10 May 2015

Author Interview & Book Giveaway: Alison Morton on AURELIA

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

Suppose a tiny part of the Roman Empire has survived into the 20th century? And suppose it had changed to a more than egalitarian society, in fact, one ruled by women?

It’s the late 1960s in Roma Nova. Aurelia Mitela, a member of a leading family is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead. More than that, she’s forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer and live as a civilian.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova...

**Q&A with Alison Morton**

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

This time you’re setting your story in the late 1960s. What attracted you to this period?

Well, in a way, it was a natural choice. I wanted to tell the story of Aurelia Mitela, the grandmother of Carina, the heroine of the first three books, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. As I wrote Aurelia in those books, I became more and more intrigued by her. What had she done as a young Praetorian officer? And what part had she played in the Great Rebellion twenty-three years before we met her in? How was that connected with Conrad, Carina’s love-interest, whose family was ruined as a consequence of the rebellion? To write the younger Aurelia in her mid to late twenties, I needed to go back to the 1960s.

Was it easy writing in a period that some readers can still remember?
I’ll let you into a secret – I can just about remember a few things myself! However, there is a huge trap with ‘young’ history; you think you know when things were invented or in use, but you don’t really. You can only recall the things directly relevant to you at that time. For instance, I can remember every aspect of my school uniform which I wore every day – beret, cotton shirt, gymslip, striped tie – but I had to look up when central locking (power door locks) was invented! (They were introduced on the luxury Scripps-Booth in 1914, but were not common on most high-end cars until Packard reintroduced them in the US in 1956.)

How do you keep the Roman theme relevant?

Roma Nova is a strong society based on Roman values so the characters have a moral and social framework probably more robust and demanding than our own. This value system has been the guide to their survival throughout the centuries so I keep this to the forefront. Writing about Saturnalia customs, funerals, weaponry, senators, the forum and imperatrix flavours the stories as do Latin terms, e.g. for money or cops, and Roman-style names for the characters. And like any people, they refer back to their past when making a point about the present.

AURELIA is both a thriller and historical fiction. How do you keep a balance between the two?

Aurelia, the eponymous heroine, is an officer in the Praetorian Guard, so we know she’s tough.  She’s faced with pressures from family, her duty and a manipulative and skilled antagonist focused on obtaining power by any means. This is not an unknown scenario in a Roman setting! The thriller is the backbone of AURELIA, but the tension and conflict is interwoven with, and indeed dependent on, the historical vision Roma Novans have of themselves.

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

As a reader, I like a story which grips emotionally and with characters who resonate with me. I like an unusual setting, whether in time, place or both, plus plenty of twists and turns and an electrifying denouement. But that’s just me. I’ve learnt that my readers vary enormously; around 40% are male and 60% female, the youngest reported age is 16 and the oldest 87!  Conjuring up my ‘ideal reader’ is quite hard! But I’ve noticed that people want clarity, snappy dialogue, plenty of interaction, enough description to set the story, but not so much it weighs the action down. And they are all intrigued by the Roman-ness and the slightly more than egalitarian nature of Roma Novan society. Some readers want to book a long holiday there and even emigrate to Roma Nova permanently!

Writers who take the dare of high concept stories must deliver and, for me as a writer, this is a powerful motivator to work hard to produce a truly entertaining result.

What are the larger issues behind AURELIA?  

Depression – although not named in the book – threatens Aurelia. She accepts her duty to her family when her mother is incapacitated, but when forced to give up her beloved career as a soldier, she is resentful and frustrated. Bored and guilty, she works herself into the ground, and becomes quite ill at one stage.  She also wonders if she is becoming paranoid about the threat from one of the other characters and whether this is colouring her judgement. However, as we know, Roma Novan heroines are nothing if not resourceful.

Another conflict is that of being a mother of a vulnerable child who isn’t the usual tough Roma Novan. Aurelia doesn’t understand how her daughter can be so unseeing and innocent, but she knows she has to protect her against everyone and everything.

And lastly, 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 this, but heartache caused by impossible choices between personal wishes and duty nearly tears Aurelia apart.

And next?

We jump forward thirteen years into the 1980s and the rebellion that nearly destroyed Roma Nova. Familiar characters and new ones are at the front of the action including the parents of INCEPTIO heroine, Carina, when they first meet...

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

About the Author

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.

Fact file:
Education: BA French, German & Economics, MA History
Memberships: International Thriller Writers, Historical Novel Society, Alliance of Independent Authors, Society of Authors
Represented by Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency for subsidiary and foreign rights.
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


Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova blog: http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton
Buying links (multiple retailers/formats):