EXCERPT for Mother's Day: Aurelia and her daughter Marina

We should celebrate mothers every day, of course. Aurelia is fierce in her protection of Marina her only child; it’s her greatest strength and her greatest vulnerability…
Caius smiled at me this time, but it didn’t reach his eyes. ‘Your mother’s right, you know. You have a duty to look after your rather, er, small family.’
I stood up and threw my napkin on the table. ‘The day I need you to teach me my duty doesn’t exist, Caius. Keep your nose out of my family affairs.’ I held my hand out to Marina, but fixed my gaze on my mother’s face. ‘I’m sure Nonna will allow you to leave the table now, Marina. We’re going for a walk outside in the fresh air.’

My mother gave a brief nod. I caught Caius’s second smirk out of the corner of my eye. One of these days…

Marina and I crossed the terrace and wound through the formal parterres and reached the swings at the side.
‘Nonna wants me to be friends with Caius Tellus,’ she said, ‘but I don’t like him. He makes me feel funny.’ I hugged her to me. She was so fragile; fine red-brown hair and a delicate face, light brown eyes like a frightened rabbit, not the bright Mitela blue like mine and my mother’s.

Never robust, Marina had coughed and wheezed her way through infancy, oored by the least infection.
My heart constricted as I recalled yet again that terrible day when she was just two. I’d rushed back, heart pounding, from the training ground. Still in my dusty green and brown combats, I’d stared down at my daughter; white, inanimate. I’d dropped to my knees and touched her forehead. Damp, cold, sweating. Her hand was equally chill. The nurse had wrapped her in light wool blankets and bonnet to prevent body heat loss and a drip line ran from her nostril up to a suspended plastic bag on a steel stand. I was a major in the Praetorian Guard and commanded some of the toughest soldiers in Roma Nova with the most modern weaponry on the entire planet, but I’d never felt more powerless.

Now I had to protect her against a subtler virus.

‘You don’t have to be friends with anybody you don’t want to, whatever anybody says – me and Nonna included.’
‘But Nonna said it was important. I have to get used to it for when he comes to live in our house.’

I stared at Marina. What in Hades was my mother hatching up now? All I could hear was an angry buzz in my head, soaring to deafening levels. Marina’s face tightened. She dropped my hand and shrank back.

‘It’s all right, darling. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.’ I swallowed hard. ‘I was a bit surprised, that’s all.’ I delayed, struggling to keep my temper and not frighten my soft child. ‘When did Nonna say that?’
‘Before lunch.’ She dropped her gaze to the ground.

I crouched down in front of her and touched her cheek.
‘Look at me, Marina. I promise you here and now that I will never be friends with Caius Tellus. He will not come and live with me. If Nonna invites him, you and I will go and live on the farm together.’

She lifted her head, two tiny wet streaks on her cheeks. ‘Cross your heart?’
‘And hope to die in the arena.’

Read more more in AURELIA


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.

Alternative history isn’t just about Nazis!

Yes, okay, The Man in the High Castle (original story by Philip K Dick, 1962) and SS-GB (Len Deighton, 1978) are the most prominent ‘what if’s at present. These stories grip our imaginations as the most horrific thing that could have happened to Western Europe/America in the recent history. Of course, Robert Harris’s Fatherland (1992) gave Nazi althist a good nudge and then along came C J Sansom’s Dominion in 2012. Perhaps the first two are a projection of fears about the Cold War, the second two a re-examination after the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Or is it just Rufus Sewell in a beautifully tailored black and silver uniform?

But as the Tudors are not the only historical period so the Nazis are not the only alternative history.

What a wealth of other choices there are out there! Our cousins in the US enjoy speculating about the outcomes of the War of Independence or the American Civil War, while any respectable French bookshop inevitably has a section on the ‘what if’ of Napoléon winning at Waterloo.

Alternative history is nothing new
Roman historian Livy speculated on the idea that the Romans would have eventually beaten Alexander the Great if he’d lived longer and turned west to attack them (Book IX, sections 17-19 Ab urbe condita libri (The History of Rome, Titus Livius). In 1490, Joanot Martorell  wrote Tirant lo Blanch about a knight who manages to fight off the invading Ottoman armies of Mehmet II and saves Constantinople from Islamic conquest. This was written when the Fall of Constantinople in 1453 was still a traumatic memory for Christian Europe

Alexander the Great (author photo)

Alternative or alternate?
Before we go any further let’s get the name thing out of the way. ‘Alternate’ to British English speakers means one of two taking turns with the other, e.g. alternating current in electricity. Staying with them, ‘alternative’ signifies any possible other e.g. what alternative solutions do you propose? So ‘what if’ scenarios are alternative, i.e. any number of different timelines could exist.

In North America, ‘alternate’ works hard to carry both meanings. So just on numbers, the ‘alternates’ have it and ‘alternate history’ has become the generally accepted name. But we Brits are a plucky lot and stubborn with it, so we hold out and still call it ‘alternative history’. I’m a fence-sitter and duck out and use the short form ‘althist’ which offends nobody.


So what is alt hist when it’s at home?
Like any genre there are ‘da rulz’ when writing althist stories:

– the event that turned history from the path we know – the point of divergence – must be in the past.

– the new timeline follows a different path forever – there is no going back.

– stories should show the ramifications of the divergence and how the new reality functions.

The world can partially resemble our timeline or be very different. Sometimes there are documented historical characters, sometimes entirely fictional ones or a mixture of both. In no case are alternative history stories parallel or secret histories such as The Da Vinci Code or fantasy like Noami Novik’s excellent Temeraire series. Nor can you have time travel machines, heroines falling through time, time travellers dropping in to sort out history then popping back out, or goddesses putting it all back as it was. Once it’s done, it’s done.

Althist is a speculative genre with has two parents: history and science fiction. Its fiction can sit anywhere along a sliding scale from the well-researched counter-factual following historical logic and methodology to the completely bonkers story designed only to be cool. I explain the types in full detail here; I stand at the historical end because I’m a historian as well as a thriller writer.


Some alternative althist stories
England has remained Catholic –Pavane, Keith Roberts or The Alteration, Kingsley Amis
Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn have a son and Elizabeth I and Philip II of Spain have a daughter – The Boleyn Trilogy/Tudor Legacy Series, Laura Anderson
Alaska rather than Israel becomes the Jewish homeland – The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Michael Chabon
Roosevelt loses the 1940 election and right-wing Charles Lindbergh becomes US president – The Plot Against America, Philip Roth
Napoleon Bonaparte escapes from St. Helena and winds up in the United States in 1821 – Napoleon in America, Shannon Selin
Is John F. Kennedy killed by a bomb in 1963? Or does he chose not to run in 1964 after an escalated Cuban Missile Crisis led to the nuclear obliteration of Miami and Kiev? – My Real Children, Jo Walton
A secret fifth daughter of the Romanov family continues the Russian royal lineage –The Secret Daughter of the Tsar and The Tsarina’s Legacy, Jennifer Laam
An England in which James II was never deposed in the Glorious Revolution, but supporters of the House of Hanover continually agitate against the monarchy – Children’s favourite The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Prolific writers of althist especially from the US viewpoint include Harry Turtledove, Eric Flint and S.M. Stirling.

Or if a remnant of the Roman Empire had survived into the present day, but with a twist – the Roma Nova thrillers. 😉

INCEPTIO_front cover_300dpi_520x802 Perfiditas - Front Cover_520x800 SUCCESSIO cover300dpi_520x800 AURELIA_cover_v.sm INSURRECTIO_nano

So what’s althist for?
Like any other story written in any genre, there must be a purpose to an althist story. It can’t be “Look at this new world I’ve invented, aren’t I clever?” It needs a strong story. As a reader of fiction I want to be entertained, to learn something and be encouraged to think. That’s what writers are supposed to deliver to the reader. Alternative history gives us a rich environment in which to develop our storytelling and let our imaginations soar. Like all speculative fiction and a fair bit of historical fiction, althist may well reflect concerns of the time when it’s written. But above all it allows us to explore unthinkable, frightening or utopian worlds from the safety of our favourite reading chair.

Oh, and steampunk? Now that’s a whole other question!


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.

Crossing cultures and 12 things to make it easier

Photo courtesy of Jessica Bell (http://www.jessicabellauthor.com)

Disruptive didn’t begin to describe it. I would have a family there, I’d be comfortable materially, and I would be able to keep my father’s legacy. But every tiny thing would be different.

I’d been forced, sobbing, from my East Coast home after Dad died, and dumped in the Midwest when I was twelve and survived. I’d escaped that bleakness and settled in New York, and adapted. Hell, given the choice between twenty years shut up in a miserable penitentiary and another move, I knew which I needed to pick. I could do this.

Thus Karen in INCEPTIO, faced with the prospect of having to make a rapid decision about fleeing to Roma Nova.

She’d been through abrupt life changes before; both parents dead, her place in the world uncertain, a contrast in the physical landscape, dutiful but loveless carers and the resulting mental and emotional upheaval. But even as she thinks about the seemingly outlandish option of moving to Roma Nova, she acknowledges her ability to survive and adapt.

Most of us don’t have to make such abrupt decisions, but what should we consider if our careers or life changes mean we leave the culture we know to live in another?

Karen instinctively uses coping techniques innate in human beings since they first lived in communities. We learn from very early childhood how to distinguish ourselves from others and how to interact with to different types of people, starting with our parents and first friends. At school, we learn, sometime brutally in the playground, how to maintain our own identity and fend off those who would exert power over us. Or we adapt and accept a subordinate place. It’s a jungle environment and lessons can be harsh. But school is also where we accumulate knowledge and possibly insight about the world outside our own bubble works. And where we learn how to learn.

So perhaps we are more equipped that we think we are, some people more than others.

Realising what you don’t know
In INCEPTIO, Karen stays in the Roma Nova legation at first and realises what she doesn’t know – she unconsciously triggers her ‘survive and adapt’ strategy by identifying her needs:

I figured out Plica, Editio, Promere for File, Edit, View and Mittere for Send, but had to give up after that. I jabbed at the screen to log out. It was ridiculous; I couldn’t do the simplest thing without the language.

She starts language lessons:

“At the end of the third hour, I had mastered the declensions and simple verbs. I was relieved that I remembered some of it from Latin class as a kid.”

Importantly, she bolsters her confidence by recognising she already has some knowledge to fit her to her new environment.

Building upon the basics
Later in the legation after a few weeks…

I was getting there with my new culture – I guessed it was being surrounded by it all day, every day. […]When Conrad was on duty, and I didn’t have a class, I often retreated to the mess bar and talked to Dexia or some of the others. They were tough-talking but natural. When I tried out my Latin on them, they laughed sometimes, but weren’t too rude about my mistakes. But I couldn’t always follow the flow of the conversation, the inferences or the profanities. I needed to get beyond Grattius’s formal teaching.

So she finds that invaluable resource, a teenager:

‘Very well, Aelia, I’m trying to learn Latin – I was born here in America. I need a friend who’ll teach me everyday Latin words, normal life words. If you want, I can talk to you about America, teach you some English.’
At first, she hesitated. Maybe she thought I was joking, or mocking her. She had to know exactly who I was. 
‘Of course, you have to teach me the b ad words as well.’
She grinned. ‘Oh, I know a lot of those.’

Why is social integration important?
You simply can’t live in another country and not be social. You are the outsider, you need to fit in, not only to make practical life easier, but for your own mental and emotional well-being. Studying and working provide valuable opportunities for integration; often the most important lessons learned are outside the formal framework, for instance, from the opportunities for socializing. Ditto if you have an interest or hobby that crosses frontiers.

‘Marrying into’ the new culture means you have to deal with everyday matters, the nitty-gritty of life like running a house, dealing with the local council, the neighbours, the school if you have children, doctors’ surgery, registering a new car or a small business, banking, food shopping, holidays, etc. etc.

Sometimes, even after years, something reminds you of being an outsider. When Karen now Carina, the successful career woman and imperial councillor, flounders about a formal process in SUCCESSIO, her daughter Allegra knows the routine better than her mother does – she’s a born and bred Roma Novan, unlike Carina.

Language and culture are two main factors. In a country where you speak a different language, integration can be hard without at least some basics. Where values are dissimilar, it can take an enormous effort over years to fully understand the psyche of a new country, society and culture.

So how to do it?
Initial stage

  • Learn the language – do this before you move and make it a priority when you arrive.
  • Eat locally – much better to learn how eat local food in a restaurant than in more personal surroundings when invited for dinner at somebody’s home.
  • Become involved in the community – join a history, computer, sport, gardening or book club; if religious, a congregation
  • Show interest in other people’s lives, work and hobbies at every opportunitiy
  • Offer to help with things you know
  • Ask for help for yourself – people are usually generous if you are genuinely struggling

Middle stage

  • Accept that the new life is going to be different in both big and small ways.
  • Understand that shifting your norms of behaviour, of instinct, takes time and practice.
  • Observe closely subtle understandings and interactions learnt from childhood between native-born people.
  • Accept you are going to feel awkward, possibly uncomfortable and make mistakes. Make sure you forgive yourself when this happens – it’s perfectly normal.
  • Finding a ‘cultural mentor’ who knows both your and the new culture’s ways will ease the way considerably.
    In INCEPTIO, Aurelia, being a clever woman, has worked this out and assigns a younger member of the Mitela clan, Helena, to take Carina under her wing. Not that Helena is very happy about this, but she does her duty…
  • Talk to somebody about the disparity and how uncomfortable you feel about certain aspects of your cultural crossing. If you are staying, as Carina is, you have to accept you will have to break out of your comfort zone to some degree.
  • But, make sure you still retain who you are, your inner core, your personal values.

Final stage

One day you wake up and find you are actually more at ease in your adopted country that you were in your original one. You made it!

Troops marching hard – column of Marcus Aurelius (Creative Commons licence)

The ultimate secret to success?
The key is making an effort.

Show others you’re enthusiastic about learning their cultural rules, even though you might not have mastered them, and that you care about and respect their traditions. Yes, it is hard work at first, but if you persist you will build cultural capital that will make your life richer and more comfortable, and, if you move again, capital you can cash in in any foreign setting.


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.

INSURRECTIO – Book of the Month!

Against stiff competition INSURRECTIO has been selected as Book of the Month by the ‘Chill With a Book’ Readers’ Award. The silver badge goes rather well with the silver font on the book cover!

More seriously, I’m very pleased about this particular award as it’s one judged by readers.

Here are a few of the things they said:

“I had my mother read this series immediately – and recommended to my bestie who also loves Ancient Rome (despite this being modern day). This one is perhaps one of the most fast-paced in the series and full of military action and intrigue. Rape is implied but not written in detail. But you empathise with the female characters and hate the bad guys. The concept of an alternate universe is quite interesting and written with such detail, the reader easily believes this story to be true – Roma Nova a real country in today’s world. The author obviously did her research on military states and workings.”

“I thought the characters were very strong and engaging throughout the book.”

“The book is extremely well written, I hadn’t read the previous books in the series so I was wary, but I soon got into the story.”

“It was a page turner, I don’t usually read books on historical Rome, but I loved this with all the dark, gripping and political elements. The ending could of been better, but it is part of a continuing series!
I’ve already recommended to friends.”

“Quite a thriller and well written, I couldn’t put it down.”

Well, that was a brilliant start to the day! Thank you, Chill with a Book Awards and your organiser, Pauline Barclay.


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.

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.


Update (1 March):
Against stiff competition, INSURRECTIO has been selected as Book of the Month by the ‘Chill With a Book’ reader award.

More bubbly!


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.