The festive season draws ever nearer, and if you're feeling as frazzled as most of the rest of us, this latest Scrivener provides an excuse to take a break from the current hectic pace of life, which always seems to leap into frenetic high gear between Thanksgiving and Auld Lang Syne.

So pop the kettle on , make a mug of cocoa and then settle down to peruse this latest bunch o' stuff.


When I read recently about the Galileo spacecraft's fly-by of Jupiter's tiny, inner moon, Amalthea, I was reminded immediately of Three For A Letter and the Ostrogothic hostage whose brother Amalaric was killed by -- well, I'd better not say!

However, on reflection I recalled that the name of Amalaric's sister was Amalathea, very nearly the same as that given to the Jovian satellite. When I looked up Amalthea I was a bit disconcerted to discover that she wasn't of Germanic origin, but rather the nymph who nursed Jupiter with goat's milk. I guess those Christian, albeit heretical, Ostrogoths knew their mythology.

It struck me as interesting to see an unusual name so similar to that of one of our characters pop up in such an unexpected and unconnected context. I began to ponder whether this -- along with the fascinating facts that Amalthea is the reddest body in the solar system, and little more than a pile of ice and rubble held loosely together by gravitational attraction -- might be twisted into an essay for Orphan Scrivener.

Then it occurred to me. There isn't anyone named Amalathea in Three For A Letter, because late in the writing Amalathea and her brother Amalaric became Sunilda and Gadaric.

It was unavoidable. As we approached the end of Threefer, we realized we had too many characters whose names began with A, some of whom were, inconveniently for us, graven in history -- the Ostrogothic queen Amalasuntha and her young son Athalaric, for instance.

Although we write about a distant era where naming conventions differed from our own and people commonly sported tongue twisting, not to mention mind bending, monikers, we do our best to avoid the 19th century Russian novel syndrome. That is to say, we try to name our characters so as not to leave readers -- and ourselves -- permanently confused, an effort in which we are greatly aided by our editor Barbara Peters. (In fairness to 19th century Russian authors, I imagine the l9th century Russian readers for whom they were writing had no trouble sorting their Vasilies from their Vasilieyeves.)

In addition, we also largely stick to using a single name per character, pretty much ignoring that the Romans, like us but unlike Mongolians up until recently at least, had more than one name. In addition, we give preference to names that are still familiar today, such as the ever popular John or Michael or Paul, or shorter names appropriate to the period. As for longer names, we use them sparingly, for seasoning. A minor character who appears only once or twice and so will not be troublesome to recall may be given a longer name. A ship owner called Theophylaktos appears briefly in Four For A Boy, but we'd have a difficult time writing, let alone reading, a novel filled with Theophylaktoses.

Then too that nasty court page known to readers as Hektor was initially called Victor, changed for reasons I can't now recall, and poor Leukos, whose murder John investigated in One For Sorrow, was Lucius until the novel was completed.

Sometimes I worry that in mentioning characters in a new book or story I'll inadvertently employ the names by which I know them, rather than those they bear in print. Maybe I already have, without realizing it!

At any rate, we changed Amalathea's name to Sunilda, but having spent so many months in her company during the writing of the novel, she will always be Amalathea to me. Sunilda is just her stage name!


The ticker's leaping in a lively fashion this month!


We were honoured to learn recently that next year John will be back in those most enticing surroundings, although not by returning to Plato's Academy. Beginning in September 2003, University of Calgary Emeritus Professor of Classics Barry Baldwin is presenting a l0 extra-mural talk series entitled When West was East: Highlights of Byzantine Civilisation. This series is to be offered under the university's aegis to people 50+ and John's adventures will be part of the suggested reading. Mystery readers will recognise Professor Baldwin's name from his nominations for Ellis and Anthony Awards.


Since the last issue we've been grilled like hot dogs on the 4th of July.

First, Pamela James interviewed us for The Writer's Room Magazine, Danish publisher/editor Simona Nielsen's website. Ingen panik! Det er på engelsk! (Translation: Don't panic! It's in English!) Simona's site at provides information on many topics relating to the craft. We're lurking about at and this time around chat about such topics as "backward" research and how we came to be co-authors.

Secondly, by Debby Alviso, whose Writer's e-Source Directory ( is full of very useful information on all manner of writing-related material. Just to keep things from getting too exciting with everything else going on this month, this interview won't go on-line until 20th December. At that point it will appear at and then interested parties can peruse such arcana as how the Dorj mysteries came about (it all had to do with Molotov....) and the (dis)similarities in our backgrounds.

There's even a photo or two...


It was in 306 that the local Roman troops proclaimed Constantine as emperor upon the death of his father, who was in Bretania campaigning against the Picts further north. Their loyal declaration took place in Eburacum (York), an ancient and beautiful city not that far as the raven flies from my home area.

To commemorate this declaration, a statue of a pensive Constantine now sits beside York Minster, the Gothic cathedral built on the site of the Roman fort. Constantine's expression as he contemplates his sword rather suggests that, had he lived a lot later, he might well have nodded thoughtfully on hearing Theodore O'Hara's lines about glory guarding the dead bivouacking on Fame's camping ground.

The Minster isn't the first religious structure on the site, but certainly the most impressive and justly famous for its magnificent stained glass, in particular the enormous Rose Window. Historical fiction fans will likely be as fascinated as I was to learn that the Minster's crypt houses the base of a column originally forming part of a colonnade belonging to the Roman commanding officer's house, still sitting there in the very place those long ago builders originally set it. To think of the conversations that column could report if only stone could talk!

Reminded recently about Constantine's statue during a conversation with an old school friend, I began to wonder if Justinian had also been thus honoured in more modern times. Surprisingly, given that his codification of Roman law is the great underpinning of the European system (and by extension, those of Quebec and Louisiana also) I've traced only one statue. Not unexpectedly, perhaps, it's among those bedecking the building housing the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court.

A quick search of the vast 24 hour library that is the Internet reveals that Henry Kirke Bush-Brown's likeness of Justinian is one of nine worthies of the law whose life- sized representations adorn this turn of the (l9th) century courthouse. Justinian's companions in jurisprudence prominence include Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster and Alfred the Great (he of the allegedly burnt cakes, although so far as we know his guilt was never actually established). There are also allegorical figures of Peace, Justice, Wisdom and Abundance, and other advantages provided by administration of an orderly society.

Where Justinian is to be found, can Theodora be far off? Likely not, except when it comes to the work of hammer and chisel. The mosaics at San Vitale in Ravenna, including a set showing the imperial couple and their court, are world treasures. Their fine detail is astonishing, and since even minor personages portrayed in them have distinctly different features, one wonders (a) if the portraits of high ranking dignitaries at least are drawn from life, and (b) whether the populace had better vision in those days, because they would certainly need keen eyesight to pick out all the details of these soaring works of art.

Alas, however, my search for a statue of "our" Theodora has thus far proved fruitless. Recalling John Wolcot's comment that the desire so many have for fame leads them to consider not even being mentioned worse than being damned, and bearing in mind Theodora's strong character, I'd wager she'd have had quite a lot to say about that sorry state of affairs -- and it wouldn't be pass the cakes either!


Speaking of cakes reminds us of the sweet confections often given to friends and family at this time of year. By coincidence, the next Orphan Scrivener will show up on l5th February, right after Valentine's Day, another occasion much associated with this type of gift. As it happens, l5th February is also publication date for Four For A Boy, or as was recently noted chez maywrite Fifteenth February Fetches Forth Fourfer. John's adventures this time around form part of a somewhat noirish tale, so you might want save a few of those Valentine choccies in order to fortify yourself as you discover how he regained his freedom, and along the way met some of the other characters in the series!

Best wishes to all for the festive season and new year

Mary and Eric

who invite you to visit their home page, hanging out on the virtual washing line that is the aether at

Therein you'll find the usual suspects, including more personal essays and an interactive game as well as an on- line jigsaw puzzle (at least if you have a java-enabled browser) featuring One For Sorrow's boldly scarlet cover. For those new to the subscription list there's also the Orphan Scrivener archive, so don't say you weren't warned!