26 May 2013

Guest Blog: Alison Morton

This week, we're welcoming author Alison Morton with her exciting debut title, Inceptio. The author will offer a free copy of the book to a lucky blog visitor. Here's the blurb:

The first in a series of exciting alternate history thrillers set in mysterious Roma Nova.

New York, present day. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.

Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it...

**Q&A with Alison Morton**

What gave you the idea to write an alternate history story with a Roman theme?
I was eleven and fascinated by the mosaics in the Roman part of Ampurias, a huge Graeco-Roman site in Spain. I wanted to know who had made them, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them.  After my father explained about traders, senators, power and families, I tilted my head to one side and asked him, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe early feminism surfacing or maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”

Real life intervened (school, university, career, military, marriage, parenthood, business ownership, move to France), but the idea bubbled away in my mind and the INCEPTIO story slowly took shape. My mind was morphing the setting of ancient Rome into a new type of Rome, a state that survived the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire into the 21st century, but retaining its Roman identity. And one where the social structure changed; women were going to be leading society.

How is alternate history different from history?
Alternate history is based on the idea of “what if”? What if King Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or if Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Sometimes, it can be personal such as in the film Sliding Doors, when Gwyneth Paltrow’s character splits into two people who then lead different lives.

True alternate history stories include three things: a point of divergence when the alternate timeline split from our own timeline; some description of how that world looks and works; and a logical sequence of how things have changed since the split.

In my book, four hundred Romans trekking north and founding a small colony in the AD 395 changed the whole world: for instance, the British didn’t leave North America until 1865, and much of Europe has been split into small federated countries after the Great War of 1925-35. The modern thriller story of INCEPTIO – kidnap, mystery plus romance – takes place against this  historical background.

Was the story an easy one to write and how long did it take? 
One Wednesday I’d gone to the local multiplex cinema with my husband. Thirty minutes into the film, we agreed it was really, really bad. The cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration uneven.
 ‘I could do better than that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.
 ‘So why don’t you?’ came my husband’s reply.
 Ninety days later, I’d written 96,000 words, the first draft of INCEPTIO. 

It helped having been a ‘Roman nut’ from an early age and having a masters’ in history so I wasn’t hopping back to sources all the time, but I ran a thorough check of the historical references before INCEPTIO went to my editor. As for the action scenes, I’m a keen thriller reader and have served some time in uniform, so they were huge fun to write and brought back memories for me!

You’ve created a mythical country – how difficult was that?
Yes, Roma Nova.  Setting a story in the past and in another country is a challenge – your readers know that very well! But if you invent the country and have to meld it into history that readers are familiar with, then your task is doubled as you have no direct sources.

Not only history, but geography and social, economic and political development must be worked out carefully; this sounds dry, but every living person is a product of their local conditions. And to keep the story plausible, it must develop in a historically logical way. I firmly believe you have to know your history before you can attempt “alternating” it!

As with all history-based fiction research must be worn lightly and not dumped on the reader. One way to stay plausible and keep the reader engaged is to infuse, but not flood, the story with detail which reinforces the original setting the writer has introduced.  Even though my book is mostly set in the 21st century, the Roman characters still say things like 'I wouldn't be in your sandals (not shoes) when he finds out.'  And there are honey-coated biscuits, not chocolate digestives, in the police squad room.

Above all, when writing in an unfamiliar setting the characters should display normal emotions and behaviour. Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar needs, hurts and joys, often expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or (to us) peculiar way.  But the emotions of a romantic relationship are the same whether set in ancient Rome, the reign of Henry VIII or the 21st century.

What is a typical writing day for you?
I write most mornings after a short spurt on social media, and do domestic stuff in the afternoons or sometimes research. In the evening, I’ll write a few more lines and mess about, er, ‘interact with professional colleagues’ on Facebook and Twitter.
If I’m editing, I tend to work straight through, with a short lunch break as I’m totally immersed. Strange, isn’t it? I can draft in paragraphs, but prefer to edit in long stretches. Proofing is another question – I do that in short bursts because of the concentration needed.

And what’s next for you?
I’ve just sent PERFIDITAS to three beta readers before going to the publisher’s editor. It’s set in Roma Nova, six years on with the same main characters and tells the story of betrayal - political and personal – with plenty of emotion and action. And more of the Roman nature of the society is revealed. PERFIDITAS is due out in October this year.

Thank you for joining me today and thanks to Unusual Historicals for inviting me.


Website/blog links:- 

Twitter: @alison_morton