Mary Ray has had a passion for ancient history, in her own words, “from the age of six when I started at the deep end with the battle of Marathon, and I have never so far been able to write anything with a modern setting.” She writes that since that early time she has never felt any strangeness or distance about what she had learned of the people of Greece and Rome and of earlier civilizations. “I was at home in the period in the way that some people are at home in a place or country. I started with Roman Britain, because I knew what the places looked like, and for me it is important that the three strands of the actual geographical first-hand knowledge, historical research, and imagination should all be as strong as I can make them.” Later, Miss Ray was able to travel extensively to the countries in which her later books were set and in each case makes the reader smell, see and feel what it was like to live in that land.
Born in 1932 in Rugby, England, Mary Ray has had a varied educational and professional life. She attended the College of Arts and Crafts in Birmingham and later trained as a social worker in London and more recently, upon retirement “took a B.A. Hons in Classical Civilisation at the University of Kent and then an M.A. in Church History.” She worked in shops, factories, a home for unmarried mothers, in homes for the elderly and finally as a civil servant until her retirement in 1988. Throughout most of this time, in addition to traveling and exercising her creative urge in “making almost anything,” she wrote her fourteen books and three plays.
The author’s Roman Empire sequence of books, of which The Ides of April is second, is considered an important achievement in the field of children’s historical fiction. It vividly captures not only the daily realities of Roman life just after the time of Christ, but also the excitement and tension of Christianity in its early days of secret but astounding growth. Each of the five books takes a different place and set of events, beginning in Corinth (A Tent for the Sun), then to Rome (The Ides of April), to Athens (Sword Sleep) and Palestine (Beyond the Desert Gate), and ending in Roman Britain (Rain from the West); each book is as different in emotional feel as in the diverse geographical settings. The Ides of April is the only story with the added dimension of the classic murder mystery. In all of the books the reader is drawn into the interesting, intertwined relationships as much as the historical period.
Miss Ray writes, “Like everyone who is officially retired I now feel busier than I ever was before. At the moment I live alone with a cat called Phoebe. The children’s book market dried up in England, and I am now writing adult science fiction, so far unpublished.” So, though she has never written a story with a modern setting, Mary Ray is not one, after all, to look only to the past.