Joanne Phillips


Alison Morton

Successio Launch Day – Alison’s Top Tips For Writing Alternative History

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.

SUCCESSIO cover300dpi_520x800

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.

Roma Nova?
Roma Nova?

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.

blue light

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.

Alison and forum

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 …


SUCCESSIO is available through your local bookshop (paperback) and online as ebook and paperback at multiple retailers.

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here on her blog at

or on her Facebook:

Twitter: @alison_morton

Alison_Morton_smAlison’s bio

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!



Alison Morton – Launching Perfiditas

Today I’m delighted to have a very special guest on the blog – author Alison Morton is here as part of her blog tour to celebrate the launch of Perfiditas, the sequel to Alison’s critically acclaimed first novel, Inceptio.

Perfiditas logo

Regular blog followers will remember of course that Inceptio won the We’ve Got It Covered cover competition earlier this year. Perfiditas is also published by the brilliant Silverwood Books – and here is Alison talking about launching the second time around …

Alison Morton

Doing it the second time

I didn’t think not to do it again. The champagne bubbles tickling my mouth and throat, the warmth and excitement rolling through me, the eager eyes watching me, my limbs tingling, the almost tangible emotion in the air, the gasps of breath, the deep thriIl imploding from inside my whole being, the applause at my performance…

The applause at my performance? I’m talking about my first book launch, of course!

Me in full flow at the launch of Inceptio
Me in full flow at the launch of Inceptio

Whatever efforts I make online to sell my books, the milestone event for me is a real world launch.  If you’ve slaved away on the second book, drafting it in the shadow of the first and dedicating all your spare hours since the first was out, you need to celebrate!

A launch doesn’t have to be a Foyles Literary Lunch, nor in a bookshop, nor need hundreds of attendees. A writer friend of mine booked a double table at his local pub, invited a few friends and ended up speaking to the whole pub and selling over a hundred books. If your book relates to a place, you could launch from tourist bookshops, hotels, boats, club venue, museum, or a friend’s garden, art gallery, or community centre – in short, anywhere where potential buyers might gather.

AM Inceptio
Me outside Waterstones with the INCEPTIO window display which shows you can do it!

So what happens at a launch?

Some are like standard parties – milling, lurking, laughing, but centred around the author and the book. A five to ten minute pause will allow the author to thank everybody, read a short extract and invite the publisher and agent (if any) to say a few words. Then attendees can buy copies and queue for the author to sign them.

A more structured launch, sometimes called ‘An evening with [insert name of author]’ is ticketed – usually at a modest amount redeemable against the cost of the book. Attendees are offered a glass of wine, fizz or soft drink on arrival. After five or ten minutes’ mingling, they sit down to listen to the author give a talk for 25-30 minutes including an excerpt from their book. A question and answer session follows, then buying and signing and a little more mingling. This is what I did with my first book, INCEPTIO.

But how is a second launch different?

Let’s look a my usual ‘top tips’ and adapt them:

1. Don’t wait to start planning. Although a beautiful book is a pre-requisite, you must think about where, how and when as soon as you’re even thinking of publishing your book.
Exactly the same

2. Network in real life at conferences, courses and events, and virtually on Twitter and Facebook. Try to meet as wide a circle of people as possible. Apart from the pleasure of talking with new people and learning new things, you may come across published authors in your genre or known specialists in your field. Ask them for their thoughts, their advice, but in a polite way. Who knows, they may come to your launch and add some magic dust.
You will have by now built a fan base from those who bought the first book and interact with then via your blog, Twitter and Facebook. These are your ‘champions’ who will help promote the second book. Be nice to them; tell them what you and your first book have been up to and stay in touch.

3. If you’re thinking of a bookshop launch, go and buy some books there and become known to the staff. Make an appointment to go and see the owner or events manager. Be business-like. Find who is responsible for your genre, give them a free  copy and tell them a bit about the book. Obviously, you have kept in touch with them and done all the above since book 1…

4. Before making an approach, ensure you or your publisher has already loaded your book on to Nielsen Bookdata so that the shop staff can check you are a pukka author. Have your Bookseller Information Sheet in your hand and a good quality business card with your contact details. Prepare your ideas for getting the audience in – your friends and more importantly, the general public – and how you’re going to publicise the event. And if you have got a ‘name’ to agree to come along to your launch, mention this as part of your pitch.
If you have been a friendly, co-operative and approachable author and had a successful first event, you won’t have to go through this hoop again. I live abroad and can’t pop in anytime so I paid special attention to staying in touch. I sent an email about four months before my planned date, telling the events manger about INCEPTIO’s progress, and awards, and tentatively booked a date for PERFIDITAS. I made a point of visiting the store in person a month later – I was in the UK speaking at a conference – to chat and confirm details.

5. The key to a successful evening is, rather predictably, preparation. Write your talk, speak it aloud, condense it on to cards, but practise it. Make sure the launch venue has glasses/plates/bowls or take your own. Do offer a drink, both alcoholic and soft. You don’t need fancy canapés; good supermarket nibbles are fine. Take plenty of postcards (you can put one on each chair beforehand), bookmarks, pens, etc. and a guestbook.
Exactly the same, but you need less food than you think.

Before the hordes arrived!
Before the hordes arrived!

6. If your sales aren’t going through the venue’s tills, then designate a friend to take the cash. You won’t have time – you’ll be busy talking to people and signing books. Exactly the same

7. And smile. The audience has come to see you. They want to hear what you have to say. And they can be incredibly lovely when they queue with their book for you to sign.
This is so true!

Inceptio Talk

8. Always sign the title page, never the cover or a blank leaf. Check how names are spelled.
Be very careful of Nicky/Nickie/Nikki/Nic and don’t let’s talk about all the Kate/Catherine/Kathryn permutations.

9. Arrange for somebody else to take plenty of photographs especially of you holding your book, or high resolution printed image if an ebook.  You can then use these photos to publicise your book further!
Exactly the same

Me and Sue Cook at the till!
Me and Sue Cook at the till!

10. Post photos on your blog, Facebook pages, send a brief write-up to the local paper and monthlies’ social pages.
Exactly the same

The second launch is not the same unknown, but it’s scary in different ways. Friends who came first time may not bother this time, although those who couldn’t make the first launch may come to this one. The big trap is thinking that now you have one big event under your belt, you can wing it – see point 5 above. But once everything’s ready on the night and it’s five minutes to go, take a deep breath, smile and prepare to enjoy it.


Perfiditas cover

Alison’s second book in the Roma Nova series, PERFIDITAS, has just been published in paperback and ebook formats and she’ll be launching it at Waterstones Tunbridge Wells on 6 November. Do go along!

What’s PERFIDITAS about?

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 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…

What others have said

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

Powerful storytelling, vivid characters and a page-turning plot”
– Jean Fullerton

Scenes and characters are sometimes so vividly described that I felt I was watching a movie.” – Sue Cook

And here’s a trailer with some exciting music:

PERFIDITAS is available through your local bookshop (paperback), on your local Amazon (paperback and ebook) and on other online retailers.

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here on her blog at

or on Facebook:


Twitter: @alison_morton

Wow! Thanks Alison for those brilliant tips – I’ll certainly be coming back to this post when I launch my next book. And aren’t those photos of Alison in Waterstones lovely? It’s great to see the big bookshops supporting indies alongside smaller, independent bookshops. Good luck with the book, Alison x

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