When I was twelve I went on one of those school cruises around the Med. Our ship wasn't as smart as the one in this pic off Capri - we had a converted troop ship from WW2 and there were fifty bunkbeds in the girls dorm. But I still remember every minute of those two weeks in December. The weather was warm and sunny and we saw some of the greatest antiquities in the world.We stopped in Athens and I walked around the Acropolis, then we sailed into Haifa and spent two days visiting the Galil, Jerusalem and Hebron. Then we sailed back to Italy, passing Stromboli, the volcanic island which looks like it has a permanent bonfire burning on top and docked in Naples. Our last trip was round Pompeii. One of my enduring memories of this vast site, were the straight Roman roads.
But looming over the city was one of the most famous volcanoes in the world - Vesuvius.
Last month my dream finally came true. I went on a week's trip to Sorrento and visited Pompeii, Herculaneum, the museum in Naples which is the oldest archaeological museum in the world and Vesuvius. It was as though my lifetime passion for History came together when I plodded up that ash and shale ridden footpath - with all the other tourists - and arrived at the lip of the crater. Steam billowed out from the sides like the clouds of Hades and as we choked on sulphur, I stared down into the heart of the legend.
The eruption of Roman times killed 16,000 people and buried Pompeii and Herculaneum, as well as other villages and homes in the region. Today Vesuvius is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because it is so unpredictable and around three million people live in its shadow. Our guide told us that people were selling up villas on and around the slopes as they don't feel safe currently. The last eruption was in 1944 and there have been around 30 since 79AD. There are evacuation plans for the smaller towns but none for Naples.
But I was in seventh heaven at the top of the mountain, picking up pieces of pumice, looking over the edge of the path at the most recent lava flow as it cut a swathe down the side of the mountain. Everything I had ever read about the volcano and Pompeii came alive for me.
Children's writers need to be blessed with good recall to write about children and young people. That is at least something I have to offer. I can remember being a twelve year old girl, with her head in the clouds, dreaming of the every day life of ancient Romans and that awful morning when the mountain exploded and death rained down, covering their entire universe. The anguished shapes of frozen bodies are a stark reminder of what they must have suffered.
The people of Pompeii left unimaginable quantities of treasures behind for the world to study and learn from. It has been a remarkable gift from so much suffering.
Whether I will set a story for children in this time and place is yet to be seen but my imagination has been taken to the edge and beyond and for any writer, that is the great experience of travel. I do hope you get a chance to visit these amazing sites one day, if you have not already done so.