Good morning everyone! Today I have the opportunity to introduce you to Alison Morton author of Insurrectio, a recipient of the BRAG Medallion and the most recent novel in the Roma Nova series. I love the subject matter for this novel and hope you will pick it up!
Heather: Hi Alison! Welcome to The Maiden’s Court. I’m happy to have you here today to share about your recent novel that received the BRAG Medallion. First, can you tell me how you discovered indieBRAG?
Alison Morton: Hi Heather. Thank you so much for inviting me!
I think I heard about the BRAG Medallion from somebody on Facebook back in 2013, but since I met Geri Clouston, the president, in 2015 when we were on a panel together I’ve felt even more part of the indieBRAG family!
H: INSURRECTIO is the most recent novel in your Roma Nova series of twenty-first century alternate history thrillers. This is a new concept to me; could you give us a little background behind the series? Why choose this genre over a straight thriller or historical novel?
AM: Alternate history is where the time line we know took a different direction and there’s no going back. In my stories, Roma Nova is the last remnant of the Roman Empire. A group of Roman pagan families trekked north-east out of Italy in 395 AD because they wanted to preserve their values and way of life – they were under threat of death as pagans in a Christian empire. It was a hard struggle over the next fifteen hundred years, but tough people that they were they made it, and prospered. Fighting side by side with their fathers and brothers to defend their tiny homeland – there weren’t enough men – the women of Roma Nova gained equal status. You can read the full story here.
When I wrote the first story, INCEPTIO, I thought I was writing an exciting story in a slightly altered world. I didn’t know it belonged to a genre called alternate history! I was partly inspired by Robert Harris’s Fatherland, which like The Man in the High Castle supposed that Germany (and Japan in the latter case) had won the Second World War.
I’ve been fascinated by Ancient Rome since I was an eleven year old walking on my first mosaic in northern Spain and have now clambered over most of Roman Europe. But I wanted to have a female lead in my stories in an egalitarian society. This wouldn’t be possible in ancient Rome, even in Late Antiquity when women had gained many more rights than in classical times. So I projected the idea of a Roman society into the modern age. Ancient Rome had essentially been a military society and modern Roma Nova reflects this. My own six years in uniform gave me the experience to write my characters in that environment.
And the thrillers? I grew up on crime fiction and mysteries as well historicals and love the adventurous side of spy and conspiracy thrillers. All these strands came together and the result was the Roma Nova series.
H: That’s a fascinating concept – I think my husband has one alternate history novel set during WWII - and I think wars are the more obvious choices for an alternate result, but I love that you take the Roman Empire further!
Is Roma Nova a series where each book builds off of events in the prior or are they loosely connected, but able to stand alone?
AM: All the books are standalones – I can’t bear stories that aren’t properly resolved – but readers would gain even more from reading all of them! The first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, and SUCCESSIO, feature Carina Mitela and episodes in her life at 24, 32 and 39 years old – pivotal moments for her.
AURELIA, INSURRECTIO, and RETALIO (out April 2017) span the late 1960s and early 1980s and tell the story of Carina’s grandmother, Aurelia, as a young woman and her rather hidden role in the Great Rebellion and of her secret lover. Both women have some similar character traits, but are distinct in their personalities and reactions. Linking them is Marina, Aurelia’s frail daughter and Carina’s lost mother…
H: I’m with you there about desiring a story to wrap up! I don’t mind encountering the same characters again, but don’t leave me hanging!!
Without giving away any plot points, what does book 5, INSURRECTIO, offer the reader.
AM: INSURRECTIO is the story of a power grab by a charismatic and amoral demagogue, Caius Tellus, Aurelia’s personal and political enemy. The two have fought each other since childhood; he wants to destroy her. Caius has outside help from a world superpower that has wanted to exert influence over Roma Nova, but which Roma Nova has resisted. I channelled 1930s Germany when I first drafted INSURRECTIO; if readers draw any more modern parallels, then that is for them to do.
Readers can follow the emotions of personal gains and losses as the two tussle, plus ideas of loyalty, strength of character, Aurelia’s heartbreak of the pull of mother love against duty, and of whether to sacrifice her life-long love for her country. And Caius is a pretty nasty villain. But there are no dripping body parts!
H: Oooh that sounds ominous!
What drew you to writing in an alternate world, but still connected to the ancient Roman culture?
AM: Alternate history can give you enormous freedom – you can step outside the real historical timeline and explore ‘what if’. You can order that world to your own ideas. As a bit of a control freak, that’s perfect for me. But, and it’s a big but, you have to keep your new world both plausible and consistent or you’ll lose readers.
Why the Roman connection? Well, I’ve mentioned my lifelong fascination with Rome. The physical remains are enticing enough, but the best of the ideas that sustained that civilisation for more than 1200 years are even more alluring: rule of law, high artistic endeavour, their engineering genius, their complex trading networks, their robust response to threats, the idea of service to the state being paramount and the clarity of purpose. Take those and mix them in with a more enlightened social support environment in an egalitarian society and you have Roma Nova.
H: I think that keeping the alternate world believable would be highly necessary, but could also be highly challenging as you have to balance the realistic with the creative.
Each of the novels in this series have been awarded the BRAG Medallion, that is quite impressive and illustrates the high quality of your work! What drew you towards independent publishing as opposed to seeking out a traditional publisher? Has there been anything that was more or less challenging that you expected?
AM: At the beginning of my writing career, I looked for a traditional deal and was rather put off by the rejections. However, a lot of them, even from the start, were very encouraging; “great concept, attractive characters, intelligent writing, good research,” so I knew I had stories with legs. The problem was they didn’t fit an easily marketable genre; although thrillers, they contain historical, alternate and romantic elements. So I decided to publish independently. Fortunately, I was in the middle of the strong tide of the indie revolution.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of self-published dross; indeed, indieBRAG has a high reject rate itself of 90%. But there are absolute gems by indie authors some of which have sold very well and gathered acclaim. One of the hardest things has been to convince others in the publishing world that indie publishing can be good, even outstanding, and that at its best it’s a very valid route to publishing.
The twin challenges for indies are visibility and discoverability. Our work is generally not in bookshops and not reviewed in the national press or by the traditional reviewing networks.
H: So true! I am glad to have organizations like IndieBRAG that help readers to find high quality independent novels to spend our money on! At least the rejections showed that you had something worth pursing even in a publishing house wasn’t willing to step outside their closely held comfort zone.
Have you had any struggles in the writing/publishing process? How have you worked through these? Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors?
AM: “Struggles” is perhaps too dramatic a word. Rejection isn’t pleasant, but it taught me to sharpen up my writing. Prejudice can be met with smiles, knowledge and confidence. But the main struggle is that for any writer – sitting down and writing the darned book! Novel writing is fun, but it’s also a slog. Checking, editing, honing and refining, rewrites and revisions, edits and checking again are the less glamorous aspects.
My advice? Stick with it because nothing beats seeing your name on your book except people saying nice things about it. One thing I would emphasise: quality. The book marketplace is extremely competitive. Your prose must sparkle, be lean and mean, your characters rounded, your plot perfect and enticing. A beautifully designed cover, well formatted and edited interior are essential.
H: I would agree with those recommendations – as you stated and I have experienced, there are a lot of independently published options out there and you want your novel to rise above the chaff.
Are there more books planned for this series? What can we expect?
AM: Yes! RETALIO the third in the AURELIA trilogy is out in April. This is the endgame between Aurelia and Caius. Expect many twists, turns and shenanigans, some romance, rivalry, friendships, betrayal and fierce determination – an escape from the everyday!
H: Are you a full time author or do you have to find time to write around a typical 9-5 job? How do you find time to write?
AM: I am a full-time author/marketer. Being a writer is now a business and sometimes writing time has to take a backseat. But not for long as stories keep bursting into my head and beg to be released…
H: Thank you Alison for those wonderful responses! I am so thrilled to be able to host you and your novels here today!
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison Morton continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilisation. Armed with an MA in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good thriller, she explores via her Roma Nova adventure thrillers the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women.
Represented by Blake Friedman Literary Agency for overseas and ancillary rights.
Alison now lives in France with her husband, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine.
‘The second fall of Rome?’
Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk.
But early 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader who wants to destroy Aurelia.
Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy.…
You can watch a trailer for Insurrectio here!
A Message from IndieBRAG
We are delighted that Heather has chosen to interview Alison Morton. who is the author of, Insurrectio, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Insurrectio, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.