Just had to share this reader review by fellow historical fiction writer Sherry Christie, posted to Goodreads and Amazon. Glad you loved it, Sherry!

Overall, FIRE AND SACRIFICE is amazing. I believe it’s Collins’s debut novel. More, more! 

Victoria Collins’s FIRE AND SACRIFICE starts off at a breathless pace with the frantic slavegirl Secunda being dragged across Rome by her owner’s two sons, who intend to throw her off the Tarpeian Rock for an offense she denies. By chance they cross paths with a Vestal Virgin, who by law can pardon a condemned criminal on the spot. Secunda is instantly dazzled by the Vestal, Aemilia, who orders her release. 

The girl flees from her disgruntled accusers in a wonderful passage of helter-skelter terror: “I ran like a wild thing, flapping and flailing like a hen before the axe. I ran to the Tarpeian Rock, on the hill above the forum. I don’t know why. I threw up there. I ran from the rock to the Temple of Jupiter, looming behind me big as a god. I ran round behind it, away from its glare, back along the massive foundation stones and down the escarpment, through the bush like wildfire, leaping over logs and onto rocks, jumping hollows and charging through shrubs, sliding crawling falling all the way down to the road.”

Later Secunda sneaks to the House of the Vestals, where to her immense delight she is taken in and given a position as cook to Aemilia and the five other Vestals. Her facial disfigurement, dating from a fall into the kitchen fire as a toddler, doesn’t matter to these kindly women. Recruited in girlhood to tend the eternal flame of the goddess Vesta until their retirement at the end of 30 years, the Vestals’ devotion is regarded by superstitious Romans as an essential factor in retaining the favor of the gods. Alas, when the survivors of a terrible military defeat struggle back to the city, official fingers point to the Vestals’ somehow having failed in their duty of chastity and fidelity. The ending is one that will stick with you for some time.

Collins writes lyrical descriptions (“It was the gods’ hour. That hour before dawn when the moon has made its arc and the sky is deep turquoise as the light slowly warms . . . . Gods and spirits are better heard, and sneak most easily through as we sleep”), interspersed with startlingly unrefined dialogue (“The Arab huh? Really? Shit,” says the Pontifex Maximus). The abrasiveness of modern vernacular, coupled with Collins’s device of stitching in relevant excerpts from real historians, forces the reader into the reality of what’s happening. It’s a daring approach for an author to take, but it works.

I did note that oranges, pumpkins, and butter wouldn’t have been in Secunda’s pantry around 114 BC. And one or two terms were baffling (“Terentia was ropable: at the girls and at the gods,” and somebody “faffing about,” which I think we Yanks call “piddling around”). [hmm interesting note, Sherri – I did check these in my research but let’s check again. I suspect ‘faffing’ is an Aussie term? VC]

Overall, FIRE AND SACRIFICE is amazing. I believe it’s Collins’s debut novel. More, more!

For Sherry Christie’s own work including Roma Amor: A Novel of Caligula’s Rome and Villa of the Mysteries: A Novella of Nero and the God Dionysus  check out her website www.roma-amor.com.

Just finished Patrick White’s The Aunt’s story and just had to share! This is what Nobel Prize winning writing looks like, and oh my!

Some of my wonderful readers have shared with me their favourite passages from my own Fire and Sacrifice, that they re-read for the joy of the expression, and I am so incredibly flattered and thrilled to know some passages have had that effect.

I would never put myself in the same list as Patrick White, but in reading this book I have most certainly re-read and copied down in awe many of his passages that I might learn how the magic works!

“Many unfinished situations complicated the surface of the dining room, or lay folded, passive, and half recognized amongst the table napkins.”

Book review

(Also on my Goodreads page): The Aunt’s Story is going to stay with me for some time. Not just because of the haunting ending that makes me want to revisit and reread several sections, but also for the stunning literary presentations of intimate relationships and Theodora’s intensely private world. I like her!

I will admit to struggling with some sections, in particular where there’s a lot of un-translated French dialogue. This is one of those books that is a success for its character journey and literary genius, not for exciting plot. Really, little happens and you will need to concentrate.

That said, Patrick White seems to have a rare ability to see under the surfaces of daily interactions and get straight, painfully, to the heart of deeper motivations, agendas and psychological needs – from the way we navigate fleeting interactions, to manifestations of ongoing personal pain. And he does it often with such swift beauty I found myself re-reading in wonder (and then noting down!) many of his phrases. This is what the writing of a Nobel Prize winner looks like.

“You are an odious and repulsive glutton, Alyosha Sergei.” But her words were worn by much use and had a certain shabby tenderness.

I just signed up for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019, committing to reading and reviewing a minimum of six books this year by fellow Aussie women.

Please join in! It’s free, and takes just a minute online.

You can set your reading goal at as few as four books or as many as you wish.

Author Elizabeth Lhuede decided to take action in 2012 when recent survey data at the time showed that male authors more likely to have their books reviewed in influential newspapers, magazines and literary journals than female authors, and the issue applied to the USA, Europe and Australia.

From the AWW website: Throughout 2013 over 1,800 reviews were written about books written by Australian women writers. Over two hundred reviewers wrote at least one review for the Challenge in 2013, including seventeen men. Over seven hundred authors had their work reviewed by Challenge participants. The AWW challenge continued in 2014 and, by year’s end, nearly 1600 reviews had been linked to the challenge. In 2015 we were nominated for The Convenors’ Award for Excellence in the Aurealis Awards. In July we moved to this self-hosted site and now have a searchable database, partly funded by sponsorship money from Bookworld. The challenge has continued in 2016 and 2017, consolidating AWW’s place in Australia’s online literary landscape.

My wish list to kick off:

The Blue Cat
The Trauma Cleaner
Cosmo Cosmolino

Be irrestible, detox your life, re-ignite your drive to achieve goals, and exude feminine mystery every day by connecting with the goddess of the hearth fire, Vesta.

Who isn’t drawn to the campfire at any party, right? Who doesn’t want to stare for hours into its depths, and bask in its fabulousness? The fire is centred, reliable, strong… And you could be that too!

Connecting with Vesta can help you find balance between your fierce feminine and nurturing earth mother, and direct that combined energy toward building your prosperity. Walk with Vesta when you need to bring yourself back to centre; focus your passions on a project or business; nurture yourself or your tribe; detox your life; or build the stability that will be your foundation for success.

The ancient Roman goddess Vesta is goddess of the hearth fire specifically. As the traditional centre of the camp or home, Vesta’s energy is ever present in our lives. Her temple in the Roman Forum, the ruins of which are present today, housed a perpetual 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.

Vesta today can therefore be found where ever you define your own security and prosperity: the home, the workplace, your own business, your family or tribe.

She can bring you back to centre where you can reconnect with the heart of your passion or goal. She can be a great ally when you need good old ‘bum glue’ to sit still and embrace a routine while you work on the foundations of your project or business.

With Vesta you can find your domestic goddess without compromising the fire in your belly. She recalls the sacred in the everyday; in warming the home, creating light, cooking meals. The hearth may bring a stable centre to your life or home but remember fire is forever dancing, moving, living. This is not a stagnant or bored energy. She is potential personified and directed.

Vesta brings fierce and sexy back into building a home or business. She is woman in all her untouchable changeability. Her warmth and passion burn deep and constant. She’s the warm soft place to land after a hard day; the light to guide you or your loved ones home. People are drawn to her, captivated by her quiet power and mystery, and her endless capacity for quiet energy, love and nurturing.

Vesta is elemental, primal. There is no likeness of her in human form like you see of other gods and goddesses in the Roman and Greek pantheons, and some ancient writers tell us there was never one. She is just the fire. There is purity and simplicity about her. Consider that fire was the receiver of sacrifices in ancient times, purifying the offering by burning away any decay or contamination.

Vesta’s flames have no regard for the unnecessary, shallow busy-ness that often complicates our modern daily lives. She is interested only in substance and the divine work of your true home and path. Working with her can be a great way to refocus and seer away the time wasters from your daily life.

She’s a useful ally when you need to detox your life, your home or your mind and heart.

Seven simple things you can do to connect with Vesta

1.

Get a small brazier and build a modest fire in your yard or balcony, if you can’t create a fire pit in the ground. Sit by it with a loved one and watch the flames dance. Nurture yourselves while you do, with a warming drink, marshmallows to roast, or some earthy foods like nuts and berries. Better still if you can cook in the coals.

2.

Clean out and detox your home and/or office. Get rid of clutter and things that distract you. Empty that email inbox. Give away clothes you aren’t wearing anymore. (Don’t forget giving things a good wash in this process. Water is the balance to fire, a partner elemental essential for the new growth that comes after her purification work.)

3.

Clean out your ‘to do’ lists and delete things that are not necessary or not true to your goals. Vesta is interested only in substance and the divine work of your true home and path.

4.

Throw a dinner party and cook for loved ones in your home. Nurture them with the work of your hands, and the food of your kitchen. Find and enjoy the sacred in it.

5.

Light a candle, get out some paper, and spend time reflecting on your goals, be they personal or business, and establish plans to keep you focussed on them. What will nurture you through your work? What do you need to be able to sustain the work for as long as necessary? Where would some routine help?

6.

Look up at the sun during the day and reflect a moment on her constant burning energy and the warmth it sends you. Try to do this a couple of times a day for at least a week.

7.

Wear ‘warm’ coloured clothes or accessories to help you stay reminded of the fire in your belly. Try burnt oranges and yellows, warm whites, or a fiery red if you need a boost to get started.

Rome: City and Empire is now open at the National Museum of Australia, offering a rare opportunity to experience Roman artefacts on loan from the British Museum, London.

The British Museum was a favourite haunt while researching for Fire and Sacrifice, where I got to see everyday implements like hair combs, oil lamps, jewellery and cooking utensils that helped me bring the priestesses’ world of second-century BC Rome to life.

Now more Aussies can too (and if you live in fabulous London, do go explore there!). I’ve collected a few of my favourite pieces here for you to see (thanks to the British Museum website).

Roman blue glass perfume bottle 25-100AD.
Roman blue glass perfume bottle 25-100AD.

 

Roman terracotta oil jug, 120BC - 70BC.
Roman terracotta oil jug, 120BC – 70BC.

Roman gold hair pin, 1st Century.
Roman gold hair pin, 1st Century.

Roman terracotta oil jug, 120BC - 70BC.
Roman terracotta oil jug, 120BC – 70BC.

I can’t wait to meet some of my wonderful readers this Saturday, signing books in store at Harry Hartog book shop, Westfield Woden (ACT, Australia).

Come along 10am to 12pm, and let me introduce you to Secunda and her priestesses, you’re going to love them!

Ask me all your questions about these amazing women and the journey behind this project.

Saturday 6 October.

 

VC 1 web sizeWomen who walk with the fire goddess are going to connect at times with her wild, passionate side, and my research has found at least 20 Vestals hauled before the courts for misbehaviour, most commonly taking lovers: a crime punishable by death.

The priestesses of Vesta, or the Vestal Virgins, took a vow of chastity enforced for 30 years of mandatory service from her age of entry at 6-10 years old, through adolescence and the height of her sexuality to the age of 36-40 when she had the first choice to leave. Get the full article here.

Take the personality quiz to see what kind of priestess you might have been…

VC2v2 web

The Vestal Virgins were women of fire in every sense.

Not only was a Vestal a priestess of the goddess of the hearth fire, Vesta, she was protectress of Rome, political powerhouse, A-list woman of the city, untouchable, more independent than any other Roman woman, and had the strength of character to withstand a lifetime of strict chastity with the constant threat of punishment by death.

Read more about the lives and roles of these amazing women, and why I’m so fascinated by their stories…