From palaeontologist to author

Davide Mana was on the blog last April talking about successful historical fiction and today I’m pleased to welcome him back on the topic of being a second career author. Davide’s latest novel is House of the Gods.


There’s a saying that goes, all kids are fascinated by dinosaurs, then the majority grow up, and the rest become paleontologist.

I am a paleontologist, if a defrocked one.

I was born in 1967, and I grew up with documentaries and books about space and the depths of the ocean, about explorers and travelers, and lots of adventure narratives, in book, films, TV series. Considering I was particularly fascinated by the oceans, by volcanoes  and by dinosaurs, I decided to study sciences, and geology in particular.

I aligned a number of qualifications, including a B.Sc. in Micropalaeontology and a Ph.D. in Geology.

I worked briefly for an oil company, then as a lab assistant and general gopher, then as a lecturer and a researcher. I designed and delivered courses to post-grads and post-docs, I published articles in major science journals, working in teams with some fantastic people. I worked mostly on the Mediterranean, doing environmental models and reconstructions, including present day analyses of pollution and environmental changes.

In 2014 my contract with the University of Urbino expired, with little hopes of renewal as the crisis brought massive cuts to research. A colleague cheerfully suggested now I could post my CV to McDonald’s.

I started writing instead (and killed that colleague in my first novel).

I always loved stories, and writing fiction had been my hobby since the mid ’80s, when I was in high school. I had a few things published, a handful of short stories, a few short essays, some role-playing games material.

In 2014, as I sat by a telephone that refused to ring, I “temporarily” turned my hobby into a full-time job, with a side of translation gigs. Basically, because it was the only marketable skill I had at the moment, and because I could do it while assisting my ailing father.

Right now, I am a hybrid author, meaning I publish both traditionally and independently, both fiction and non fiction, both in Italian and English, both under my name and using an alias. Fiction-wise, I write mostly genre, adventure or fantasy or thrillers, usually with a historical twist.

It’s a sort-of-full-time job, but it comes in a number of different flavors – as I said, I write gaming material and I’m also a freelance translator (an activity I consider akin to writing: translating a text requires human imagination and skill, that’s the reason why software can’t really do it).

It’s like a roller coaster, with ups and downs: on a good day it’s the best job in the world. The simple idea that something that did not exist before and came straight out of my head through a keyboard now’s being enjoyed by strangers and is actually paying my dinner is exhilarating.

But there are drawbacks, of course. And while the thought instantly goes to payments – or lack thereof – the first true problem, for me at least, is isolation: wake up in the morning, start writing, stop writing, go to sleep. I do it at home – writing in public places is too distracting for me – and it can be lonely, and tiring, and depressing. And really, IT IS about money: as a little known author, you must write a lot to pay your bills, so you hole yourself in your writing nook and write write write; and any incident can lead to a missed deadline, a missed sale, and then to panic attacks as the bank rings you up to inform you your account is in the red.

But most of the time it is fun, and one enjoys a type of freedom that’s unknown in other careers.

Of my old job – that’s now turned into my hobby – I miss the research most of all. Going out there, see what it looks like in the field, get samples, develop models, find answers or even better new questions. Solve problems. I miss “doing science”, and I miss the lab just as I miss the classroom. Because I always loved telling stories, but being a scientist, and an earth scientist, was my dream as a kid.

I don’t have particular regrets. What-might-have-beens are great for fiction (and historical-tinged fiction certainly), but they are not something that really makes one’s life any easier. Let’s say I could have been better at managing my academical career but really, it would have required choices and compromises that I would then certainly regret.

As for advice for those that have taken up writing as a second career, I’d say, don’t forget what you learned during your first career, the places you saw, the people you met. The mindset, too, and the discipline and work ethics. But the experiences you had, most of all. Experiences are a gold mine, and a career, no matter in what field, is a huge source of ideas, snippets of dialog, characters.

Characters you can kill in your first novel, maybe.

Many thanks for sharing your story, Davide. I’ll have to be careful in future dealings with you otherwise you might kill me off in a story!

House of the Gods by Davide Mana – High above the steamy jungle of the Amazon basin, rise the flat plateaus known as the Tepui, the House of the Gods. Lost worlds of unknown beauty, a naturalistic wonder, each an ecology onto itself, shunned by the local tribes for centuries. The House of the Gods was not made for men.

But now, the crew and passengers of a small charter plane are about to find what was hidden for sixty million years. Lost on an island in the clouds 10.000 feet above the jungle, surrounded by dinosaurs, hunted by mysterious mercenaries, the survivors of Sligo Air flight 001 will quickly learn the only rule of life on Earth: Extinction.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website

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10 Responses

  1. Congratulazioni, Davide! Tanti auguri! <3 I am glad for a fellow European's success! I wish I could get your novel too, as I am a fan of preColombian civilisations too 😉 (I have Aztecs and papago/ Totono O'odham from Mexic and Arizona in my novels, and Incas in a short story which will never get published). But I have to wait for a while until it gets available in my country…

    1. Grazie!
      I’m actually saving the pre-Colombian bits for the sequel (should my publisher ever accept my pitch for it). I know the book is currently available in ebook and paperback through Amazon. Please let me know should you have any difficulty getting it.

  2. Well, as far as I know, Amazon needs a cartographer to update its delivery maps, and to explain to it that between Hungary and Russia there are several more countries, among which two EU members… 🙁

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