Frequently Asked Questions
From Our Postbag
I didn’t want to have a FAQ page, but after rewriting these several times when Postbag was cleared out, here is a very brief selection of issues which cause constant puzzlement:
Who knows? The more people nag me about this, the more I am likely to say yes to get rid of them. I am concentrating on Albia, which I am much enjoying. I would like to keep an open mind on Falco and Helena. Of course if I ever felt inspired to write another, I could do – whatever I might have said previously… You may deduce I am on the verge of coming up with a really silly answer to thwart enquiries, eg I have licensed a franchise and Mimsy Bloggins (remember her?) is going to write thirty new ones.
Sorry but no.
- Maps have to work at small paperback size
- But I believe a novel should contain everything necessary in the text (NB ebooks and audiobooks don’t have the maps anyway)
- I am not very interested in preparing visuals
- I get sick of pedants pointing out mistakes
- Many places are invented by me and I have no real idea where they are located. In The Ides of April I did finally pick a spot for Fountain Court, based on the joke that Falco not only sells a villa site to Hadrian but a private house plot to Trajan, but in Enemies at Home I haven’t a definitive dot on the street for the crimescene apartment and believe me, it really doesn’t matter
- Mad map-hobbyists will find the version of ancient Rome that I often use reproduced in Falco: the Official Companion. Buy that!
A reader asked about a book she had read that seemed to have significant similarities to mine: “If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, you must be flattered indeed. Even the dust jacket is a knock-off! The comparisons are too numerous to list, but I am curious about your reaction to this book.”
I was sent the book you mention for review – yes, they even wanted to quote admiring comments from me – but I used my standard refusal, that I never review novels set in the ancient world as I can’t do them all and it wouldn’t be fair to pick and choose… I don’t read them either. I would get too angry if I thought the author and publisher were jumping on a bandwagon. There is nothing to stop other people writing a close parallel to a successful author’s work (though I gently suggest it is foolish for a publisher to ask me to endorse a blatant rip off!) Copies of Falco are even offered to my own editor. He sends them packing. Sometimes he even tells me about it, so I’ll know I have an honorable editor (this is a rare thing!)
My chief reaction to this stuff is sorrow – inventing your own characters and creating a new fictional world is such good fun, I pity the authors who have such paucity of courage and imagination they can regurgitate someone else’s idea. And how feeble of editors to accept this second-rate dross. It is insulting to readers too; the rationale is that people who like one Roman series will read anything set in that period: well I think you may be fooled once – but that’s it. My readers prefer something original.
“I really love your work, Ms Davis – I too am writing a novel. Will you read it?”
This is not my job. You have to be your own first critic. Brutally look at your work and decide whether it is commercial, original and ready for the market. If it is not commercial, dump it. If it is not ready, work on it. If it is both, send it straight to an agent. Evaluation is their job.
If it is just plain unoriginal, don’t despair. Publishers love what they already know.
“But I just want your opinion.”
You don’t realise how many manuscripts I am asked to look at – or how ghastly most are.
I am sorry to sound ruthless, but brutality is what you must expect from agents and editors. Getting a first novel published is very, very hard.
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“I know you must be very busy but hope you can just glance at the synopsis and first page.”
No, no, no.
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“I have obtained a publisher. They say my novel has the same qualities as your writing; the story is set in AD70 and centres on Marcus Bolonius, an ex-soldier who works as an imperial agent. I would be so grateful for a review for the jacket…”
I have an absolute rule that I never review novels that are set in the ancient world. (Nor books that don’t have women characters or a sense of humour, that do have cats, magical realism, time slips, the supernatural, psychiatry, religion, or Birmingham but you can’t tell that it’s Birmingham. And I loathe novels about Famous Men by male professors of history).
“So what do you like?”
That’s my business.
“Should this be a Rant?”
Why? I am perfectly calm.
“What will happen in the Vesuvius eruption?”
I have always said that I don’t really want to write about the eruption. For one thing, Pliny described it so well (his classic and very famous description is still used by vulcanologists) that there is nothing left for a descriptive novelist to say. And then this was a real tragedy. The Boxing Day tsunami confirmed my view that such an event is not really suitable for light, entertaining novels.
So, I don’t want to put Falco and Helena there – and if they are somewhere else and just hear about it, that will be a bit of a cop out… We have a few years before I have to commit myself, and I may never bring the series as far as that.
I have been asked whether Falco and Helena might be killed amidst the lava – absolutely no chance!
“I am worried what will happen to Falco when Domitian comes to power?”
Domitian cleared the informers from the Saepta Julia (so, in fact, did Titus) and of course there is enmity between him and Falco since ‘The Silver Pigs’. So people worry about what the paranoid Emperor, famous for his brutality to senators and his own relatives, might do to our hero.
I don’t. He has spent a lifetime escaping from difficulties, after all. Perhaps it will be time for him to retire to obscurity. Perhaps it will even be time for me to retire!
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“I would love to read the story of Falco and Petronius Longus in the army in Britain.”
I never commit myself absolutely, but there are two reasons why I shall probably not write a prequel about Falco and Petro, much as I know it would appeal to young or youthful male persons!
Firstly, I couldn’t have Helena in it, as Falco definitely meets her for the first time in ‘The Silver Pigs’; sorry, but I really don’t feel drawn to writing a book without her now.
And then, I don’t myself really want to know what went on. If what this disreputable pair say about their army career is all true, then I’d be ashamed of them! Or maybe they exaggerate… Sometimes, there is much to be said for leaving things unsaid. I prefer not to know whether they were bad boys, or very shy, or just normal insignificant recruits with unformed characters, whose story is in truth not very interesting. And I personally think it is more horrific and effective if the events of the Revolt are left as a grim shadow over them that they won’t really talk about.
I am sorry to disappoint.
Roman Names, Silphium, Garum (Fish Sauce) – All these subjects are covered in Falco: The Official Companion