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Welcome…

August 8, 2014

…and thank you for visiting.

I’m the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso. His sixth adventure, TABULA RASA, has just been published in North America (tho’ friends in the UK will have to wait a bit longer). If you glance to the right you’ll see the cover.

Here’s what’s inside:

Ruso and his wife, Tilla, are back in the borderlands of Britannia, tending the builders of Hadrian’s Great Wall. Having been forced to move off their land, the Britons are distinctly on edge and are still smarting from the failure of a recent rebellion that claimed many lives.

Then Ruso’s incompetent clerk, Candidus, goes missing, and soldiers ransack the nearby farms looking for him.  Tilla’s tentative friendship with a native family turns to anger and disappointment over this latest outrage and when a local boy vanishes, tension between the Britons and the Romans threatens to erupt.  

To find out more about the rest of the books – including why the early stories all have two titles – click here. Events are listed on this page, but if we can’t meet in person, you can always contact me here. This is where you can find out that an author’s life is not as exciting as that of her characters, and below are the latest musings on the blog.

Want to hear a different voice? Meet my guests,  Vicki León , Sarah Bower,   Jane Finnis and Caroline Davies, or follow the links at the foot of the August 2013 Blog Hop article to see what fascinates other authors about the Romans.

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England’s Westernmost Roman Town (so far).

July 20, 2014

Had a grand day out today visiting what the BBC says is “England’s westernmost Roman town“. Exeter University are running a 4-week dig there at the moment. I’m not sure they’ve actually dug up any buildings yet (tho’ there are some round houses showing on the geophys) but they do have a lovely stretch of Roman road, Devon-style, and plenty of evidence that “Roman” fashions had caught on here.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis was probably a child’s bracelet. There are a few more photos over at the Facebook page . The project’s official page is here.

(And where, I hear you ask, is this town? It is, or rather was, just outside the village of Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot. That’s near Exeter, which I assume was itself England’s westernmost Roman town until this one turned up.)

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Bargain!

July 1, 2014

The good folks at Bloomsbury USA tell me that “Persona non Grata“, Ruso and Tilla’s third adventure, is a Kindle deal on Amazon.com for the whole of July. Apparently you can take an imaginary trip to Roman Gaul for only $1.99!*

Sadly friends this side of the pond can’t access it, but as “Ruso and the Root of All Evils” the same book is available to borrow via your local library for even less. Or you could go wild and buy it!

*  LATER – please check before you click: we can’t see the US prices from here and I’m told that it has also appeared at $3.99… ebook pricing is, as we all know, governed by the new moon and the wind in the east…

 

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Judging a blog by its cover

June 12, 2014

The nice people at the publishers have decided that it’s time to redesign the covers for the Medicus series,  so we’ll be raising the tone with a little classical sculpture. TABULA RASA has a view of The Weary Hercules – I’m sure that’s exactly how Ruso sees himself at times – clutching the golden apples of the Hesperides.

This is the sort of reference that cheers authors enormously because those same apples are mentioned briefly in the book.  It’s always flattering to think that the person who designs the covers has taken the time to read what’s inside them. (You might think this is a pre-requisite, but you’d be surprised – look what someone did to Henry James. And surely that’s not even a screw, but a nut?)

I’m not sure the actual cover is as bright as the picture here, which I have to admit clashes with the header of the blog. This may leave you wondering what right I have to be sarcastic about other people’s design choices. Meanwhile, let’s move on to the rather lovely new cover for the paperback edition of SEMPER FIDELIS:

Cover of Semper Fidelis paperback

Both of these should be available in the US and Canada in August, and in Britain in October.

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Back to School

May 13, 2014

Oh dear.  I’ve been away from the blog for so long that I feel I should mark my return with something stupendously interesting. Truth is, the Coursera Roman Architecture course* threw up all sorts of fascinating things but I was so busy keeping up with the lectures that there was no time to post them.

I’ll be doing some updating of the blog after Crimefest this weekend and an evening at New Malden Library next Tuesday (20th May) with William Ryan and Imogen Robertson. Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve been doing instead.

One of the challenges of the course was to “Design your own Roman city”. It could be anywhere, as long as you could produce a reasonable excuse for putting it there. After much dithering, I took the coward’s way out and chose… Britannia. Some of the students designed fabulous virtual cities using computer software. Some of us went back to school and brought out the crayons.

So, friends, with apologies for the artwork, let me welcome you to the fair city of Salus Hadrianopolis, the attempt of a grovelling and implausibly wealthy tribal leader to welcome Hadrian to these fair shores. Sadly, it was never built. That’s just as well because I now realise the town sewer flows uphill. 

Design of fictional Roman city

There really were Roman town plans something (not much) like this. We still have fragments of a massive marble plan of the whole city of Rome. It’s called the Forma Urbis and you can read all about it here.

* the course is finished but the lectures are still on YouTube and iTunes via Open Yale Courses. I can’t recommend them highly enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog tour: My writing process

April 1, 2014

Thanks to Judi Moore, multi-talented author of “Is death really necessary?” for inviting me to join the blog tour that hunts out the answers to four questions. Mercifully, “Is death really necessary?” isn’t one of them.

Judi’s answers can be found here.  Mine are below. I’m charged with handing on the baton, and have contacted a couple of writer friends, but the rules say you can offer up to three links – so if anyone fancies joining in, let me know.

1.      What am I working on?Cover of TABULA RASA

The seventh Ruso novel, provisionally called HABEAS CORPUS, and set in Rome. Thus my head will be in entirely the wrong place when the sixth, TABULA RASA, comes out later this year – that one’s set on the northern border of Britannia and will look very much like the cover on the right. (I believe that’s Hercules clutching the golden apples of the Hesperides. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong!)

2.      How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Its genre is “Roman Crime” and there’s a surprising amount of it about. I’d normally reply that I’m more interested than most in the Romano/British tensions, having a leading character from each side and setting the books out in the far reaches of the Western Empire. Although of course Jane Finnis and Rosemary Rowe both set their crime novels in Roman Britain.

Setting HABEAS CORPUS in Rome is going to be a bit of a step in the dark, both for me and for Ruso and Tilla, who will have to be careful not to trip over the descendants of other fictional characters.

3.      Why do I write what I do?

Out of fascination with the era – so much ‘like us’ and yet so different. Also, the problem of how to get along with people who don’t share our culture is universal, and it’s especially acute during a military occupation. In a sense it’s easy for the people at the extremes. Their thinking isn’t challenged. It’s the people who rub shoulders every day with individuals from the ‘other side’ who have to make crucial decisions on how to behave, what risks to take and how much trust to offer. Peacemakers may be ‘blessed’ but they don’t have easy lives.

4.      How does your writing process work?

I know several writers who sit down at the desk and produce between 1000 and 5000 words a day. Clearly their brains work much faster than mine, and they have much better self-discipline.

Often the only way to make progress is to spend a lot of time getting it frustratingly wrong, then to go for a lone walk only to realise (on a good day) what I should have written. Thus many hours are spent producing words that end up in the ‘dump’ file the next morning. I keep a running total of the word count on a virtual sticky note on the desktop, just to reassure myself that I am making progress, if rather inefficiently.

What about planning, you may be asking? Oh, I can show you plans. Official synopses. Splendid creations in multi-coloured felt-tip. Photographs on whiteboards. Photographs of whiteboards. Maps with pins and stickers. Spreadsheets. Character lists. Charts drawn up using special software. Then you can wonder, as I do when these things resurface during a clear-up, what on earth most of them have to do with what’s in the book.

 

 

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Emergency surgery with a biro

March 10, 2014

I’ve just finished checking through the proofs of the next Ruso novel, TABULA RASA, which will be out in the summer. (It’s set during the building of Hadrian’s Wall, in case anyone’s wondering.) Either Bloomsbury’s typesetters are impressively accurate or I’m a rubbish proofreader, because there seemed to be hardly any typos to correct. So, things were all going along very nicely – until the point where a character was mentioned as a ‘son’ and two pages later, miraculously transformed into a daughter.

This is a manuscript that has already been past agents, an editor, a copy editor and a production manager. You might be wondering why none of them had spotted the blunder until now – but I suspect it’s a case of author interference.

Every professional edit means the author has to re-read and approve any amendments. Being a chronic ditherer, when I re-read I stumble across things I wrote that I no longer like, and I can’t resist the urge to tinker. The further down the line these changes are made, the fewer chances the professionals have to rescue me from my own stupidity.

I can remember noticing at a fairly late stage that there was a disproportionate number of boys in the book. So with a few strokes of the keyboard (ah, the power of the written word!) I created a girl – but only, it seems, in one place.  The typesetters, whose job is not to reason why, accurately reproduced what they were given. Fortunately there was time to take a biro to the manuscript and complete the sex change before it went to print. So Husband’s suggestion of, “Call them Hermaphrodite,” wasn’t necessary. But I did think it was rather a good joke.

LATER – since hitting ‘Publish’ on this post I’ve found and corrected three typos already… this is why publishers pay people who really do know how to proofread!

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