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Sunday, 11 May 2014

Blog guest - Alison Morton - roaming through history

Today, my blog guest is Alison Morton, who writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines and lives in France. No relation. Welcome, Alison!

First of all, thank you, Nik, for hosting me today. We Mortons must stick together!

Alison in Rome - copyright Alison Morton, one-time use for this blog
My pleasure, Alison. There seem to be a lot of us about, too. Today's date is appropriate, as, on May 11, 330 Byzantium was renamed Nova Roma, though the name didn’t stick and instead Constantinople became common usage. What inspired you to use that form of New Rome for your series of thrillers?

Choosing ‘Roma Nova’ for my series was very pragmatic. It’s the Latin for ‘New Rome’, but with the classical positioning of the adjective after the noun. When the first settlers founded their new colony it had a much longer name, as most Roman settlements did, Colonia Apulinensis Roma Nova. Apulius was their leader and it was his late wife’s father who gave them their first land. But that’s a mouthful so copying prevailing practice they shortened it to ‘Roma Nova’.

I’ve always been attracted to alternate history books and stories and you mention some in your website about Roma Nova history. It can’t be an easy task, setting up changes in history as we didn’t know it. How did you tackle that?

Well, you start by studying the social, economic and political conditions at the time when the alternate timeline split from our real one, technically called the ‘point of divergence’.  This gives you a baseline. Rome changed quite a bit during its 1229 year existence in the West. By 395 AD, when the first Roma Novans set out, solidi had replaced sestertii and denarii, for instance. Regional government was localising with ‘barbarian’ warlords acting less like client kings of Rome and more like allied or even autonomous leaders with fully delegated powers.

Projecting your alternate historical line forward from its divergence point needs to follow historical logic. You can’t cater for every eventuality over hundreds of years or you’d never write a word! Think about the basic values of your society and work through how, as a people, they would react to events or push them forward. All peoples/nations run through different cycles during their history; even Roma Nova suffered from downturns! And you need a great deal of thinking time to build your world; you can’t make things up ‘on the hoof’ and expect to keep it plausible. As J K Rowling has said, it has to be all worked out first in your head.

Who is your favourite character from one of your books and why?

Of course, I love Carina, my protagonist; I even interviewed her. But equally intriguing are the triangle of men around her: Conrad, her husband, undoubtedly the love of her life; Lurio, the cop, also her colleague and ex-lover; and Apollodorus, criminal and ex-associate who keeps his own counsel until one day in PERFIDITAS...

What are you working on now, besides SUCCESSIO?
Book 4 of the Roma Nova series! I will be announcing details in my next newsletter, but there are at least three more books planned and we’ll still be in Roma Nova!

How much research goes into each book?

A lot! Reaching into the past means getting inside the heads of the characters, imagining what they see in their everyday world, what they smell, eat and touch. If you set your story in a different country, you can visit the places the characters would live in, smell the sea, touch the plants, walk under the hot blue sky, or freeze in a biting wind. But if you invent that country, then you go about it differently.

You need to think about your country’s approximate location and research real countries nearby for scenery, weather, transport, farming plus industry, political trends, architecture, even the type of cuisine. Roma Novans eat a diet approximately Italian/central European, but with quite a lot of echoes back to ancient times e.g. honey cake.

Luckily, I’ve breathed in history since I was a kid, particularly the Roman type. I even ‘went back to school’ to take a history masters’ thirty years after my first degree. So I have a reasonable grounding in the aspects of Roman history I want to draw on to start the story.
Constantine Arch, Rome - copyright Alison Morton, one-time use for this blog

I write the basics of a complex scene, then mark the text up in bright blue square brackets which gives me a visual signal to research more. For example, my 21st century Romans follow the traditional system of burning their dead. I knew how the pyres were built and that libations were thrown into the flames, so I could write the scene. But then I went back to the sources and refreshed my memory, I saw I’d totally forgotten that the family party has to walk three times round the pyre.  Basically, you need to check everything and if there’s even a tiny worm of doubt, check again.

Many thanks, Alison. I might add that there is a great deal more interesting detail in your blog (see below). Now, please tell us about your books.

Well, Roma Nova started with INCEPTIO (Kindle version on special officer this weekend until Monday 12 May!), then continued in PERFIDITAS. The third in series, SUCCESSIO will be out in early June.

Roma Nova – the last remnant of the Roman Empire that has survived into the 21st century – is at peace. Carina Mitela, the heir of a leading family, but choosing the life of an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, is not so sure.

She senses danger crawling towards her when she encounters a strangely self-possessed member of the unit hosting their exchange exercise in Britain. When a blackmailing letter arrives from a woman claiming to be her husband Conrad’s lost daughter and Conrad tries to shut Carina out, she knows the threat is real.

Trying to resolve a young man’s indiscretion twenty-five years before turns into a nightmare that not only threatens to destroy all the Mitelae but also attacks the core of the imperial family itself. With her enemy holding a gun to the head of the heir to the imperial throne, Carina has to make the hardest decision of her life…

About Alison

Alison Morton holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award and awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion® in September 2013. The next in series, PERFIDITAS, published October 2013, has also just been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion®.  Alison is working on the third book SUCCESSIO which will be out in June 2014.

Alison's links  

Connect with Alison on her blog:

Find where you can buy Roma Nova stories (multiple retailers)



David Cranmer said...

Informative interview. Thank you, both.

Nik said...

Thanks, David, for popping in and for leaving a comment.

Alison Morton said...

Glad you enjoyed it, David.