I spent a lot of time wondering how to write about refugees. I was a high school teacher for about ten years, and during that time I taught a lot of Somali students (there's a large Somali community in Ottawa.) What I found was that there was often a big difference between how the boys and girls did in school: the girls, typically thrived, seeming generally happy and well-integrated and often excelling academically; the boys, on the other hand, quite often seemed as though they weren't really there – they weren't discipline problems, generally, but they were very disconnected from school both socially and academically. There were probably a lot of reasons for this, but I think one of them was that they had different feelings of what was expected of them: the girls were allowed to succeed, but among the boys there was a sense that there being in Canada was only temporary, and that succeeding here would be almost a betrayal of their duty to eventually return home and rebuild their country.
I wanted to explore this dilemma – the tension between wanting to succeed in your new country and your duty to your home country – but but I felt uncomfortable writing about Somalis (or any group of real-life refugees) for a number of reasons: partly because I didn't feel it was my story to tell, but also because I wanted to write something that was more broadly about the personal question than this specific situation. It wasn't until I read Robert Charles Wilson's A Bridge of Years, in which a man from our time seeks refuge in the 1960s – and a soldier from a dystopian future flees to our time – that I got the idea of reversing that and having the refugees come from the past. Even after that, though, the story was slow to come, and it was only when I realized that Geoff should himself be a prefugee that it finally came alive for me. (I had to fudge my Latin a bit because of that: “Galfridius” is not a real Roman name but a latinization of the name Geoffrey. I also fudged the whole verbs-at-the-end-of-sentences bit, which wasn't actually how Romans talked but gave the prefugees a distinctive speech pattern and was a bit of an in-joke for fellow Latin students.)
Paul Veyne et al, A History of Private Life, Volume 1: From Pagan Rome toByzantium.
The “mice” dish really exists; I got it from Jane Renfrew's Roman Cookery, but you can get a recipe at http://eirny.com/2013/03.
All Latin in the story comes courtesy of Mr. Savage's Latin class at Glebe Collegiate Institute though, as always, any mistakes are my own.