

This is a celebration of the feminine so encourage guests to wear something that feels fabulous and honors our bodies just the way they are. Roman goddess gowns feel gorgeous but remember Bona Dea is down-to-earth so guests needn’t go ‘woo woo’ if it isn’t comfortable: flirty, flouncy, floral, bling, goth, warrior or onesies all do it too. Anything goes!

2. Set the mood

Keep it feminine with pretty spring colours and florals.

Out under the moon is ideal for this nature goddess. Either outdoors or in, decorate from her forests and gardens: string vines; bunch herbs and wildflowers; scatter cinnamon sticks, seed pods and pine cones; you name it. Nature is abundance so pile the table high with luscious plant and animal foods like juicy berries and grapes, olives, dates, cheeses and cured meats. Red wine can represent the blood of the sacrifice as well as all things living, and the creative powers of women.

In the northern hemisphere December, draw on sensual deep reds and chocolate browns of the forest in late autumn and early winter.

3. Bring fire

Fire is another powerful way to connect to the feminine and our ability to nurture, provide, destroy, and attract. People are always drawn to the fireplace, right!? Who doesn’t want to be that girl!?

An open fire or BBQ also honors the Priestesses of Vesta, goddess of the hearth fire, who originally conducted Bona Dea’s festival. If you can’t do a fire (or even if you can!) bring it with loads of candles, incense and party fave sparklers.

4. Invite your guests to share

What we know of the ancient celebration included votive offerings, which were gifts to the goddess and/or called on her for help. Encourage your guests to share and come away feeling great by asking around the table for affirmations or statements of gratitude. Mix it up with anonymous wishes written on paper or represented by a small item, thrown in your fire or held in a candle flame. Alert your guests before the evening so they can come prepared.

5. Dance!

What better way to celebrate those curves and that mysterious, miracle-creating body than to dance. Shimmy off those stresses! Any music will do. If it’s more your style, a yoga session, drumming and chanting, or even a pre-dinner workout all represent empowering movement.

Most importantly, celebrate together!

More about Bona Dea

Undefined in historical record, Bona Dea is thought to represent all goddesses in one, though is linked most to Fauna for her love of the forests, as well as to healing, women’s issues, divination and the underworld or the darker side of Mother Nature.

It is said that her temple in central Rome on the Aventine Hill is among Rome’s most ancient, and began as an open-air shrine at a cave or rock shelter. It is said, too, that snakes roamed freely about the temple (snakes are symbols of healing), and her priestesses were commoners rather than social elite as were others.

The Priestesses of Vesta

The famous Vestal Virgins lived at the Temple of Vesta which you can see in the Roman Forum today. Mostly aristocrats, they were among Rome’s most powerful, independent and wealthy women but paid a high price, taken into the temple as children and forced to serve and remain virginal for at least 30 years. Breaking their vows was punishable by death.

Their goddess Vesta is goddess of the hearth fire. Her temple housed a sacred fire that burned almost constantly for up to 1000 years and which was considered to represent the hearth of the empire and therefore its prosperity and security. Sitting modestly in the city centre while the Roman armies conquered the known world, her temple honoured the knowledge that a strong foundation and heart remained crucial to worldly success. In this position, the priestesses were often scapegoats for military or political defeats.

Book cover Fire and Sacrifice
Out now on Amazon

Based on a true story, the novel Fire and Sacrifice tells of ancient Rome’s most scandalous trial of three Vestal Virgins; of power, passion, and the fiery slave girl who would do anything to save her priestess.

Click here to read FREE PREVIEW CHAPTERS: Chapter 1 and Chapter 8 when the Vestals preside over the festival of Bona Dea.

The author

Victoria Collins is author of Fire and Sacrifice among other books, and is a communications professional, visual artist, and self-confessed witchy woman based in Canberra, Australia. Yep, she has a black cat.

From the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature: Set in Australia in the 1840s, A Fringe of Leaves combines dramatic action with a finely distilled moral vision.

Returning home to England from Van Diemen’s land, the Bristol Maid is shipwrecked on the Queensland coast and Mrs Roxburgh is taken prisoner by a tribe of Australian Aboriginals, along with the rest of the passengers and crew. In the course of her escape, she is torn by conflicting loyalties – to her dead husband, to her rescuer, to her own and to her adoptive class.

Penguin Books

I don’t think I’ve ever read a character arc that is more full, that roams physically wider and psychologically deeper than that of Mrs Roxburgh in A Fringe of Leaves.

For it’s placement in upper class colonial history, this book surprised me by pulling me into some of the most raw of human experiences. I found myself tossed and dragged right alongside Mrs Roxburgh’s incredible life path, leaving me as shell-shocked, disoriented and profoundly moved as the character herself (and just as unable to articulate exactly why) .

Originally published in 1976, I went retro with my bookshelf for this one, to catch myself up on Patrick White after reading The Aunt’s Story and being reminded why literature can be so powerful. In the hands of Patrick White it becomes a tool for searing, perceptive observation of human behaviour; not just what we do, but why we do it and what it means to us.

Every little action or statement is loaded with reason or question, where another author might simply give it a dialogue tag. His character descriptions, too, are among my favourites alongside Charles Dickens and Agatha Christie:

“Mr Courtney was so solidly built, anything overwrought or inessential could only expect to be skittled. It was unlikely that the [ship’s] mate’s own mind would ever wander out of bounds, except perhaps during sleep, heaving in those more incalculable waters like one of the whales it delighted him to watch.”

Patrick White, A Fringe of Leaves

I suspect he may have been rather a searing character in his own right. From his work, his eyes must have been like diamond-tipped drill bits, and I would not want to be under that gaze. As a reader, however, I am awed and more than happy to reap the benefits of his work.

I will say that I find Patrick White better as a writer than a storyteller. By this I mean that at times I find the story labouring to move forward; the book begins slowly, dense with description and characters; and ends similarly so that I’m not sure exactly where I’ve been left off, or why there. There was a neat tie-back to that laboured beginning which gave me the ah-ha I’d waited the whole book for, but it kept going beyond where I’d felt satisfied, and left me a little lost again. I suspect Patrick White intended to do exactly that though I’m not entirely sure I comprehended his full meaning.

The middle bit, however, was fantastic. As soon as the first shock came, I was hooked, and found myself thoroughly enjoying a book that I was unable to predict and had to work at fully comprehending, but that I knew somehow was completely worth it.

It is in October that the tale of the three priestesses in Fire and Sacrifice begins, so this October 2133 years later my monthly post goes back to the beginning.

It is 114BC Rome: 114 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, before Caesar, before Antony and Cleopatra, the emperors, the Colosseum, and before Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash.

It is mid Autumn. As the days shorten and the evenings cool, the priestesses’ sacred fire takes on greater import as Romans and their slaves and servants are drawn to her warmth.

Before there was a temple in this little corner of the bustling and famous Roman Forum, there was a campfire. From even before the time Romulus and his men made camp and built a fire for warmth and to cook the spoils of a hunt, this fire was survival.

In the coming Winter where the nights can drop to zero degrees, it would keep them alive.

Very quickly they came to cherish it.

Very quickly it became vital to be able to keep it aflame, and to use it to revive the fires of the new camps and clans growing around them should they be in need.

The new Romans protected their fire from wind and rain, with walls and a roof. Archaeological excavations have found the remains of wooden postholes at the Temple of Vesta that date back to 600 or 700BC.

They protected it later with stone. They named the fire a goddess, Vesta, and the shelter her temple. They raised an alter, and used the fire to cleanse their sacrifices to other gods, too.

The fire came to represent the beating heart of Rome itself. And, just as the campfire signals to the soldier, explorer, hunter, nomad that home has survived and waits safely, so the hearth in the Temple of Vesta in the centre of Rome symbolised no less that the very survival of the Roman empire.

And they would kill their most beloved, to protect that.

Here, in October 2133 years later, begins the story of the princess-priestess Aemilia and her servant Secunda.

Click here to get a copy of Fire and Sacrifice.

Night of the Living Deed (A Haunted Guesthouse Mystery Book 1)
by E.J. Copperman (2010)

night of the living deed book cover

Newly divorced Alison Kerby wants a second chance for herself and her nine-year-old daughter, so she’s returned to her home town on the Jersey Shore to transform a fixer-upper into a charming—and hopefully profitable—guest house. But when a bump on the head leaves her seeing not only stars but spirits, Alison realizes the real challenge she’s facing is out of this world.

The two residing ghosts are Maxie Malone, the foul-tempered former owner of the house (who has definite opinions about Alison’s design plans), and Paul Harrison, a private eye who’d been working for Maxie—both died in the house on the same night. The official cause of death was suicide, but the ghosts insist they were murdered, and they need Alison to find out who killed them—or the next ghost in the guest house will be Alison herself…

It was such a joy to discover a very confident narrative voice in a book, matched with a sassy, self-aware main character who you can visualise turning to the camera for a little quip about her own quirks and mess-ups. (Respect, Alison.)

I bought this book looking for a ghostly thrill and got an unexpected new take on the haunted house. I missed out on the scare, but had a whole lot of fun instead and wound up thoroughly satisfied with friendly ghosts that I’m keen to see more of as the series unfolds. Even the slightly-bratty Maxie showed a vulnerable side by the end… a bit.

It’s light enough to be YA but sassy enough to charm any age. Hoping for slightly meatier mysteries in the next books but yeah, I’m going there for sure.

I am a little disappointed that PI-Paul is a ghost, it’s messing with my fantasies but I admit it is the perfect writerly rouse for an ongoing sexual tension that can’t be resolved (and thus ruined).

Did you realise that connecting with you, my readers, is the whole reason I write?

I’m thrilled to see that 50 people have marked Fire and Sacrifice ‘to read’ on Goodreads and another 10 are reading right now.

Okay so they’re not Dan Brown or Philippa Gregory numbers, but they are ours – yours and mine – and this is where it all begins.

If you’re one of those, or one of the hundreds who have already purchased on Amazon or in bookstores, I would love to hear how you enjoyed the read.

Please, take a few minutes to leave a review on Goodreads, Amazon, or where ever else you like to review – or connect with me right here. And/or spread the word! I’m all for passing books around – go ahead!

And thank you. Really truly. V

Bookshops across Australia are throwing a party and we are invited! Love Your Bookshop Day is a chance to celebrate what makes your local bookshop great. Whether it’s for their amazing staff, their carefully curated range or specialisation or a must-see events program, visit your favourite bookshop on 10 August 2019 and share the love.

My top five reasons to love bookshops

  1. Where forgotten stories are breathed life
  2. Where new creations are shared and futures inspired (okay that’s two)
  3. A place you can enjoy being alone and simultaneously among a community of like-minded people (even better in bookstores with armchairs and/or cafe)
  4. Lucky dip books in brown paper packages at Harry Hartog, Woden (brown paper packages AND books… sigh)
  5. A repository of thousands of portals to thousands of worlds

My top five bookstores to date

  1. Waterstone’s Piccadilly, London: seriously, FIVE floors and a wine bar to sit back and digest all the inspiration
  2. Booktique Merimbula, NSW: water’s edge over aqua blue Merimbula inlet + coffee and cake + books (+ loads of loved ones locally AND they stock my work, so extra points)
  3. Australian National Gallery Bookshop: my love of art combined with my love of books + unique and gorgeous gifts (sometimes just for myself)
  4. Berkelouw’s Book Barn, Berrima NSW: it even feels medieval, and its huge, and there’s coffee, and books with carved covers and bronze latches…)
  5. Harry Hartog, Woden, ACT: for putting old leather arm chairs and an overflowing second-hand section in the centre of a shopping mall, aaaahhh (and thanks for stocking my books, too!)

Tag #loveyourbookshopday and #LYBD19 and share why your bookshop is special using the hashtag #whyIlovemybookshop

Michelle Moran is one of my favourite historical fiction authors!

Cleopatra’s Daughter goes down as my absolute fave of Michelle’s, so this one just had to be shared! This book takes you right into a very natural, convincing ancient Rome (yes Rome, not Egypt for this part of the daughter’s story) and an insightful look at the real people behind names we’ve all heard – and some we may not have.

I thoroughly enjoyed the complex and contradictory relationships of this jigsaw family of half-siblings and enemy’s children. And I may have to admit to maybe falling in love just a little bit with he-who-wont-be-named-until-the-end!

I don’t think I put it down for one whole day, and the ending was sooo worth it!

Find more of Michelle Moran’s work at her website.

Happy to share another reader review, this time from Olga Walker, a PhD candidate and herself a historical fiction/non-fiction writer. Big thanks, Olga!

Based on rigorous research, author Victoria Collins has written a book that encapsulates a story about women in Rome 114BC. The main characters in this historical fiction novel are the priestesses of Vesta. Collins takes the reader on a journey through the lives of these women in the lead-up to an event which will be life-changing for them.

As a reader I loved this novel and that Collins does not shy away from the harsh realities of life for women at that time.

Of note is Collins’s Foreword where she highlights that the story of the Vestal Virgins,

can only be told in fragments, because fragments are all we find, and fragments are all we remember. (Collins, 2018: Foreword, p. 5).

The novel is structured in nine chapters, consisting of short and long passages and includes reference to research by scholars of Roman history which Collins has entitled, ‘Fragments’. These fragments of history act as interventions and help contextualise the incompleteness of the story that remains about the Vestal Virgins. More importantly, they highlight how fragmented the nature of history writing can be. Collins is a great writer and her use of language complements this notion of fragmented history writing when it occasionally sits outside the story, for example,

Ever killed anything but kittens before, junior? (Collins, p. 9).

The notion of fragments has been used to form the structure of the novel and is sustained within a dimension of connectedness to nature’s elements of Fire, Earth, Water, and Air as the reader follows the actions of the main characters, Secunda and Amelia. Collins’s approach keeps the story focused and the reader engaged as she builds a picture of what might have been daily rituals in the lives of the Priestesses of Vesta.

In her research of the history of the Vestal Virgins Collins visited the location in search of a sense of connection to the area where the story takes place. This has enabled her to give the reader vivid descriptions of the temple where we can visualise the interactions of the priestesses with the powerful elite of Rome, the people whom the Vestal Virgins serve, and how they bring together the principal elements of nature to their sacred hearth. Collins writes in a final note to the reader that,

it was a time when the sacred included connection to the earth, air, wind and fire. (Collins, p. 256).

The significance of a work like Fire and Sacrifice is that in telling a story about women’s history that has almost been lost, it also raises the issues of politics, power, class, and gender equality in relation to how women were chosen for the role of a Vestal Virgin.

Collins has an awareness of the fragmented nature of researching and writing history and her work is a good example of how this can be used to write a story set in the past. The direct linking of the creative writing in the novel to the research done by scholars provides a platform where history and historical fiction can work together. When stories are written with a perception of the incompleteness of what is remembered and how history has been written in the past, the reader benefits by being left to draw their own conclusions on the author’s stance when writing a story such as Fire and Sacrifice.

As a reader I loved this novel and that Collins does not shy away from the harsh realities of life for women at that time. Maybe more could have been written about the families from whence these vestal virgins came, but there is enough in the novel about the division between master/mistress and slave and the politics of the day to satisfy the reader. Nor, does she romanticise the position that the Vestal Virgins held in Rome at that time.

This is Collins’s first historical novel and I hope it won’t be her last. Her other work includes Fast Effective News Writing for Nonprofits, and I believe she is working on a contemporary fictional novel. It is for the reader to decide, but I recommend that a journey through Fire and Sacrifice be taken.

Delighted to be included in the Historical Novel Society Australasia’s reviews and the May 2019 edition of their print magazine, Historical Novels Review. It’s an honour to have been chosen for reading, and a bit of a personal goal, so if I can have a little moment: ‘woohoo!’.

Big thanks to the Society’s reviewer J Lynn Else for her comments.

“The author does a great job bringing the setting and political atmosphere to life. Exploring the inner workings of the vestal virgins is a delight.”

I always value feedback from readers and reviewers: it’s forever interesting to see how different people react to the story and the storytelling style! Always a rife creative decision whether to write using the ancient historical phrasing, or provide a modernisation to try make the time period feel more accessible to readers. I went with the latter and had loads of fun playing around with pushing the boundaries on dialogue in historical fiction. Would love to hear what others thought of that!

Please share your views, I’d love to hear them.

Historical fiction lovers can check out the Historical Novel Society on Facebook here.