Read an excerpt HERE.

Click on image to buy PERFIDITAS.BRAG

Read an excerpt HERE.

Click on image to buy INCEPTIO. Amazon bestseller

Trust, betrayal and the Roman way

Tarpeian Rock, site of execution of traitors in Ancient Rome

Tarpeian Rock, site of execution of traitors in Ancient Rome

Betrayal, treachery, treason, deceit, perfidy – all names for the calculated violation of trust.

Trust is something we build up gradually, firstly, in our parents and carers, then teachers, friends, mentors, colleagues, in lovers and partners, in a organisation, an ideal, a country. We also build trust in ourselves, not just confidence or self-esteem, but the expectation we will do the right thing, whatever that is. Sadly, this trust is often broken. Sometimes, it’s a mis-spoken word, a leaked secret, emotional or physical involvement with another, unjust dismissal, abuse, being led into a harsh place under false pretences or dropped into a pile of trouble and deserted.

The effect of betrayal

We are wounded, cut to the bone, violated, crushed. People describe a shutter falling, a machete swinging through the air, a massive rift opening as in an earthquake. Shock, disbelief, despair, anger and a deep desire for revenge follow. Sometimes, we are engulfed by the feeling that we somehow deserved it and that we are an ‘unworthy’ person. If we get through those emotions, then we withdraw, a little more cynical and bitter at the world.
Personally, I try really hard to pull in the logical part of my mind to analyse the reason for this betrayal. I think that if I can work out why it’s happened I might be able to understand and prevent it happening in other circumstances. But the wound never really heals…

Philby, Burgess, Maclean - traitor spies

Philby, Burgess and Maclean (film)

We have a huge aversion to being hurt and will strive to avoid it at all costs – this is our animal nature. But it’s also our emotional and intellectual nature. I grew up at the time of the Philby, Burgess and MacLean spy scandals. The last two had defected in 1951, but Philby didn’t flee until 1963 and the media brought up Burgess and Maclean names again. And George Blake, another double agent, escaped from Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1966. All terribly shocking to a young middle class girl brought up on heroic war films (Carve Her Name With Pride, In Which We Serve, Millions Like Us), and in a family which had served their country and had strong principles of justice and doing the right thing.

Carve Her Name With Pride, film poster for the story of Violet Szabo G.C.


But we all mature with age and now I take a more nuanced view. Sometimes we are forced to betray, and the strength of character required to resist it belongs to heroines and heroes. I do wonder if we’d all be strong-minded and principled enough to keep faith if we’d lived under Nazi or Stalinist regimes or if somebody was holding a gun at the head of our family?

When I thought about the second Roma Nova book, I knew I wanted to look at the theme of betrayal. In PERFIDITAS, political, professional and personal betrayal are all mixed together – it makes a better story – but the characters feel and express the same devastation.

The tough historical background

Marcus Aurelius as pious father of his people

The emperor as pious father of his people (Capitoline Museum, Rome)

In ancient Rome, virtue, trust, honour, civic duty were highly valued. The old cliché of falling on your sword if you’d committed a wrong was no cliché; political suicide (whether ‘encouraged’ or genuine) was frequent. Service to the state was considered to be the norm especially in the Republican period.

The mos maiorum (ancestral custom) was the unwritten core code from which the ancient Romans derived their social norms. It included time-honoured principles, behavioural models and social practices for private, political and military life.

Fides:  trust/trustworthiness, faithfulness, reliability, credibility  – a significant concept in Roman law, as oral contracts were common.
Pietas: dutiful respect towards the gods, homeland, parents and family
Religio and Cultus: religio is the bond between gods and mortals, as carried out in traditional religious practices and cultus was the active observance and correct performance of rituals
Disciplina: as related to education, training, discipline and self-control
Gravitas: dignity, responsibility and earnestness
• Constantia:
steadiness or perseverance particularly in the face of adversity
• Virtus:  derived from the Latin word vir (man), virtus constituted the ideal of the true Roman male – valour, courage, and manliness – particularly in the public sphere
Dignitas: reputation for worth, honour and esteem earned through displaying the other virtues
• Auctoritas  earned prestige, social standing and respect

Quintus Aurelius Symmachus (c. 345 – 402) sought to preserve the traditional religions of Rome at a time when the aristocracy was converting to Christianity.

Symmachus, pleading for traditional Roman values and religion

The Romans developed a strongly centralized sense of identity while adapting to changing circumstances. However, the mos maiorum depended on consensus and moderation among the ruling elite, whose competition for power and status threatened it as did the emergence of democratic plebeian politics.

Following the collapse of the Republic after the death of Julius Caesar, Augustus disguised his radical program under an outward show of respect for the mos maiorum. During the transition to the Christian empire, traditional Romans like Symmachus argued that Rome’s continued prosperity and stability depended on preserving the mos maiorum, while many early Christians dismissed it as “the superstition of old grandpas” (superstitio veterum avorum) and inferior to their new  religion.

Roma Novans’ core values are close to the principles of  mos maiorum but have evolved over the centuries. Although the political structure has become democratic by the 21st century, the central set of values has persisted. Betrayal or ‘perfiditas‘ is not only abhorrent to them, but it breaks with all their blood and bone instincts. And in the second Roma Nova thriller, it’s all around them…



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.

2014 HNS Conference - bonus photos!

Some photos that didn’t get into the previous posts…

My first HNS conference post

Second HNS conference post


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.

2014 Historical Novel Society conference - Part Deux

Diana Wallace, Essie Fox, Kate Forsyth

Diana Wallace, Essie Fox, Kate Forsyth

Maybe it was adrenaline, but I started the second day of the HNS conference with an energy surge. Maybe the coffee was stronger than I thought. After chatting with friends, I set up the indie table for the day. Managed by the inestimable Helen Hollick,  it showcased the finalists’ books for the HNS Indie Novel Award plus a selection of other good quality self-published books and cards from many more. The buzz around the table was fairly constant…

The first session that morning was confronting historical fact with the unexplained, from myths, and the occult to fairytales and the Gothic. Under Kate Forsyth’s able chairmanship, we learnt about ‘historical empathy’ (Deborah Harkness) where fantasy, myth, history and science fiction met. Here were the non-winners in the occult versus natural sciences debate.

Jessie Burton, Deborah Harkness

Jessie Burton, Deborah Harkness

Jesse Burton (The Miniaturist) took us into magical realism where a cabinet-sized replica of the heroine’s new home brings surrealism and danger. Professor Diana Wallace drew attention to the Gothic novels written by women well before Walter Scott’s Waverley which had been seen as the first historical novel. Perhaps women’s writing was not seen as ‘serious’? Was it still the case? Essie Fox urged us to read the fiction produced at the time we were writing about; it would give us a unique insight into the concerns of that day. The idea of historical truth was not a fixed one…

Alison Morton and Sandra Alvarez

Me with fellow workshop giver Sandra Alvarez

After another stint on the indie table, it was my turn to give a workshop on social media, and with Sandra Alvarez of Sandra outlined how essential it was for authors to be present on the social network. As a professional blogger, Sandra received hundreds of books to review and was frustrated when an author had no social media links for her readers to progress to after reading the review. Digital signposts were crucial to increase a book’s visibility. She outlined some of the channels such Twitter, Facebook, Google+, website, blogging. Tumbler and Pinterest.

Our workshop group who enjoyed hearing about social media for writers.

Our lovely social media group (compiled photo)

I gave my experience with each from the author point of view, (I’ll do a separate post!), and included the excellent opportunities offered to readers and authors by Goodreads – ‘Facebook for books’. Giveaways, author programme, segmenting, book groups and the ease of re-posting your blogs, videos and, of course, your books! Amazon author pages on at least the UK and US sites were essential and very easy to add text, photos and videos, and edit. But the push behind all this was publicising yourself: selling yourself as a brand as a precursor to selling your books. Questions from a lively and thoughtful audience about websites, blogging, FB personal profile v. page, time to spend on social media, rounded our session off.

Jon Watt, Anthony Riches, James Heneage, Cathy Rentzenbrink

The fun quiz of audience v. Roman author Anthony Riches, Ottaker’s founder James Heneage and The Bookseller’s Cathy Rentzenbrink, compered by Jon Watt of the Historical Fictionalist, tested our knowledge of when some popular historical fiction was set. I was slightly  disconcerted when not a few of the audience plumped for 1st century AD for G.Julius Caesar’s assassination, but on the whole, we guessed accurately.

Novelists Henri Gyland, Charlotte Betts

Novelists Henri Gyland, Charlotte Betts

Sadly, that was the last session of the conference, but over a sandwich lunch and back at the indie table, I talked myself hoarse about all things books and was still meeting friends even at this stage. The organisers Richard Lee, Charlie Farrow and team have my warmest congratulations for an excellent event which gave us fun, knowledge and buzz.


Next year it’s in Denver. Mm, is a trip to the US on the cards?

Read about the previous day…

‘Bonus’ photos


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.

2014 Historical Novel Society conference (1)

St Marylebone, LondonHot, tired and stressed out after flight delay and snail-slow taxi ride from Liverpool Street Station, I arrived at Marylebone Hall, the accommodation block at the University of Westminster, fit to drop. I flung on a clean shirt, combed my hair and abandoning unpacking, I hurried down to the lobby. The sound of chatter and clinking glass and broad smiles of people who had spotted me instantly dispelled the weariness and frustration. Here were friends, here were book people; readers, writers, agents, publishers, colleagues.

And the winner is...

Orna Ross (ALLi) and Richard Lee (HNS)

It was a good twenty minutes before I reached the wine table – possibly a record for me. Glass in hand, I listened to Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), shortlist judge, and Elizabeth Chadwick, final judge, announce the HNS Indie Award prizewinner The Subtlest Soul by Virginia Cox. Prizes were donated by donated by Orna Ross, and Geri Clouston of Indie B.R.A.G.

Greetings, chats, faces I knew, introductions to those I didn’t know all passed in a blur and ended at Hardy’s Brasserie a little later with a delicious meal of smoked mackerel, steak and ale pie and chocolate and orange cake with vanilla ice cream, all washed down with (more) wine.

Carole Blake and Simon Taylor

Carole Blake and Simon Taylor

Saturday morning, coffee and Danish later, we started with a welcome by HNS chair, Richard Lee, then straight into the first panel. Agent Carole Blake chaired ‘Selling historical fiction’ with Matt Bates from W H Smith, Katie Bond of Bloomsbury, Nick Sayers (Hodder & Stoughton) Simon Taylor of Transworld and Susan Watt from Heron Publishing. Usual things: a cracking good story, great cover, well-edited. The strongest trend was still Tudors, with all other periods well behind.

Conn Iggulden

Conn Iggulden

Next up was Conn Iggulden, the best selling Roman author, who gave a stellar performance, telling self-deprecating stories with a comedic edge about his writing career. We were captivated. The two things about writing historical fiction I took away were: fill in gaps intelligently, and fiction benefits from history and history benefits from fiction.


For me, the Roman theme continued. ‘Veni, vidi vici’ workshop with Douglas Jackson, Harry Sidebottom and Margaret George discussed our continual fascination with the Romans.

Veni, vidi, vici workshop

Why Romans?

The length of the civilisation, its richness of archaeology and sources, its organised, dominant state and military machines and, as Margaret George noted, all those films that Hollywood and TV has produced were possible reasons. I was in my element and contributed enthusiastically!

HNS Short Story Award

Lorna (at left) looking shell-shocked!


The HNS Conference Short Story Award (open to all HNS members attending the conference) came after a sandwich lunch and I was delighted that fellow ALLi member Lorna Fergusson won!


Alison Morton, Lorna Fergusson, Anna Belfrage


A slightly recovered Lorna sharing the good feeling with me and fellow indie author Anna Belfrage.


Then came a highly entertaining session called ‘My era is better than yours’ with Philip Stevens keeping order, and panellists Angus Donald (Medieval), Suzannah Dunn (Tudor), Antonia Hodgson (Georgian), Giles Christian (Viking and Civil War) and Harry Sidebottom (Ancient Rome).

Lindsey Davis

During the tea break, I chatted with my heroine, Lindsey Davis, the author of the Falco mysteries set in 1st century AD Rome. I managed this time not to be fazed by her greatness and she was charming (Photos courtesy of Dave and Ann McCall).

Lindsey Davis

Lindsey Davis

Lindsey was a good sport to talk to a relatively new kid on the Roman writing block. Of course, I went to her interview with Jerome de Groot.



Then it was back to Hardy’s that evening for London Particular (pea and bacon soup), kedgeree, and pear and ginger crumble with custard. Yumm!

Read what happened the next day…

‘Bonus’ photos



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 local litfest in France

Signing in St.ClémentinLast weekend, I spent two lovely days at a local literary festival  at the village of Saint-Clémentin in the Deux-Sèvres. Guests included Michèle Roberts, Leigh Russell and Blake Morrison, plus a number of local writers and poets.

Walking with poetry – the mill



There were walks with poetry, writing projects with local schools, participative poetry readings, interviews, workshops, local crafts and gastronomy and a wonderful bookshop.


Local authors like me were encouraged to sell and sign their books.  And the sun shone.



Maire St.Clem

Welcome from Madame le maire

Given that Saint-Clémentin has only just over 1,000 inhabitants, staging a three day littlest with over 50 authors and as many events was miraculous.


But the local writers’ group and an army of volunteers are to be congratulated. It only took two years of planning, the organisation of a military operation and energy resources of a new galaxy to do it.

Alison Morton_Leigh Russell_sm

With Leigh Russell






Blake Morrison_Michèle Roberts

Blake Morrison and Michèle Roberts


Cathy_Jon Welch

With Cathy and Jon Welch who ran the bookshop




Reading a poem













And I sold a lot of these!

And I sold a lot of these!


RomaNova cards_sm

And some of these!









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.