Awards - do they mean anything?

When I began writing novels, I knew the value of recognition in the form of awards, prizes and third party endorsements; I’d owned and run a small business for over fifteen years and been very involved in the PR side of things.

Recognition – the public acknowledgement of your ability, achievement, merits or services – is something most humans crave, whether admitted or not. Perhaps it’s an (un)acknowledged motivator for writing and publishing a book. Of course, writing can be for other reasons, but little beats the tingle of seeing your name on the front of a work you’ve created. (Except an award!)

Recognition takes many forms, such as a mention in the mass media, praise from your peers, congratulations from your family and friends, invitations to speak, and importantly, reaction from the consumers of your work, the readers.

When your book first comes out, you can feel self-conscious. What right have I to thrust my scribblings onto the world? But as the plaudits come in, you realise that you may have strung some words together in a more than acceptable manner. You start to enjoy the sensation you have given pleasure to a lot of people. Once found, readers love your books. Your reputation is growing. But how do you find wider recognition?

Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller!

Endorsements, prizes and reviews are three ways, and I love them!  SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as the Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choices (second logo from left in the image above) and so longlisted for the HNS indie Novel Award in the year they were published. AURELIA made it to the last four (centre logo)!

On Amazon UK INCEPTIO has over 80 reviews, the others mostly over 20 and all with high average stars, even 4.9 for AURELIA. And SUCCESSIO was picked as an Editor’s Choice in the first indie review in no less than The Bookseller!

But today I’m looking at the awards that have been given to the Roma Nova books. Indie books generally don’t attract the ‘big’ prizes given by a prestigious panel of judges, but there are many valuable awards specifically for indies that are given by that even more critical group — the readers.

Not all awards are equal. It’s worth looking at the conditions and eligibility rules as well as the range of books that have won the awards. Taking my courage in my hands, I submitted the Roma Nova books to the independent quality mark organisation indieBRAG.  It has a fearsome bar – a 90% rejection rate – which, of course, enhances the value of its award. ‘BRAG’ stands for Book Reader Appreciation Group and the group examining each book consists of ten experienced readers; all ten have to like your book!

The latest, awarded this week to AURELIA, is called Chill with a Book’ Reader Award and was set up by the indefatigable Pauline Barclay. Once again, the books are judged by readers.

Readers are the ones who shell out their (taxed) money to support authors. In return, we give them hours of entertainment, an emotional journey, we open new vistas and sometimes cause them to think differently.

Given the huge choice of books available today, quality awards based on pleasing readers give the wider reading public an assured guide into the world of new independent fiction.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

All change at Roma Nova!

When I typed the last word of the first draft of INCEPTIO in 2009 I didn’t have a clue what to do with it. After advice, professional assessment, and submitting to a lot of agents whose response was “great concept, great story, great writing – not sure I could sell it” I decided to go the independent route. Following my nature and professional experience, I researched it to death. I’d self-published a history book in 2012, so I knew how hard it was! Although a computer geek, when it came to publishing and printing I knew enough to know that I didn’t have the fine skills to achieve the top of the trees result I wanted for INCEPTIO.

So I searched for help and found what I was looking for – assisted publishing – in SilverWood Books of Bristol. That first telephone conversation with publishing director Helen Hart has stayed with me. She was encouraging but realistic, emphasising that they didn’t accept every manuscript, that I might not get the costs back, that publishing under your own steam was hard work. She was very straightforward about the services that SilverWood offered and what it didn’t.

I was impressed. What a contrast to the overdone enthusiasm of others I’d approached. I’d run a business for 20 years and could smell the difference between a cabbage and a bouquet (no offence to cabbages).

So began a very productive business relationship.

SilverWood Books emulate the traditional publishing process; their books are indistinguishable from (and often better than) many mainstream ones and they are one of the few ethical publishing services providers around.

INCEPTIO (2013), PERFIDITAS (2013), SUCCESSIO (2014), AURELIA (2015) and INSURRECTIO (2016) – have all been produced with SilverWood Books’ expert help. As I worked with them on AURELIA in 2015 I realised just how much I’d learned in the previous three years. I became more confident about both my writing and the publishing process. With INSURRECTIO, the fifth book, I was almost firing on automatic.

So when discussing RETALIO (out this spring), SilverWood’s publishing director Helen Hart suggested a different arrangement. She felt that I had outgrown the full support package suitable for less experienced or less knowledgeable authors and was ready to fly by myself. Talk about a light bulb moment! She was, of course, completely right.

If SilverWood hadn’t been behind me I would not have had such an easy time of publishing my work, especially with the first and second books. It’s been a mutually beneficial business relationship but with a huge dollop of personal as well as professional support and guidance.

But now I’m ‘graduating’.

SilverWood Books will continue to produce my book files; I need their quality. But my own imprint, the sparkling new Pulcheria Press, will be the publisher. (I think we all know where ‘Pulcheria’ came from…)

Helen Hart from SilverWood says,’I’ve worked with Alison on the publication of five Roma Nova titles so far. When it came to SilverWood starting production on her sixth, it seemed natural for us all to consider whether the time and circumstances might be right for Alison to set up her own imprint. With her business skills, and having been taken on by a literary agent, she’s perfectly positioned to make the transition from assisted publishing to accomplished independent status.

Alison is a consummate professional, as well as a superb writer, so it’s wonderful for me and the SilverWood team to be alongside her as her knowledge and experience develops. We’re now starting production on the sixth book, RETALIO, and it’s exciting to be part of the Roma Nova/Pulcheria Press journey.’

With SilverWood Books director Helen Hart, launching INSURRECTIO

Thanks to SilverWood I’ve gone from newbie author to multi-published author with my last book, INSURRECTIO, launched at the 2016 London Book Fair. And now I’m represented for ancillary rights by a top London agency, Blake Friedmann, who have so far sold the first four books to AudibleUK, (audiobooks just released!).

Being part of the self-publishing sector as it matures exponentially with the best ‘professional indies’ selling millions and gathering acclaim is a heady ride. SilverWood Books has been an essential part of that journey for me.

Now I’m travelling on.

Pulcheria Press site       Twitter:  @PulcheriaPress




Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Comparing Roma Nova with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

This is a treat from a reader in Luxembourg! How does Roma Nova measure up against the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg? Dylan Harris has kindly given me permission to reproduce his post

Roma Nova is Alison Morton’s series of alternative history novels set in a surviving remnant of the Roman Empire, also called Roma Nova, thriving in the 21st century. The author has compared her fictional small country with Luxembourg, among others.

I like the Roma Nova novels, and I live in Luxembourg. I find myself tempted to explore the comparison.

My knowledge of Roma Nova is small—all I know is what’s been published in Morton’s books, which is (rightly) only what’s necessary to tell the stories. Similarly, although I’m slowly accumulating information about my prospective adopted homeland, I’m certainly not knowledgeable—for some reason, it wasn’t covered during my British education. All the same, I found Morton’s comparison amusing, so will delve, even though anything I say will only really compare my misunderstanding with my ignorance.

Count Siegfried of the Ardennes (c. 922 – 28 October 998)

The countries’ origins have nothing in common. Luxembourg is no remnant of a once great empire, and its only certain Roman connections are ruins. A true link with Rome lies across the border in the German town of Trier, once a regional Roman capital, and sometime second city of the Western empire. In Luxembourg, there was a Roman fortification, but that was abandoned after the collapse of the empire. Luxembourg is far younger than Roma Nova, founded in the 10th century from, well, nothing much, by Count Seigfried. About the only possible direct connection with ancient Rome is the country’s name, which probably derives from that of the ancient Roman fortress, Lucilinburhuc.

The rare thing both Roma Nova and Luxembourg do have in common, though, is that they have both survived. Almost all the small countries that used to decorate maps of Europe have been lost. Roma Nova is the only remaining part of the once huge Roman empire. Luxembourg is the world’s one remaining Grand Duchy.

Luxembourg lost much of its original territory to its three neighbours—France, German and Belgium—but it endures. For much of the first thousand years, the Gibraltar of the North was a small but significant military state, or more often the province of a larger power. Its survival since its military was neutralised and its independence guaranteed by the then superpowers in 1867 seems to have been partially down to luck; it lies between stronger powers and seems to have played them off against each other. None of its three larger neighbours have been willing to let another take it. If one of France or Germany invaded, the other fought to free it. Belgium gave it softer economic strength. Things became easier with the creation of the force for peace now called the European Union.

Roma Nova lies in the Alps, roughly where you’ll find Slovenia on modern maps (once the northern part of Yugoslavia), in an alternative history with no European Union, and quite different conflicts between quite similar powers. Luxembourg is in the Ardennes, which may be challenging hills (consider the Battle of the Bulge), but they are certainly not mountainous.

Like Roma Nova, Luxembourg punches well above its weight. Unlike Roma Nova, this is a recent thing. Luxembourg is a founder member of NATO, Benelux, the UN, the OECD, and the European Union (it is one of the three capitals). It has significant influence in the EU. For example, the current European Commission President, Jean–Claude Juncker, along with two of his predecessors (Jacques Santer and Gaston Thorn) are Luxembourgish, which is impressive when you remember the EU has 28 members but the European Commission has had only thirteen presidents.

Grand Duke Henri and Grand Duchess Maria Teresa of Luxembourg

Like Roma Nova, Luxembourg is a constitutional monarchy, and the monarch, currently Grand Duke Henri, has a role in the government. I know little of the actual power of the Grand Duke, although I don’t think he has the military muscle of the Roma Novan Imperatrix, and he’s hardly put anyone to death recently.

Roma Novan wealth ultimately derives from its high quality silver deposits. Luxembourg has massive iron ore deposits, but the changing world economy meant much of its iron economy was lost in the late twentieth century, although a significant remnant survives.

However, it has made a very successful transition into finance, so much so that it is currently one of the richest country in the world per head of population (nominal GDP per capita, 2015 figures), richer even than Roma Nova. Unlike Roma Nova, it is not a hotbed of technological innovation, although the government here is very keen to correct that lack with the creation of universities, significant funding for entrepreneurial start–ups, and even creating a legal infrastructure for the commercialisation of outer space.

Culturally, Roma Nova’s distinction is that it is a matriarchal society, built around strong families led by women. In this one respect, it is more Celt than Roman. Luxembourg’s distinction is that it has the highest proportion of foreign residents of any European country, nearly half. Moreover, the population doubles during the day as workers commute from neighbouring Belgium, France, and Germany.

Roma Nova speaks Latin, which would make it one of the oldest languages still alive in Europe. It hasn’t changed as much as those dialects that became French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian, and many other modern languages. Luxembourg, on the other hand, speaks probably the youngest language in Europe, Luxembourgish, which was only officially codified in 1946, and is rapidly changing. It’s derived from the local Moselle–Frankish German dialect. Its modern development arose in reaction to the Nazi occupation and annexation during the Second World War, as Luxembourgers found the need to assert their independence and identity from the Germanic.

Another core difference between the real and imaginary country is something that makes the real country seem deeply imaginary. Luxembourg has three official and four actual languages: Luxembourgish, French, German and English. In most countries with multiple languages, which language you use depends on where you are. Here, which language you use depends on what you’re doing. As a foreigner intending to settle, this makes it feel a little odd, almost like something out of a China Miéville novel. Roma Nova is much more ordinary: it uses its one language, modern Latin.

There’s only so far I can take this comparison, giving it’s mostly based on my ignorance. The two countries are quite different, but it pleases me to imagine that perhaps Morton took a little from Luxembourg when she created Roma Nova.

Thank you so much, Dylan, and for your on-going interest in Roma Nova!

(Photos supplied by Alison)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Naples underground

The BBC’s series that started last week with fabulous film and virtual reconstructions of tunnels and monuments under present day Naples (#invisiblecities #italy) reminded me of my mini-excursion underground in 2012. Roman remains are built into the arteries of underground Naples and I was fascinated to see how Roman walls and arches were criss-crossed with later construction. First we visited some later tunnels where watercourses ran, then on to the Roman stuff!

Down the steps…

Underground watercourse – not sure of the contents, but it didn’t smell!















Poignant reminders from the 1940s when people sheltered from bombing and set up home underground.


A small Roman arch to gladden any heart!


A much, much bigger arch, filled in.

Recycled street archway













Decorative Roman wall to the right – note the diamond pattern and even brickwork – crossed at 90 degrees by some later jumbled bodgy construction.


Making our way out along a former Roman street


Naples today, overground


Pizza, anyone?

See much more at BBC One – Invisible Cities with Dr Michael Scott and Alexander Armstrong.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Telling Roman stories - the audio of its day

Reading – Funerary relief, Museum of Roman Civilisation, Rome (Author photo)

The recent release of the first four Roma Nova audiobooks prompted me to look into ancient Roman oral storytelling traditions. Here’s what I found…

Storytelling in Roman societies covered stories (fabulae) from the classics through philosophy, politics, religion and travel to sheer entertainment. Professional storytellers would be hired to entertain after dinner parties and other special events. And a good storyteller was a valued travelling companion because travel was mostly a slow, boring process in the ancient world.

Almost nothing is easily accessible about the storyteller in the ancient Roman world and the little information that exists is incomplete and difficult to track down. We do know that during the first and second centuries AD a fairly large quantity of literature circulated widely throughout the Roman empire. Educated slaves seemed to have been available in sufficient numbers to have reproduced a significant number of books. We don’t have records of the Roman book trade but the surviving literature of the same period shows that much of it travelled weIl beyond the city of Rome and that a reasonable proportion of the inhabitants of the Roman world were literate, something necessary for a book trade to prosper.

Wall scrawling, Pompeii (Author photo)

Apart from books written for and by the ruling classes of Roman society, we know from thousands of scrawlings of wall at Pompeii and other (often remote) sites of the empire that literacy was widespread, even if the results were rude or defamatory! Graffiti from inns, restaurants, barracks and brothels suggest that slaves, legionaries, shopkeepers, mule-drivers and other members of the Roman working classes enjoyed a reasonably high level of literacy. However, many workers in country districts were thought to be illiterate according to remarks by writers such as Quintilian and Strabo. The former mentions ‘rustics’ and ‘illiterates’ as being enthusiastic listeners to Aesop’s fables and the latter makes interesting remarks about the fondness of illiterate and semi-literate people for children’s stories.

But learning and writing did not preclude the presence of itinerant professional poets or popular storytellers who could tell stories of the great and the good down to the ordinary man (or woman) in the street. Such a storyteller in antiquity was often just one member of a large group of entertainers who earned a living by practising their assorted skills in the towns and villages of the Roman empire. Canny storytellers probably made their visits coincide with local festivals and fairs when people from the countryside were looking for entertainment in the form of a public performance or spectacle.The Latin terms for storyteller, fabulator and aretalogus, do not indicate whether they were itinerant or not. Neither word conveys much more than the basic meaning ‘storyteller’.

A storytelling poet… Catullus at Lesbia’s, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

Suetonius tells us that Augustus employed them for two distinct purposes: firstly, to entertain guests at his dinner parties along with other entertainers, secondly, to lull him to sleep on nights when his sleep was interrupted when he summoned readers or storytellers (jabulatores).  Sadly, Suetonius does not give us any information about Augustus’ successors’ use of storytellers.

Although some wealthy Romans kept storytellers, we don’t know whether they formed a permanent part of Augustus’ household, or were summoned at short notice by a palace servant from public places at Rome such as the Circus Maximus, Forum, or the hippodrome.

Pliny mentions fabulatores in a letter which opens with the catch-cry of a professional storyteller: “Pay a penny and hear a golden tale”, possibly the cry of a popular fabulator addressing bystanders prior to giving a public performance. Juvenal mentions an aretalogus who seems to have been more of a religious or temple storyteller, although there is controversy about this and about whether they were itinerant or attached to a specific temple.

Child’s first bath is depicted on one side of the marble sarcophagus for a dead child. The nurse lifts the baby who has just been born, while his mother, supported after the birth by a female servant, watches. Roman, second century CE. Agrigento, Museo Archeologico Regionale.

The many references in Greek and Latin literature to ‘old wives’ tales’ shows  clearly that nurses, who in the ancient world were usually slaves, were the main keepers and retellers of Graeco-Roman folktales.

But literary snobbery  flourished then as now. The term anilisfabula, was the ultimate insult that a literary critic could apply to a writer’s work, or that anyone could apply to another person’s speech. Any fabula  which lacked a proper message or which was not delivered in an instructive context, i.e. a tale which was told for its own sake for entertainment was relegated by the ancient world’s severest critics to the nursery. Such is the opinion of Macrobius who condemns the romances of Petronius and Apuleius, and packs them off to the nursery (in nutricum cunas).

Informal storytelling also took place while women were working at their spindles and looms. (Ah, women’s storytelling reduced to mere domestic gossip – what a surprise!) Travellers exchanged stories to help alleviate the tedium of a journey which could take weeks. (For an example of such story-telling travel, see the opening chapters of the Metamorphoses of Apuleius – The Golden Ass – a second-century comic novel.)

Romans spent a large part of their lives in the open air with an almost complete lack of privacy. The difficulty and danger of even cooking a meal at home led to the practice of eating in a variety of bars and inns where, of course, people gathered. Also, almost every Roman town had public baths which anyone could enter for a small fee, not just to bathe but to take advantage of a wide range of facilities. Such places would have provided storytellers with ample opportunity to ply their skills. No doubt there was competition from other itinerant artists in search of a paying audience. 😉

Some storytellers may have remained in one city if it was large enough and attracted large numbers of visitors. Other storytellers in the Eastern Mediterranean were attached to religious centres, especially to those of Egyptian deities, and their main task was to popularise the miraculous deeds of the god or goddess whose cult they were promoting.

It’s a pity that so little is recorded in ancient literature about professional storytellers; it could well be due to the anti-plebeian bias of most ancient literature. The hostility of ancient literary critics towards literature which did not exhibit a recognisable purpose or lesson, or which did not pay proper attention to authenticity and literary conventions is something that has endured to the 21st century.



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

A very peculiar feeling – spooked and thrilled

A week before Christmas, something very strange happened to my first book. The main character, Karen, stepped out from the covers and started talking. I mean, really talking, and in a young American voice (Caitlin Thorburn).

I listened and a tingle ran across my shoulders. I was spooked. There’s no other way to describe it. But I was enthralled. Her voice was fresh, her dialogue challenging, and her actions kind and thoughtful. Who was this vibrant girl?

Then Conrad started. Juno, that almost had me in pieces. Although the same narrator spoke the words –  this time with a deeper tone and a British accent – Conrad sounded as sexy, assured, uptight and a little scary as he is at the start of the written version of INCEPTIO.

I’ll be honest. Although I listen to podcasts and radio plays, Book at Bedtime, etc. I’ve never listened to an audio book. I know the story of this one – I wrote the damn thing – but I was still welded to it. How peculiar is that?

The second one, PERFIDITAS, followed. What a relief! I stole back into that world of voices in Roma Nova…

And now I’ve listened to SUCCESSIO, heartbroken and moved almost to tears. Then AURELIA took me back to a more direct age, with Julie Teal‘s no-nonsense British voice. But with her range, she conveyed Aurelia’s tough and tender moments perfectly.

Listen to a sample of the INCEPTIO audiobook and you’ll hear what I mean!

Oh, and here’s PERFIDITAS

You can find full details, a (scary!) video and direct links to all four audiobooks produced by Audible UK here.

(My original mental ‘models’ for Karen/Carina and Conrad were young versions of Mg Ryan and Val Kilmer, but I’m not posting their images for copyright reasons.)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, will be published in Spring 2017.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.