Saturday, 2 December 2017

Diana talks to Alison Morton, author of the acclaimed Roma Nova series.

What is the genre you are best known for?
Alternative history thrillers – a series of adventures that take place in Roma Nova where a remnant of the Roman Empire toughed its way into the 21st century. There’s a twist – it’s ruled by women.

If your latest book CARINA was adapted into a TV show or a film, who would you like to play the lead role?
Bryce Dallas Howard or Jennifer Laurence for Carina

What made you choose this genre?
How long have you got? Briefly, a combination of wanting to write a Roman-set novel, a desire for a woman leading the action in an egalitarian society, six years in the military and realising after reading Robert Harris’s Fatherland that you could ‘alternate’ history.

How do you get ideas for plots and characters?
Plots: the desire not to do anything usual, although there are only so many motivations – power, money, sex and revenge being the strongest. Characters: Carina, and for the second trilogy, Aurelia, are a blend of my own experience, a long history of reading and watching films across many genres, especially the heroic ones, and wishful thinking.

Favourite picture or work of art?
That is a horrible question! This fluctuates from day to day, and depends on my mood. Picking one is so difficult. In a collection, I would include the 
Pont du Gard in southern France 

and Rodin’s Kiss. 

If, as a one off, (and you could guarantee publication!)  you could write anything you wanted, is there another genre you would love to work with and do you already have a budding plot line in mind?
Well, I’m fairly happy where I am. I enjoy crossing the genres of history and thriller, adding a dollop of romance and that time shift sideways. Possibly a standard thriller/spy story…

Was becoming a writer a conscious decision or something that you drifted into (or even something so compelling that it could not be denied?) How old were you when you first started to write seriously.
I’ve written all my life: government papers, translating and editing, corporate documentation, PR copy, academic dissertations, etc. I came to novel writing in 2009 after seeing a terrible film and knew I could craft a better story. Novel writing is my fourth career.

Marmite? Love it or hate it?
Oh, gods! The vilest muck ever masquerading as foodstuff. I’m a Bovril girl. (I actually laughed out loud, Alison. That is a very definite opinion! Diana)

Do you have any rituals and routines when writing? Your favourite cup for example or ‘that’ piece of music...?
No, I prefer silence. Anything else is distraction. But if I’m on a train or plane, I just tune everything else out.

I promise I won’t tell them the answer to this, but when you are writing, who is more important, your family or your characters?
Well, my grown-up family is in the UK and my husband of 32 years sits in the office at the other workstation in his own writing world. We do talk at lunchtime, if we’re out or in the evening.  So it’s a fine balance.

Other than writing full time, what would be your dream job?

Coffee or tea? Red or white?
Tea in bed, coffee at breakfast (proper, never instant), tea for the rest of the day
Red mostly, white sometimes, dry rosé with summer barbecue, champagne anytime

How much of your work is planned before you start? Do you have a full draft or let it find its way?
I’m a 15% planner with a 30-line outline and an 85% ‘pantser’.

If you had free choice over the font your book is printed in, what font/fonts would you choose?
Very happy with Bembo, Cambria, Garamond

Imagine that you could get hold of any original source document. What would it be?
The whole of Livy’s History of Rome Ab Urbe Condita. Only 25% of it has survived. Actually, the nine Sibylline scrolls, if they had existed, would make interesting reading.

Alison and the Forum in Rome.

Have any of your characters ever shocked you and gone off on their own adventure leaving you scratching your head??? If so how did you cope with that?
Yes, they did in PERFIDITAS. I had to ditch a really good sex scene and rewrite the last third of the book – 30,000 words. A hard decision, but the final version of the ending was so much better. Painful, but worth it.

How much research do you do and do you ever go on research trips?
Lots, and yes.

Research: I’ve been a ‘Roman nut’ since I was eleven and have clambered over most of Roman Europe. History in general has fascinated me and I even went back after 30 years and did my MA. I firmly believe that you have to know history well if you want to ‘alternate’ it. And you need to research really thoroughly the point when the alternative timeline diverges from our timeline. That’s the last solid contact before you write into the void.

Trips: Wherever I go, I look for Roman remains and artefacts. I’m quite tiresome about it. On every trip back to the UK, I reserve a day to visit the Roman rooms at the British Museum. I’m a ‘Friend’ so I can eat in the lovely lunch room as well. My three-week study tour to Rome and Pompeii in 2012 will never leave my conscious mind. When you walk in the Forum Romanum or touch the stones of a house wall in Pompeii, you can almost hear and see first century people jostling along the street.

Fiction authors have to contend with real characters invading our stories. Are there any ‘real’ characters you have been tempted to prematurely kill off or ignore because you just don’t like them or they spoil the plot?
Ha! I don’t have that problem as everything has changed slightly, but significantly, in the timeline of Roma Nova. Only some real people from our timeline exist in the Roma Nova one and are mentioned only as they touch Roma Nova’s history. Some people have changed roles; it was Eleanor Roosevelt who became president of the Eastern United States, not her distant cousin, Franklin, and we only ‘meet’ her as a street name in INCEPTIO.

Are you prepared to go away from the known facts for the sake of the story and if so how do you get around this?
Not a problem for the same reason as in the previous question. However, in proper alternative history stories, you have to use historical logic to progress the timeline. If you start dropping in dragons, magical power sources or money trees, you’re writing fantasy.

Do you find that the lines between fact and fiction sometimes become blurred?
There’s a line?

Have you ever totally hated or fallen in love with one of your characters?
You don’t expect me to admit that, do you? They are merely my playthings… (Giggle... Diana)

What do you enjoy reading for pleasure?
Almost anything that has a good story, with a leaning towards unusual settings and characters. I enjoy hidden chinks of history, unusual thrillers, clever science fiction, especially female led.

What drink would you recommend drinking whilst reading your latest book?
Something fortifying that isn’t going to spoil if it gets cold.

Last but not least... favourite author?
This is another of those ‘pick one’ questions, isn’t it? In the selection would be William Boyd, Lindsey Davis, Robert Harris and Georgette Heyer

About the author:

Alison Morton 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.

All six Roma Nova full-length novels 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. CARINA is a novella set between INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS.

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.

Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site:
Twitter: @alison_morton

Buying links for CARINA

What’s CARINA about?
Carina Mitela is still a young inexperienced officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. Disgraced and smarting from a period in the cells for a disciplinary offence, she is sent out of everybody's way on a seemingly straightforward mission overseas.

All she and her comrade-in-arms, Flavius, have to do is bring back a traitor from the Republic of Quebec. Under no circumstances will she risk entering the Eastern United States where she is still wanted under her old name Karen Brown.  But when she and Flavius discover a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Roma Nova, what price is personal danger against fulfilling the mission?

Set in the time after INCEPTIO but before PERFIDITAS in the Roma Nova series, this thriller novella reveals hidden parts of Carina's early life in Roma Nova. And North America isn't quite the continent we know in our timeline...

Alison is also the author of: INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO, Roma Nova alternate history thrillers - all B.R.A.G. Medallion® honorees.

Here is a trailer of Inceptio ...

© Diana Milne January 2017 © Alison Morton 2017

1 comment:

  1. Thank you SO much, Diana, for the most enjoyable interview I've done for ages.