Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Please welcome author...

... Alison Morton to my blog today.  Thanks for being here, Alison and time is precious, so I'll get straight to the questions...

AW  Alison, tell me, what is your current release?
AM   INSURRECTIO is the fifth in my Roma Nova alternative thriller series which imagines that a tiny part of the Roman Empire survived into the modern era.  We go back to the early 1980s where the rivalry between two strong-willed characters, Aurelia Mitela and Caius Tellus, plays out as he launches his power grab.  Both characters have appeared in previous books, especially in AURELIA, essentially a crime novel which set up the rivalry.  However, I write all my books as standalones.  Nothing more annoying for readers than a cliffhanger!

Here's the blurb... Caius, a distinct bad hat, becomes the charismatic leader of a rising nationalist movement that threatens to destroy Roma Nova.  Aurelia, an ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor, attempts to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability.  But whether she can save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy is the question…

AW   What first got you into writing and why?
AM   I’ve written most of my life in one form or another: the first play at age seven, later, government papers, academic theses, corporate documentation, nine years editing a local magazine and my last twenty years in the UK as a business and legal translator.  But novel writing was triggered when watching a particularly bad film.  I whispered in the darkness to my husband, ‘I could do better than this.’  He replied, ‘Well, why don’t you?’
The Roma Nova stories had been bubbling away in my head for years – a combination of a lifelong fascination with all things Roman and a desire to write the adventures of a strong female hero.  All they had required to burst out onto paper was that trigger in 2009.

AW  You write alternative history thrillers.  Is it all imagination or do you also undertake research?
AM   A lot of research!  At the one extreme, alternative history can be plain silly; at the other serious counter-factual work.  I position Roma Nova very firmly at the historical end of the scale.  AURELIA, the fourth book, which I set in the late 1960s, was one of only four finalists in the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award.
In alternative history, the historical timeline splits from the history we know and goes off in a different direction.  Well-developed backstory and thoroughly researched world building are essential.  The TV series The Man in the High Castle based on Philip K Dick’s story, is a recent example where this has been done well.  We know the ‘point of divergence’ from our timeline, the world is built in understated but clever detail and the characters are perfectly integrated in their sinister world.  To them it’s natural and for us completely plausible and credible.
Rome of the past...
For Roma Nova, the divergence was fifteen hundred years in the past in AD 395, a pivotal point when the last imperial edict banning all pagan religious practice was issued; the penalty was death.  This drove my pagan Romans to leave Italy and set up a secluded colony in the mountains.  Roma Novans passionately defended their core traditional cultural values like service to the state, the rule of law and the importance of trade and engineering throughout the centuries, but had to modify their social structure in the face of nececessity. In the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life.  Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s status and roles.  Today’s Roma Nova is an egalitarian society where women have the upper hand.  You can read the full story here.
The last known solid facts for me as a writer are those relating to Roman life in AD 395.  From that point on, I used historical logic coupled with a good general knowledge of European and world history to take the story of Roma Nova forward.
As well as the historical aspects, world building is crucial; how does that world sound and smell?  What does it look like?  What do its people do?  Who holds the power?  I wanted to keep many things in the alternative timeline similar to those in ours.  Hence I found myself researching everything from old technology like telex and fax, how to organise a coup d’etat, what people wore in the 1980s, the weapons and signals technology the armed forces would use and agricultural practice to name a few areas.

AW  And what about other types of writing?  Have you ever dabbled with short stories, for instance, or other genres?
AM   Yes, ‘dabble’ is the right word!  I find short stories quite challenging; distilling the essence to one or two characters with a single plot is difficult for a long-form writer who loves multiple twists and turns, multi-layers and a host of complex characters!  But I was highly commended once for a short story in Writing Magazine and last year asked to contribute to an alternative history anthology 1066 Turned Upside Down where I had a generous 5,000 words’ allowance!

Alison's writing 'shed'
AW  Famous authors, such as Roald Dahl and Dylan Thomas, had a special space for writing.  Do you have a writing ‘shed’ of your own?
AM  When we moved to France, we converted part of our basement into an office and had the luxury of designing it from scratch.  My husband, Steve, and I have our own workstations along with printers, cupboards and even a writer’s sofa!

AW  Finally, if you had a whole afternoon to yourself and could choose to spend it with any one individual, living or dead or a character from a book, who would it be, and what would you want to discuss?

AM Julian the Philosopher (called the Apostate), Roman emperor in the mid fourth century whose life was cut short when he was mortally wounded at the Battle of Samarra in AD 363.  Julian was a complex character living at a point of change in history: a successful military commander, theosophist, social reformer, and man of letters, the last non-Christian ruler of the Roman Empire. He wanted to bring the empire back to its ancient Roman values in order to, as he saw it, save it from dissolution.  Quite an inspiration for Roma Nova! I don’t think we’d run out of discussion topics…

About the author...A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison Morton continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilisation.  Armed with an MA in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good thriller, she explores via her Roma Nova adventure thrillers the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women.
Represented by Blake Friedman Literary Agency for overseas and ancillary rights.
Alison now lives in France with her husband, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine.
You can follow Alison using the links below
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying link for Alison’s latest book INSURRECTIO (multiple retailers/formats):

INSURRECTIO book trailer: https://youtu.be/eXGslRLjv6g


  1. Always a pleasure to 'meet' Alison and the characters of Roma Nova.

    1. Hello Helen and thank you for visiting the blog.

  2. Thanks, Angela, for hosting me today and thank you, Helen for your kind words.

  3. It was a great pleasure, Alison.