I've stated before that one of my greatest joys as an author is meeting and learning about other authors and their journeys. Book publishing is a global enterprise and so many of the authors I "know" are in other countries.
Alison Morton is one of them. She's an intensely talented British author known for her NOVA ROMA series, dealing with a fascinating "what if". "What if" ancient Rome had made it clear up to the present? What an intriguing thought! For those of us who love Roman history, it opens a whole load of questions about whether the Empire would be as bloody and brutal as it once was. How would the tracks of time have treated the Roman state, had it survived? Would it still be patriarchal?
Those of you who know me well are aware that usually, I ONLY entertain books on my blog that are purely historical fiction in nature. However, because I am privy to Alison Morton's comprehensive knowledge of the Roman world and her literary excellence, I jumped at the chance to interview her.
So this week, allow me to welcome Alison Morton as my special guest, as she tells us more about her work, the immense imagination behind her contemporary Roman world, and her newest book, which returns to the original period of Rome's ancient past.
An Interview with ROMA NOVA Author, Alison Morton
Hello, Alison and welcome to Brook’s Journal! I’m so glad we’re having the chance to chat because recently you mentioned to me on Facebook how you were launching a new book. To begin with, can you give my readers a few details about your “Julia” and what exactly makes this particular book so unique?
Thank you for welcoming Julia and me to your blog. We are both delighted to be here amongst fellow Romans. Julia has a long history herself; her existence in the late fourth century was even mentioned (with no name credit, though) in the very first Roma Nova thriller, INCEPTIO, published nearly ten years ago. She’s the ancestress of one of the main secondary characters, Imperatrix Silvia Apulia, who features in all the 20th and 21st century set Roma Nova series.
Julia’s story is set in the Roman frontier province of Noricum in a time of transformation in the Roman Empire when religious and political strife was coming to a head and the empire was crumbling from inside. Within a hundred years it would be no more. Julia is caught in a dilemma; divorced under Roman law and under her dead mother’s tribal laws, she cannot obtain an annulment from her Christian husband. Divorce or annulment was not permitted by the early church. As the Christian-led administration is becoming ever more powerful in Noricum with direct connections into the imperial court, Julia’s father does not want to upset the political apple cart by allowing her to remarry. Then she meets the new Roman officer, Lucius Apulius . . .
You’ve created an alternative history series that’s truly fascinating. Please describe your ROMA NOVA books and why would Ancient Rome fans (like me!) find them enjoyable?
When I wrote the first story, INCEPTIO, I was pouring out my thoughts about an imaginary world I would really like to have existed. As a deep-dyed ‘Roman nut’ since the age of eleven, I always wanted to set it in a Roman world. The problem was that I also wanted a woman leading the action, driving the narrative on her own account. But at no period in the 1,229-year length of the existence of Rome in the West were women public actors on the same basis of men. So I altered the world.
Readers of my series will find Praetorians, a Senate, an imperatrix, comites (Late Antiquity counts), centurions, nunciae (female ambassadors) in the Roma Novan legations abroad, vigiles (and their later replacements custodes), temples in the forum to the traditional gods and familiar roads like the decumanus maximus and Via Nova. But they will find modern military ranks alongside the traditional ones and the Romans’ robust attitude to opposition alongside their powerful engineering and technical skills. The mindset is always the most important element for the characters in novels and readers of Roman fiction will find much that is reassuringly familiar.
But the big difference here is that women lead in all aspects of life. A paradox? This is the 21st century and Romans were good adaptors. Much more here on how this came about.
Please share a little about how your books are published. Are you indie, traditional or hybrid?
Almost exclusively indie through my own imprint, Pulcheria Press, although the audio books for INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA were sold by a London agent to Audible Studios.
What do you do, marketing-wise, to introduce your books to readers? Is there something in particular that has aided you in getting word out about ROMA NOVA?
I don’t know that I do anything particularly special. I’ve had a website/blog since 2010 which I split in 2015 into a site about my own books and their world (https://www.alison-morton.com)/ plus a writing site where I host guests and write about general publishing and writing topics (https://alisonmortonauthor.com). Although websites and blogging are not as popular as they used to be, it’s essential to have a presence that you own and control and isn’t subject to sudden closure by a giant digital company.
Which brings me to social media . . . I joined Twitter in 2012 and love it still. Facebook came a little later and does not inspire quite the same level of love, but social media is undoubtedly an indispensable way to communicate about your books if you’re an independent author. I also send a monthly newsletter and hang out with other Roman fiction authors at events and online. The key to book marketing is to be authentic and add value for your fans, current readers and potential readers.
I tend to have a huge readership in Australia, especially. Where do you sell the bulk of your books? How lucrative do you feel the US market is for your work?
This varies from month to month and year to year! On average, the majority of my readers are in the UK, then US, Canada and Australia. The US is a hard market to crack as there is so much competition, although INCEPTIO was once #1 in alternate history on Amazon.com!
Since your newest book returns to the late ancient world, will you be hanging out there for future projects?
I’m planning a second Foundation story already as I had too much story for one book. Readers want to know more about how Roma Nova was founded. Now two of the main founders have met in JULIA PRIMA and some of the other main ones introduced, I’m ready to continue the story.
Like me, you’re a Roman history fan. What period of the Roman world fascinates you most, and if you could sit down and discuss life with a historical Roman, who would it be?
I love periods of change and transition. But they often entail uncertainty, instability and misery on ordinary people’s lives. We both know that the Julio-Claudians were masters of that! However, Vespasian (AD 9-79) brought a level of peace and started a time of prosperity and relative stability, so he would be interesting to talk to. The other one is Galla Placidia, (c. AD 390 – 450) – daughter, sister, wife and mother of Late Antiquity Roman emperors and, for a while, queen of the Visigoths.
I know that recently, you and a group of authors had opportunity to sell your books and meet with readers at a Roman Festival, in York—I believe. Could you share about this event and why it draws so many people—including you.
This year ‘s Eboracum Festival was the first since the Covid 19 lockdown ended. It was glorious to be reunited with friends who cheerfully compared notes on battle tactics, medicine, roadbuilding, armour, costume, fabrics, cooking – you name it!
Some visitors come for the fun of it, others to learn about Roman York, re-enactors want to emulate Romans and authors to write about their favourite period. But they all have one thing in common – they are all gripped by a common fascination with Ancient Rome.
Are there other periods of history that interest you enough to write about? If so, which one(s)?
Well, I’ve contributed short stories with a Roma Novan in other historical periods: ‘A Roman Intervenes’ in 1066 Turned Upside Down, ‘The Idealist’ (1849) in Betrayal: Historical Stories and ‘Honoria’s Battle’ (1683) on my blog, but while I have an enthusiast’s general knowledge of history, I’m not sure I know enough about other periods in the great depth required to write a full-length novel. Perhaps one day . . .
So what does Alison Morton like to do on a day off from writing, speaking, and signing books?
Sleep! More seriously, I enjoy gardening, swimming and eating out. I live in rural France so relish the opportunities offered by that country of wine, cheese and ‘la vie tranquille’. Oh, and we have a lot of Roman monuments to visit in former Gallia.
Alison, thanks so much for your willingness to share with my readers. Please know that you’re always welcome on my blog-page.
All About JULIA PRIMA
“You should have trusted me. You should have given me a choice.”
AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia Bacausa is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father.
Tribune Lucius Apulius’s career is blighted by his determination to stay faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire. Stripped of his command in Britannia, he’s demoted to the backwater of Noricum – and encounters Julia.
Unwittingly, he takes her for a whore. When confronted by who she is, he is overcome with remorse and fear. Despite this disaster, Julia and Lucius are drawn to one another by an irresistible attraction.
But their intensifying bond is broken when Lucius is banished to Rome. Distraught, Julia gambles everything to join him. But a vengeful presence from the past overshadows her perilous journey. Following her heart’s desire brings danger she could never have envisaged…
All About Alison
Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue.
She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.
Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.
Connect with Alison
Alison Morton’s World of Thrillers site
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