Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Lindsey Davis: Veni, Vidi, Vici - Dialogue in Historical Fiction

I'm delighted to welcome Lindsey Davis to my blog today. Lindsey's latest Flavia Albia novel, The Graveyard of the Hesperides (Flavia Albia 4), was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 14 April 2016.

I loved all 20 books in Lindsey Davis's Falco series - I remember taking the 9th book (Three Hands in the Fountain) on my honeymoon in 1997!  Although I'm currently lagging behind with her latest series - featuring Falco's adopted daughter Flavia Albia - I'm definitely turning into an ardent fan of these books too.

Recently I put the following questions to Lindsey:
You write dialogue in today’s language. Why, as you are so historically accurate, do you give your characters today’s attitudes? Does it bring in readers who wouldn’t usually read historical fiction? How important is humour in your writing, especially in relation to your dialogue? 

Read below to discover her answers.

Dialogue in Historical Fiction
by Lindsey Davis

Well, I am loth to be too stroppy but I disagree. I don’t think my characters have today’s attitudes – or no more than the Romans really did (read Senecca, for example, on gladiators, read Cicero’s brother on how to get elected, which was the spin-doctoring tract behind Deadly Election, read any of the Roman satirists on trying to be a writer when nobody thinks they need to pay you for your work, read Ovid on sex…). Both Falco and Albia frequently muse on the idea of Romanness, its traditions and myths, its good and its bad points as they affect people and society. Falco is a proper Roman, even though he pretends he’s critical, and Albia is giving us the woman’s and the outsider’s viewpoint; she comes from Britain so she views the city as a foreigner might.

On language specifically, if I was entirely accurate I’d be writing in Latin, and a street-level kind at that. (What do you suppose the Roman version is of the “Thou art a varlet, sirrah, quoth he” style of historical writing?...) I choose modern idioms, while trying not to be anachronistic. People don’t get mesmerized, they are fascinated or struck dumb. They don’t say Oh my God, they mutter Titan’s turds! I invent swear words (and others – but Shakespeare did that, all the time). There is a fine movement in Australia to bring my ‘nicknackaroony bowls’ into current parlance. I would only use ‘parlance’ in a particularly mannered passage, incidentally, perhaps when being ironical. It’s all a question of selection. So long as whatever you say is clear in context, that is the only thing that matters.

I can be accused of being too English, too American, too slangy, too formal (I know how use clauses), or just too modern. The Microsoft grammar checker (which I turn on just so I can shout it down) thinks I use too many unfinished phrases. Its use of verbs does not comply with mine. People who think that way should just go and read a more pedestrian, ‘safe’ author instead. But I am writing in the first person, in a fast, elliptical, conversational style. If Falco and Albia are composing their ‘memoirs’ (as they both sometimes joke) then they are doing it as if they were talking directly to us.

About Lindsey Davis

Lindsey has been writing books for over 20 years, including the Falco series, the Albia series and several standalones (set in either the Roman period of during the Civil War. 

You can find out more about Lindsey on her website

Click here to discover more about her books.

The Graveyard of the Hesperides
By Lindsey Davis
Published by Hodder & Stoughton (14 April 2016)
ISBN: 978-1473613362

Publisher's description
Life is sweet for Flavia Albia and her soon-to-be husband Faustus. But his new job as a building contractor runs into a problem: At the Garden of the Hesperides a barmaid went missing years before; now the workmen start unearthing her bones.
Albia takes on the task of finding out what happened. Five more skeletons are discovered. Despite the fact that nobody seems to know or care who died, violent attempts are made to stop her enquiries.

Soon Albia is exploring the world of Roman streetlife, where bars are brothels, workers lead brutal lives, foreigners are muscling in on the gambling syndicates, and extortion is commonplace. What's more there's little time to solve the mystery before the wedding day when Albia is expected to show Rome that her affair with Manlius is a much more than a casual fling. The gods, however, have other ideas...

My review of The Graveyard of the Hesperides will be coming soon. 


  1. I haven't read these but I'm now intrigued!

    1. They are fantastic - historical crime fiction with plenty of humour. Best read from the beginning.