I’m delighted to announce that Bloomsbury are now taking over publication of all the Medicus books.
This means that the first four books, originally called “Ruso and…” in the UK, will be renamed. Each book in the series will have only ONE title everywhere – hooray!
This is how it’ll work…
As there are four books being renamed, I’m celebrating by giving away a free signed copy of any book in the picture (your choice) to each of four lucky winners. Winners’ names will be drawn from this fine Roman re-enactors’ hat late on 30 April.
The cat will NOT be in it, no matter how hard he tries.
Please send me your name and contact details by 30 April to enter the draw. (Your details won’t be passed on to anybody else.)
Big news in recent weeks, as Ruso and Tilla have mentioned on their Facebook page. (They must be reading my mind.) It now seems someone’s found a way to read the charcoal ink on the scrolls that were burned to a crisp by Vesuvius almost 2000 years ago. There really is a chance that Herculaneum’s ‘lost’ library could be recovered, although it’ll be years rather than months before we find out what’s on many of the hundreds of documents that are too fragile to be unrolled.
All of which got me thinking: what would we LIKE to be in there?
In the past I’ve always said I’d like to find something – anything – written by Britons themselves about their history. Or indeed about anything at all. It would be good to have some opinions that weren’t those of the occupiers. Sadly, given that the British tribes relied on an oral tradition, that Vesuvius blew up only a few decades after the invasion and that the Romans weren’t all that interested in what barbarians thought, it’s not likely.
Second choice would be a book I only found out about recently. It really did exist, but only quotations remain. Friends who’ve read Ruso’s and Tilla’s first adventure may recall Ruso’s failed attempts to write a Guide to Military First Aid: a book he envisaged as small enough to fit in a man’s pack and useful enough to provide some comfort when a medic wasn’t available. So I was delighted to discover that there really was a book by one Rufus of Ephesus whose title is variously translated as “For the layman” or “For those who have no doctor to hand”. The dates of Rufus’s life are unclear so it just might be early enough. Could a copy of Rufus’s helpful advice be sitting amongst the scrolls, waiting to be deciphered?
Third choice… hm, I bet most of us who try to reimagine the ancient world are conscious of gaps in the evidence that we’d like filled. For instance – I am tired of guessing at how much things cost. I know there are price lists and pay chits but they’re often from later periods and they’re scrappy. I’d also like some menus for ordinary people, preferably with suggested quantities to go with the ingredients. And could somebody please confirm exactly what women wore underneath?
All of this reminds me of an essay question from Uni days. I’ve just looked it up and it turns out to be a quote from Anthony Burgess (he of the Clockwork Orange) – “is there one person living who, given the choice between discovering a lost play of Shakespeare’s and a laundry list of Will’s, would not plump for the dirty washing every time? – Discuss.”
Call me a philistine, but I’m going to be pretty disappointed if we just end up with a few more versions of Homer and the Aeneid.
Any other ideas? What would you like to find – real or imaginary? What questions would you like answered?
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:
Both of these should be available in the US and Canada in August, and in Britain in October.
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!
Thank you to Charlie, who’s just asked to be added to the newsletter email list if I have one. Up till now there hasn’t been one, largely for reasons of technical incompetence. But a pleasingly short and simple newsletter from a writer friend dropped into the inbox this morning, and if she can do it, so can I.
Unfortunately my email saying, “Yes! Welcome!” bounced back, which wasn’t a great start. Charlie, if you’re reading this, please could you get in touch via the contact page and we’ll try again?
Meanwhile, I’ll go off and find out whether this kind of thing is within the capabilities of someone with half her brain in the Second Century and a mortal dread of clicking the wrong thing on Facebook.
I’ve been saving this one for now because it wouldn’t do to post two exhibitions at once, even though we did rush from one to the other on the same day. The British Library isn’t far from the British Museum, so we hurried up there to have a look at their Murder in the Library display, an A-Z of crime fiction which runs until 12 May. Below are some heavily-edited highlights.
S is for Sherlock Holmes.
This manuscript of a Holmes story suggests that Conan Doyle was a much neater and more decisive writer than some of us. To be fair it wasn’t clear whether this was the only draft or a final fair copy, but it does raise the question of whether our patterns of thinking have been changed by working with endlessly-tweakable text on screen.
Incidentally, I’ve just finished reading Peter Guttridge’s “The Belgian and the Beekeeper,” where a detective not unlike Hercule Poirot meets Sherlock Holmes, now a retired recluse who keeps bees. The newcomer suggests the Great Detective may have been somewhat naive about Doctor Watson’s intentions – why is Holmes now living in poverty while Watson is wealthy? Exactly how many wives DID Watson have, and what happened to them? Peter Guttridge exploits some of the inconsistencies in the Holmes stories to joyous effect.
T is for True Crime
These are a couple of early books about the Road Hill House Murder, which continues to fascinate modern readers in Kate Summerscale’s “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.”
The penny pamphlet on the left is written by “A disciple of Edgar Poe”, who clearly had a keen sense of marketing. I’m considering issuing my next book as “a disciple of J K Rowling.”
G is for the Golden Age
The time where everyone looked like this, or wanted to:
J is for jigsaw mysteries
Do the jigsaw, solve the mystery. These aren’t unknown today, or at least they weren’t when a friend bought me something similar in a charity shop.
N is for Nordic Noir
…which goes back further than some of us realise: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wallöö were publishing their Martin Beck novels in the 1960’s.
O is for Oxford
…where M is for Morse, who gets a whole display cabinet to himself. Here are three famous faces. Not shown is Colin Dexter, but I’m told he appears somewhere in every episode, which means I can no longer do the ironing during repeats as I have to see where.
Z is not for Aurelio Zen, but for Zodiac mysteries, but let’s end with this:
The quote from Raymond Chandler sounds much like an essay question. I will add one word. “The detective story is a tragedy with a happy ending.” Discuss.
Sorry it’s been a little quiet around here lately. I’m currently racing to tidy up a manuscript that’s going to the new editor tomorrow. This basically consists of tweaking things that made sense when I wrote them, and scowling at all the queries flagged up in the margin (to which I still don’t know the answers).
Never mind: there’s still 18 hours for inspiration to strike.
Apologies to anyone who might have been trying to browse the ‘Books’ page in the last hour or so. While attempting to type in a review of SEMPER FIDELIS I realised that parts of the page seemed to have gone for a wander since I last aligned them.
Unfortunately sorting out this kind of thing seems to be like trying to stuff an octopus into a string bag. You get one part straight and something else goes unexpectedly awry. The only way to find out which of the octopus’s legs is currently hanging out seems to be to update the page and look at what’s happened to it now. Which means that, were anyone to have nothing better to do than peruse “The Books” for half an hour (unlikely, I know) they would have seen various images and chunks of text dancing in and out as if they were performing the Hokey Cokey.
Fortunately they would not have heard the dark mutterings that accompanied this performance here at Downie Towers. Hopefully, it’s all OK now. I need to put up a separate page for “Book V” but I think I’m going to go and lie down in a darkened room instead.
Good news for those of us in the UK – Jane Finnis’s first Aurelia Marcella novel finally launches here next month. It’s been available as an import from the US for some time, but it’s finally got its very own British edition with a new title (Shadows in the Night) and a fabulous cover which you can see here, along with full details of the launch event in York.
Secondly – thanks to L G Johnson, who recommends Mike Duncan’s The History of Rome. “The last podcast was actually recorded a few years ago, but it is still relevant, as ancient rome ended quite a while before 2010 :-) He is quite knowledgeable, very witty, just a lot of fun to listen to.”
The first podcast was recorded back in July 2007 and I’m looking forward to listening to it this evening.
Huge thanks to Carol and to Jonathan for the link to ORBIS. It’s a sort of Google Directions for the ancient world.
I know I’m not the only author to be delighted at the thought of never again having to take a ruler to a map and then multiply the resulting mileage by the speed of an ox cart in order to get characters to the right place in a plausible length of time.
It should be pointed out, though, that travellers outside the Empire may experience a delay of several hundred years while they wait for the arrival of suitable transport to Europe.