PERSONAL: Born in Yorkshire, England; married Richard Copsey. Education: Attended London University. Hobbies and other interests: Traveling, gardening, playing guitar.
CAREER: Writer. Worked variously as a freelance broadcaster for BBC Radio, a computer programmer, and a shopkeeper.
Get Out or Die, Poisoned Pen Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2004.
A Bitter Chill, Poisoned Pen Press (Scottsdale, AZ), 2005.
Also contributor of short stories to anthologies, including The Mammoth Book of Roman Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2003.
SIDELIGHTS: Mystery writer Jane Finnis became fascinated with history as a child growing up in East Yorkshire, England, surrounded by the old city walls and the roads originally marked out by the Romans. Her interest was further sparked through reading the works of Robert Graves, and she went on to study history at London University. Finnis worked in various fields after graduation, but her love of history endured. When she attempted to write her first mystery novel, Get Out or Die, it was a natural choice to set the book during the Roman era. The story takes place in northern Britain in 91 C.E., and introduces heroine Aurelia Marcella and her sister, keepers of an elite inn. Aurelia finds herself in the middle of a plot to rid the area of Roman occupiers, and she is forced to turn detective in order to find the traitor responsible for a series of local murders. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the novel a "lively debut" and remarked that "the plot is timely as conquerors seek to impose civilization on a barbarian culture."
Finnis finds researching the time period just as enjoyable as plotting out and writing the mysteries themselves. She has continued her series with another mystery for Aurelia Marcella to solve in A Bitter Chill. Margaret Flanagan, reviewing the novel for Booklist, called Finnis's mystery "a suspenseful and authentically detailed historical whodunit."
Finnis told CA: "I'v e always enjoyed writing, and when I worked for BBC Radio I was given the chance to write scripts and documentaries on every topic under the sun, but of course they were fact, not fiction. When I retired from full-time work, trying my hand at a novel was at the top of my "To Do" list.
"I try hard not to be influenced by other fiction writers; I never read any fiction set in Roman times while I'm working on a book. Though I'd never dream of plagiarising, you can't be sure how ideas cross-fertilise each other. I enjoy reading the factual history of the Roman Empire, and I try to choose topics and events for my stories that fit well into what we know of first-century Roman Britain. Looking back at life in the ancient past is like standing in the dark outside a large house, (a villa perhaps?) and trying to peer in through the windows to examine the many rooms inside. Some rooms are brightly lighted, some tantalisingly dim, and others pitch black. So parts of the house are plainly visible in great detail, but not all, and the lighted rooms are scattered, not adjacent. Similarly, we know only certain aspects of the history of Britannia in real depth. Our knowledge is growing all the time, but can never be complete. This is a pain or a challenge, depending on your standpoint. To me, a writer who cares about historical truth, it is both.
"I like to start a novel knowing the beginning, the end, and whodunnit. I then try to plot the action in detail, but am not very good at sticking to my carefully prepared synopsis. Only when I'm sitting at my word processor can I be sure if something works, and even then I don't always get it right first time. Thank goodness for computers, I say; it's much easier to re-jig, re-order, cut, paste, delete, whatever, with an electronic manuscript than it must have been with a real one. Before I started writing, I used to be sceptical of authors who said that their characters often dictated their plots. But now I've found it can be true. If you've created characters in enough detail that you feel you actually know them, then you'll realise there are certain actions they wouldn't take, certain things they wouldn't say, and if you force them to, your plot won't flow.
"The most surprising thing I've learned as a writer is that, thanks to e-mail and the Internet, being a writer doesn't have to mean you are lonely and isolated in the way that many authors felt themselves to be in years gone by. The process of getting my words down is solitary, but I can be in touch with other writers and readers all around the world. I can share thoughts and feelings, compare experiences, and seek practical information. People are extremely generous about sharing their expertise on subjects as varied as how long a dead body would remain recognisable when it's been in the sea, to the most effective sort of press release to send out before a book-signing tour.
"I can't give a sensible answer to which of my books is my favorite; it's like asking a mother which of her children she loves best. If I'm honest, I think I'll always have a special soft spot for Get Out or Die, just because it was my first. I still remember the thrill of seeing that first copy, a real book, with my name on it.
"First and foremost, I want people to enjoy my books, and feel, when they get to the end, that they've had a satisfying read. I hope that readers with some knowledge of Roman Britain will feel I've caught the spirit of that far-off place and time, and also that those who are new to ancient history will find their interest kindled, and maybe go on to read more books on the subject—mine and other people's."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 2005, Margaret Flanagan, review of A Bitter Chill, p. 68.
Chicago Tribune, January 25, 2004, Dick Adler, review of Get Out or Die, p. 4; September 18, 2005, Dick Adler, review of A Bitter Chill, p. 2.
Publishers Weekly, December 1, 2003, review of Get Out or Die, p. 44; July 25, 2005, review of A Bitter Chill, p. 52.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (March 6, 2006), Harriet Klausner, review of Get Out or Die; Alan J. Bishop, review of A Bitter Chill.
Jane Finnis Home Page, http://www.janefinnis.com (March 6, 2006).
MyShelf.com, http://www.myshelf.com/ (May 31, 2006), Rachel A. Hyde, review of Get Out or Die; Kim Malo, review of A Bitter Chill.