In early September, Elodie Harper’s The Wolf Den (May 2021), already shortlisted in the Pageturner category of the British Book Awards, was announced as the winner of the 2022 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award. The novel, the first in a trilogy, follows the fortunes of Amara, a once-beloved daughter who has lived as a slave in Pompeii’s infamous lupanar (brothel) since her father’s death plunged her family into penury. But Amara’s spirit is far from broken. Sharp, resourceful and surrounded by women whose humour and dreams she shares, she determines to win her freedom. The second book in the series, The House with the Golden Door (May 2022) sees Amara embark on a new life precariously protected by a wealthy patron, and still pursued by her former slavemaster. The final volume will be out in Spring 2023. We catch up with Elodie in the wake of her prize success.

Where are you now?

At home on the sofa.

Where and when do you do most of your writing?

At the kitchen table – whenever I have a free minute!

If you have one, what is your pre-writing ritual?

I don’t have a ritual, unless procrastinating counts.

Full-time or part-time?

Part-time – I also work as a journalist.

Pen or keyboard?


How do you relax when you’re writing?

Endless cups of tea and wailing music.

How would you pitch your latest book in up to 25 words?

A reimagining of the lost city of Pompeii, told through the lives of its women.

Erotic scene from the eastern side of the southern wall of the Lupanar in Pompeii. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli/Wikimedia Commons

Who do you write for?

Myself, I guess, because I’m a massive nerd and love getting lost in the past. But I also feel passionately about introducing people to a less well-known side of the Classical world.

Who do you share your work in progress with?

My editor Maddy, my agent Juliet – and my Mum Suzy!

Which literary character do you wish you created?

I really admire Rachel Smythe, who is both a talented artist and a writer – it is a unique way to tell stories, when they are also visual. Rachel’s graphic novels in the Lore Olympus series have a whole host of vivid characters based on the ancient Greek gods. Her versions of Persephone, Hades, Zeus and Hera (plus so many more!) are just wonderful.

Share with us your favourite line/s of dialogue, poetry or prose.

It’s impossible to pick a favourite, but staying with the classical world I find Sulpicia particularly affecting, given the context she was writing in, when women did not have the same freedom to love (or write!) as men. She is one of the only Roman women poets whose work survives:

Love has come at last, and such a love as I
should be more shamed to hide than to reveal.
Cytherea, yielding to my Muse’s prayers,
has brought him here and laid him in my arms.
Venus has kept her promise. Let people talk, who never
themselves have found such joys as now are mine.
I wish that I could send my tablets to my love
unsealed, not caring who might read them first.
The sin is sweet, to mask it for fear of shame is bitter.
I’m proud we’ve joined, each worthy of the other.
Sulpicia, Poem 1

Which book do you wish you’d written?

Any book that made its author a millionaire! Seriously though, I don’t think of books that way. I enjoy and deeply admire other people’s work, but I never wish I had written it. The only person you can compete with is yourself.

Which book/s have you most recently read and enjoyed?

I absolutely loved The Whispering Muse by Laura Purcell, which is out next year. It’s a fabulous gothic tale of a Faustian pact made in a Victorian theatre – with chilling results.

What’s on your bedside table or e-reader?

Clytemnestra by Costanza Casati, which is also out next year.

Which books do you feel you ought to have read but haven’t yet?

All the proofs on my TBR. It is a privilege to be sent them, and I’m sorry I’m not a speedier reader.

Which book/s do you treasure the most?

An illustrated copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake, given to me by my late godfather Geoff Case when I was a teenager.

What is the last work you read in translation?

Roman History by Cassius Dio.

Which story collections would you particularly recommend?

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

What will you read next?

I can’t wait to read Atalanta by Jennifer Saint, the moment proofs are printed.

What are you working on next?

The final book in the Wolf Den trilogy.

Imagine you’re the host of a literary supper, who would your dinner guests be (living or dead, real or fictional)?

I think I would invite Pliny the Elder on his own – he was an unbelievably prolific and eccentric Roman writer and would probably talk enough for ten guests all by himself.

If you weren’t writing you’d be…?

Doing a giant pile of laundry. But if it’s where I would LIKE to be, then Venice.

If you were the last person on Earth, what would you write?

I would be too busy crying.

How can we make peace with our planet?

Wow, that’s a big one! I’m sad to say that I think that the long-term health of the planet needs to be tackled internationally between states/governments to make a really significant difference, rather than through the efforts of individuals. Although of course all our small actions added together can help too.


Elodie Harper is a journalist and prize-winning short story writer. Her story ‘Wild Swimming’ won the 2016 Bazaar of Bad Dreams short story competition, which was judged by Stephen King. She is currently a reporter at ITV News Anglia, and before that worked as a producer for Channel 4 News. Elodie studied Latin poetry both in the original and in translation as part of her English Literature degree at Oxford, instilling a lifelong interest in the ancient world. The Wolf Den and The House with the Golden Door are published by Apollo/Head of Zeus.

The Glass Bell Award is judged by the team at curated collectors’ bookshop Goldsboro Books to reward storytelling in all genres – from romance, thrillers and ghost stories, to historical, speculative and literary fiction – and is awarded annually to “a compelling novel with brilliant characterisation and a distinct voice that is confidently written and assuredly realised.”
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