Rossiter Books - an evening of writing alternatively and fun!

Liesel and Alison laughingLiesel Schwarz and I had such a fun evening last Thursday in Ross-on-Wye enthusing with a great  audience about steampunk and alternative history that we haven’t been able to stop talking about it!

Very well attended, there was even had a 13-year old aspiring author who came up and ask us about writing which, as Liesel says, is “always awesome”.

And we had wine and cake – key factors to success!

Andy Rossiter introducing us


Andy Rossiter, the owner gave a brief introduction. After a bit of background about ourselves and and our books, we spoke about writing in extraordinary settings; enticing the reader to share those different worlds was an enjoyable challenge. Liesel had found her inspiration in two characters arguing in a London Tube carriage; mine came from Roman mosaics, then clicked decades later after listening to bad dialogue in a terrible film. I thought I could do better.

Rossiter audience

Making the imaginary world consistent and keeping it plausible for the reader are the twin guidelines for success world building in science fiction and fantasy; ditto for historical fiction.

In these days of fast reading, authors should write succinctly without inflicting pages of description or over-detailed explanation – inelegantly called the info dump – on the reader.

In answer to a question on how to keep hold of the alternative world, I simply replied that I lived in Roma Nova. Well, in my head, anyway. 😉

We both admitted to the blank stare moments, when ideas were bubbling away in a soup of brain cells and imagination. Liesel retains her ideas better than I do; I’m the “write a note at 3 a.m.” type of writer if an idea pops into my mind.

Our books!Smiles and nodding heads as we spoke were very encouraging and the questions that followed about writing inspirations (Robert Harris’s Fatherland was one of mine), airships, strong heroines and Rome were proof we hadn’t bored the audience.

And as we signed books afterwards, the questions still came. Nothing is more pleasurable for a writer than talking about books and writing to engaged readers.

With Christina Courtenay, Andy Rossiter and Liesel Schwarz

With RNA Chair Christina Courtenay, Andy Rossiter and Liesel

In Hollywood Oscar-award style, I’d like to thank the Rossiter Books team who made the evening flow so well. For several weeks before, Carol, the events manager, had been in frequent email contact with me about the practical, PR and marketing aspects and I truly valued her consistent guidance.

The courtesy and warmth of our welcome made us feel at home from the moment we walked into the shop. Everything was beautifully organised; Andy, the owner, and Richard, the manager, couldn’t have been more friendly and helpful if they’d tried.

As you can see from the photos, it’s a beautiful shop. If you’re in the area, go and find out for yourself…


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Speaking at Foyles Bristol

With Debbie Young and Liesel Schwarz at Foyles

With Debbie Young (ALLi) and Liesel Schwarz at Foyles

Never have your event on the sunniest and balmiest evening of the year! We were a small, but select, group that met in Bristol Foyles to talk about ‘Writing Alternatively’.

We had the most fascinating conversations about steampunk, alternative history, constructing a completely artificial world and enticing the reader into it.

Pre-talk drink


Chatting with a reader

Chatting with a reader






After a glass of wine, and some chatting with readers and colleagues including Helen and Emily from SilverWood Books, we got down to business!

Both steampunk and alternative history stories are reversals of standard ideas; Roma Nova is essentially Roman which in the ancient world was strongly patriarchal, but by the 21st century developed an ‘egalitarian plus’ society. Steampunk mirrors the late Victorian/Edwardian world, but where technology and engineering are steam-powered and society still based on traditional values. Readers enjoy following characters acting out the story rather than wading through long descriptions; this is the challenge for authors today, particularly for authors being extra inventive or even alternative.

Liesel and Alison_Foyles 2


Liesel and I stressed the need to weave our ‘world building’ into our books; setting must be reflected by the characters, their actions and the effect they have on that world, and vice versa. We need to remember to keep the stories and their world plausible and consistent and do this by making the characters’ lives natural within that world.

In full flow

Goodness knows what I was saying!


Then we passed on to strong women characters whom we had given multiple problems – personal conflict, professional struggles and inner flaws and sometimes severe lack of judgement, but women who drove the plot forward and  toughed it out. Historical and background research was essential for writing  in steampunk and alternative history genres. You have to get your facts and historical logic a hundred per cent correct to maintain plausibility.

SkyPiratesWe were finished with mentioning our latest books (*coughs*). Liesel’s Sky Pirates ins now out in paperback. I expect you’d expect me to say this but I will anyway – it’s a rattling good read! It’s the third in the Chronicles of Light and Shadow and features, of course, a strong female protagonist.


And the Roma Nova thrillers were on display with the newest addition, AURELIA, published only a few days ago.

Roma Nova books



More about Liesel here:




Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.


AURELIA_cover_v.smApologies for the capital letters – I’m not shouting at anybody, I’m shouting out loud to the world.

Today, my fourth novel in the Roma Nova thriller series is published. Am I as fired up as when I published the first one?

Strangely, yes.

Yes, it’s sheer relief to close the gate at the end of a long road of writing, reviewing, editing, honing, tweaking, deciding about cover image, format and page order; receiving encouragement, endorsements and advice.

Yes, I am a little stunned; it’s weird squared because until 2009, I hadn’t imagined I’d have one book out ever, let alone four by 2015.

And yes, I’m poised with readers, gladius in hand, on the brink of a new set of adventures  – the story of Aurelia Mitela. We met her, the tough and reassuring matriarch, as we travelled with her granddaughter, Carina, from INCEPTIO to PERFIDITAS through to SUCCESSIO. But as well as power, there’s always been a sense of isolation, forced self-sufficiency and mystery behind Countess Aurelia Mitela…

Now we’re travelling back to the late 1960s to see how Aurelia’s story began and to discover some of her hidden past…

Long-standing fans know the drill; for new Roma Nova readers, this is the perfect jumping-off point as it’s a completely new three-book cycle within the Roma Nova series. But you may become addicted…

Happy reading!

What’s AURELIA about?
Watch the book trailer
Where to buy AURELIA


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Carina's discovery of Aurelia's diaries

Castra Lucilla private courtyardI originally started AURELIA with Carina, the heroine of the first three books, discovering her grandmother Aurelia’s personal diaries at their family farm in the country near Castra Lucilla. I loved bringing Carina and Conrad back in for a ‘guest appearance’. But then I looked at those scenes again, as did my structural editor and my critique partner, and we all three realised they had to go. Good stories begin in the middle of the action, ‘in media res’, and don’t have a long lead-up. So I had to press the delete button.

The beginning of AURELIA is now tight, dramatic and full of instant conflict and introduces the main players, as it should in a thriller. But for you Roma Nova fans, I thought you might like to see the cut scenes. And I would love to have your opinion. So here goes…


A tingle of excitement passed through Carina Mitela the day she found her grandmother Aurelia’s personal diaries.
The summer was limping away; the family vacation was over and they’d soon be leaving the Castra Lucilla estate and heading back to the city. Carina’s eldest daughter, Allegra, had driven off in her coupé in the early afternoon, hood firmly attached to protect her new pale cream leather upholstered treasure against the summer storm. She was due back on duty at 18.00, and during her training and early service in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, she had gathered only one minor blemish on her record so far. Which was more than could be said for her parents.

After Carina had checked that her son, Gil, was packing up his workshop in the outhouse and his twin, Tonia, was fully occupied saying goodbye to each horse in the stables, she had made herself clear up the study. She threw papers and files in a box and logged herself out of the local network. Somehow, she’d never got round to finishing sorting out her grandmother’s books. Piles of old leather-bound volumes smelling like stale biscuits stood waist high in higgledy-piggledy columns. Next time, I’ll finish them, she said to herself and sighed, knowing how unlikely that would be.

‘Hades take them,’ she muttered, as she knelt and grabbed random books from the nearest pile. She plunked them down on the lowest level of the old mahogany bookcase and pushed them back, but couldn’t get them to sit flush with the edge of the shelf. With an impatient grunt, she took them all out to start again. When she reached in to check she’d cleared them all out, she touched paper, several sheets of it. Yellowed, lined pages, bound with a brown leather lace and covered with a child’s handwriting.

“This is the journal of Aurelia Mitela, age 10 to – ”

Fascinated, Carina sank into a chair and started reading. It went in episodes, the longest lasting five weeks, and nearly a year’s gap when Aurelia was fourteen. Carina laughed at some of the things the little girl had noticed and nearly cried when she described her sadness, but determination to stay strong, after the passing of her cat.

She flicked through to the last page; Aurelia was sixteen now, jotting down her thoughts the morning of her emancipation ceremony.
“All my friends will be there. I’m the oldest so I’m going first. But I’m worried Q will turn up with C who’ll sneer as usual. He’d spoil anybody’s day.”
Carina stared at the last half-completed sheet, at the abrupt ending.

‘Carina! Where are you?’ A masculine voice was calling, bouncing between the stone walls of the corridor. Twenty seconds later  Carina’s husband, Conrad, arrived and stood in the archway. Optimistically dressed in lightweight chinos and short-sleeved shirt, he grinned at her.

‘I thought I’d find you here. How long are you going to be?’
‘Here, Conrad, look at this.’
He scanned the sheets quickly, thumbing the corner of each one, the skin around his hazel eyes crinkling when he laughed at the then child’s comments.
‘Any more?’
‘Not that I can see. But I’m going to take a few minutes to look.’
‘A few minutes? You’re joking. If Aurelia wanted to hide something, she’d have done it properly. You’ll have to tear the entire farm apart.’

Like Conrad, Carina had worked as an intelligence officer; it was a matter of getting into her grandmother’s head and thinking where she would hide something so private. Only a child would have stuffed a diary at the back of the old bookcase or a teenager suddenly interrupted. The adult Aurelia with years in the PGSF, then as a diplomat and politician, let alone astute businesswoman, would have been a great deal cleverer. However, Carina didn’t only carry Aurelia’s genes, she’d been mentored by her.

She dismissed obvious choices such as secret panels in the backs of the shallow cupboards; last year’s full survey of the farmhouse had revealed nothing but metre thick walls all round apart from window openings. Even the gaps between the inner and outer skins had been packed solid. Similarly, the original earth, gravelled and tiled floors had no secret compartments. Carina was sure Aurelia wouldn’t have left anything so personal in the farm offices, dormitories or outhouses or even in the roof space above the bedrooms.

Apart from furniture, which she and Conrad had gone through a few years ago after Aurelia’s death, there was nowhere else to look. She sighed and rolled her eyes in frustration, but her gaze stopped on the massive beam running across the sitting room. The farm was many centuries old, legend said some parts of it went back to when the original Mitelus had built it in the fifth century, but that was highly fanciful, in Carina’s opinion. She was no expert, but the farm manager thought it was mostly a medieval rebuild after the Aquileians had attacked ‘the heathen Roma Novans’ during the Crusades.
Carina squinted at the beam and jabbed a finger upward.

‘There. Get me a ladder.’
Old beam
Conrad came back with the steward who lugged a set of steps. The man held them as Carina clambered up. Conrad passed her a flashlight.
‘There’s a tiny crack running along.’
Domina, it’s an old beam,’ the steward said, ‘it’s only natural.’
‘Not a crack this straight.’ She looked down and smiled at Conrad who was caught looking at his watch.
‘I need something thin,’ she insisted, ‘to ease the crack.’
The steward handed Carina a slim round-ended kitchen knife, which she eased into the crack. At first, nothing happened. Under pressure, the thin blade flexed and bowed.
‘This is no good.’ She smiled again at Conrad. ‘Can you fetch me one of mine?’
‘As long as you don’t collapse the building around us,’ he said, only half-joking.

Even though she’d ceased to be an active special forces officer for several years, she couldn’t let go of her personal set of carbon-fibre combat knives, each blade centimetres of black meanness. She slid the blade in behind the kitchen knife. The wood almost groaned as she forced the two layers apart to reveal a long shallow compartment hollowed out in the top of the beam. She smiled to herself at the classic “hide it in plain sight” technique her grandmother had used.

Carina lifted out three leatherette-covered notebooks. No dust had got in but the smell of musty paper floated out. Sitting on the bottom step of the ladder, she opened one of the less scratched books. An old print photo fell out and fluttered to the floor. Carina picked it up, smoothed the creased corner of the white frame and studied the formal portrait of a young woman with a toddler on her lap. It was no doubt Aurelia: strong angular face, blue eyes, red-gold hair, almost the twin of Carina’s own face, but softer. Aurelia could only have been in her early twenties. And the toddler must have been Marina, Aurelia’s only child. Carina swallowed hard. That baby, her own mother, would be dead twenty-two years later.

The same precise, condensed writing she’d known so well in Aurelia’s later years; every trace of childish roundness in the first bunch of paper had disappeared. Her grandmother described entering the ruined city with the first troops in after the Great Rebellion to take Roma Nova back from the tyrant Caius Tellus. They’d stopped just short of the forum and cut the engines: the silence, the deserted streets, dust and filth everywhere. Then the first scurrying movements, a child clambering out from under a tarpaulin in a half-demolished house, the rounded, pleading eyes and outstretched skinny hand.


Carina flicked through the second notebook and stopped abruptly when she saw the name William Brown. Her own father. A tall man, sturdy as a farmer, light eyes, hazel, Aurelia had written, something that seemed to puzzle her. Carina made a moue. What was to puzzle? Aurelia wasn’t happy that he and her daughter, Carina’s mother, were leaving Roma Nova and going to live in Eastern America. There was some kind of scene with her mother crying and pleading.
Carina turned the next page, fascinated, eager to continue. She nearly jumped when Conrad touched her shoulder.
‘Hey, come on, everything’s loaded up.’
‘Bring them with you, otherwise we’re going to be back really late.’
In the car, windows up against the rain, seatbelt on, Carina leaned forward and picked the journals up again.


What did you think?

Read how the final version of AURELIA actually began!

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

1960s research and an alternate German federation

1960s fax machine

1960s fax machine

The most difficult things about writing a story in the late 1960s/early 1970s weren’t the clothes, hairdos, lack of traffic, old fashioned weaponry or spying techniques, but the technology and social attitudes. Mobile phones, laptops and social media just weren’t available. If you wanted people to know something, you put a notice up on a board, circulated a memo or posted a letter. For national news, there was broadcast radio and television. The forces of law and order could use fax and secure telex, plus walkie talkies or car radios.

1960 beehive

1960s beehive

The younger of my editors asked why it was the Post Office who held records of long distance telephone calls. I explained that all telephone services were still run by the state owned post offices in the 1960s. The Post Office in the UK (formerly known as the GPO) only ceased to be a government department in 1969 when it became a public corporation, but retained its telecommunications monopoly until 1984. I think it was the first in Europe to split post and telephone departments and later deregulate. (I am old enough to remember!)

And as for social attitudes, they were the times just out of the Ark. If you think everyday sexism is bad now…


“Deutsches Reich” 1913 Historischer Weltatlas, 89. Auflage, 1965. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

On the alternative history front, I’ve made Germany, where a significant part of the action in AURELIA is set, into a loose federation of individual states. After the (real timeline) First World War, social unrest, a communist revolution, right-wing Freikorps fightback and the bitter tea of being losers meant Germany was in turmoil. In the Roma Novan world,  the Great War in the 20th century lasted from 1925-35. The victorious Allies decided to split Greater Germany back into smaller states the old ‘divide and rule’ imperative. The maxim divide et impera has been attributed to Philip II of Macedon, Alexander the Great’s father, and as divide ut regnes was used by our old Roman friend G.J. Caesar and the French emperor Napoleon, so not exactly a new idea.

Some of the new/revived/re-drawn states even had their monarchs restored. As Aurelia Mitela herself says, “The plan had worked; despite a loose federation for certain strictly defined functions, the little dukedoms, princedoms and mini-republics argued about everything between themselves and didn’t have time or motivation to threaten the rest of Europe again.” The map shows the real Greater Germany in 1913, just for information, but gives you an idea of what it could look like in the Roma Novan world.

Of course, you can find out more about both of these if you read AURELIA… 😉


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

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