Today, my lovely friend Alison Morton launches Successio, the third novel in her award-winning Roma Nova series featuring sassy detective Carina Mitela. I’ve read Inceptio, the first in the series, and I loved it – you might also remember that Inceptio was the winner of my Cover Design competition last year, voted for by readers of this very blog.
I’ve known Alison for a while now, and it was lovely to finally meet up with her at LBF in April, but I’ve often wondered how different or difficult it is to write in an alternative history setting. And just to complicate things, she adds a feminist twist – which I love, of course – and also has plenty of love interest!
So, Alison, Romans in the 21st century – how do you write that?
Thanks, Joanne. All the usual good ‘craft’ rules apply: cracking story, engaging, and hopefully slightly quirky characters, emotional pressure, dilemmas and conflict, twists and turns, snappy and purposeful dialogue and, of course, a badly tangled love life.
The tools for writing alternate history stories are similar to regular historical fiction, plus an over active imagination and a good overall sense of how history ‘works’. The absolute key is plausibility. Fiction writers make up stories – that’s their job – but they have to create anchors or at least links back to what the readers know and experience. For instance, a blue flashing light on a police car is fairly universal.
Characters in my alternative history stories are sometimes torn between duty and their heart, or between two people, sometimes between their vocation and their comfort zone. These are all possible situations you’d find in any standard novel, but Roma Novans have a more robust attitude, not always politically correct, but one that has pulled them through sixteen hundred years to survive into the 21st century.
My top tips for writing alternative history stories:
- Identify the point when your alternative timeline diverges from the standard historical timeline we know and make it plausible;
- Research the divergence point thoroughly so you know where your characters’ backstory starts, even if it was sometime in the past;
- Use elements from the historic record carefully and logically, but not fearfully;
- Think through the setting that has formed your characters – we’re all products of our society. Roma Novans have different values because of the way they’ve been brought up, values of service and toughness that go back to their ancestors but may seem hard to us;
- Make sure your characters live naturally within their world. Don’t dump information on the reader in your eagerness to explain your world, but show how the setting is part of their lives, not a bolt-on.
What’s SUCCESSIO about?
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…
And here’s a trailer with some exciting music …
You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here on her blog at www.alison-morton.com
or on her Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She gained a BA in French, German and Economics and thirty years later went back and bagged a masters’ in history (with distinction!). A career translator, she is still a member of the UK Chartered Institute of Linguists.
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…
Six years in the UK reserve forces (where she rose from private soldier to captain) not only reinforced her sense of common purpose and self-discipline, but provided her with experiences and opportunities no civilian would ever touch. Oh, and travel and fabulous mess evenings.
Setting about her novelist education with the persistence of a Roman road builder, she joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme, studied with the Arvon Foundation, joined the Historical Novel Society and attended numerous specialist workshops and conferences. Thanks to her independently published book sales figures, she has recently qualified as a full member of the Society of Authors.
Alison talks and writes about alternative history at conferences and workshops including for the Romantic Novelists’ Association and Writing Magazine, writes a monthly column in the local English language magazine and runs the local English book club where she lives in France.
Both INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was also 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. Alison’s third book SUCCESSIO is being launched today!