Good morning, Alison, and welcome to Romaniac HQ. I’ve piped in a little Abba music for the occasion…Ack! Who am I kidding? I play their songs all the time. Have you see the recent TV interviews with Agnetha?
Yes, I caught one on YouTube. I think her new album ‘A’ has just come out?
Which Abba song would you sing at a karaoke night?
Waterloo (the historian’s answer!)
What is it about their music that draws you in?
It’s catchy, melodic and has great lyrics and energy. But mostly it’s the sheer danceability.
I was always in awe of the fact a Scandinavian group wrote in English. Tell me about your love for language.
I was a natural chatterbox who loved reading, and writing stories and listening to them, so that’s the four language skills in a nutshell! As for foreign languages, I learned my first French at age 6 in France, studied French and German at uni and overseas business schools and, via various jobs, became a professional specialist translator. I know a little survivor’s Italian and Spanish, and, of course, Latin! All this paid off when I studied for my history MA and I could read source documents in their original language.
Have cultural experiences influenced your writing? How?
Big time! Sure, I’ve learned about other cultures through the window of their language and literature, but it’s when you stand in the country and touch the buildings and the things they’ve made with your own fingers that it all comes to life. The first time I ‘met’ the Romans was when I was eleven. I was fascinated by the beautiful mosaics in the Roman part of Ampurias (a huge Graeco-Roman site in Spain). I wanted to know who had made them, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them.
I think I’ve always been a closet historian, or perhaps it’s sheer nosiness! It’s perfectly normal to me to clamber over Roman aqueducts, walk on mosaic pavements, follow the German frontier limes, visit Roman loos in France, pretend I’m a Roman playactor in classic theatres all over Europe from Spain to then Yugoslavia, from Hadrian’s Wall to Pompeii.
How do you use your research to write about alternative civilisations?
Ah, very good question! Setting a story in the past or in another country is a challenge. But if you invent the country, then your work is doubled. For instance, the geography and climate must resemble the ones in the region where the imagined country lies. I’ll confess: I ‘borrowed’ Slovenia as the model for Roma Nova where my novel INCEPTIO is set. The other thing no writer in any genre can neglect their imagined country’s social, economic and political development. This sounds dry, but every living person is a product of their local conditions. Their experience of living in a place and struggle to make sense of it is expressed through their culture and behaviour.
The key is plausibility. Take a character working in law enforcement. Readers can accept cops being gentle or tough, enthusiastic, intellectual or world-weary. Law enforcers come from all genders, classes, races and ages and stand in different places along the personal morality ruler. But whether corrupt or clean, they must act like a recognisable form of cop. They catch criminals, arrest and charge them and operate within a judicial system. Legal practicalities can differ significantly from those we know, but they must be consistent with the imagined society but remain plausible for the reader. But a flashing light and an oscillating siren on a police vehicle are universal symbols that instantly connect readers back to their own world.
I try to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative details to reinforce the original setting. Even though INCEPTIO is set in the 21st century, the Roma Novan characters say things like ‘I wouldn’t be in your sandals (not ‘shoes’) when he finds out.’ And there are honey-coated biscuits (honey was important for the ancient Romans) not chocolate digestives in the squad room.
Another way to connect to readers when writing from an unfamiliar setting is to ensure the characters display normal behaviour. Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys. Of course, they’re expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or (to us) peculiar way. But we can identify with a romantic relationship, whether painful, instant, careful or intense – it binds us into the characters’ lives.
New York – present day alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe.
Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.
Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else and alienated from Conrad, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it…
It sounds so exciting!
Which three words best describe Alison Morton?
Ha ha! I laugh because I had to ask friends and colleagues exactly this question during a business coaching session. Their most frequent three were: motivated, imaginative, organised. Mine for me are: persistent, nosy, positive.
If you lived in Roman times, what name would you use, and what would be your occupation?
In early Roman times women usually took their father’s family name differentiated by Prima, Secunda, Tertia (First, Second, Third) or Maior (the Older) or Minor (the Younger), but later were often named for both male and female relatives, so a huge choice! Using later conventions, I’ll go for Aelia, the nearest-looking first name to Alison, and Carola after my father’s first name (Aren’t you glad you asked?).
And my occupation? At no time in Ancient Rome’ were women allowed to hold public office or work in the government. Elite and middle class women didn’t have jobs. But there’s a lot of evidence for women running small businesses and working in practical trades as well as the oldest profession. Of course, the silent influence of strong women was everywhere… I think I’d run a small business. Could this be me, tallying up the accounts?
Now for some Romaniac Quick Fire questions. Ready?
(Takes deep breath.)
Dream dance partner? Patrick Swayze
Favourite Frenchman? Alain Delon
Afternoon Tea or Picnic in the Park? Picnic
Denim or silk? Denim
France or Florida? France (as I live there!)
Sea bathing or private pool? Private pool (but I love a dip in the sea now and again.)
Jogging or walking? Walking
French wine or English cider? Difficult, but on balance wine
Cheddar or Brie? As long as the Cheddar is a good one…
Alison, thank you so much for joining us today, in our own alternate Romaniac universe.
Ego tibi gratias maximas ago (Thanks a million!).
You can find INCEPTIO on Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/INCEPTIO-Roma-Nova-ebook/dp/B00BMU5OW6 and Amazon US http://www.amazon.com/INCEPTIO-Roma-Nova-ebook/dp/B00BMU5OW6
You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here:
Photographs courtesy of Alison Morton.