Friday, 15 May 2015

Liza Perrat interviews Alison Morton, Author of Aurelia

I’m delighted to welcome Alison Morton to the Triskele Books bookclub today.

Alison is the author of the Roma Nova series: INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, alternate history thrillers set in Roma Nova, a society founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women.

I recently had the pleasure of reading her newly-released novel, AURELIA, the first in a new three-book cycle within the Roma Nova series. Not having read any of the other Roma Nova books, and knowing nothing about this society, I came to AURELIA with a completely open mind, which is ideally how I like to read a book.

Set in the late 1960s, Aurelia remains within the Roma Nova world – the last Roman colony that has survived into the 21st century. Circumstances force Aurelia Mitela, a proud Praetorian officer, to give up her career, but Roma Nova still needs her to investigate and try to stop grand scale silver smuggling.

Whilst investigating in Berlin, in a page-turning sequence of suspenseful, action-filled adventures, Aurelia meets her terrifying childhood nemesis, Caius Tellus, who seems intent on destroying her. She also meets the beguiling and mysterious Miklós.

I loved discovering the “foreign” land of Roma Nova, the mix of historical and contemporary and of course, the edge-of-the seat thrilling action. A highly recommended read for lovers of alternate thrillers and I look forward to reading not only the previous books in this series, but also the ones to come.

Interview with Author, Alison Morton...  
LP: My first question is probably the most obvious: what gave you the idea of Roma Nova? And why a society run by strong women?

AM: Roma Nova started in my head when I was eleven years old and fascinated by the Roman mosaics at Ampurias, in northeast Spain. My father told me stories of soldiers and senators, traders and engineers, farmers and settlers, politicos and slaves. I listened under the hot sun and when he’d finished, I asked, “What would it have been like if women were in charge?” Clever man, he replied, “Well, what do you think it would be like?”

Normal life intervened, but this fantastical idea stayed in my head. I grew more and more fascinated with Rome – a complex society that was noble and brutal, ordered yet adaptable, a great trading and military power running Europe and the Mediterranean basin, yet ending with a teenager kneeling in front of a conquering Goth.

I had the great good fortune to be brought up by a feminist mother; it never occurred to me to do or think anything different from my brother just because I was a girl. When I put on my army uniform, I didn’t think it was remarkable. But I never dreamed the experience of serving in a mixed unit with common purpose would be extremely useful for my writing career years later.

When I sat in front of my computer to write my first novel decades later, all these elements crashed together and my fingers had to work frantically to keep up with my brain!

LP: Did you decide to do a series from the outset? And why?

AM: I wanted to write Karen’s story from the very beginning to when she was fully established, but also wanted to explore the strange place I had cooked up in my head. Of course, it was going to be a thriller – I’d devoured The Saint and John le Carré as a kid. But I found my story was far too big for one book, so before I did the first revision of INCEPTIO I had planned out book two (PERFIDITAS) and was thinking about the outline of book three which became SUCCESSIO.

LP: I found Roma Nova an intriguing concept, but it must be sometimes hard to marry the historical and the contemporary. What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered?

AM: Most people have some sense of history whether they realise it or not. It could be a grandparent and their war stories, or scoffing cake with the family at a 16th century stately home or watching Poldark or Wolf Hall on the television. We all come from somewhere – look at the popularity of ‘Who Do You Think You Are? To Roma Novans, history and tradition have formed the glue of their society; Roman values have enabled them to survive, so their sense of history is ever present in their daily lives.

Writing this is fun as well as challenging. I approached it in two ways: firstly, getting into the Roman mind-set and secondly, extrapolating from conditions prevailing in the disintegrating Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century, when the timeline from the real world diverged to form the Roma Novan one. Ancient Romans were superb technologists and engineers as well as skilled strategists. So in the modern era they are at the forefront of the digital revolution. All my Roma Novan characters use advanced gadgets and systems for their period. And staying in their traditional mind-set, they exercise the robust response of their ancestors to challenge!

LP: I believe you have an MA in history. Does this background help at all in writing your historical fiction?

AM: Apart from the sheer pleasure of discovering the layers of women’s agency and role in a military context in the 1930s - the subject of my dissertation - the chief skill I learnt was a systematic and persistent approach to research and reporting. I learnt how to look for sources, interpret and contextualize them. Without three sources, any ‘fact’ is rocky. When writing historical fiction of any kind, you have to be so immersed in the society, that you fill gaps intelligently. If you are truly in the zone, you might actually bring insight into a knotty area and make a fresh contribution to history!

LP: Aurelia is the beginning of a new three-book cycle within the Roma Nova series. What made you decide to write another three books about Aurelia?

AM: Two things, really. Firstly, we meet Aurelia as an older woman in INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO and as I was writing her I found myself becoming fascinated by her common sense, toughness and her loneliness. In INCEPTIO, Karen struggles to visualise her grandmother Aurelia twenty plus years before as a military commander leading a unit to retake a war-torn city. And the mystery of Aurelia’s single life – there is no husband, lover or companion in the family circle or memory, yet she is Karen’s grandmother. Plenty to chew on there. Secondly, I wanted to write about the terrible events twenty-three years before INCEPTIO that scarred Conrad - the heroine’s love interest in the first three books - and threatened the destruction of Roma Nova itself. AURELIA is the pre-cursor to that story.

LP: You publish with SilverWood Books. Was your decision to publish independently a conscious one, and are you happy with self-publishing at this point in time? 

AM: Yes, I’m really happy with SilverWood Books’ professionalism. I self-published a history ebook in 2012 via KDP with 200 academic references which I had to bookmark with hyperlinks. That was hard work, but I learnt a great deal about digital publishing. Mind you, my starting point was zero! I’d edited a local magazine for nine years so had some experience of commissioning printing, and image editing, but I realised that to produce my novels to the high standard I wanted for my novels I needed professional help. Working my way through the Wild West of vanity, subsidy and publishing services companies, I found SilverWood Books, an ethical company run by a multi-published author and which privileges authors and books.

LP: Any hints about the next book in the Aurelia series?

AM: Yes, it’s half-drafted! It starts in the early 1980s when unrest and petty grievances against a weak ruler bubble just under the skin of Roma Nova. A charismatic power-grabber builds a power base and heads a populist rebellion that threatens Roma Nova’s destruction. Even the formidable Aurelia Mitela can do little to stop it…

Alison Morton Bio...

Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – all over the globe.

So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now…

But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series

– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award

– B.R.A.G. Medallion

– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

PERFIDITAS, second in series

– B.R.A.G. Medallion

– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

SUCCESSIO, third in series

– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014

– B.R.A.G. Medallion

– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

Links ...
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog

Facebook author page

Twitter: @alison-morton


Buying link (multiple retailers/formats)...


AURELIA book trailer:

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