Today I’m delighted to welcome Alison Morton to the blog.
Alison writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.
The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller.
The sixth book, RETALIO, came out in April 2017.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.
Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.
You’ve recently published RETALIO, the sixth book in your Roma Nova series. Please tell us about the series and its concept of alternative history. What sort of reader would enjoy these books?
I sat down to write a book I wanted to read – adventure, a strong heroine, a Roman connection, and a desire to explore the idea of ‘what if’.
Roma Nova emerged, an imaginary Central European mini-state founded in AD 395 by pagan Roman exiles. A grim struggle in those dangerous times of transition; every talent and effort was needed. As a result of women taking up weapons alongside their brothers and fathers to defend the new country, women achieved equal status. Eventually, women came to head the leading families and Roma Nova is ruled by an imperatrix, not an imperator. You can read the full story here.
My readers are approximately 40% men, 60% women and range in ages from 16 to 87! Some of the most frequent comments are about the originality, the fast-pace, the very Roman feel of the setting and values, the characters’ snappy dialogue. There are feminist, romantic, military, action and political elements, with the thriller the main narrative, but each book details with a separate theme: female empowerment, betrayal, breakdown, criminality, the rise of populism and resistance to tyranny.
RETALIO – just out – charts the rivalry between upright, tough but sometimes self-doubting Aurelia and the charming but amoral power-grabber Caius, Aurelia’s personal nemesis. Her heartfelt desire is to liberate her country from his tyrannical rule; his is to destroy her. This independent Bookmuse review may give readers some guidance.
What does your creative process look like? How do you get from blank page to finished book? What are your favourite parts of the process and are there any that you struggle with?
I sketch out each book with an inciting incident, three (sometimes more!) crisis points, a black moment, the climax and resolution. This is my ‘how to write a novel in 30 lines’ framework that I’ve used since my first book, INCEPTIO.
But however many exciting and brain-cell-grabbing ideas I may have, writing the book involves a long, hard slog. I have to sit down and type for weeks, sometimes months and that can be physically demanding especially if you have a bad back as I do.
Then follows evaluation by my critique partner who has the instinct of a velociraptor when it comes to the slightest hint of weak writing (she’s lovely, really), revisions, structural editor, revisions, copy editor, revisions, final polishing and read-through.
The files go to be formatted for print and ebook, then I check the final proofs. After much fun navigating the Ingram Spark website, the PDF files are uploaded and I order printed proofs. I upload the ebook to Amazon, Kobo, Nook and iBooks two days before scheduled publication day and the print book to Create Space to catch Amazon sales.
Each part of the process is interesting in itself, but the slog of the first draft, while deeply fulfilling, is the hardest part.
Which other authors have most influenced you? Are there any that stand out in the alternative history genre?
I’ve read historical fiction all my life, interspersed with crime, thrillers and science fiction. Recent influences have been Lindsey Davis’s Falco Roman detective and William Boyd’s Restless, an espionage thriller with a strong female lead.
Robert Harris is a major influence as he demonstrated how history could be ‘alternated’. His thriller Fatherland was published three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and caused an enormous furore in the newly reunited Germany. His Roman novels, especially Pompeii, are written in that same succinct realistic style. Keith Roberts’ Pavane and Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration stand out in the alternative history genre.
How do you balance the creative and business aspects of being an indie author?
In a ‘previous life’ I ran small businesses and started my own translation company in 1994, so I’m aware of the territory!
There are three main parts to my job: research, writing and marketing.
I see it as waves. Research ripples away in the background as do marketing, promotion, and networking most of the time. The creative part ebbs and flows in a satisfactory way, but has to recede in the run up to a new book coming out, as the marketing part surges to the front, occupying 90% of my time. After the immediate publication period (30 days), marketing recedes back to ripple and the creative part floods back (Thank goodness!).
What are you currently working on?
I’m taking a break from long-form fiction and writing a novella about Carina, who features in INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, which form the first trilogy of the series. This is her first overseas mission after joining the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, but it has run into an enormous snag (of course!). I hope to finish it by the end of the summer then put together a series of short stories about individual characters mentioned in the six full-length books. After that the temptation to go back to AD395 and write the foundation story of Roma Nova at the dusk of the Roman Empire is growing…
What do like to do in your spare time?
Ah! Spare time. I read, poke about in my garden and mess about on social media. More seriously, I catch up on non-fiction. At the moment I’m enjoying Pliny the Younger’s Letters, in a new translation by P G Walsh. That sounds erudite, but Pliny, in between setting down a wealth of observations about the minutiae of the Roman world, reveals himself as the most shocking gossip!
Thanks Alison, that was great!
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