Today’s 7 Questions are with the co-author of Alternative History series Dying to be Roman, E.M. Swift Hook. It is a detective series with a difference, and takes place in a reality where the Romans never left. Sound interesting?
1. How much research did you need to do on Roman history, and where did you start?
I was fortunate in not having to do too much basic research as I have studied Roman history and culture in the pa
st and knowing Jane is a secret Latin scholar helped!. But the one area I did research in depth was the life and times and reforms of Emperor Diocletian as it was his reign we take as the ‘pivot point’ of our alternate history – it’s point of divergence from the actual timeline. In reality, Diocletian’s reforms did indeed prop-up a faltering Roman Empire in the west for over a century. The Dai and Julia books assume that Diocletian was far more radical and effective in his reforms and it was this which enabled the Roman Empire to endure and expand.
2. What is it about Roman times that most appealed to you?
I suspect it is because I have read loads of Roman setting whodunits, by people such as Lindsey Davis, Stephen Saylor, Rosemary Rowe, Ruth Downie and Assaph Mehr. It is a genre I have always enjoyed and I’m sure those authors and their books have all influenced my approach and style with Dai and Julia.
3. Would you be a citizen or a Celt?
Tough call. The Roman world in a modern era as Jane and I have created it is very harsh and much as my romantic soul would want to align with the underdog Brits, if I had to live in that world I’d take all the advantages of privilege. It could literally be a matter of life and death.
4. Describe a Roman sandwich – did the Romans have sandwiches?
Romans would eat open sandwiches, usually for prandium (lunch) when they would often have cold meats and such from the previous day on bread. There is a weird Roman link with sandwiches through – the first recorded use of the word to describe a sandwich was by Edward Gibbon – who wrote the classic book ‘The Rise and fall of the Roman Empire’ – in his personal journal in 1762!
5. Where do you stand on pet couture? Would you dress up a chicken?
I have to say I am not big on the idea of dressing up pets – unless they need it for warmth in the winter, of course. In my opinion, chickens are perfectly beautiful as they are and need no added extras at all. I am one of those people who find it all a bit cringeworthy to see little pugs, chihuahuas or boston terriers done up in dresses or peering out unhappily from under silly bonnets. I love animals and feel it is demeaning to treat them like dress-up dolls.
6. Are there going to be any more books in the series? What’s next?
Oh yes! Jane and I have already got plans for the next two novellas in the works and I suspect we might well have enough written to bring out the second omnibus next year. However, the next outing for Dai and Julia after this first omnibus is in the upcoming Inklings anthology ‘Alternate Earths 2’ which should be out in the next month.It features a short story set right after the events of ‘Dying to Be Roman’ and is aptly named ‘Dying to Alter History’.
7. What advice would you give to people wanting to write alternative history?
To be honest I am not sure I am at all qualified to do so. I suspect most who write alternate history begin by asking ‘What if this happened instead of that at this specific point in history?’ so they begin with knowing their point of divergence from regular events. Jane and I started with the idea of writing modern Roman rule in Britain and then sought an appropriate pivot point which could explain how that might have happened. But I guess my advice would be two-fold – read some alternate history of the kind you want to write first and then read up on the time around your chosen point of divergence so you can be sure to give a secure and believable reason for why your world is as it is.