Shining a light - women in historical fiction

Light1My writing friend Helen Hollick, a powerhouse of fiction production and historical fiction champion, is hosting a month long blog tour featuring heroines in modern historical fiction. She’s enlisted nine others, including me, to take part. Each Tuesday, Helen will talk about one of her heroines and introduce two further ones.

Last week (6 October), Helen gave us her view on Emma of Normandy which interestingly was also Patricia Bracewell’s subject and Inge Borg’s Princess Nefret of Egypt.

This week, (13 October), Helen compares the two Ediths from 1066 and introduces three more heroines: Regina Jeffers takes a different look at Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn, Diana Wilder gives us excerpts from her account of Southern lady Lavinia Wheeler during the American Civil War and Elizabeth Revill tells us about Carrie, a courageous young woman coming of age in Wales between the wars.

I’m introduced next week (20th October) after Helen’s piece on King Arthur’s women, and I let you into some revelations about the formidable Aurelia Mitela, along with Sophie Perinot and her heroine Princess Marguerite, Medici daughter.

The tour concludes on 27 October with Helen’s Sea Witch post, introducing Anna Belfrage’s Alex Graham and Linda Collison’s Patricia Kelley McPherson

What variety!

Oh, and we’re tweeting about it all month using #LightOnOurLadies Do join in!


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.

What inspired Roma Nova?

I’m often asked this when I do interviews, talks or simply chatting to readers, but I don’t think I’ve ever put it all in one place on this my own blog.

Well, three things!

AMM Ampurias 1_smThe first was when I was on holiday in north-east Spain one summer. Here’s the story…

A small child, curls bobbing on a head she’s forgotten to cover with the sunhat her mother insists on, crouched down on a Roman mosaic floor in north-east Spain. Mesmerised by the purity of the black and white pattern, the craftsmanship and the tiny marble squares, she almost didn’t hear her father calling her to the next one.

Jumping up, she eagerly ran to him, babbling questions like many eleven year olds do: who were the people who lived here, what were they called, what did they do, where have they gone?

The father, a numismatist and senior ‘Roman nut’, started telling her about the Greek town of Emporion founded 575 BC which became Roman Emporiæ in 218 BC, where traders sailed in and out with their cargoes of olive oil, wine, textiles, glass and metals; where people lived in higgledy-piggeldy houses, traded from little shops; where the Roman army based its operations; where money was minted. And the people came from every corner of the Roman Empire to live and work. Boys went to schools and girls learnt to be good wives and mothers.

The little girl listened carefully to every word, sifting the information. Her hand in his, she turned as they leave, looked back at the mosaics and asked her father a final question.

“What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?”

Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain that day, maybe I was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question. But clever man, my father replied:

“What do you think it would be like?”

I thought about it for several decades…

Lieut Alison

Lieutenant Alison on exercise ‘somewhere in Germany’

Real life intervened (school, university, career, military, marriage, parenthood, business ownership, move to France), but the idea bubbled away in my mind and the INCEPTIO story slowly took shape. My mind was morphing the setting of ancient Rome into a new type of Rome, a state that survived the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire into the 21st century, but retaining its Roman identity. And one where the social structure changed; women were going to be leading society.

By that time, I’d played with words much of my life; playwright (aged 7!), article writer, local magazine editor, dissertation writer and professional translator.

The second piece of the jigsaw was when I picked up Robert Harris’ Fatherland in my local independent bookshop in 1992. The emotional high of the breaching and tumbling down of the Berlin Wall was only three years before. Germany, and Europe, was redefining itself. Into this whirling pot was thrown the concept of ‘what if Nazi Germany had won the war?’. Others had tackled it before; I had a vague memory of watching ‘An Englishman’s Castle’ starring Kenneth More when I was younger, but it hadn’t clicked then.

Reading Fatherland, I started to speculate on what would have been the alternate path of history? Suppose Elizabeth I had married and had children? Suppose Julius Caesar hadn’t been assassinated? Suppose women had got the vote in Britain when New Zealand women did in 1893? Suppose, suppose, suppose…

Until then, I hadn’t realised you really could project history forward in a different line, but in a non-fantasy logical progression. Revelation!

But the third thing, the trigger that  made me sit down and wear my fingers out for the next few months writing INCEPTIO?

Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor

In 2010 my husband were sitting in a darkened cinema theatre, waiting for the movie to start. We picked this film, based on a popular novel, as it was the least worst on offer at the local multiplex. And it had Ewan McGregor in a key role… The film started; exciting music, great cinematography, but thirty minutes in, we realise the plot is dire and narration hacked and chopped so many times the story is unintelligible.

I could do better than that,’ I whispered to my husband.

So why don’t you?

We drove home, my brain bursting with an idea I’d had forty years ago in Spain, fuelled by Robert Harris’s alternative history and tempered by the feminism of my student days. Ninety days  and 96,000 words later, I typed ‘The End’ on page 306 of the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first of the Roma Nova series.

And that, citizens, is how Roma Nova sprang into the world.


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 awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion!

AURELIA BRAG MedallionYou know when there’s a 90% chance against, but you do succeed?
Well, that.
Book 4 in the Roma Nova series, AURELIA, has just been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion.

The what?
In the large sea of self/independently published work, there is a lot of flotsam and jetsam and, sadly, a good proportion of it that isn’t worth picking up. How to tell?  Well, indieBRAG, a privately held organisation, has brought together a large group of readers, both individuals and members of book clubs, located throughout the United States, Canada, and the European Union to address this.

Their mission is to recognise quality on the part of authors who self-publish both print and digital books, principally fiction. They are looking for ‘a good, quality read’ that’s commercially and widely available.

So how do they do it?
BRAG_goldlogoAfter the initial selection process to screen out the obvious ‘no’ candidates of the unedited first draft kind, Indie BRAG choose ten members from their reader group to evaluate and  judge the merits of each book based on their list of criteria (plot, characters, dialogue, writing style, copy editing, cover/interior layout). The single most important criterion they ask their readers to use in judging a book is whether or not they would recommend it to their best friend.

And all ten have to agree!

Once a book meets this standard of quality, they award it the B.R.A.G. MedallionTM. IndieBRAG have gained considerable traction now as a gatekeeper and because of the flood of demand, they are evolving their structure. Read more here

Alison and Geri CloustonYou can gather how passionate IndieBRAG is about quality in my interview with Geri Clouston, their president. And I had the pleasure of meeting Geri in person at the Historical Novel Society conference in Denver this year when we were both members of an expert panel on self-publishing.

So, yes, the bubbly’s out again tonight…


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.

Action, adventure and ripping yarns

Carina2_tilt_portraitBoldly going? Adrenaline rush? Stepping in harm’s way?  When events or series of events explode into a character’s ordinary life and are accompanied by a hefty dash of danger, often by physical action and a chunk of emotional stress, then you’re in an adventure story. And they’re not just for children, as we have seen in the Roma Nova stories. 😉

Strong pace is a crucial element of adventure stories. Sometimes, regrettably, the action is at the expense of characterisation and setting. Even a few words and a carefully placed sentence here and there can add immeasurably to the enjoyment of a story. Yes, we want to keep up with the heart-thudding action, but as readers, knowing when and where we are and what the character is thinking deepens the experience.

Adventure has been a common theme since the earliest days of written fiction; Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey and the stories of King Arthur are classic examples of adventures. Often a hero would undergo a set of adventures, sometimes to fulfil a challenge, discover lost treasure or win a ‘fair lady’. A separation would follow, with a second set of adventures leading to a final reunion. These days it’s just as likely to be a heroine undertaking high adventure for additional reasons, including proving herself, fulfilling a promise  or redeeming a lover’s or father’s reputation.

Adventure fiction often overlaps with other genres, notably crime novels, historical fiction, high sea yarns, spy stories, science fiction, fantasy, caper stories, romantic suspense and coming of age stories.

With a few notable exceptions (such as Baroness Orczy, Leigh Brackett and Marion Zimmer Bradley) classic adventure fiction has been dominated by male writers, though female writers are now becoming much more usual. Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox, J F Penn’s Morgan Sierra, Susanne Collins’ Katniss Everdene (Hunger Games) and, of course, my own Carina Mitela and before her Aurelia Mitela are all kick-ass heroines written by women. Today, ‘women’s adventure’ is a category at Amazon.

So what do adventure stories do for us?
– they allow us to be yanked out of our routine lives
safe – we can experience excitement, danger, nerve-wracking life and death situations from the safety of our armchair or tucked up in bed
liberating – we can experience things and places we would never otherwise know about
reassuring – we know we’ll never have to face these kinds of danger.

Or are we so sure…?


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.

Alternative history stories - historical fiction or not?

FatherlandHistorical fiction is a broad church; a re-telling real events, quasi-biographical fiction, romantic, adventure, fantastical and detective stories, tales from the cave to the 1960s and set in every country and social situation you can imagine. And within that mix are counter-factual, alternative history stories, the ‘what ifs’ which project a possible different timeline from our own. Suppose the Spanish Armada had succeeded (Pavane, Keith Roberts)? Perhaps Napoleon had escaped from St Helena (Napoléon in America, Shannon Selin)? Or Germany had won the Second World War as in Robert Harris’s gripping Fatherland?

These are grand scale events, but historical fiction is also about ‘small people’. Ever since I walked on my first Roman mosaic at age eleven, I’ve been mesmerised by the complex, powerful and technological civilisation that was Rome. But even at eleven I wasn’t content with the part played by women in their society: influencers, eminences grises, heiresses and mothers, but de facto as well as de jure powerless. Enter Roma Nova, a modern, alternate version of a Roman society where women play the prominent role.

Is it historical fiction? Alternate (or alternative) history has two parents: history and speculative fiction. Alternate historical 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.


Alexander the Great mosaic from Pompeii (Naples Museum, author photo)

Alternate history is nothing new – Roman historian Livy speculates on the idea that the Romans would have eventually beaten Alexander the Great if he had lived longer and turned west to attack them (Book IX, sections 17-19 Ab urbe condita libri (The History of Rome, Titus Livius).

The basic characteristics of alternate history are three-fold: firstly, the event that turned history from the path we know – the point of divergence – must be in the past. Secondly, the new timeline follows a different path forever – there is no going back. Thirdly, 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 alternate history stories parallel or secret histories such as The Da Vinci Code or fantasy like Noami Novik’s Temeraire series.

But isn’t alternate history all invention? Yes and no. Plausibility and consistency are, as in all historical fiction, the key guidelines so that the reader is not lost or alienated. Local colour and period detail are essential, but only where necessary and when relevant.

Sacred grove OstiaAntica

A sacred grove (Ostia Antica, author photo)

The foundation step is to identify the point of divergence and make it a logical point where history could split and cause an alternative time line to emerge. My books are set in Roma Nova in the 20th and 21st centuries, but the country’s origin stretches back to a divergence point in AD 395 when the Roma Nova founders fled Rome after the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius issued the final edict outlawing all pagan religions.

‘Rome’ was significantly different in AD 395 from how it had been in 200 BC. For instance, the sestertius, the archetypal silver Roman coin that pops up in TV and films, had disappeared by the late fourth century. The gold solidus served as the standard unit at that time, so my modern Roma Novans use solidi.

Roma Novans hold their culture and history very dear and see it as both a purpose and method of survival. In INCEPTIO, our heroine finds a forum, senate, a family based social system, all ruled by an imperatrix. The military elite is called the Praetorian Guard and service to the state is valued before personal pleasure or gain. Well, in theory!

Roman homes are based around an atrium with a set of ancestor busts and statues (imagines, pronounced imagine-ays) in the hallway. Although Latin is the official language, naming conventions have evolved along with the social system.

And finally, as with all historical fiction, my characters must act, think and feel like real people. The most credible ones live naturally within their world, i.e. consistently reflecting their unique environment and the prevailing social attitudes. Thus Roma Novans are tough and ingenious and their language, including slang and cursing, reflects this. Of course, it makes a stronger story if the permissions and constraints of their world conflict with their personal wishes and aims. But that’s what happens in all good fiction!


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.

History, mystery and derring-do - a reading selection

“A cracking tale” – an expression I often use. Stories that make your pulse hammer, your gut grip and your breath catch. You are chasing renegades, fighting in the Peninsula, sailing on the high seas, plotting new conquests, spying for your country, in the arena sword in hand, escaping to a new colony, engulfed in a mystery, falling in love, moving stealthily or boldly, trying to make sense of what’s happening but above all, surviving. Sometimes it’s a slowburn, a thoughtful process, but nonetheless gripping, others instantly burst into the action. Over to you to read from our selection and decide…

Ripples-in-the-Sand-finalSW1. Ripples in the Sand by Helen Hollick
The past is influencing the present, the ripples in time spreading like the ripples in the sand; why is Tethys, the spirit of the sea, so obsessed with possessing Captain Jesamiah Acorne’s soul – and how can white witch, Tiola Oldstagh, prevent her getting it?

Helen’s first historical fiction novels were published over twenty years ago, then in October 2005 she ‘met’ Captain Jesamiah Acorne, the central character in her nautical adventure series, the Sea Witch Voyages. And she’s had a lot of fun writing about him ever since! Ripples in the Sand is the fourth voyage of Captain Jesamiah Acorne, pirate captain and charming rogue.

Read more about Helen and the series at Helen’s website
Buy the book at Amazon UK

Devil's Assassin

2. The Devil’s Assassin by Paul Fraser Collard
As the British march to war, Jack Lark learns that secrets crucial to the campaign’s success are leaking into their enemies’ hands. But who is the traitor? The bold hero of The Scarlet Thief and The Maharajah’s General, returns in an exhilarating and dangerous new adventure.

Paul’s love of military history started at an early age. A childhood spent watching films like Waterloo and Zulu whilst reading Sharpe, Flashman and the occasional Commando comic, gave him a desire to know more of the men who fought in the great wars of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Read more about Paul and the series
Visit Amazon’s Paul Fraser Collard’s page to buy the book

3. Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn
Hi res LEC coverA deadly dance in the reign of the enigmatic Emperor Hadrian; Antinous, his beautiful Greek lover, battered warrior Vix, his bodyguard, who would very much like to see him dead, and Sabina, his clever wife who must keep them all safe from unseen enemies. But ultimately, the fate of Rome lies with an untried girl, a spirited redhead who may just be the next Lady of the Eternal City . . . 

Kate writes page-turning yarns set in ancient Rome (Empress of Rome series) and Renaissance Italy (The Borgias): well-researched history made gloriously fun with plenty of action, humor, romance, and derring-do.

Read Kate’s blog on her website
Buy the book at Amazon US

4. Imperatrix by Russell Whitfield
imperatrix_bigA first tiny step into historical fantasy wherein Lysandra is called upon to help shore up a Roman frontier (Dacia) in the face of barbarian revolt. And now it seems that Lysandra’s destiny also lies to the east, and the prospect of a final and bloody reckoning with an old and hated adversary. 

Russ is a writer of historical fiction set in 1st century Rome. His novels thus far concern a Spartan priestess named Lysandra who is (unfortunately for her) enslaved and forced to fight in the gladiatorial arena. From modest beginnings, Lysandra rises to the top and has to deal with fame, fortune and personal crises along the way (whilst killing lots of people in the process).

Find out more at Russ’s website
Buy the book at Amazon UK

5. Omphalos by Mark Patten
Omphalos cover2013: Al Cohen, an American in search of his European heritage 
1944-1946: Friedrich Werner, an officer of the Wehrmacht and later a prisoner of war 
1799: Suzanne de Beaubigny, a royalist refugee from revolutionary France 
1517: Richard Mabon, a Catholic priest on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his secretary, Nicholas Ahier
1160: Raoul de Paisnel, a knight with a dark secret walking through Spain with his steward, Guillaume Bisson 
4000 BC: Egrasté, a sorceress, and Txeru, a man on an epic voyage 
Six thousand years of human history,  intersecting at a single place.

Mark Patton is an author of fully immersive, scrupulously researched historical fiction.

Read more at Mark’s blog
Buy the book Amazon (universal link)

BloodieBonesCover6. Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery by Lucienne Boyce
The first in a planned series, Bloodie Bones pitches Bow Street Runner and amateur pugilist Dan Foster into the middle of the violent conflict over land enclosures in the eighteenth century when he goes undercover to find a gamekeeper’s killer.

Lucienne Boyce’s first historical novel To The Fair Land is an 18th century thriller about the search for a missing author, a map of a land that should not exist, and a vicious killer. She also writes non-fiction and in 2013 published The Bristol Suffragettes, a history of the local suffragette campaign.

Find out more about the Dan Foster Mysteries, preview Bloodie Bones, and buy a copy in paperback or ebook format from various retailers following the links at

7. The Tapestry by Nancy Bilyeau
the tapestryWhitehall 1540. After her Dominican priory is closed, Joanna Stafford resolves to live a quiet and honourable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. But  she is summoned to Whitehall Palace – her tapestry skill has drawn the King’s attention. Surrounded by danger, Joanna must finally choose what life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier.

Nancy Bilyeau, a magazine editor who has worked for ‘Good Housekeeping’ and ‘InStyle,’ has written a trilogy of historical mysteries set in the reign of King Henry VIII. Her 2015 novel, ‘The Tapestry,’ features a Dominican novice who is ensnared in the deadly intrigues of the Tudor court.

Read more on Nancy’s website
Buy The Tapestry from any of these retailers

Napoleon_in_America_cover_lowres8. Napoleon in America by Shannon Selin
What might have happened if Napoleon Bonaparte had escaped from exile on St. Helena and wound up in the United States in 1821? Opponents of the Bourbon regime expect him to reconquer France. French Canadians beg him to seize Canada from Britain. American adventurers urge him to steal Texas from Mexico. His brother Joseph pleads with him to settle peacefully in New Jersey…

Shannon Selin loves to immerse readers in the 19th century. Using actual historical characters, she weaves a rich and convincing tapestry of historical fact and possibility, with seamless transitions from the real to the imagined.

Find out more at Shannon’s website.
Buy Napoleon in America at

9. Suffer the Little Children by Ann Swinfen
Suffer the Little Children Cover MEDIUM WEBIn this fifth Christoval Alvarez novel, set in Elizabethan London, no child is safe; children are misused and exploited by parents, masters, strangers, and society at large, even the children of the rich. When a five-year-old heiress to great estates is kidnapped, Christoval Alvarez, the players of James Burbage’s company, and a disreputable group of child beggars all become involved in the search.

Previously traditionally published, Ann has now gone independent as an historical novelist, with two standalone novels published and two series: The Fenland Series, set in 17th century East Anglia, and The Chronicles of Christoval Alvarez, set in the late 16th century and featuring the young Marrano physician and code-breaker, Christoval (Kit) Alvarez, who is drawn into more and more missions as an agent in Sir Francis Walsingham’s secret service.

Read more at Ann’s website
Buy the Christoval Alvarez books at Amazon

Falling Star10. To Catch a Falling Star by Anna Belfrage
Matthew Graham returns to Scotland after decades abroad. Homecoming is not an easy matter – especially not when revolution is brewing and sons end up on opposite sides.

Anna Belfrage is the author of The Graham Saga, a best-selling blend of romance, adventure, high drama and historical accuracy which features time traveller Alex Lind and her 17th century husband, Matthew Graham. Further to this, she actively contributes to various blogs – mostly with historical content – and is hard at work with her next series, this time set in 14th century England.

Read more about Anna on her blog
Buy To Catch a Falling Star

11. Britannia’s Shark by Antoine Vanner
Shark Cover Front1881. A daring act of piracy drags ambitious British naval officer, Nicholas Dawlish and his wife Florence into a nightmare of revolution, savage tyranny and political manipulation, made worse by a weakness Dawlish never suspected he had. Amid the wealth and squalor of America’s Gilded Age, and on a fever-ridden island, Nicholas and Florence Dawlish must make very strange alliances if they are to survive – and prevail. 

Antoine Vanner is breaking the mould of naval fiction by getting away from the Napoleonic Age of Sail to the Victorian Era of Steam and Iron. His novels are closely linked to real-life events and personalities and to the technological breakthroughs of the time. This third novel, “Britannia’s Shark” deals with early submarine development and plays out in locales as varied as the Adriatic, the United States and Cuba in the 1880s.

Read the Dawlish Chronicles blog
Buy Britannia’s Shark:

12. AURELIA  by Alison
Late 1960s. Sent to Berlin to investigate silver smuggling, former Praetorian Aurelia Mitela barely escapes a near-lethal trap. Her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and she pursues him back home to Roma Nova but he has struck at her most vulnerable point – her young daughter.

Fascinated by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation since childhood, she wondered what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women. The result is the series of award-winning Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough Praetorian heroines.

You are here already on my blogsite 😉
Buy the book at any of these retailers 

If you enjoyed these fab books, do please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Nobel, etc. Authors are always grateful!
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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