An Interview with Alison Morton

Alison Morton has been delighting readers with her alternative historical fiction, crime fiction, and historical fiction for more than a decade. I have had the pleasure of meeting her at past Historical Novel Society conferences, and collaborated on two anthologies with her.

Welcome, Alison. Congratulations on your new book, EXSILIUM, just out!

This is the 11th book in the Roma Nova series, the second truly historical fiction – all the others have been alternate history thrillers. How would you describe the Roma Nova series for anyone who hasn’t yet plunged into the fascinating world you’ve created?

Suppose, just suppose, history had gone down a slightly different path. What would a 21st century Europe look like if a tiny part of the Ancient Roman Empire had survived?

Roma Nova is that country and embodies a distinctly Roman but at the same time a modern lifestyle in a country led by women and where honour and courage count. Of course, there are traitors, conspirators and criminals – a truly Roman society! 

The Roma Nova heroines serve as Praetorian officers, run businesses, serve in the Senate, and they flourish as technologists, inventors and creatives, with an imperatrix as their ruler. But the men are definitely not disadvantaged!

Through the series, heroines and heroes face conspiracy, revolution and heartache and must use their wits, courage and a sharp line in dialogue to defend their country against all comers. The latest adventure, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the dawn of the foundation of Roma Nova.

I was thrilled to visit Southern Austria last year and walk round the valley that had been my historical heroine Julia’s homeland and the part of the world on which I modelled Roma Nova. Nothing compares with breathing the air where your characters may have also breathed!

Did you plan to write a long series or did it just develop naturally?

Ah… I only wanted to write a book. One book. Just like everybody else wants to write a book. This became INCEPTIO featuring heroine Carina. Then I realised I wanted to know what happened to my characters and so I wrote PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. 

Writing SUCCESSIO, which was definitely going to be the last book, I became intensely interested in Carina’s grandmother’s earlier life. What part had Aurelia played in the Great Rebellion? What was her her relationship with the notorious usurper in Roma Nova’s past? So another book was needed – AURELIA. Of course, I had too much story, so two more books emerged full of the rebellion and resistance – INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. 

After that, I couldn’t leave it alone and decided to have a crack at writing a novella so dropped CARINA into the first trilogy to recount an adventure between INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS and NEXUS into the second trilogy between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO. No longer trilogies, I named the four 21st century thrillers as “The Carina strand” and the second four which take place 1960s to 1980s “The Aurelia strand’” all with new covers. Talk about making trouble for myself! 

The two historical fiction novels – JULIA PRIMA and EXSILIUM – are all the fault of my fans who wanted to know the full origin story of Roma Nova. But I loved writing them!  

What do you think makes a great story?

Good characters, undoubtedly. A strong plot is essential in any story, but the characters must drive it. If the reader doesn’t root for the characters, cry with them and celebrate with them, even the most clever and twisty plot doesn’t work and the reader feels short changed. 

Close behind those two is setting which includes time period as well as physical setting. What’s happening in that world, what’s the weather like? How do people prosper or even survive? Where does the main threat come from in that place and time?

What is your favourite part of being a writer?

When the characters try to take over the story. It’s truly weird. One other wonderful moment is when I hold a print copy, usually a paperback, in my hands for the first time. And a third would be talking about the books or writing at an event. I love sharing the Roman and Roma Nova love!

Where do you see the series going now? Are you tempted to choose a different subject matter for your next book?  

I don’t know! I do wonder if readers might want something different. I published a book of short stories a few years ago – the two historical novels are a development of one of them – and I might so the same based on some other unpublished stories. 

I revealed the mystery of the disappearance of Carina’s mother in a short story at the back of the INCEPTIO anniversary hardback edition, so I won’t go there again. I may look at the part the Roma Novans played in the Battle of Vienna in 1683, but the research could be enormous. We’ll see! 

Have you started on the next book yet? 

I’ve written the first chapter of the next Mélisende contemporary thriller in the Doubles series. After being in the 4th century for two book, it’s refreshing to come back to the 21st. It’s also good to have a complete change of environment. I live in France and I’ve always hankered after writing a book set here. I ended up writing two and I realised hadn’t finished her story.

I’ve given her an inner conflict with a French father and a British mother so sometimes she’s called Mel and other times Mélisende. She doesn’t always know which country and culture she truly belongs to.

She’s an ex-special forces intelligence analyst so I can draw on my military experience for her background, although the French Army is organised very differently! But I haven’t kept Rome out of it entirely as in Double Pursuit, I’ve written a chase round the ruins of Trajan’s Markets.

You can keep the writer out of Rome, but not Rome out of the writer…

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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. 


Facebook: AlisonMortonAuthor 
Twitter/X: @alison_morton

One response to “An Interview with Alison Morton”

  1. Alison Morton Avatar

    Thank you so much for hosting me and EXSILIUM, Charlene. I love talking about books and writing – any excuse, and a new book is a perfect one!

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