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An interview with Jane Finnis

December 8, 2011

Today I’m delighted to welcome Jane Finnis to the blog.  Jane is the author of the Aurelia Marcella mysteries set in Roman Yorkshire.

I’m always interested in the way other writers approach their work, and the first thing I wanted to ask Jane was about her choice of lead character.

Jane Finnis

Me:  I once heard a writer say he wouldn’t have a woman as a lead investigator in a historical novel because it would be too restrictive – ‘men got out more’.

Is there anything you’d like to say to him?

Jane:  He’s missing a trick, in my view. Of course he’s right that men had “got out more” in most past eras…in theory. Certainly under ancient Roman law, males had all the political and most of the economic power…but I repeat, that’s in theory. It wasn’t always so in practice, because then as now, you can’t keep smart women down. And that’s precisely why I decided to have a woman sleuth in Roman Britain, and show how she could work the system and be much more independent than her legal status would suggest. My Aurelia is an independent-minded innkeeper. Her brother is the legal owner of the inn, but he leaves it to her to run, because they both know she is the brains behind it.

Me:  Aurelia’s inn is in Yorkshire – while this is God’s own county, does she have any plans to travel?

Jane:  Her next adventure will be set in and around London; she’s going there for a wedding, which promises to be a happy, trouble-free occasion. But…

Me:  What’s surprised you most in your research into Roman Britain?

Jane:  How similar many details of Roman life were to our own. Like their custom of holding birthday parties and inviting all their friends. Like the way rich men flaunted their wealth so blatantly they made themselves ridiculous. Like the politicians’ habit of feathering their own nests.

Me: My copy of ‘Danger in the Wind’ is on order. Tell me what I’ve got to look forward to!

Cover shot of Danger in the WindJane: A cracking good read, of course…sorry, that isn’t what you mean, is it? Well then: Aurelia is invited to a birthday party by her cousin Jovina, who lives at a quiet, rather dull fort north of York. Jovina’s invitation includes a warning of danger in the wind, and the day it reaches Aurelia, a soldier is murdered at her inn, carrying a coded message indicating some impending threat will disturb the fort’s peace. Aurelia goes to the party with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. The trepidation is well founded; the excitement turns to nightmare.


Me: Are you a writer who plans, or one who plunges in?

Jane: I start with a setting, a basic idea for a murder or several, and whodunit. Those don’t change. Then I try to work out the plot in more detail, and I write a lovely synopsis, but I’m incapable of sticking to it in practice. I must be free to include ideas that come to me as I’m writing, adding twists of plot or following up a character’s reaction. This keeps things fresh for me. I’d be bored if I had to stick to a prearranged plan, and if a writer is bored, then the gods help the poor reader!

Me: You had a career as a radio presenter before becoming a novelist. Do you think that experience has influenced the way you write, and if so, how?

Jane: It’s helped me to write first-person narration, and dialogue. I hear words in my head as I pound the keyboard, as I did when preparing radio scripts, and alarm bells usually ring if something doesn’t “sound right”.

Me: Any top tips for mystery writers?

Jane: Never get hung up on “rules” for any sort of writing. There’s some wonderful advice around for mystery authors; use it if it helps, and some of it will. But even the tips that come presented as “Ten Rules for…” or “Ten ways to…” are only guidelines, not rigid laws. Write how you want to write.

Me: Finally – What question do you wish interviewers would ask you but they never do? And what’s the answer?

Jane: I’ve always wanted someone to ask me what dishes I’d serve at a Roman banquet. I’m assuming money was no object, and I could prepare a wonderful variety of foods and wines from all over the Empire, with plenty of time to savour them; Roman feasts could go on all night, with cabaret acts between courses. (I’m sure everyone knows by now the untruth of the myth that guests deliberately made themselves sick during banquets in order to eat more.) There isn’t room for a full menu here, but any banquet I gave would have to feature these three dishes: seafood rissoles (could be lobster, squid, cuttlefish,) with cumin sauce which included other spices plus honey and vinegar; roast duck with hazelnuts (the nuts were combined with herbs and spices into a kind of crunchy coating;) and finally patina of pears, a puree with an interesting sweet-sour flavour involving honey and sweet wine, pepper and the famous (or notorious) Roman fish sauce. Hmmm…I’m feeling hungry already.

DANGER IN THE WIND is now available in America and is published in the UK this month. 

Other books in the series, SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT (formerly GET OUT OR DIE,) A BITTER CHILL, and BURIED TOO DEEP, are being re-issued, so now is a good time to catch up.

Find out more at Jane’s website and blog -  www.janefinnis.com, http://janefinnisblog.wordpress.com

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20 comments

  1. I’m looking forward to reading the new book – my copy is in the mail!

    Happy Holidays to both of you.


    • Thank you Carol! Happy holidays to you too.


  2. Thanks, Carol. I’ll join with Ruth in wishing you happy holidays – with time for reading among all the celebrations!


  3. Wow, I’m inviting myself to dinner at your place, Jane. You do eat like this at home, right?

    I love the new covers! Danger In The Wind about to be ordered…


  4. Thanks, Gary! And next time I give a Roman banquet, you and Ruth will be on the guest list of course. Though I think that eating while lying on a couch would take some practice. And where does one find relly well-trained kitchen and dining-room slaves these days?


  5. Brilliant interview, Jane and Ruth – and the new book sounds a corker.
    Can I come to dinner too?


    • Thanks Dolores. If we all start practising eating while lying down, I’m sure Jane will let us know when she’s got the slaves organised!


  6. Please add my name to the guest list !! I truly enjoy both of your series’ and always look forward to the next. Your characters always feel like they are actually living in the period and not visiting from the 21st century. (Waiting patiently for the Barnes and Nobles Nook version please??!!).


    • Thank you Kat! I’ll leave Jane to reply about the ebook version.


      • Kat, that’s a very good question, and I don’t know the answer yet, but I’ll find out. I’ve emailed my publishers and hope they reply soon. It’s only morning in Arizona where Poisoned Pen Press are based, but then again, it’s almost the weekend…I’ll get the information as soon as I can.


      • Thank you. I look forward to reading a new “Aurelia” soon. I enjoy reading about the Roman era very much and your series showing a different region of the Empire makes it doubly interesting. Your characterizations of the time period really put me there!! Keep up the GREAT writing !!!


  7. Of course I will. Maybe we could make it a grand outdoor picnic as in DANGER IN THE WIND…no, that’s not a very sensible plan, considering where that led.


  8. Kat, thanks so much for your kind words. My publishers have replied to my query about Nook format but it only partly answers your question; they say: “Your books are in process of conversion. We plan on making them all available on all the big formats: Kindle, Nook, standard ebook, Apple ebook, etc.” Fine, but they don’t say when, so you may have to exercise patience a bit longer. As soon as I know, I’ll post it on my website


    • Hi Jane,

      Thanks for checking. I will keep checking. I love your series !!


  9. Jane, your menu sounds wonderful! Except leave off the liquamin. I’ve always held the theory that the English passion for marmite harks back to the Roman occupation with their fermented fish sauce. (Marmite being the only English food I’m not wild about.)


    • That’s an interesting theory, Donna – are tastes passed down through a culture? It makes sense. Mind you, a lot of English people aren’t wild about Marmite either. Maybe they’re the descendants of barbarians!


      • I’m sure Christmas Cake lovers are the true nobility.


  10. I’m not a marmite enthusiast, Donna – but what (if anything) that says about my ancestors, I don’t know! The Romans used so many herbs and spices – all in the same dish – that I doubt if you’d taste the fish sauce as fishy, merely a salty savoury tang. But don’t worry, when you come to my banquet I’ll make sure there are dishes without fish sauce – I’ll have such brilliant chefs on hand that everyone’s every whim will be catered for


    • Years ago we belonged to a gourmet club and once did a Roman banquet. Unfortunately, we had to sit at table–not couches to lounge on, which sound a lot more fun. I can’t remember what we served but I think it involved stuffed grape leaves and a desert with dates and honey. I’ll come to your banquet even if i have to eat marmite/liquamin.


  11. “An interview with Jane Finnis Ruth Downie” was
    a wonderful post and also I was really happy to discover it.
    Regards,Sherrie



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