Circus Maximus Blog Tour

I am so excited to be a part of the blog tour for this incredible book. I loved reading it and felt it was so adventurous and thrilling!

Annelise Gray has penned a pulse-pounding middle grade historical-adventure set in the Circus Maximus, the greatest sporting stage of the ancient Roman world. This is where the best horses and charioteers compete in a race to the death, and one girl dreams of glory. Circus Maximus: Race to the Death is about a girl trying to find a foothold in a world dominated by men. It’s about revenge and redemption, survival and hope, and finding the courage to follow your dreams. Fellow children’s author Gillian Cross calls it “heart-stoppingly exciting”!

Annelise writes exclusively for my blog about why she chose to write a female charioteer character.

Why I Chose To Write About a Female Charioteer

When I was a child, I loved reading adventures stories about horses. I borrowed them from libraries, mostly, although I had my own treasured little shelf of them at home. Phantom Horse by Christine Pullein-Thompson. Six Ponies by her sister Josephine. The ‘Jill’ series by Ruby Ferguson. There were anthologies too, with titles like ‘Horse and Pony Stories for Girls’ (I never quite got my head around why only girls were allowed to read them).

            But the book with pride of place was National Velvet by Enid Bagnold. I regret to confess that I borrowed the library copy from my school and never returned it. (In fact, it’s sitting in front of me as I write this.) It’s the story of a girl who wins a horse in village raffle and dreams of riding him to victory at the Grand National. Ever since reading Velvet’s story, I have watched the Grand National live on television in the hope that this might finally be the year when a female jockey really wins it in real life. To my regret, I’m still waiting. But I keep hoping.

            A few years ago, inspired by those much-loved horse and pony stories of my childhood, an image suddenly popped into my head of Dido, my main character in Circus Maximus: Race to the Death. I started imaging a girl – tough, rebellious, scrappy – living in ancient Rome but, like Velvet Brown, dreaming of sporting glory. Dido’s ambition would be to break into the all-male world of chariot racing and compete at the Circus Maximus, the greatest stadium in the Roman world. She would face opposition and discover that a charioteer’s life is a dangerous one. But she would never give up on her dream.

            All my life I’ve been inspired by women who break barriers, including in the world of sport. When I was about eleven years old, I remember watching in nervous apprehension as Midori Ito, the Japanese figure skater, prepared to try and become the first woman to perform a triple axle jump in international competition. The joyful look on her face when she successfully landed it has always stayed with me. It’s so important that we teach children that women – from any walk of life –  can be role-models not just for girls but for boys too. Female sporting icons like Wilma Rudolph, Billie Jean-King, Tanni Grey-Thompson and Megan Rapinoe have all had to fight for recognition and equality, alongside dealing with the pressure that comes with competing at the top of their sport. That should be enough to get anyone invested in their stories. And I’ve tried to imbue Dido with a bit of their fighting spirit.

            So, on the evening of March 4th, when Circus Maximus: Race to the Death is published, I have my evening planned. In the absence of a launch party, I’m going to have a delicious supper with my husband and a big glass of wine. Then we’re going to sit down to watch the film of National Velvet, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Micky Rooney. I can guarantee I’ll be sobbing before the opening credits have finished.

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