Tuesday, 20 January 2015
60 Seconds with Alison Morton
INCEPTIO, the first Roma Nova thriller, which was also shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award, and PERFIDITAS, the second in series, have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion, an award for independent fiction that rejects 90% of its applicants. Both were finalists in Writing Magazine’s 2014 Self-Published Book of the Year Award.
Alison’s third book, SUCCESSIO, which came out in June 2014, was also awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion and selected as the Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014 and Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014.
Tell us what genre you write in and why?
Alternative history thrillers. I love thrillers with more than the simple smash-and-chase, and I love historical fiction. I didn’t know you could change or ‘alternate’ the historical narrative until I read Robert Harris’ political detective thriller, Fatherland. So then I turned my idea of a women-led modern Roman society into real stories of action and adventure…
Where do you write?
In an office I designed with my husband. We converted part of the huge basement under our house into a snug working area.
What location most inspires your writing?
Juno! *thinks* The essence of every Roman site I’ve visited since I was 11 years old has embedded itself in my brain, but my favourite is Ostia Antica, Rome’s ancient seaport, because it’s human rather than grandiose.
Which of your books are you most proud of - and why?
Although SUCCESSIO, my latest, has gathered prestigious mentions – Historical Novel Society indie Editor’s Choice and The Bookseller inaugural indie preview Editor’s Choice – INCEPTIO, the first in the series, is the book of my heart. Like its heroine, its journey to publication has stumbled from ignorance via hard work, persistence and overcoming obstacles to reach its goal.
The story had been bubbling away in my brain since I was fascinated by my first Roman mosaic pavement at age 11 in north-east Spain. I asked my father, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe early feminism peeping out or maybe just a precocious kid asking a smartarse question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”
How did you handle the research?
In my stories, the standard timeline had diverged 1600 years previously in AD 395. This gave me a known baseline of the end of the fourth century so I researched the social, economic and political conditions of that time. By then, much had changed, even the everyday symbolic, yet practical, things like coinage; 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 autonomous chiefs. The late fourth century was much less secure and prosperous than in the golden years of Vespasian’s or Trajan’s rule.
The families who would become Roma Novans held fast to traditional Roman values and religion – a conflict with the eastern, bureaucratic and Christian nature of the empire in AD 395. For a writer, such conflict is delicious!
I had to consider what would seem important to the Roma Nova colonists in those transitional times: security, food, and hope, ultimately survival. Their core Roman values would have bolstered them and formed a social glue while they struggled for existence. Next, I had to project the alternative timeline forward in a historically logical way but always with the 21st century in sight. A good general knowledge of/addiction to European history came in very handy!
What has been your proudest writing moment?
Unpacking the first ever box of INCEPTIO paperbacks. My book was real!
What book has most impressed you over the past year?
Okay, I’m going to cheat. Fiction: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin. Non-fiction: Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History by Richard J. Evans
Give us a potted history of your route to publication.
When I was watching a terrible film in 2009 and realised even I could write a better story than the one on the screen, Roma Nova poured out of me. My now critique partner made me read aloud to her writing group and encouraged me to join the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme.
My first book, INCEPTIO, went through the scheme as well as through other professional assessments. I was getting full reads and ‘good’ rejections from agents and small publishers; “fresh, intelligent writing”, " tight dialogue”, “good action sequences”. I even had a full read from a US agent! Most of their concerns were about how to market “such innovative, high concept stories”.
I was burning to get my stories in front of readers - they are the ultimate arbiters - so I investigated self-publishing. I wanted my books to have the highest possible production values and in October 2012 opted for assisted publishing with SilverWood Books. In summer 2014, I decided to sign with an agent for subsidiary and foreign rights as feel under-qualified to optimise these. I prefer to spend my time writing!
What are your future writing plans?
Roma Nova book 4, AURELIA, is with my structural editor, who will no doubt have revisions for me, then it goes to the copy editor in late January, with a target publication of May 2015. Meanwhile, on with drafting book 5. Books 6 and 7 are swirling around in my head as I answer this question…
Alison’s web/blogsite: www.alison-morton.com