- 14 September 2007
Lindsey Davis - An Interview

"About Marcus Didius Falco etc"

By: Nicholas Newman
I talked with Lindsey Davis, the famous authoress, in the lounge of Rome’s Hotel Forum near the ancient Forum that plays such a vital setting for many of her Falco detective novels. Lindsey Davis is busy at work on a short story commissioned by BBC Radio 4, in a new initiative, which pairs writers with reading groups in the central England region; it will be broadcast in 2008. Then she next turns to the nineteenth novel of her highly successful historical comic detective series set in the first century AD of the Roman Empire under Emperor Vespasian. It will be set in Roman Alexandria and Lindsey comments, 'The challenge is to avoid all mention of Pharaohs!'


Davis’s Falco detective books are certainly popular, being sold throughout world, translated into many European languages and dramatised on the BBC. Her hero, Marcus Didius Falco, was voted recently by BBC listeners as the most appealing character in fiction. Davis herself has been awarded a string of honours, including the Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award and the Sherlock Award for best comic detective. Her first Falco detective novel Silver Pigs (1989) was about a plot to overthrow the Emperor Vespasian rule (AD 69 to 79), and her eighteenth Saturnalia (2007) novel is about political scandals, murder and mischief during the Roman equivalent of Christmas.

When asked does she share many of the traits and opinions of her heroes Falco and Helena, Lindsey chuckled, ’Yes, but not all of them, since I use them as much as a foil to make a point or poke fun at the conventions of the time.’


The books she read in childhood were often historical novels, had heroes, and heroines who set the heroes straight. ‘These adventures had people surviving in an unfair world against the odds,’ observes Davis. Her interest in politics was encouraged by her father who taught government, whilst her Latin teacher sparked her love for the classics and archaeology.

Born and brought up in Birmingham, she studied English at Oxford University’s Lady Margaret Hall (famous for its women students who became successful artists, writers and politicians), where she continued her passion for writing. After university she worked as a bureaucrat for thirteen years but she maintained her interest in writing. Though, she admits to being, like most English people, ‘shamefully ignorant of modern European literature, though I have read Simenon.'

1985 was a turning point for Davis, (or as Falco would say verto cuspis), for she was runner-up in the Georgette Heyer Historical Novel Prize. Davis decided it was time to become a full-time professional writer. ‘It took years of struggle to achieve success,’ she says, until ‘The Silver Pigs’ (1989) novel. These detective novels have seen Falco and his wife Helena Justina experience adventures from one end of the empire to the other.

Like with Falco, becoming successful has not changed relationships with her original friends, but as for the outside world, Lindsey remarks, ‘I have to become much more careful in my dealings.
Her books

As for her novels, Davis laughs. ‘I draw on ancient European writers including Suetonius, Juvenal, Martial and Virgil for my sense of the period. I write stuff that is different and original,' she continues. 'I loathe pigeon holes. I don’t write like anybody else. I have been to all the countries where I set my adventures, often visiting more than once the sites of the novels, in order to give a sense of place, scale, light and mood to the story. In addition, I back it up with much of the material that is easily available on the Roman Empire.’

Readers of Falco books certainly get to know the dangers faced working in a British silver mine, seeing the sights in ancient Greece or as soldier in the dark forbidding forests of Germany. But for many fans, including myself, perhaps a more detailed analysis of the real politique of the times might be welcome?

Her style is not the tired Agatha Christie style pot boilers. It is ‘different and original,’ she remarks, and not the 'ghastly modern kind of writing as personal therapy type.' She does not mention that her story lines provide a mischievous guide to the unknown country that is the Roman Empire, whilst still bringing a world that a modern day Machiavelli would find reminiscent of today’s power brokers in Berlin, Brussels, Paris or even modern day Rome.
Getting published

Unlike some authors, who see sending their latest book to publisher as the end of the process. Lindsey laughs, ‘I take a much more intense interest in contracts than many authors (self-defeating wimps!).’ She observes that ‘getting a publisher, getting paid properly, getting books produced to a high standard, and getting publicity to ensure your books are made available is much the same in any country - very hard!’ The interest in her books varies across Europe.
The rants or spirited remarks on her website, have become famous amongst her fans, they are there to spark debate about the issues she faces as a writer. She explained, ‘It all started when I was asked to translate my stories into the American idiom for the North American market.

Apparently, my American publishers feared that my early books written in British English would not sell well in the United States. I proved them wrong, nobody would ask for this to be done in reverse. After all, we in Britain don’t insist books or films set in small town America should be translated into British English. If I wrote in mid Atlantic English, I would loose my identity and voice as a writer. No American publisher would dare demand a Hispanic American from Texas to write as if he was a New Yorker!
Europe and Turkey

Lindsey admits to being a keen European - through selling her work and being welcomed in European countries. As for Turkey joining the European Union, ‘Why not - it was part of the Roman Empire! I am grateful to have, incidentally, a keen and efficient Turkish publisher.’ Lindsey Davis ends the interview commenting.’ No time for more; the ancient Lighthouse and Library of Alexandria is calling.’

 1st Aerials Oxford




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