Basking in reflected glory here, because some of my former comrades from the site at Whitehall Roman Villa have made a wonderful find: the skeleton of a man who died in about the 5th century, and the remains of the shield that was buried with him. There’s video footage and some pics from the local paper here.
I was privileged to be part of the Whitehall Villa team for over a decade and it was an education: not only about archaeology, but about how volunteers and a supportive landowner can work together to make something fantastic happen.
Friends, something has gone strangely amiss of late with the distribution of some of the Medicus series in the UK. If you’re searching for a paper copy and even your lovely local bookseller can’t find one, please get in touch via the Contact page and I’ll see whether I can supply the book you want from the box under the bed.
That way, you can relax, sit back and read while the good folk at the publishers run around tearing their hair out.
UPDATE, 3rd September:
I think it’s all been straightened out at last. Hooray!
A piece of unexpected good news has arrived at Downie Towers – Ruso and Tilla’s first adventure is being translated into Croatian. To celebrate, here’s a view of Croatia’s most famous Roman building, the palace of the emperor Diocletian at Split.
Diocletian was an unusual emperor. Others had commissioned sprawling extravganzas with vistas and lakes for their personal residences, but Diocletian’s architect must have been told to think very much INSIDE the box. The whole palace fitted into the standard walled rectangle of a Roman fort.
Meanwhile, Diocletian was a man on a mission. He’s chiefly famous not for waging war (although he did) but for his less glamorous attempts to rescue the struggling Empire from chaos by sharing power, re-ordering local government, and trying to crack down on raging inflation and profiteering. His Edict setting maximum prices for goods across the Empire was inspired by his observation that “Greed raves and burns and sets no limits on itself,” and who could argue with that? You can read the full text of the introduction here, and there’s a video featuring one of the remaining copies of the Edict here.
He also seems to have been a man with a plan. In his sixties and in failing health, he handed over power to his pre-arranged successor, moved back to his native land and – as far as we know – enjoyed a relatively peaceful retirement. Which made him a very unusual Emperor indeed.
There’s much rejoicing here at Downie Towers over the news that the lovely Stuart (a Man who Can) will shortly be giving the blog a face-lift. l will thus be able to concentrate all of my muttering and cursing on Book Seven, which has reached that special stage where plot and author appear to be heading in opposite directions.
As Paul Theroux once observed, the writing of fiction is a messy and mysterious process. And, it seems, one that involves principally the letters I, O, L, M and N. At least, I think that’s what they were.
It would have been wiser not to start redesigning the blog when I’m supposed to be working on Book 7. But the layout here was looking a bit tired and it seemed like a simple enough job: just cut my name from the new book cover and paste it in at the top of the screen. How hard could that be?
I should have remembered the time Husband and I decided that plastering didn’t look all that difficult, either.
Nine hours later, I’m now going to try and put back the picture that was up there in the first place. It still doesn’t go with the new book covers, but I really would like to go to bed. And in the morning I think I might be phoning a friend. Sometimes it really is best to leave things to people who know what they’re doing.
I’m the author of a series of mysteries featuring Roman Army medic and reluctant sleuth, Gaius Petreius Ruso. His sixth adventure, TABULA RASA, is out now – 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. The local Britons are still smarting from the failure of a recent rebellion and now, having been forced to move off their land, they are distinctly on edge.
Then Ruso’s incompetent clerk, Candidus, goes missing, and soldiers ransack the nearby farms looking for him. When a local boy also vanishes, tensions between the Britons and the Romans threaten to erupt into fresh violence.
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.
*apologies for the fact that this post seems to make no sense. It used to live at the top of the page, but now the website’s been redesigned, it’s been relegated. I’ve left it here because it would be a shame to lose the comments.
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.
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.
For those of us who sit hunched over a computer all day, a chance to get out and meet real people is very exciting. I’ll be taking part in several events over the next few weeks so if you’re able to join us, please come and say hello.
16 October – 7.00 pm at Barton Library (Barton le Clay, Bedfordshire) “Writing the Romans” with Henry Venmore-Rowland. Henry is the author of “The Last Caesar” and “The Sword and the Throne,” bringing to life the tumultuous events of AD 69 when Rome had four emperors in one year.
17 October – 7.00 pm at Putnoe Library, Bedfordshire – Crime Through Time. I’ll be discussing the appeal of the Romans and the Tudors with Rory Clements, author of the John Shakespeare series (yes, John is the brother of the more famous William, and a great character in his own right).
1 November, 7.00 pm – “Leeches and Prayer – the Medicine of the Past” part of the Thames Valley History Festival. Join me and Karen Maitland, author of the superb “Company of Liars”, at the Natural History Museum in Eton College – a venue where we are promised real leeches.
2 November – Heffers Classics Festival – in association with Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas. Such an honour to be invited! (When you see the lineup you’ll understand what I mean.) I’ll be talking about “Stories in Stones” – the tales that have slipped down the gaps of history. That will be the (relatively) easy part. I’ve also agreed to speak for Dido in a balloon debate about who was the greatest character in Classical Mythology. I’m still wondering why I said ‘yes’ to this. Unlike everyone else on the panel, I’m neither a classicist nor an Oxbridge graduate. Surely poor Dido has suffered enough? Details and tickets here.
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.