I received a Facebook question regarding what inspired me to write Apricots and Wolfsbane and how I researched it. (Thank you for asking Gavin!) I’ll tackle the first part of that question today:
Last fall, I read an article about forgotten females from history that profiled Locusta. Locusta was a female poison assassin from Rome (Gaul) and is considered to be the first serial killer. The fact the first serial killer was a woman struck me and the more I read about her, a story began to weave in my mind. As a female engineer, I relate to the challenge of going against traditional female stereotypes. I imagined the challenges Locusta must have faced and wondered if her gender ended up being an asset in a field where surprise would provide an advantage.
There is not much known about Locusta, which incited my imagination. My plot is inspired by Locusta’s life, but is not a replication. It is mixed with the product of my own imagination and those familiar with Locusta will recognize bits of history but still be surprised by the twists and turns.
As a story formed in my mind, my priest gave a sermon about how easy it is to fall into a cycle of sin and penance. Often we realize our actions are incorrect and then feel guilt and perform penance. But after awhile the guilt wears, it becomes easy to commit the sin again. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied this concept to a murderer. My main character, Lavinia, believes she can continue to murder because confession forgives the sin.
Inspired by the notion confession could provide a source of false permission, I lifted Locusta’s inspiration out of Rome and placed my novel at the height of the Catholic church in England. The exact year is open within the book, but I imagine it to be ~1520. During this time period, the priest was a powerful official at the local level and the historic practice of “indulgences” helps bolster why Lavinia may (falsely) think she can simply go to confession to be forgiven for mortal sin.
I decided to place the story in two fictional shires so I could craft my own little world within 1500’s England, and provide creative freedom for Lavinia to influence local peers.
In the novel, Lavinia, also references a “Swiss-German peer”. This is a nod to Paracelsus who is considered the father of toxicology and was also beginning his work around this time period.
If you “Google” Locusta, you’ll discover she was ultimately executed for her crimes. I do not believe she was raped to death by a giraffe, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination . . . (Now you want to Google her, don’t you?)