Today’s Saturday Interview guest is historical novelist Alison Morton. Welcome to my blog. Please tell us a little about yourself as writer and as person.Tell us a little about yourself as writer
The novel writing bug struck me in the middle of a bad film. Although impressive cinematography, the film’s dialogue grated on my ears. I turned to my husband and said, ‘I could do better than that!’ And he replied, ‘Well, why don’t you?’
Until then, my ‘word work’ had been translation, editing, generating commercial and government documents, financial drafting and two academic dissertations. The day after the bad film, I started bashing out my first draft of 90,000 words. When I’d typed ‘The End’ ninety days later, I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. Then began a three-year apprenticeship as a novel writer; courses, conferences, joining a writing association, reading, networking, critique groups, professional evaluations and innumerable rewrites.
After kissing a lot of literary frogs, but never finding my agent prince, I decided to publish independently via publishing services company SilverWood Books.
Why did you choose to write historical fiction?
Is there any other kind? Seriously, I had grown up reading The Eagle of the Ninth (R Sutcliff), and books by Geoffrey Trease, Henry Treece and Mary Renault amongst others.
Children gain a more personal understanding of the past when they identify with characters in an exciting story and see historical events through those characters’ eyes. Reading historical fiction spurred me on to find out more about the real people in those stories and the period they lived in, and eventually led – many years later – to me taking a master’s in history.
What in particular fascinates you about the era(s) you write about?
The complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation has fascinated me since I walked on my first mosaic at age 11. ‘Rome’ lasted 1229 years in the West, which time span would take us back to AD 786 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. But Rome gave us systems, values, 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.
Tell us about the concept behind your books. How did you get the idea?
Since the age of eleven, when my father told me about senators, soldiers, trading ships power play and conquest, I’ve wondered what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women. I spent many hours building a whole world around this idea, daydreaming about adventures, heroic women, high treason and Roman virtue. Even when absorbed by standard historical fiction, speculating about the historical timeline has been a favourite pastime with me; Robert Harris’s Fatherland caught my imagination immediately when it came out in 1992.
All this came together as my ‘what if’ thrillers set in Roma Nova, the last part of the Roman Empire to survive into the modern age. It’s a small hi-tech country wedged in between the Helvetian Confederation, New Austria and northern Italy. People are resilient, direct and very attached to their Roman roots; my heroines serve in the modern Praetorian Guard – now there’s a turnaround! You can read the full story of how Roma Nova became the egalitarian–plus society it is today from its origins in AD 395 here: http://alison-morton.com/roma-nova/roma-nova-history/
The first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO are set in the recent past and the present, and feature Karen/Carina Mitela, whom readers seem to like! The next three take us back to the late 1960s to early 1980s, the time of Great Rebellion and the seizure of power by a ruthless man with a nationalist vision.
What is your life like outside of writing?
There’s a life outside of writing?
What is your advice to new writers?
- Think about the purpose of your book, work out the structure – incident, three turning points, black moment, denouement, wrap-up – before you start writing.
- Visualise your characters’ lives, but don’t do over think it – their personalities will emerge as you write.
- Bash your story out and don’t agonise about editing while writing that first draft
What are you working on now?
Book 4, AURELIA, came out in May this year. I’ve nearly finished the first draft of the fifth book in the Roma Nova series. Books 4, 5 and 6 are a new cycle in the series, but I make sure each book can be read as a standalone story. When I’ve polished book 5 to the best of my ability, it will go to my critique partner, then structural editor and finally copy editor. And of course, in between these stages, there will no doubt be revisions…
So what’s AURELIA about?
Historical Novel Society indie Editor’s Choice Autumn 2015
Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.
But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.
Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…
Raised by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to Alison Morton that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. After six years, she left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things she can’t talk about, even now…
Fascinated by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation since childhood, she wondered what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…
Now, she lives in France and writes award-winning Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough Praetorian heroines – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and now AURELIA.
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog: http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
AURELIA trailer (YouTube): https://youtu.be/K5_hXzg0JWA
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