Alison Morton | Roma Nova: Alternative History

On Author Chats today, a writer I’ve wanted to talk to for ages, for I love the clever concept and brilliant voice of her Roma Nova series. Besides, who doesn’t love strong women decision-makers! Alison Morton, thanks for stopping by.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
At age seven on a beach in the south of France when I was telling a story and the other children stopped talking and listened to the end. I was thrilled and a little scared. Then I discovered I could do the same when writing, even the dullest of reports. But you can’t do it on pure instinct; you need to learn the art and craft of communicating to boost any natural ability. And that takes hard work!
What is the first book that made you cry?
The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. Young Roman officer Marcus Flavius Aquila wanted to know the truth about the disappearance of his father’s legion in northern Britain. But he was devastated to discover that the mutinous legion was annihilated by northern tribes. However, this disgrace was redeemed through a heroic last stand by a small remnant (including Marcus’s father) around the legion’s eagle standard. I cried when Marcus’s hope of finding the lost legion was destroyed. He’d been on such an emotionally charged and physically dangerous journey. He did recover the bronze eagle – very important so the ‘barbarians’ could no longer use it as a symbol of victory over the Romans.
It was an exciting, but very tense read when you were nine years old!
Do you want each book you write to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections or themes between each book?
Publishing INCEPTIO in 2013 brought a dream in existence. The idea of a remnant of the Roman Empire surviving into the 21st century along with its culture and values had been bubbling  in my mind for decades! I even knew its name would be Roma Nova. Three years of hard slog resulted in an alternative history thriller featuring a seemingly ordinary girl with a mysterious ancient heritage. The twist? Roma Nova was ruled by women.
But as soon as I had sent INCEPTIO for editing, I was desperate to find out what happened next to my heroine, hence PERFIDITAS. After that, I wanted to push my heroine and her hero to the precipice, plus bring in the next generation to play a strong part, so I wrote SUCCESSIO a title that signifies the passing of the torch to the next generation.
But as I drafted what I thought was the last Roma Nova novel, I found a significant secondary character, Aurelia, was tugging at my fingers and my heart to write her story spanning the late 1960s to early 1980s. Three books later – AURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO – I had written about her lifelong nemesis, her part in Roma Nova’s great rebellion and revealed her secret lover…
The two novellas, CARINA and NEXUS? Everybody seemed to be writing one and I enjoyed giving Carina and Aurelia their own side story, each of which featured an incident mentioned in the full-length books.
Every story is complete – I hate cliff-hangers – but they are inter-connected; Carina is Aurelia’s grand-daughter. Readers can start at INCEPTIO  for the four books in the ‘present’ or AURELIA  for those set two generations before.
Tell me more about your newest release.
What kind of research did you do, and how long did it take you?
Although set in the 20th and 21st centuries, each Roma Nova book is imbued with the Ancient Roman value of service to the state. NEXUS features Aurelia in the 1970s and the start of her connection to the British colleague who will support her in RETALIO. In the first scenes, she’s a temporary diplomat, but as the story unfolds, she reverts to her intelligence/military role. For this aspect I drew on personal experience – that was the easy part! NEXUS starts in the London Roma Nova legation (embassy) rebuilt in the 17th century on the site of the Ancient Roman castrum  (military camp). In real life I used to work very near there, so could use my memory as well as reference books, including Tacitus’ Agricola. Even though it’s a few since I completed my history masters’, research techniques somehow still persist in my brain!
I took an extra day when I was in London last year for my son’s wedding to revisit the Museum of London and walk the remains of Roman London. Nothing comes close to touching Roman concrete; I’ve run my fingers over it across the whole of Roman Europe!
How do you select the names of your characters?
Somehow, my first heroine’s name, Karen, just emerged. I wanted it to be everyday but it had to be one that could easily elide into a Latin one. After a great deal of dictionary and internet work, I found Carina. I deliberately gave my second heroine, Aurelia, a very traditional Roman name as it reflected her character. Their surname, Mitela, is a play on the Latin for myrtle (myrtus), a symbol of their family. This sounds very well thought out, but it wasn’t! More a case of mental stumbling around… Hero Conradus has a foreign sounding name with a Latin ending in order to give him a flavour of being the outsider even though he comes from one of the ancient families. His father was Austrian, by the way.
The other characters’ names are based on Ancient Roman family and first names; names give us a flavour of the character and their background, so extremely important for bringing the reader straight into the story.
What would you want readers to think when they reach “the end.”
To be satisfied/slightly stunned/to be desperate to read the next book in the series. More maturely, to have been provoked into thinking differently, having seen the gender reversal that is worn lightly, yet naturally, in Roma Nova. Perhaps they may wonder what could have happened differently in the world if even a small number of Romans still existed. Would they have had the impact I’ve given them? But then, much of Ancient Rome still touches us today…
Quick Q & A
Tea or Coffee
Coffee with breakfast, but tea the rest of the day
Dark or Milk Chocolate
When were you the happiest?
Clambering over any Roman ruin then going for a glass of wine afterwards to take it all in. Luckily, a repeatable experience!
Favourite Children’s Book
Any Narnia, but especially The Horse and his Boy
Favourite Adult Novel
Restless by William Boyd

Alison Morton writes the award-winning Roma Nova series featuring modern Praetorian heroines – “intelligent adventure thrillers with heart.” She puts this down to her deep love of Roman history, six years’ military service, a masters’ in history and an over-vivid imagination. She blogs, reads, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband.
All six full-length Roma Nova novels have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. Novellas CARINA and NEXUS and a collection of short stories – ROMA NOVA EXTRA – complete the series so far.
Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site:
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @alison_morton
Alison’s Amazon page:
Ebook: (all retailers)
A favour for a friend or a bullet in the heart?
Aurelia Mitela is serving as Roma Nova’s ambassador in London. But a spate of high-level killings wrenches her away from helping a friend into leading a pan-European investigation. Badly beaten in Rome as a warning, she is devastated when the killers kidnap her companion, Miklós, and send an ultimatum: Back off or he’ll die.
But Aurelia is a Roma Novan and they never give up…
Set in the mid 1970s between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO in the Aurelia Mitela Roma Nova adventures
Discovering Diamonds Book of the Month
“Fans of Morton’s Roma Nova series will adore this battle of might and personality. NEXUS is House of Cards meets Game of Thrones. A taut European novella to make you catch your breath.” – JJ Marsh, author of The Beatrice Stubbs Series