21 September 2014

Author Interview & Ebook Giveaway: Alison Morton on PERFIDITAS

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Alison Morton with the second in her Roma Nova series, PERFIDITAS. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Perfiditas. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Captain Carina Mitela of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces is in trouble – one colleague has tried to kill her and another has set a trap to incriminate her in a conspiracy to topple the government of Roma Nova. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman dissidents and ruled by women, Roma Nova barely survived a devastating coup d’état thirty years ago. Carina swears to prevent a repeat and not merely for love of country.

Seeking help from a not quite legal old friend could wreck her marriage to the enigmatic Conrad. Once she’s proscribed and operating illegally, she risks being terminated by both security services and conspirators. As she struggles to overcome the desperate odds and save her beloved Roma Nova and her own life, she faces the ultimate betrayal…

“Sassy, intriguing, page-turning…  Roma Nova is a fascinating world” - Simon Scarrow

**Q&A with Alison Morton**

September is the month of wonders and marvels here at Unusual Historicals. How does PERFIDITAS fit in?

Well, the whole background to the Roma Nova books is ‘wondrous and marvellous’ as it’s a story of alternate history, where at a point in the past the timeline diverged from the one we know and went in a different direction.

For Roma Nova, that split was in AD 395 as the Roman Empire was fading. The small colony struggled to survive into the 21st century and managed to keep its Roman core values, but with a difference – it became egalitarian and is governed by women. If you would like to know why and how, there’s a potted history of the imaginary Roma Nova on my blog.

What made you bring the Roman theme up to the present day instead of setting your story in ancient Rome?

Although ancient Roman society had evolved significantly by the late fourth century and Roman women owned property, businesses and enjoyed more civil freedoms than several hundred years previously, they were still, to our modern eyes, second or class citizens. It would have been unrealistic for a heroine like Carina to live and work as a Praetorian in ancient Rome.

I wanted to explore the theme of a modern society, but traditionally Roman in style and custom. Alternate history allows you to explore the ‘what if’ questions and the juxtaposition of putting female members of a society we have always thought of as very male dominated onto more than equal terms with men was such a tempting one…

PERFIDITAS is the second book in your Roma Nova series, the sequel to your exciting debut novel INCEPTIO. Please tell us a little bit about the title.

PERFIDITAS means betrayal - our words ‘perfidy’ and ‘perfidious’ are closely related. To the Roma Novans who have invested their whole way of life over many centuries in their core values of rule of law, justice and service to the state, betrayal is deeply repugnant. And in PERFIDITAS the betrayal is political, professional and very personal.

How do you research an alternate history novel?

When you write alternate history, you need imagination as you are writing ‘into the void’; there are no sources.  However, you must be driven by historical logic and integrate your imagined country with the rest of the world. Of course, that rest of the world will probably be different from ours as well.

On a practical level, I have a general grounding in Roman history from reading classical texts, such as Pliny, Suetonius, Caesar’s Gallic Wars and modern history texts, plus my father introduced me to the Roman world at age 11. To me, it seemed perfectly normal to clamber over Roman aqueducts, walk on mosaic pavements, pretend I was a Roman actor in classic theatres all over Europe from Spain to then Yugoslavia, from Hadrian’s Wall to Pompeii. So I have a ‘feel’ for the Roman world. But I keep reading as there are new discoveries and new research appearing all the time.

As for writing the military scenes in PERFIDITAS, I spent six years in the reserve forces, which gave me experience of military life first hand. I know what it was like to crawl around woods, simulate battle, how to endure cold and move silently towards your objective.

The thing that keeps me digging is the determination not to give up even if the result is not what I expected. For instance, my characters catch bad guys in the 21st century, but I wanted to find out if there were special forces and spies during the ancient Roman period so I could bring anything with a Roman flavour into my books. I searched for sources and came across Exploratio by Austin and Rankin about military and political intelligence in the ancient Roman world. Perfect, I thought.

It turned out that there was no centralized intelligence organisation and it was all chaotically arranged on a regional basis with a lot of infighting in Rome itself until the later Roman period. Sixteen hundred years on, I’ve made their descendants a great deal better organised!

How do you portray characters accurately in the alternative world while still captivating readers in the real world?

Ha! That’s the crucial question. There are twin elements: the first is our old friend research. Knowing about food, costume and work, but also attitudes to crime, life, death, servants, masters, marriage, trade, property will give any historical writer a firm knowledge base against which to work.

The second element is plausibility. The writer has to maintain the reader’s trust. One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the plot and narrative. Even though my books are set in the 21st century, the Roman characters say things like ‘I wouldn’t be in your sandals (not shoes) when he finds out.’ 

Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys. Of course, they’re expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or (to us) peculiar way. But a romantic relationship, for example, whether as instant as Colonel Brandon when he sees Marianne in Sense and Sensibility or the careful but intense relationship of Eve Dallas and Roarke in the Death series, binds us into their stories.

The hardest element is the conflict between projecting standard western sensitivities and viewpoints on to people living in a completely different set of circumstances, whether it’s the past or a different country, or both. And it’s not always true that people today are more liberal and enlightened than those in the past.

Ancient Romans were very open about sexual matters as they regarded sex as allied to fertility and survival rather than embarrassment and guilt. They would have given you a puzzled look if you’d suggested love was they main reason for marriage. My Roma Novans live in the 21st century but retain a similar practical attitude. They often partner or marry to have children to continue their families or consolidate property. Carina and her partner, Conrad are unusual in that they are strongly emotionally bound to each other in mutual love. But it doesn’t guarantee they always will be…

So what’s next in Roma Nova?

Well, book three, SUCCESSIO, which has the twin meanings of ‘what happened next’ and ‘the next generation’, has just come out. The action takes place seven years after the end of PERFIDITAS and deals with a threat from the past which even Carina may not be able to deal with …

Perhaps I’ll come back and tell you about it another time. ;-)

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

PERFIDITAS is available through your local bookshop (paperback), Amazon (myBook.to/PERFIDITAS) and other online retailers here http://alison-morton.com/perfiditas/where-to-buy-perfiditas/.
PERFIDITAS will be at a special price of $1.99/£1.29 from 17 September through to 25 September.
About the Author

Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German, and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was 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. INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS were shortlisted for Writing Magazine’s 2014 Self-Publishing Book of the Year Award. Alison’s third book SUCCESSIO came out in June 2014 and was selected in August 2014 by the Historical Novel Society as indie Editor’s Choice.


Connect with Alison on her blog http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying links (multiple retailers/formats):
SUCCESSIO: http://alison-morton.com/successio/where-to-buy-successio/