A LITERARY WORLD: An Interview with Alison Morton
A LITERARY WORLD:
Interview with author, Alison Morton
Today I am honoured to have as my guest on A Literary World, the delightful Alison Morton, author of the acclaimed Roma Nova series, each of which are B.R.A.G. Medallion honorees. The fourth book in this series – AURELIA – was also shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award. Alison is also represented by the Blake Friedman Literary Agency for the ancillary rights to the Roma Nova series.
Welcome to A Literary World, Alison,
1. Where do you live?
In the Deux-Sèvres, southwest France
2. Can you tell us what your novels are about and what inspired you to write them?
So far, there are four Roma Nova thrillers – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA. They’re set in the mysterious (and imaginary) state of Roma Nova, a remnant of the Roman Empire which has survived into the modern age, and is now ruled by women. Technically, they are stories of alternate history where the timeline diverged from the one we know and went in a different direction. Readers may remember Robert Harris’s Fatherland set in a different Germany. The Roma Nova series is based on the same ‘what if’ idea. You can read more about how Roma Nova evolved here.
The first three are set in the present and feature Carina who in INCEPTIO doesn’t know about her Roma Nova heritage until a government enforcer starts pursuing her. We dip back into her life six years later in PERFIDITAS where betrayal and rebellion are in the air, threatening to topple Roma Nova and ruin Carina’s life. Eight years later in SUCCESSIO a ‘mistake’ from the past threatens to destroy the next generation. AURELIA, which begins a new cycle of three stories, goes back to 1960s Roma Nova, where Praetorian Aurelia Mitela is forced to make the heartbreaking choice between her love, her child and her country.
3. How did you come up with the titles?
Roma Nova is a Latin speaking country, so I decided to use single Latin word titles that could not be too obscure to English speakers. INCEPTIO means ‘the beginning’, and is the introduction to the main character, the series and to Roma Nova. PERFIDITAS conveys the idea of betrayal, treachery or perfidy and SUCCESSIO has dual meanings of ‘what happened next’ and the next generation, the ‘successors’. And AURELIA is the name of the main character.
4. How difficult/easy was it to write an alternate “what if” novel with one foot in today’s world and the other in ancient Rome?
Well, I’ve been a ‘Roman nut’ since I was 11 and have clambered over an awful lot of Roman Europe in my life as well as reading countless volumes of Roman fiction and non-fiction, all of which has given me a reasonable grounding in the Roman world.
I was determined the thriller plots should stand by themselves. The trick is to develop the plot while keeping the essential Roman attitudes and values to the front of the mind, i.e. looking through Roman eyes. But as with any novel, the stories are about people who experience the same concerns as other people whenever and wherever they live.
5. Can you tell us more about the Praetorian Guard and what it was about them that makes them central to the theme in your books?
The term ‘Praetorian’ derives from praetor meaning the residence of the commanding general of a Roman army in the field. Chosen from the ranks to form a separate elite force, the cohors praetoria guarded the praetor’s tent and/or person. Julius Caesar found that a tough elite unit was desirable in the field. When Augustus became the first emperor in 31 BC, he saw they would be also useful in politics. Although the Guard was dissolved by Emperor Constantine I in the 4th century, the idea of ‘Praetorian’ still conveys the idea of a tough, elite force whose role is to protect the ruler and ultimately the state. When I started writing thrillers with a heavy dose of espionage and special forces action in a Roman style society, calling them ‘Praetorian’ seemed a natural fit.
6. How different was the Roman Praetorian Guard to today’s Special Forces?
Definite similarities! The Praetorian Guard in my Roma Nova books guard the imperatrix (empress) and also form an elite tactical military force as they did in ancient Rome. Todays’ special forces carry out the second role more, but the Roma Novan Praetorians also have an intelligence remit.
7. What is it about ancient Rome that fascinates you?
Oh, I could write a whole blog post on that!
The complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation has fascinated me since I walked on my first mosaic. ‘Rome’ lasted 1229 years in the West, which time span would take us back to AD 787 from today. It changed from a tiny community of tribal farmers to a confident military and trading empire boasting high culture, diversity, power, engineering and rule of law, eventually dwindling to a miserable rump kneeling before barbarians. Rome had the dark side of all ancient and later cultures: slavery, rampant corruption, patriarchalism and scant regard for disabled and poor people. But Rome gave us systems, values, including civic-mindedness, cultural and engineering genius and literacy that are still firmly embedded in our psyches today. In my alternate projection of a Roman society in the present day, this heritage is an integral part of the thriller stories and the characters’ motivations.
8. Why did you choose to set Roma Nova in this area of Europe and what is it that sets it apart from other countries today?
In AD 395, three months after Christian Emperor Theodosius’s last decree banning all pagan religious practice on pain of death, four hundred Romans led by Senator Apulius and loyal to the old gods trekked north out of Italy. Their goal, and refuge, was a semi-mountainous area near Virinum (approximately modern day Austria/Slovenia). This journey of around 775 kilometres which would have taken 67 days by ox cart. (Thank you, Orbis! http://orbis.stanford.edu). Initially, they established a new colony on land owned by Apulius’ Celtic father-in-law. By purchase, alliance and conquest, this grew into Roma Nova.
Roma Nova’s continued existence has been due to three things: the discovery and exploitation of high grade silver in their mountains, their efficient technology, and their robust response to any threat. Today, although tiny, perhaps the size of Luxembourg, Roma Nova has become one of the highest per capita income states in the world. And their vineyards produce some cracking good wine.
9. You have both a family connection with the military and you served in the Territorial Army in the area of special communications. Was this background invaluable in the Roma Nova series?
Yes! The close comradeship and succinct way that soldiers interact are really only experienced if you’ve done it or read a lot of Andy McNab! More practically, having being through the ‘guns and mud’ experience myself reduced the research burden considerably.
10. How long did it take you to write each book?
I drafted INCEPTIO in ninety days, but it was rubbish. It was the book I learned my novel writing craft on and was published three years later only when it had been knocked into publishable shape. I had completed the first draft of PERFIDITAS by then, so that came out seven months later. SUCCESSIO took about four months to draft and AURELIA about six months as I was slowed down by all the promotion work. Ditto the latest INSURRECTIO which is due out in April this year.
11. What advice would you give a writer attempting an alternate, ‘what if’ novel?
Research! If you are going to diverge from the standard time lime, you need to have a reason to do so – an urgent decision/opportunity lost/failed message. It doesn’t matter if it’s a grand event or a personal one as long as it’s plausible. Then you need to establish a firm base from which to jump off into the void. Readers might like to download the factsheet on writing alternate history stories from my writing site.
12. As a writer of historical fiction/ thriller, what is it that you look for in a story?
Lots of action, background accuracy and rounded characters. I love twists and turns and especially unexpected developments. And an unusual setting or time period does it for me as well. But my pet peeve is the info dump where it looks as if the author wants to give us a history lesson! Historical background should be woven into the story and the characters’ lives and actions.
13. What are you working on now?
The fifth book, INSURRECTIO, is starting its production journey – it comes out this April – and I’m now drafting Book 6.
14. What part of the research process do you enjoy the most?
Stumbling upon weird and wonderful facts and getting diverted…. Seriously, the reward of finding the exact thing you are looking for after hours or even days of searching can’t be rivalled.
15. What are your typical working conditions? Do you have a special place to write and can you describe it for us?
I write in a batcave in the semi-basement of our house.
16. Do you have a philosophy on life?
Carpe diem! (Seize the day.) I know, it’s very Roman!
And a few quick questions:
17. Who are your favourite authors?
This is such a difficult question! They include: William Boyd, Lindsey Davis, Robert Harris, Georgette Heyer, J D Robb, Ruth Downie, Robert Fabbri, Conn Iggulden, Diana Gabaldon, Sebastian Faulks, Elizabeth Chadwick, Tom Clancy, C J Sansom
18. Favourite film?
This changes all the time! Currently, The Bridge of Spies with Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance
19. Favourite drink
Wine, dry white or bubbly
20. Where can we buy your books?
AURELIA is available as a paperback or ebook at the usual retailers. Direct links here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/aurelia/where-to-buy-aurelia/
Facebook author page https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
Thank you, Alison. It has been a pleasure having you with us on A Literary World and we wish you continued success.
“Writing is the painting of the voice, the closer the resemblance, the better it is”