Read an excerpt HERE.

Click on image to buy PERFIDITAS.BRAG

Read an excerpt HERE.

Click on image to buy INCEPTIO. Amazon bestseller

Adventurous, empowering, high-concept, kick-ass, human

eaglePerhaps I should add fun…

What in Hades am I talking about?

I stumbled upon this post from Author Learning Centre called ‘Brand Development for Authors: Discovering Your Visual Identity‘. It encouraged you to list five words that sum up your book or series in order to help develop a visual image to firm up your ‘brand’.

So what is a brand?

–  A trademark or distinctive name identifying a product or manufacturer
–  A product line so identified
–  A distinctive category; a particular kind
–  The act of giving a product a distinctive identity by means of characteristic design, packaging, etc
–  Placing a product indelibly in the memory

So this is an experiment to see what happens to this post. Do the five words plus visual image work as a message with impact?
My five words are in the title; the eagle is the Roma Novan visual brand.

What are yours?

Perhaps you’d like to comment and share to see how far we can take this…


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

Conferencius interruptus

Pie and chipsLast weekend (well, from Thursday evening), I attended the Harrogate History Festival, but I took a break on the Saturday for an awayday to London.

And I wasn’t in the bar at The Lamb in Conduit Street just for the mouthwatering steak & kidney pie and chips! Upstairs in the meeting room,   Christina Courtenay (historical and Young Adult fiction), Monica Fairview (world of Darcy sub-genres) and I gave a workshop to fellow London & South-East chapter members of the Romantic Novelists’ Association about writing in a specialist genre with in the romantic field.

So what are Darcyworld, YA and althist?

Jane Austen’s books are immensely popular and Mr Darcy is the favourite of all her heroes, Monica said. Sequels, spin-offs, pastiches, modernisations, or paranormal, there have been hundreds of variations. However, the hero had to retain Darcy’s essential nature (even as a vampire!), his inner conflict and his journey out of unwarranted pride. Elizabeth and Darcy need to be the core couple as in Pride and Prejudice.

Christina followed with a definition what is meant by ‘Young Adult’: a readership of 13 to 18 years old and shorter books, often 60,000 words, centred on teenage concerns, especially teenage angst and first love.

I outlined how alternative history differed from fantasy, paranormal and science fiction; I wrote at the history end of the scale. Plausibility and consistency were key and it was important to follow historical logic to project the alternative path that history had taken. (More about ‘althist’)

Language, violence and sex

These should be readership and age appropriate, especially for the YA readers. All three of us who were to some extent historical writers were very aware of using straightforward language with no ‘prithees’ and no very date-specific slang.

The Darcy sub-genre, Monica said, included work from sweet and inspirational to erotica, but courtship was the most important element. The Roma Nova books are mainly for adults – I have readers from 16 to 85 years old – so I include levels of language, violence and sex as appropriate to any contemporary set novel with a core romantic relationship.

YA tends to concentrate on the ups and downs of the main character’s first love/crush. Bering in mind the age range of 13-18, YA writers would not describe sex and sexual tension in the same way as in books for adults. Each publisher had its own guidelines, but Christina was firm in saying she would’t write explicit sex scenes in her YA novels.

Tips and hints 

RNA panel Oct 2014

Alison, Christina and Monica (photo courtesy of Janet Gover)

Althist - If you want to write in an alternate history setting, two things: do your historical research and build your new world. You won’t use more that a small proportion of that accumulated knowledge and invention, but you must immerse yourself in it if you are to write in a way to convince your readers.

Young Adult – Read a lot of YA books and watch YA films and TV programmes. Chat with a friend who was a teenager when you were. Dig out the old photos and reminisce.

Darcy/Jane Austen’s world – If you haven’t yet, immerse yourself in the Austen books, especially Pride and Prejudice. Interact with fans online and find out why they love the books, spinoffs and sequels.

My main message: The story, whatever the setting, must be strong enough to stand as a narrative in its own right as must the development of the emotional relationship.

So that’s knocked firmly on the head the popular, but unwarranted, view that romantic writing is all about pink gauze and marrying a duke. Today’s reader wants more, a lot more, and the romantic field is widening into every sort of sub-genres to meet this demand. Any more suggestions?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

A historically festive weekend in Harrogate - Part One

IMG_0155Conferences can be stimulating, fun or exhausting, or possibly all three. It’s wise to prepare beforehand, not just your travel tickets and hotel bookings, but which sessions you want to go to. Then you find out you want to go to all of them. Then you discover the conference clashes with a promised speaking engagement.

Okay, let’s do both.

Harrogate History Festival started dramatically enough with a Viking invasion last Thursday evening,  The Ormsheim Vikings, a Dark Ages reenactment group brought fire and presence to The Old Swan Hotel.

This was followed by Bernard Cornwell presenting the Historical Fiction Writers’ Association debut fiction award to Kate Worsley for She Rises. At the party afterwards, I was really brave and spoke to some of the Vikings…

Bernard Cornwell and Mark Lawson

“So is this book any good, then?”


Bernard Cornwell’s interview with arts broadcaster Mark Lawson jump-started Saturday morning. Nobody tells politically incorrect, but riveting stories like Bernard Cornwell does.



John Jackson and Alison Morton

With John Jackson


During the interval, I was grabbing a cup of coffee, when I heard a voice say, ‘Hello Alison.’ It was John Jackson, Romantic Novelists’ Association friend and reader and Twitter friend. Living locally, he’d popped in to hear Bernard Cornwell.

Elizabeth Chadwick and Vanora Bennett

Elizabeth Chadwick and Vanora Bennett


Writing friend Elizabeth Chadwick was up next, interviewed by Vanora Bennett and talked about her writing life, methods, research and next book in her Eleanor of Aquitaine series. Approachable and friendly in her manner, Elizabeth gave us insights in both an entertaining and informative way. You can find her research photos, sample book sentences and reading choices on her  daily Facebook posts – she loves social media!

Manda (MC) Scott introducing the shortlistees

Manda (MC) Scott introducing the shortlistees

Dipping out at this stage to chat to a couple of friends and mooch around the bookshop, I went back after lunch to hear from the debut award shortlistees about how they started, their research, themes and the experience of the first novel. Interesting there was nothing before the 18th century…

Alison Weir and Sarah Gristwood picked up the thorny and well as evergreen(!) subject of Richard III and the princes in the Tower, but from the point of view of the women involved – Elizabeth Woodville, Cecily Neville, Margaret Beaufort and Elizabeth of York. The answer still isn’t as clear as it could be…




At dinner Elizabeth Chadwick and I compared notes on the day’s events, books, publishing and how to solve the world’s problems.

Sandi Toksvig and Manda Scott

Sandi Toksvig and Manda Scott





Friday ended on a comedy high as Sandi Toksvig was interviewed by festival organising chair, Manda Scott. Sandi had to choose  eight books she would take to the fictional desert island.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

Meet Ruth Downie - historical truth and donkey poo

Ruth DownieRuth Downie read too much Jane Austen at university, emerged with an English degree and a plan to get married and live happily ever after. As a backup she learned typing and shorthand, in the mistaken beliefs that people would always need secretaries and that she might be quite good at it. Finally escaping into fiction, she won the Fay Weldon section of the BBC’s End of Story competition in 2004.

The first book in her crime series featuring Roman Army medic Ruso and his British partner, Tilla, was a New York Times bestseller under the title ‘Medicus’. It was published as ‘Ruso and the Disappearing Dancing Girls,’ in the UK, where The Times recommended it as one of their ‘Seven best thrillers for Christmas’. The sixth in the series, ‘Tabula Rasa,’ is published this year. She is currently working on the next book and also spends several weeks every summer wielding an archaeological trowel in search of inspiration.

Welcome Ruth! We first met on Helen Hollick’s ‘The Wonder of Rome‘ blog hop last year. You wrote a great post called ‘First drown your ape‘ about  Roman doctors. I love your grumpy hero, Ruso. Tell us more about him…

On arrival in Britannia, Gaius Petreius Ruso’s needs are simple. All he wants
1. is to get on with his job as a medic in Rome’s Twentieth Legion, and thus
2. clear a few family debts.

Roman Medical chest (Reconstruction)

Roman Medical chest (Reconstruction)

He doesn’t need – or want –
1. an injured British slave girl with a name he can’t pronounce
2. her opinions
3. anyone else’s opinions
4. any unexplained dead bodies, because it certainly isn’t his job to pursue whoever killed them.


Unfortunately, the Roman Empire is a violent place, and the gods don’t care what Ruso wants. They have more interesting plans…

Do you think historical accuracy matters in a historical novel? And connected to that, do you think fiction does anything to help us understand the past, or is it purely entertainment?

I’m sure historical accuracy is important, but I’ve lived long enough to learn that “truth” is a slippery word. Today’s accepted facts can be swept aside by tomorrow’s shiny new theory, and if you think ‘history’ is done, dusted and settled, then you and I haven’t been reading the same books.

In the trenches

In the trenches

Archaeology, you’d think, should be safe. After all, you can see it, touch it and photograph it. However, I’m mightily glad I never wrote that short story about the poignant ceremony where the soldiers of Maryport buried their stone altars and then marched away, never to return. The area has been re-examined since I visited, and we now know that the altars weren’t reverently buried at all. They were dumped in foundation pits as hard core.

Written evidence is tricky too. Even if we have the ‘facts’ straight, we all naturally choose to record the parts of a story that strike us as important. That’s why we know so much about the lives and opinions of wealthy men in the classical world, and so little about their slaves, or about the many women who neither married a famous man nor murdered one.

Meanwhile, the ancient Britons steadfastly refused to write anything down, so all we have is the opinions and inventions of their conquerors. And archaeology, of course. Which is, as we know, open to interpretation.

Violence as entertainment - Chester Roman Festival, 2011

Violence as entertainment – Chester Roman Festival, 2011

Strangely, attitudes are easier to pin down. I don’t know anyone who would dispute that, under the Roman empire, slavery was normal, women were generally deemed to be less intelligent than men, and violence was frequently entertaining.

Of course, some writers will deliberately choose to be “inaccurate” – altering and augmenting the stories most of us believe about our past. Others – and I’m one of them – would rather work within the currently accepted facts about our chosen period. Certainly, the scarcity of information about Britain in the early second century is such that it leaves plenty of room for invention. We know that Roman soldiers were allowed to form partnerships with local women, and we know there was some sort of rebellion in the early years of Hadrian’s reign, but we have no details. Only in fiction can we feel the torn loyalties of a soldier’s girlfriend, or the mistrust between the occupying forces and the locals.

A source for a remedy?

A source for a remedy?

Imagination aside, there’s marvellous material from beyond these shores to decorate the gaps between the evidence. Ruso regularly refers to genuine medical recipes from the ancient world. Constrained by accuracy, I’ve never yet written any scorpions into Britannia. If one ever appears, I shall instantly write a pile of dried donkey manure, drop some into a cup of wine and stir well before offering this authentic remedy to its unlucky victim.

I think the best we writers can do (and heaven knows, most of us aren’t historians, so we’re constantly playing catch-up) is to love our chosen era enough to immerse ourselves in the research and try to create something that seems authentic at the time. Something that, crucially, we ourselves believe in. We’re bound to get some things wrong. For that, we apologise. It’s only fiction, after all.

Thank you, Ruth. I don’t think I’ll be going near any scorpions in the near future…

Find out more about Ruth:
Twitter:  @ruthsdownie
Facebook: Ruth Downie      Ruso and Tilla

Ruth’s latest book, Tabula Rasa is officially out today! (23 October)
Tabula Rasa coverRuso and his wife Tilla are stationed in the borderlands of Britannia, helping to tend the builders of Hadrian’s Great Wall.

Having been forced to move off their land, the Britons are distinctly on edge, and are still smarting from the failure of a recent rebellion that claimed many lives. Then Ruso’s recently arrived clerk, Candidus, goes missing. A native boy thinks he sees a body being hidden inside the wall’s half-finished stonework, and a worrying rumour begins to spread.

When the soldiers ransack the nearby farms looking for Candidus, Tilla’s tentative friendship with a local family turns to anger and disappointment – and then a child vanishes in the company of a lone, unidentified solder.

As tensions rise between the Britons and the Romans, Ruso must find the missing boy before it’s too late.

Amazon UK      Amazon US


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.

You don’t want to be alone!

writingSitting by yourself, in a spare bedroom, study, or even at the dining room table, and tapping away on a keyboard can be a lonely business. People wonder why you don’t go outdoors on a sunny day or wander into the village for a leisurely drink at the local bar or browse around the market. But you don’t want to see, let alone talk, to other people. You are absorbed in your writing world.

Of course, you need to get the word count or the hours in on your latest work in progress – that’s understood. But why do you need to interact with other people? Ninety-six percent of people aren’t interested in writing or in your latest work, you mutter to yourself. You’ve often watched their eyes glaze over when you reply honestly to the enquiry about how your writing is going. But four per cent are interested and you need to find them. Why?

  • Your mental health – you are a human being who needs contact with like-minded souls
  • Learning from others’ experiences – competitions, agents, the ever-increasing number of routes to publication, conferences, writing and book events
  • Getting critiques from other writers – not Auntie Maud who taught English or your mate at work
  • Learning new writing techniques and approaches to work – not just how to sling words together, but about characterisation, the senses, novel or poetry structure, research
  • Networking to make those vital contacts to get your book published
  • Not boring your nearest and dearest
Colleagues at the RNA Conference

Colleagues at the RNA Conference

So where are these fellow-writers? Starting locally, try and find a writing group. Look in the local press, the library and online. Ask anybody who has a faint connection with writing. Ask at your local book club – some of them may be writers. Have a chat to the organiser and go and try out such a group. The main requirements are a supportive open atmosphere, honesty and a lack of ego-tripping.

Next are writing associations, usually specific to a genre of writing, such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association or the Historical Novel Society. They have events, regional groups, newsletters, Facebook pages, websites, blogs – you name it! If you are thinking of self-publishing nothing beats the camaraderie of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi). Even remotely, you can benefit enormously.

ALLI authors meet up at the London Book Fair April 2014

ALLI authors meet up at the London Book Fair April 2014

Online critique groups can be a little daunting at first, but as you grow a writer’s thick skin, you’re likely to find it helpful and inspiring as well as immensely valuable. But you’ll need to plunge in!

Going to conferences can be a real boost to your writing. There are hundreds of literary festivals each year in the UK, including more practical ones for writers such as the Writers’ Workshop events where you can meet fellow writers, agents and publishers. Moreover, you may hook up with another writer you can develop into a writing buddy, or more formally, critique partner. With Skype and email it’s no problem to discuss and work on writing together at distance. The writing buddy must be someone you trust, so it may take a little while to get to know them. Mine has kept me sane and grounded over the years so they’re worth their weight in gold!

Happy writing!


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, and PERFIDITAS. Third in series, SUCCESSIO, is now out.

Find out about Roma Nova news, writing tips and info by signing up for my free monthly email newsletter.