Publication Day!

Cover of SemperFidelisDear friends of Ruso and Tilla in Britain – please excuse the cheesy grin while I celebrate the publication of SEMPER FIDELIS in the US and Canada. The quickest reader off the mark has to be Laurie, whose insomnia led her to discover a pre-ordered copy downloaded to her Kindle in the middle of the night. (She’s the one now dozing quietly in the corner.)

This is traditionally a nervous moment for authors – and not just for modern ones. Here are a few words from a writer anticipating his readers’ reactions some time before 63 B.C. …

“So ends the episode of Nicanor, and as, since then, the city has remained in the possession of the Hebrews, I shall bring my own work to an end here too. If it is well composed and to the point, that is just what I wanted. If it is trashy and mediocre, that is all I could manage. Just as it is injurious to drink wine by itself, or again water, whereas wine mixed with water is pleasant and produces a delightful sense of well-being, so skill in presenting the incidents is what delights the understanding of those who read the story. On that note I will close.” 
(2 Maccabees Ch 15, vs 37-39, The Jerusalem Bible)

21 thoughts on “Publication Day!

  1. hi ruth!

    got home from work last night, and there waiting for me was my brand new copy of ‘semper fidelis.’ i tried to find every reason in the world not to start reading it immediately (the sooner you start, the sooner it ends). but after a long discussion with myself, i surrendered. said ‘hello,’ ‘love you’ and ‘good night’ to the family, grabbed a glass of wine and began reading…i knew it was going to be a fun evening when i saw the map: “Circle of Very Large Stones”.


      1. i know that bittersweet feeling well – the sooner you start, the sooner it ends! alas, i just gave in & started….pretty much asap. 🙂

  2. OH! I just checked my Kindle and there was “Semper Fidelis!” Since I’m home recuperating from surgery, I’ll have plenty time to spend with Ruso and Tilla! 🙂

  3. Just finished reading “Semper Fidelis”, which, strangely enough, I ordered from Amazon UK, seeing as how book stores in Singapore carry a depressingly limited range of historical fiction.

    I don’t pretend to understand how a book published in the US is available from Amazon UK. The vagaries of the international book publishing business are a mystery indeed!

    “S F” itself is a good read, but the ending, surprisingly, was a bit of a letdown. I hope there will be a seamless seguing into Book Six. Which will be when, if I may ask?

    1. No, I haven’t a clue how publishing/bookselling works either! But I’m glad you managed to get hold of it and enjoyed most of it – sorry the ending wasn’t everything you’d hoped for.

      I’m currently in the middle of Book Six, and it’s due to reach the editor on 1 May. After that the timing depends on several factors, including how long it takes to edit, how much rewriting I need to do, when the publisher thinks is the right time to release it, and the length of a piece of string. That’s awfully vague I’m afraid, but now you know as much as I do!

  4. Ms. Downie,

    I have recently finished reading Semper Fidelis and once again as with your previous four books, I would like to congratulate you on a most enjoyable novel. Well done, indeed. As I have done in the past, I cannot resist sharing a few observations about your latest work; encoursaged, I must say, by your always gracious acknowledgements. My comments are not organized and are put down simply as they occur to me.

    I think I will start with your dry humor which continues to be so entertaining. Most of the humor in Semper Fidelis, as in the previous books, takes me off guard which increases the fun. The zingers with Ruso and Tila often come about as they internally make observations about themselves, each other, or other characters, or certain otherwise serious circumstances. Then there is the humor that is associatede with a particular character, for example, Virana. Virana was a great addition to your story . I think she adds an ongoing sense of fun and humor to the story, but in addition, I think that she more than many of the other British characters helps the people from the tribes to be seen as more complex, more multi-dimensional, more human.

    Another character who adds humor a little different than the drive by zingers is Valens. Ruso, Tila and others who are in the thick of things end up, in a manner of speaking, disheveled, mussed up, limping along, and nursing wounds. Valens, on the other hand, hardly ever seems to get any on him. I picture him in the midst of chaos bordering on catastrophe with his hair always combed, and his clothes always perfectly clean and neat while everyone around him is a mess. Valens is always involved, always near the action, and yet is somehow untouched. I always smile when he is on stage.

    One of the things you do best is to paint pictures of the surroundings with an economy of words. For instance, you don’t interrupt the flow of the story to explain how a Roman outpost in Britain looked, how it was laid out, how it worked. It seems like you hardly ever use an entire sentence to describe the background in which events are taking place; rather you skillfully describe things a little at a time by adding a phrase here, and a few words there as Ruso and others move about. Good writing.

    you capture the culture of the military so well. I am going to make an assumption that you were never in the military. The portrayal of the thinking, the reactions, and language of the troops and officers I think would resonate with anyone with a military background. Being competent or not so competent, being good or not so good, being devious, camaraderie, etc. in the military environment takes on a life and texture of its own and that texture is different from civilian life. If it is true you were never in the military, the job you have done with this is all the more remarkable. PS: I speak as one who has served in the military (U.S. Navy submarine service).

    Reading Greek and Roman history has been something which I have enjoyed from an early age on up. I studied Latin in high school and college. That said, I am not a scholar. The good news is that one does not need to be a scholar regarding the Romans and ancient Britain to enjoy your books. You deftly place drops of Roman and Britsh history and culture here and there throughout your writing, almost like seasoning. Your method of filling in historical and cultural information is somewhat parallel to your “here a little, there a little” style of painting the physical surroundings in which the action takes place.

    The relationship of Ruso and Tila is one of the most enjoyable aspects of your novels. In Semper Fidelis, we start seeing a married couple whose relationship has the aspects of a couple who have been married for some years now. Much of the fun hinges on difficulty in communicating in marriage; notably the failure to listen to one’s spouse, particularly, Ruso’s failure to listen, really listen to Tila. Tila lives in a world of her own but a big part of her lives in Ruso’s world. The reverse is somewhat less true of Ruso. You really capture the classic preoccupied husband caught up in his work and its percieved importance who fails to slow down to listen closely to his wife, to pay her the attention she needs and deserves, and as a result misses important and valuable insights she has to offer.

    Respect is so fundamental to marriage relationships, and much of the story of Ruso and Tila revolves around that fundamental. Yours is a murder mystery, not a romance novel, and yet I find the Ruso – Tila romance, if you will, so interesting. Ruso has respect for women and the British culture but it is not a blank check. Ruso has limits in this regard. The perception of marrying up or marrying down can often, I suppose, affect marriage relataionships, either consciously or unconsciously. It seems to be the case with Ruso and Tila. Although Ruso loves Tila, I think it is hard for him to escape the feeling that he has married down. Certainlhy, in Semper Fidelis, this belief is held by other Romans in the story. Tila, on the other hand, doesn’t seem carried away with the idea that she has married up, although in Semper Fidelis, she occassionally plays the card that she is married to the Medicus and a Roman officer to raise her status in the eyes of others and to get where she needs to go.

    In all of the novels, but perhaps more so in Semper Fidelis, the relationship of Ruso and Tila has been sharpened and refined by crises. In this story, their lives often seemed to hang in the balance of what one or the other did. Crises in the course of events can tear people apart or bring them closer together. The outcome is not a forgone conclusion. Ruso and Tila’s love and caring for each other and their relationship is ostensibly strengthened by their difficulties in the story. For me, this makes your ending so perfect, so endearing, and so true to life. Ruso and Tila survive incredible danger, and come out the other end closer than ever, but then tomorrow is Monday morning with all of the same problems and difficulties that married couples, especially Ruso and Tila, have in communicating with each other. Great ending.

    I had never before picked up a murder mystery. I have, however, enjoyed reading historical novels which is why I first picked up Medicus. In reading your five books, I have learned to enjoy and take a genuine interest in the mystery. The puzzle is good, but for me, your stories are carried by your very entertainng and interesting characters and personalities, your humor, and the fascinating setting.

    So, my very sincere congratulations on another great book. I look forward to number six.

    Phil Hall
    Oregon, USA

    1. Phil, it’s always a pleasure to hear from you, and thanks for taking the time to think through ‘Semper Fidelis’ in detail. Your analysis is very generous and it’s always a great feeling for a writer when you realise that somebody ‘gets’ what you’re trying to do.

      Virana just turned up unexpectedly. She wasn’t in the original plan at all but she’s one of those people who won’t go away (as Tilla discovered). Once I realised she’d lied to Tilla, she was too good to lose. Valens, as you say, is one of those teflon people to whom nothing ever seems to stick. He is a joy to write – he seems to write his own lines – but would probably be a nightmare to live with.

      You’re right in surmising that I’ve never been in the armed forces, and I’ve been aware from the start that this could be a problem, so it’s great to have your reassurance. I’ve tried to fill the void with research but also by drawing on my own nearest experiences. I once had a temporary job as an admin worker in a prison, where quite a few of the staff were ex-forces. Obviously it was a big organisation where security, rules, discipline and hierarchy were crucial. Most of the staff were fine but one or two of the male prison officers were frankly terrifying. It wasn’t that they were big and burly – lots of them were, for obvious reasons. It was the Hard Stare. (The one that tells you whatever you just did/said was the most stupid thing they’ve ever witnessed, and your status in this place is somewhere between a cockroach and a worm.)

      I do try to make the books accessible to people who don’t have much knowledge of (or interest in) Roman Britain because that’s the position I was in myself until we took our children to visit Hadrian’s wall many years ago. Then, of course, it was a slippery slope…

      Another concern was retaining the tension between Ruso and Tilla once they were married. Fortunately the cultural differences between them, together with his duty to the Army and his patients, seems to do the trick. (I think someone once described ‘Casablanca’ as a film about the tension between love and duty, and if it’s good enough for Bogart and Bergman, it’s good enough for me.)

      It’s interesting that you came to the books via history rather than mystery. I too came via the historical route but discovered that the mystery gives the story some sort of structure and stops the characters meandering about getting nowhere. Well, it does on a good day.

      With very best wishes,


  5. hi ruth!

    i’ve meant to write before now, to thank you for ‘semper fidelis.’ it has been very nice reading other readers’ comments.

    some thoughts: first, it was so much fun to follow tilla as she became even more independent, more of a free agent. and to watch as ruso learned–with some trepidation, (ahem)–to trust her instincts even more. one characteristic of a great marriage, as another reader has alluded to, is that you cannot recall the couple ever NOT being together, so seamless is their interaction. that is how i feel about ruso and tilla.

    i loved, LOVED sabina. her motivations and her thoughts remained a mystery throughout. but tilla’s understanding of her profound isolation, an understanding from such an unlikely source as a briton woman, enabled sabina to show compassion, or at least a little kindness. for a moment or two. it was terrific.

    finally, i so hope that tilla becomes a medicus!

    on another topic: i am glad the Pompeii/Herculaneum exhibit is coming to you. it was here in new york city in 2011, and it is breathtaking. beautiful, compelling, heartbreaking. we saw it twice, and each time enjoyed it–if that is the word–immensely.

    i hope you are enjoying writing the sixth book as much as we all look forward to reading it.


    1. Hi Linda,

      Thank you for your kind words – I’m so glad you enjoyed SEMPER FIDELIS!

      Sabina was an especial joy to write, because her husband usually gets all the attention. He might have been a marvellous Emperor but he sounds like a very difficult man to live with. One of the biographies I read suggested that he might have brought her to Britannia so she couldn’t plot against him back in Rome. It’s speculation, and we have very little evidence for her plotting (unlike many of her predecessors) but he certainly wouldn’t have brought her because he enjoyed her company.

      I’m even more enthused about the Pompeii exhibition after reading about your reaction. We’ll be going as part of a group so we get a lecture first before going to see the exhibits. It will be my treat for getting the first draft of book 6 finished. I can’t wait!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.