I want to welcome Alison Morton to the blog today. Alison and I met at my very first Historical Novel Society conference in 2015. We immediately bonded over our love of history and historical fiction, and our status as military veterans. Alison recently published her latest novel, Julia Prima, which takes place in ancient Rome. I had a few questions for Alison about the book, writing, and more, so let’s get started.
What inspired you to write about this time and place?
JULIA PRIMA was inspired by my Roma Nova series readers. They wanted to know how and why the 21st century Roma Nova, the imaginary country where my heroines have their adventures, was founded back in the 4th century. Most of all, they were more than curious about the people who had stood up for their values in the face of lethal threats and eventually torn themselves away from everything they knew.
In the rest of the Roma Nova series, the modern day characters often refer to Julia Bacausa and Lucius Apulius – their legendary ancestors – so I knew I had to tell their story.
Since the novel is related to your Roma Nova series of books, is it a standalone? Tell us a bit more about how it is tied to your earlier books.
It’s the first of a new strand within the Roma Nova series called ‘The Foundation Stories’. It’s set in the real historical timeline between AD 369 and 371 when the Roman world was riddled with religious strife and on the brink of transformation. Like all the Roma Nova stories, it can be read as a standalone, but it also serves as a distant prequel to the whole series. (A secret: there will be another foundation story to follow JULIA PRIMA. 😉 ) (Char says awesome!!)
Who are the main characters in this new book? Do you have a favorite type of character you enjoy writing?
Julia Bacausa, just twenty, is the passionate and independent daughter of the pagan Celtic ruler of the Virunum region in the Roman province of Noricum (approximately present day Austria). She’s miserable and tense after a failed marriage and although legally divorced under Roman law, there is no religious annulment possible from her Christian ex-husband, the local bishop’s nephew. Her father is wary of the growing political power exerted by the new religion. If she re-marries now in Virunum, it would cause social and political uproar. She can see no future life for herself, let alone any hope of love.
Lucius Apulius is in his mid twenties, the son of an old senatorial family, which is a problem in itself. Diocletian’s reforms in the late Roman Empire promoted equites (second tier aristocracy/upper middle class) and excluded the senatorial class from all senior military commands and from all top administrative posts except in Italy. Despite this, Lucius is making a success of his military career.
In fact, he’s a rising star on Count Theodosius’s staff, taking part in restoring order after a rebellion in Britannia. As a reward, he’s been promised his own command in the west of Britannia – a big step for a ambitious young tribune. It would have made his career. But he’s thrown out because he will not convert to Christianity, the official religion of the Roman Empire, and has been posted to a backwater in the mountains of Noricum. And he’s still very angry about it.
Writing two such uncompromising characters who are nevertheless sensitive human beings smarting from life’s unfairness is pure joy. In fact, part of the fun of writing is creating a raft of characters with vastly different personalities and watching them react with each other!
Tell us about your writing process – plotter, pantser? Do you listen to music soundtracks when you’re writing?
I fall in between – about 15% plotter, 85% pantser. The starting scene is always somebody in trouble or in a dilemma, and I know where the ending of the book should be. In between, I set out three or four critical or turning points, then a dark moment before the climax, and finish with a resolution. Apart from that, it’s a bit fluid. And for me, it is definitely a case of “sounds of silence”.
Historical fiction requires a lot of research! What parts of that research do you enjoy the most? The least?
I’ve been a ‘Roman nut’ since I was eleven years old and have clambered over most of Roman Europe. My masters’ was in history which helps when I’m researching. But I check everything. Everything. However much you think you know, you often find something that contradicts it. Sources can vary wildly or not even exist, especially in Late Antiquity. I love it all, but I do tend to get stuck down a research tunnel with an urge to keep exploring and seeing where it leads.
Researching Late Antiquity Roman dining led me via the changed seating arrangements to the structure of meals, the types of vegetables they ate, how to grow the plants, medicinal herbs, history of fruit trees in Alpine regions, farming methods, and climate change. All I really wanted to check was how they seasoned their food!
Do you have a favorite fictional character?
I have so many, but I suspect Elizabeth Bennett in Pride & Prejudice and Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing would be in the list which would also include Diana Prince (Wonder Woman) and Flora Poste from Stella Gibbons’ Cold Comfort Farm.
If you could choose to be a character in any book, who would it be?
Georgette Heyer’s Sophia Stanton-Lacy in The Grand Sophy – clever, perceptive, caring, and what terrific dialogue Heyer writes for her!
Have you always wanted to be a writer? If you hadn’t become a writer, what do you think you would be doing for a living instead?
No, but much of my working life has entailed writing in one form or another – government and military papers, financial assessments, PR and corporate documentation, and I was a professional translator for many years. I fell into creative writing by accident due to a bad film. However, I’ve been a voracious reader across so many genres I’ve lost count, ever since I clutched my first library ticket in my hand at age five. I’ve always loved imagining people and places, especially quirky ones and places on the edge of change, and telling stories about them. One big regret is that I wish I’d started writing novels earlier in life.
What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Sleeping and eating! No, seriously, gardening, swimming and exploring anything historical. I’ll go a long way for a good Roman ruin and luckily, the Romans left a lot of them in the area of France where I live.
Thanks for stopping by the blog, Alison. You’ve been busy with the blog tour and conferences, and trying to survive the incredible heat wave in France this summer. May your days ahead be calmer and cooler, and best of luck with Julia Prima and Roma Nova!
About the Author
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 two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.
Social media links – Connect with Alison
Roma Nova site: https://alison-morton.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton
Alison’s writing blog: https://alisonmortonauthor.com
Alison’s Amazon page: https://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
Newsletter sign-up: https://www.alison-morton.com/newsletter/
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. Following her heart’s desire brings danger she could never have envisaged…
Buying links for JULIA PRIMA:
Ebook (multiple retailers): https://books2read.com/JULIAPRIMA
Separate ebook retailers if preferred:
Kindle: https://mybook.to/JULIAPRIMA (Universal link)
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0B5LX41B7/
B&N Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/julia-prima-alison-morton/1141719007?ean=2940186610922
Great interview. I have Alison’s other books and I’ll need to add this one to my Kindle 🙂