So You Think You Can Archaeology? How to Become a Celebrity Archaeology Novelist

A while back I wrote a post called So You Think You Can Archaeology? How to Become a Celebrity Archaeologist, all about how you can be on the big screen, poncing around, digging things up, looking badass. Then I realised that even more popular but not so in your face is the celebrity archaeologist/novellist.

Research* shows that almost one in two archaeology academics is secretly working on a novel, and that 98% of these novels feature a main character almost indistinguishable from the author, except that they are inevitably sexier, have more adventures and stick it to the man more often.

So here for you, advice from the professionals; Kathy Reichs, Agatha Christie, Elly Griffiths and Elizabeth Peters

* “research” performed by me, by nosing around.

So how does one break the bonds of academia and publish a bunch of novels? (And then the novels get turned into a TV series and you get to be an executive producer and win Emmys and then there’s a movie and you get to go to the Oscars and win an Oscar?)


I had always been a compulsive reader. Sooner or later every compulsive reader finds herself thinking, “This isn’t a very good book. I’ll bet I could do better.” So I tried.

– Barbara Mertz AKA Elizabeth Peters


Write what you know

I start with something I’ve done, some experience I’ve had. Then I ask the question, ‘What if?’ Then I spin it off into a story.

– Kathy Reichs (on her first book, Deja Dead, based on a real forensic anthropology case)


Think of something and then go and write it.

What I mean is, first you’ve got to think of something, and when you’ve thought of it you’ve got to force yourself to sit down and write it. That’s all. It would have taken me just three minutes to explain that, and then the Talk would have been ended and everyone would have been very fed up. I can’t imagine why everybody is always so keen for authors to talk about writing. I should have thought it was an author’s business to write, not talk.

– Agatha Christie (Dead Man’s Folly)


Just pick one.

In fact, that’s just the difficulty. It always is my difficulty. I can never think of even one plot at a time. I always think of at least five, and then it’s agony to decide between them. I can think of six beautiful reasons for the murder. The trouble is I’ve no earthly means of knowing which is right.

– Agatha Christie (Cards on the Table)


Nothing you do is a waste of time

I didn’t want to be a writer. I wanted to be an archaeologist. My parents wanted me to be a teacher; it was a nice practical career for a woman… Egyptology was an impractical career, especially for a young married woman forty years ago. Writing was, and still is, an impractical career, because so few people succeed in earning a living that way. I was one of the lucky ones; and if I hadn’t been so obsessed with ancient Egypt (as I still am) I might have noticed that I did enjoy writing, and that some people thought I was pretty good at it. But I’ve never regretted studying Egyptology even though I was unable to make it my career.

– Elizabeth Peters


Remember the benefits of having two careers going at the same time

I don’t believe in writer’s block, because I don’t have the luxury of being a full-time writer, so when I have a free day, I have to write.

– Kathy Reichs


A thousand words a day. That’s an order.

My children catch the school bus at seven-thirty. Then I make a pot of strong coffee and start work. I try to work from eight to eleven with no interruptions. My mum is housebound and I visit her every day at eleven-thirty so my writing time is quite limited. Having a set time to write works well for me. I’m not easily distracted (certainly not by housework!) and I try to write at least a thousand words a day.

Elly Griffiths


When you make yourself the main character, don’t make her a superhero.

I think people like the fact that Ruth isn’t perfect. She’s shy, overweight and slightly grumpy. She’s insecure about her personal life but very confident in her professional sphere. I think people can relate to that.

– Domenica de Rosa AKA Elly Griffiths on her heroine, Ruth Galloway


Don’t listen to the haters, only the professionals

I honestly think feedback doesn’t help with the creative process. I never show my work to anyone until it’s finished. Then, of course, I get wonderful help and advice from my editor and agent. But they are professionals and it’s their job.

– Elly Griffiths



You probably won’t smash the best seller lists right away.
Or, don’t mix business and pleasure.

My first book, an espionage thriller, was written in collaboration with my then-husband. He provided the plot outline, I wrote the book. It was AWFUL, partly because I was just learning how to write and partly because it wasn’t my kind of book.

– Elizabeth Peters

Finally, if you’re wondering why these ‘archaeology’ books tend to have an over-representation of murders…

If the thing’s getting a little dull, some more blood cheers it up. Somebody is going to tell something—and then they’re killed first! That always goes down well. It comes in all my books –camouflaged different ways, of course. And people like untraceable poisons, and idiotic police inspectors and girls tied up in cellars with sewer gas or water pouring in (such a troublesome way of killing any one really) and a hero who can dispose of anything from three to seven villains single-handed.

– Agatha Christie (Cards on the Table)



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