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The Protagonist Speaks

Interviews with the protagonists of your favourite books

Month

March 2018

Tilla (of the Medicus Roman Mysteries series, by Ruth Downie)

Dear readers, tonight with me is the wife of an officer in Hadrian’s legions. We have interviewed her husband before, but we thought it only fair that we give her a voice too.

Born as Darlughdacha of the Corionotatae (really, she’s not quite sure why people prefer ‘Tilla’), on the furthest reaches of the Roman empire. Though married to a Roman officer, she is a healer (and now a Roman citizen) in her own right.

She is here to tell us about life bridging the British and Roman worlds.

This interview celebrates the release of Memento Mori, the 8th volume in the acclaimed Medicus series, which we’re just nuts about.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

Well, it was NOT “some flea-bitten outpost beyond the last supply depot”, no matter what my husband’s friend might tell you.  One of the things I’ve learned about Romans is that they’re very good at having opinions on things they know nothing about.

Our farm used to overlook a beautiful wide river valley. I say ‘used to’ because there’s hardly a trace of any buildings there now. Sometimes when I listen to our old neighbours complaining about the emperor’s Great Wall across the land, I want to say to them, well at least you’ll never have to worry about the northerners coming in the night to steal your cattle and burn your house down, will you? But I‘ve learned to keep quiet.  Roman soldiers have a nasty habit of setting light to things, too. Which can be very awkward when you’re married to one of them.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I try not to think about when I was a child, because then I think about my brothers, and I start to wonder about the men they would have grown into and the girls they would have married and all the nieces and nephews that will never be, and as our Mam used to say, Nobody likes a girl who feels sorry for herself. I used to find that very annoying at the time, but it’s true.

What do you do now?

Ah. Even though I was the one who wanted the baby, I didn’t mean I wanted to have to look after her all day and all night, all the time. Sometimes it’s nice to think about something else. Sometimes it’s nice to get all the way to the end of a conversation without having to stop and wipe up somebody’s dribble or pat them on the bottom. So it’s much better now we have a babyminder.  I can go out and earn some money helping deliver other people’s babies, and when I’m not doing that I’m free to help my husband when he gets himself into trouble. Which he’s quite good at.

What can you tell us about your latest adventure?

We were asked to rush south to the spa town of Aquae Sulis, because my husband’s best friend was accused of murder. Really I think it was just my husband who was asked, but I guessed he would need some help, and I couldn’t leave the baby behind, so we all went.

What did you first think when you heard that Valens was accused of murdering his wife?

At first I thought, that’s impossible. Then I thought, but Valens was always a useless husband, and then I thought, surely being a useless husband and having opinions on things you know nothing about does not make you kill your wife.  But then my own husband found out more, and we both began to wonder.

What was the scariest thing in your adventures?

I would like to say it was the terrible thing that happened when my husband went missing, and that was indeed very frightening. But so was being tied up in a shed and lying awake listening to the rats. Of course I didn’t know my husband was going to go missing at the time. Perhaps that’s just as well. Is it possible to die of fright? I don’t want to find out.

What is the worst thing about being married to a doctor?

Usually it would be the people calling on him at strange hours, or the peculiar smells when he boils up medicines, or the disgusting topics of conversation. But the worst thing about being married to this doctor is the constant moving house. I thought things would improve when he left the Army, but we still don’t have a cow or even a vegetable patch.

What is the best thing about it?

I have seen parts of the world none of my own people will ever see. That is how I know that Britannia is best.

What’s your favourite drink, colour, and relaxing pastime?

Beer, blue sky (rare and precious in my homeland) and singing songs about the great victories of my ancestors. My husband complains that the songs are very long, but my people have a lot of ancestors. We also had a lot of victories—until the Romans turned up. That is why we keep the memories alive: our children need to know where they come from, and that our land has not always been occupied by men from Rome.

What does the future hold for you?

I’d like to say a cow, a sunny vegetable patch and perhaps another baby. But I expect it will just be more packing and unpacking and getting my husband out of trouble.

Can you share a secret with us, which you’ve never told anyone else?

I could, but once something is written down you never know who will find it and read it. That is why my people only pass on their secrets by word of mouth. So, do you promise not to write anything? Good. Come and sit beside me and I’ll whisper…


Ruth Downie read far too much Jane Austen at University, and ended up with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. She took up writing fiction when she realized that she could make absolutely anything happen using only a piece of paper and a biro.

Her murder mysteries are mostly set in Roman Britain, because she’s fascinated by the idea of her ancestors living in the wild west of someone else’s empire. MEMENTO MORI, her eighth novel about a Roman army medic called Ruso and his British partner Tilla, is published in March 2018.

Join us next week to meet a the captain of a mercenary team. Please follow the site by email (bottom-right) to be notified when the next interview is posted.

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Gairynzvl (of the Dark Fey trilogy, by Cynthia A. Morgan)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a Fey of the Light, captured at a young age and taken to live amongst the Dark Fey – the Reviled.

He’s here to tell us of his adventures.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

My life has been dichotic.  I spent my first seven years in the village Hwyndarin with my family and the Fey of the Light. It is a place of simple beauty and communal living, where each villager shares life’s responsibilities and burdens.  I was very young, but remember playing with friends and learning to fly amid the forests, streams and meadows bathed in sunlight.

When I reached 7 ½, I was abducted by the Reviled Fey and spent the next 15 years of my life trying to survive the gloom and shadows of their dark realm, the Uunglarda.  No sunlight warms their barren dominion and the skies are choked with soot and poisonous fumes.  I suffered the Integration; five years of neglect designed to turn childfey into monsters and each day was a torment of hunger, thirst, cold, and abuse.

Gosh, that sounds horrible.  How did you manage to hold onto hope?  Was is a cherished memory, a favourite toy you clung to, a friend?

We had no toys in the Uunglarda, and very few friends, but I was determined not to forget the ones I had and to see them again.  I kept the Light alive any way I could, mostly by repeated prophecies I had already learned and secretly studying others.  Although I had to keep it completely hidden, which was not easy in a place where you are forced to do horrible things every day, as time went on, I formed a few secret alliances with Dark Ones who wanted to escape as much as I did and our mutual dream of freedom kept hope alive.

What do you do now?

Even though I have returned to the Light and live in Hwyndarin once again, I spend much of my time training with an exclusive unit of Fey Guards dedicated to the covert operation of returning into the Uunglarda at undisclosed times to rescue younglings and those Dark Fey who wish to escape.  Continue reading “Gairynzvl (of the Dark Fey trilogy, by Cynthia A. Morgan)”

Zurik D’Vordi (of The Starsboro Chronicles, by Cameron J Quinn)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a young man that hunts the things that go bump in the night.

He’s here to tell us about his adventures with his brother and his police detective (unwilling) partner.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

My brother Trent and I grew up with our Grandfather. He was always pretty cold and distant. So most of my youth was spent getting into trouble of one kind or another to get the poor bastard’s attention. We spent a few years in Massachusetts before setting in Starsboro, North Carolina. I mostly remember acting like an asshole and counting down the days till school was over. I remember this one spring day in Mass. We were goofing off, I think I was ten, so he musta been six. And Trent fell into the river. There was a moment when I realized what happened where everything stopped. I stared at him, his red coat was just below the surface of the water and I knew I had to jump in. The water was so damn cold. It took the breath right out of my chest. Somehow I got to him and we made it to the riverbank. Probably one of the only days in my life I wasn’t a complete screw up. My brother was different. He got the whole school thing. He’s in college now. Going to be a lawyer. He’s going to change the world. I might save it every now and then, but he’ll make it better.

Did you have any favourite toys as a child? Any cherished memories?

I had a dog once. It was an old mutt. Looked kind of like a huge Rottweiler but scruffy. Called him Buddy. I was working on a construction site in high school and this dog came around everyday. He’d growl at the workers and freak them out. I started feeding him hotdogs cause I didn’t want him to eat me. Heh. When the job was done I went back to say my goodbyes and found out his owner was going to put him down. They were moving and the new apartment building wouldn’t allow a big dog like that. So I took him home. My grandfather shit a brick when he found out. That was the best dog though. If I got into an argument with anyone, I’d be focused on em, ready for whatever as things got heated, and he’d nose my hand. Just to let me know I had back up. I don’t know what he would have done if it’d ever actually come to blows but it was nice to know someone had my back.

What do you do now?

I kill things. Pretty much exclusively evil things or things that want to kill people. But yeah. The job title I guess is hunter. I just like to show up and save people. I also drink a lot and sing lead in a band. All those keep me pretty busy. Continue reading “Zurik D’Vordi (of The Starsboro Chronicles, by Cameron J Quinn)”

Sweetnettle the Lobli (of The Malevir Series, by Susan B Marcus)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a little sprite, from a faraway fantasy world.

He is here to tell us about the dangers that afflict his world, about the return of dragons, and about the other wonderful and wondrous creatures that inhabit it. 


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I am a Dragonwolder sprite called a Lobli, about 18 inches high. I see the world from the height of your knee cap. Dragonwolder is my world, a broad and varied land mass surrounded by seas. I was born in dark times, and I don’t mean at night. A destructive force, the Malevir, was burning farms and towns and killing people’s herds. I left my family of house sprites early on to apprentice with the magician giant Rocànonom who was planning to rescue Dragonwolder from the Malevir by reviving its exiled dragons.

Do you have cherished memories from your childhood?

Before I left home, my parents, sister, and I lived in the wall behind a cottage hearth in the village of Anonom. We helped clean, cook, and care for the indwellers. Secretly, of course, but they always left savory porridge and milk out at night. We all liked that very much. I remember those calm and cozy times with pleasure.  I also remember my father’s saying as I parted for Rocánonom’s tower, “Someday, they’ll all be talking about you and how you made peace between the people of Dragonwolder and its long-hidden dragons.” Imagine how my two hearts leaped at the thought.  

What do you do now?

What don’t I do? I am on Rocánonom’s team, helping him restore order and safety to Dragonwolder. I am small, but loyal and adventurous. You should have seen me bite into the Malevir’s shin—ah, I shiver at the thought, how the beast poisoned me the first time. Anyway, I wanted to protect my giant friend and fellow Loblin from the Malevir’s attack after the beast discovered our secret refuge under a town. Everyone thought the poison killed me, but I came back to life in the dragons’ lair.  All that is in our scribe’s account, Malevir: Dragons Return. Continue reading “Sweetnettle the Lobli (of The Malevir Series, by Susan B Marcus)”

Tobias (of The Court of Broken Knives, by Anna Smith Spark)

Dear readers, tonight with me is a foul-mouthed cynical mercenary. He was hired to lead his rag tag troop to the capital city, infiltrate the Palace, and take down the decadent and indifferent Emperor.

He is here to tell us about the Yellow Empire, about ordinary soldiers and gritty heroes, epic battles and blood-soaked revenge.


Tell us a little about where you grew up. What was it like there?

I grew up in village in Immish. Immish is rich country. My village is piss-poor. I lived with my mum and my grandma, and if you ask about my dad I’ll lamp you one. My mum and my gran were weavers. Gods, the cloth they could make you. Silk and cotton. Patterns in the weave: flowers, faces, luck charms all woven in. And I was a damn good weaver myself. Lovely bit of cloth, I could make you. Top notch.

Then Garet the dyer died, and his dyeing secrets died with him. And that’s a pun that never gets stale, even after I’ve nicked it off someone else. And now the village is poor as piss.

Lovely country, though, Immish.  Black soil, rich bloody soil, there’s bits of southern Immish where you can get in three harvests a year. Fruit and veg like you wouldn’t believe.  Borders on the Bitter Sea, and nice beaches, even, some of them, if you like that sort of thing. White sand and all that.  The city of Alborn: now that’s a place worth seeing.  All made of white marble, the city walls are white marble and silver, the Great Gate is white marble and gold.  Flashy? Hells, yeah. New money, all of it, and its bigwigs feel kind of insecure. So it’s not exactly what you’d call refined. And the back streets stink of bloody sewage, like anywhere, and half the kids have got worms and lice  and rickets and gods know bloody what. Price of progress, as they say. But it’s a place worth seeing, if you ignore all that.

May we just only visit the nice bits?

The rest of Irlast, the wider world …  Well, now.  I’m well-travelled (perk of the job), I’ve seen quite a lot of it, mostly when it’s on fire and drowning in blood, admittedly, but hey. Different building styles still look different when they’re on fire. Desert and forest and corn-land look …  actually, you know, desert and forest and corn-land look bloody identical once they’ve been burned and trampled and soaked in the blood of innocents, and I can’t pretend otherwise. We walk through the unburned bits, though, to get to them to burn them, and they’re all pretty enough in their way.  Continue reading “Tobias (of The Court of Broken Knives, by Anna Smith Spark)”

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