What can you tell us about your new novel Inceptio?
It’s an alternate history thriller where New Yorker Karen Brown, hunted by a killer, flees to her mother’s mysterious homeland, Roma Nova, a country founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and now ruled by women. Karen breaks up with her new lover, arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, and finds a new career as an undercover cop. But despite her training and skills, she has to ask for Conrad's help – the killer has followed her and set a vicious trap knowing she’ll have no choice but to spring it...
Why did you decide to start the book in New York?
I wanted to make the first part of Karen’s life a complete contrast to the new one she’s going to have to deal with when she arrives in Roma Nova, which lies deep in central Europe.
However, this New York is an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI; California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire; and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples. As J K Rowling knew with Harry Potter’s world, although you don’t put it in the books, you have to have worked it all out in your head!
You have a master's degree in history, so how much has this aided your writing?
It taught me to be very sceptical! Seriously, you acquire study and research skills and learn to never give up until you’ve found corroboration for everything. You’re allowed to be as nosy as you like – history is the story of people – who they were, what they did, why they did it and what did they feel about it. Studying at masters’ level gives you the discipline to direct your own work, produce analysis of your research in a readable form and to write to deadlines – all great foundation skills for writing novels.
When did your interest in the Romans begin?
I was on holiday in north-east Spain one summer. I was eleven and fascinated by the mosaics in the Roman part of Ampurias (a huge Graeco-Roman site). I wanted to know who had made them, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them.
After my father explained about traders, senators, power and families, I tilted my head to one side and asked him, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain; maybe early feminism surfacing or maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”
Real life intervened (school, university, career, military, marriage, parenthood, business ownership, move to France), but the idea bubbled away in my mind and the INCEPTIO story slowly took shape. My mind was morphing the setting of ancient Rome into a new type of Rome, a state that survived the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire into the 21st century, but retained its Roman identity. And one where the social structure changed; women were going to be leading society.
You are currently working on the second in the series, Perfiditas, so what can you tell us about this?
PERFIDITAS is based on the Latin word “perfidia” which means faithlessness, treachery, falsehood. And there is plenty of this on personal, professional and national levels. It’s seven years on from INCEPTIO and we meet Carina, Conrad, Aurelia and Lurio again, plus a few other familiar faces. And we learn more about Roma Nova and some of the other characters’ backgrounds. But treachery is in the air and leads to a shocking showdown.
You were a playwright (age 7!), an article writer and an editor of a local magazine when you were young, so when did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I’d always had an overactive imagination but the trigger for me writing INCEPTIO happened one Wednesday when I’d gone to the local
multiplex cinema with my husband. Thirty minutes into the film, we agreed it was really, really bad. The cinematography was beautiful, but the plot dire and narration uneven.
‘I could do better than that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.
‘So why don’t you?’ came my husband’s reply.
Ninety days later, I’d written 96,000 words, the first draft of INCEPTIO.
It needed editing, refining, polishing, but the sluice gate had opened. I’m now drafting book four in the Roma Nova series.
Please tell us about your previous publication Military or Civilians?
It’s a non-fiction history eBook telling the hidden story of the half-million ordinary German women who joined the regular armed forces during the Second World War. We hear many stories about the brave women in the British ATS, Wrens and WRAF, but know very little about their German counterparts. I studied this area for my masters’ dissertation and became more and more fascinated as I went along. This wartime generation is dying out, so it was important to capture their story before it was too late. With the eBooks revolution, I published it myself to Amazon.
Which writers do you most admire?
I’ll read anything as long as it has a good plot! I love historicals – I practically grew up on Rosemary Sutcliffe and Jean Plaidy – all periods from ancient to the 1950s, but my favourites are Romans and medieval.
What else? Good contemporary fiction with a twist or surreal elements like Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry. And then there are spies, crime and thrillers... Ian Rankin, of course, Lee Child, any of J D Robb’s Eve Dallas series and the Latin detective Falco by Lindsey Davis. The spy author William Boyd is terrific; his Restless is one of my favourite books as it entwines the multiple betrayals of the Cold War with the lives of mother and daughter.
Of course, I read alternate history novels, but I prefer the ones that involve dilemmas in people’s lives, whether romantic, political or a question of survival rather than battles and epics. Robert Harris’ Fatherland, Kingsley Amis’ The Alteration and recently C J Sansom’s Dominion are three great alternate stories.
You were born in West Kent, so what made you decide to move to France?
I’d had a long affinity with France, having spent many long holidays here since the age of five, chattering away with other kids, not realising I was learning French as I went along! I studied at business school here and had a fab time as the student life was very lively. Several years later when I brought my husband here on a camping holiday (our first together!), he fell in love with France. From that point on, we started plotting our move.
Do I need to go on about the sunny weather, the wine and food, the high quality of life, the peace and tranquillity of rural France? ;-)
What is next for you?
The publication of PERFIDITAS in the autumn, several conferences in the UK, including the Romantic Novelists’ Association one in Sheffield and Geek Feminism in London about women in science fiction. In the meantime, it’s back to writing the next novel…
INCEPTIO by Alison Morton is out now in paperback and eBook (SilverWood Books, £9.99 and £2.99)