26 October 2014

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Alison Morton on SUCCESSIO

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Alison Morton with the third in her Roma Nova series, SUCCESSIO. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Successio. 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.

Roma Nova – the last remnant of the Roman Empire that has survived into the 21st century – is at peace. Carina Mitela, the heir of a leading family, but choosing the life of an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, is not so sure.

She senses danger crawling towards her when she encounters a strangely self-possessed member of the unit hosting their exchange exercise in Britain. When a blackmailing letter arrives from a woman claiming to be her husband Conrad’s lost daughter and Conrad tries to shut Carina out, she knows the threat is real.

Trying to resolve a young man’s indiscretion twenty-five years before turns into a nightmare that not only threatens to destroy all the Mitelae but also attacks the core of the imperial family itself. With her enemy holding a gun to the head of the heir to the imperial throne, Carina has to make the hardest decision of her life…

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

**Q&A with Alison Morton**

Welcome back, Alison. Now, you’re here to tell us about your latest alternate history thriller, SUCCESSIO. We saw the blurb and an exciting extract on Thursday, but today I’d like to dig a little deeper into the background…

Looking at the alternate history theme, could a Roman province have survived from AD 395 into the 21st century? And with a feminist take?

In the chaos of the Roman Empire crumbling into city-states and small kingdoms, men in the tiny pagan colony of Roma Nova fought to defend it while women took over the social, political and economic roles based on family structures.

But hard times followed the foundation in 395 AD; this was the time of the first ‘Great Migrations’ in Europe which lasted until approximately 800 AD. Eventually, daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons. Fighting danger side by side with brothers and fathers over the generations reinforced women’s status. And keeping to their traditional gods, they never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions. So I don’t think it’s too far a stretch for women to have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next sixteen centuries.

What are the thriller elements in SUCCESSIO?

Carina, the heroine, is an officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, so we know she’s a tough cookie.   But she is faced with blackmail, her marriage is under extreme stress and a manipulative and skilled antagonist is bent on a relentlessly murderous course of revenge to destroy Roma Novans, their beliefs and values.

Only Carina, caught between heartbreak of her personal life and sworn service to the imperium, and nearly broken physically and mentally, can hunt this killer down.

What so you think makes a good story for a reader?

As a reader, I like a cracking story with an emotional grip and characters who resonate with me. Plots should have plenty of twists and turns. I like an unusual setting, whether in time, place or both. But that’s just me…

Characters in all stories must live naturally and plausibly in their own world; reviewers have been kind enough to say that Roma Nova is real to them. Some want to book a long holiday and one wanted to emigrate to Roma Nova permanently!

A good twist or electrifying denouement is rewarding for a reader who has been kept on the hop all the way through. Writers who take the dare of high concept stories must deliver and, to me as a writer, this is a powerful motivator to work hard to produce a truly entertaining result.

Does your tough heroine, Carina, have any doubts and weaknesses?

She does indeed! She worries that her husband, Conrad, hasn’t recovered from his accident, she almost gives into fear when everything is falling apart and her temper, ah, her temper! 

The biggest challenge in depicting tough heroines is plausibility. You can’t jump from a passive, protected flower to super-heroine, even if she passes through a formative traumatic event. Writers need to give hints about latent characteristics such as resilience, integrity and physical strength as well as a strong will and a passion to drive through what she believes in.

The second challenge is not falling into the trap of making a strong character have moments of unbelievable weakness. Self-doubt, a temper, love for movies, a penchant for egg and bacon rolls or brandy help to round a character out, but writers must not over-compensate for the toughness. A military type will drink and swear – it’s the pressure of the job – but she will have the normal emotions of any other woman, although expressed differently. However, she would probably not wear pink off-duty, nor go soft-eyed over fluffy bunny rabbits.

What are the larger issues behind SUCCESSIO?

There are two: firstly, the conflict of privileging the state over personal wishes and feelings, and secondly, the impact of childhood abuse on later life.

Individual ‘noble’ motivation resonates with even the most cynical reader, but in the Roma Novan society it’s expected as a matter of course. This harks back to collective survival as well as core Roman values. My heroine knows and accepts those in her head, but they cause her inner heartache. And the losses and gains are more complex and multi-layered than they appear.

A darker theme, woven into the story, is the impact childhood bullying and abuse have on an adult and how much they drive that adult to misjudgement and inner self-destruction which brings danger to all the others in that person’s environment.

And next?

I’m going back to the 1960s and 70s and writing the story of Aurelia Mitela. Does the steadfast and calm Aurelia hide a secret? And what was her part in the rebellion that nearly ripped Roma Nova apart?

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

Buying links:

SUCCESSIO is available through your local bookshop or from Amazon and other online retailers here: http://alison-morton.com/successio/where-to-buy-successio/

Social media:

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here on her blog at www.alison-morton.com