Ruth Downie and 'A Year of Ravens'

Ruth DownieToday, in this last ‘Ravens’ post I’m welcoming Ruth Downie, author and good friend of Roma Nova. We met in August 2013 on The Wonder of Rome blog hop (her post intriguingly called ‘First drown your ape’) and she enlightened us more about Roman medical practice in October 2014 in this post about historical truth and donkey poo. Ruth was also kind enough to endorse AURELIA.

Ruth read too much Jane Austen at university, emerged with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She says she’s still working on it. She won the Fay Weldon section of the BBC’s End of Story competition in 2004. The first book in her crime series featuring Roman Army medic Ruso was a New York Times bestseller under the title ‘Medicus’. It was published as ‘Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls,’ in the UK, where The Times recommended it as one of their ‘Seven best thrillers for Christmas’. The sixth in the series, ‘Tabula Rasa,’ came out in 2014. Ruth is currently working on the next book and also spends several weeks every summer wielding an archaeological trowel in search of inspiration.

Ruth has made grumpy, tough, but kind-hearted Ruso such a real character I’m surprised he isn’t listed in the Roman army rolls! I can’t wait for the next in the Ruso series (no pressure, Ruth), but in the meantime, she’s been collaborating with six other authors – E. (Eliza) Knight, Russell Whitfield, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, S.J.A.Turney and Vicky Alvear Shecter – to produce seven stories set during Boudica’s revolt in Britain 60/61 AD.

Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Briton. A Year of Ravens is a novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Britons who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

A Year of Ravens coverFirst of all, I have to say how much I enjoyed A Year of Ravens. These are not just weasel words – it’s a five star book, no question. Congratulations to Ruth on Ria’s story;  it was very poignant and I enjoyed the view ‘from below’. I rather think she made the best king’s daughter of them all…

As with others in this series of interviews, I asked Ruth some pertinent (possibly impertinent) questions about this project…

Why does Boudicca have an enduring attraction?
As a Briton myself it’s tempting to fall back on the cliché that we all love a heroic failure, but I think it’s deeper than that. Deeper, too, than just respect for a brave woman. Underlying Boudica’s story is a question that’s still relevant today: What do you do in the face of tyranny? Could she have made different choices? The extra lure for writers, I think, is that we only know about her through the words of her conquerors. There must have been another version of events, and that leaves a huge space for the imagination.

Were the group of authors self-selected or chosen? And how did you find working together?
I was invited to fill a gap in the group, and have only ‘met’ the other writers via the Internet – which I have to admit feels a bit weird, since our characters know each other very well indeed. Luckily, the core group had already figured out how to coordinate everything during their first book, and everyone was very welcoming, so it wasn’t hard to slot in. As the project’s gone along I’ve grown increasingly in awe of the skills the rest of the team have to offer – not just writing and editing, which you might expect, but all the other jobs that need to be done to get a book out there. Every time something came up, somebody turned out either to know how to do it or to know somebody who did. Real professionals!

What do you think is in it for the reader having such a diversity of author styles?
I’m hoping readers will get the best of all of us. For example, I’m fascinated by the question of how ordinary Britons would have survived under the constant pressure of the Roman occupation, but I wouldn’t have a clue how to write a big battle scene. Fortunately there are people in the team who are brilliant at them, as readers will find out.

Will there be another book focusing on a different event?
I guess that’ll depend on the people who read this one…

Publication date was 17 November and you can order A Year of Ravens from Amazon UK and Amazon US now.

Ruth very kindly hosted the Roma Nova box set on her blog. Read more about her Ruso series on her website.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA and the Roma Nova box set are now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

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