All change at Roma Nova!

I knew it was one of your books – you have such a strong brand.”
This kind reader tweeted this a year ago and my little heart swelled. The gold futuristic eagle on a dark background had spread its wings everywhere.

Scroll back to 2013. Excited in the run-up to the publication of INCEPTIO, my first book, I was stunned by the cover that SilverWood Books produced. Here was the embodiment of my book: imperial purple, a gold eagle, symbol of Roman power, yet in a thoroughly modern design. Added to that, the ‘proper’ Roman font – Trajan Pro – as seen on inscriptions still visible across Europe. A tingle flowed through my body. (Well, it was exciting!)

And so it has been for the past five years and eight books, each book with a different deep jewel-like cover echoing the contents.

 

But times change. People change. Habits and wishes change

When historians write about our age, the one expression to characterise it will be ‘continuous change’. I’ll come clean. My book sales are steady and from the comments by readers, I gather they enjoy them enough to give them hundreds of five stars across the series. But I’d love to discover more readers and introduce Roma Nova to them. So I dived into the murky science of marketing.

What do potential new readers expect when they see my covers? Do they see adventure thrillers featuring strong heroines, a touch of history and mystery, tales of courage, failure, triumph, heartache and resolve? Hm. Perhaps the eagle image, dark colours and Roman script no longer had that elusive ‘pick-up’ element.
Learning point: Emotion and character needed to be brought in.

Did the covers convey action and movement? Certainly, they conveyed strength and purposefulness, but there was no hint of risk, personal danger or taking the initiative. And you can’t say that either of my heroines, Carina or Aurelia, is backward in any of those aspects!
Learning point: Show some dynamism.

People vs. patterns. I rejected a cover with a face in 2013 because I couldn’t see it fitting within the graphic. It would have confused the impact of the eagle. From a five years’ later viewpoint, I still think that was the right decision. Trying to fit everything together is not a good approach, nor is overcrowding a cover. The whole concept needed a complete rethink.
Learning point: Don’t tinker – start again.

Being hard-headed, the job of a book cover is to let readers know what it’s about and whether they might be interested – all within a second or two. If the cover isn’t compelling passers-by (real or virtual) to look further by reading the summary and reviews, they won’t come near to buying.

Researching this was a hard process. Taking the decision to change the whole look of the Roma Nova covers was excruciating. But I had five solid years of experience in the book world: interacting with readers, absorbing reviews, listening to fellow authors, discovering new techniques and trends. I was also expanding the series, firstly by dropping in a novella (CARINA), then a collection of short stories (ROMA NOVA EXTRA) Currently I’m drafting a novella set in the 1970s featuring Aurelia, set between AURELIA and INSURRECTIO, which would further mess up the existing numbering order!

A fresh approach to the whole series was needed. I’ve decided to split the stories into two strands within the Roma Nova series: Carina Mitela adventures and Aurelia Mitela adventures.

Readers have described my books as a cross between Lindsey Davis’ Roman detective Falco and The Hunger Games. They’ve also been likened to Manda Scott and Kate Mosse’s books. Conn Iggledun, Simon Scarrow, Elizabeth Chadwick, Sue Cook and Kate Quinn have said nice things about them. I’d like to think they’d appeal to readers of JD Robb and Robert Harris (or is that hubris?).

Back to the covers…

I commissioned Jessica Bell Design to draw up some concepts for the whole series and chose the one that conveyed the ‘feel’ of Roma Nova best. But then I had to put my own emotional response aside and use my logical brain. Which would most appeal to readers? And address the learning points from my analysis?
I asked Jessica to keep the original background colours: INCEPTIO purple, PERFIDITAS blood red, CARINA in between, SUCCESSIO blue, AURELIA green, INSURRECTIO black and RETALIO amber and to include the signature eagle graphic in the mix.

She was a joy to work with: imaginative, professional and supportive, especially of some of my dafter ideas. But she was also ruthless in a very friendly way when my suggestions were off-piste; she was right every time.

Left to right: Joanna Penn, Jessica Bell, me, Rebecca Lang at the London Book Fair 2017

Left to right: Joanna Penn, Jessica Bell, me, Rebecca Lang at the London Book Fair 2017

Delighted isn’t the right word. Thrilled is a bit nearer. Ecstatic is nearly there. Shocked and overwhelmed in a very positive way is better. Judge for yourselves. I think Roma Nova is about to storm off on some exciting new adventures.

Coming for the ride?

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

The theme in a book - what in Mercury's name is that?

Mercury (or Hermes in the Greek pantheon of gods) is said to be the Inventor of the written alphabet, god of writing/literature, speech, travellers, treaties and dreams amongst other things but is best know as the gods’ messenger. He’s also is the one invoked by thieves and tricksters…

I invoke him on the subject of themes in a book as it’s difficult to talk about the theme in your own book without sounding pretentious. He’s the messenger with a tricky mission. His dual nature brings me back to earth.

What is a ‘theme’ in a book sense?

A theme gives meaning to the story and is seen through the plot and the character’s journey. It’s the essence of what the story is about. Generally not mentioned as such, it bubbles along like an underground river, giving life to the story, but unconsciously. Whether stories are about space adventures, historical conflicts, shoes and shopping, a road trip or an alternative history thriller they are really about human dilemmas.

I don’t always see the theme when I start writing a book, but often it emerges as I go along. At first, when I was drafting INCEPTIO, I didn’t even consider themes – that was for high literature, I thought. I was writing genre thrillers. But I came to realise that every story had an underlying theme, however simple or complex. Some have several. Now, I have a better idea of the possible themes of the Roma Nova thrillers, but I’m still a little hesitant. Here are my thoughts…

INCEPTIO is a thriller featuring Karen who flees to Roma Nova and finds a lover, a family and a role, but the bad guy pursues her. She toughens up in order to confront him. Plenty of excitement, a love story, history, undercover operations, toughness and a bit of humour. But INCEPTIO is really about a ‘stranger in a strange’ land and female empowerment.

CARINA is a shorter adventure, a mission abroad for a relatively inexperienced Praetorian officer to reinstate herself after a silly stunt. But underneath is the urge to bring the ungodly to justice, whoever they may be, and acceptance of the realities of political life.

PERFIDITAS is a caper story, good guys vs. bad guys, ‘good’ criminals and ‘bad’ law officers, rescues, undercover and off-piste actions and big shocks. But its theme is betrayal – personal, professional and political – and loyalty. Who is the betrayer and who the betrayed?

SUCCESSIO is darker with threats of blackmail, mental breakdown, family betrayals with of course plenty of action and excitement. But its themes are about unresolved problems rooted in childhood and their fallout, and the roles of love and courage

AURELIA investigates silver smugglers in Berlin, then Roma Nova. She is framed for murder, and horrified when her child is threatened. An assassin tries to terminate her, she experiences family sadness and a new love. But AURELIA is really about the conflict of duty and mother love, personal doubt and a bitter personal rivalry.

In INSURRECTIO, Aurelia tries to stop Caius Tells and his political thugs taking over the country. Plenty of confrontations pile on each other, revolution, escapes, chases, betrayals, etc. But intrinsically, INSURRECTIO is about rational vs. irrational, tyranny vs. consensus, weakness vs. strength and loyalty under immense stress.

RETALIO is the story of a group of Roma Novan exiles struggling to mount a credible and effective force to take back their occupied country. There’s plenty of personal conflict, undercover operations, planning for liberation and courageous acts as well as betrayals. But running through RETALIO are the themes of resilience, resistance and  the struggle for liberation and retribution.

Well, these are my thoughts. Do you agree?

The Roma Nova thriller series

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.

Happy New Year? Um...

Cheers! Drinking contest of Herakles and Dionysos, early 3rd century AD Antioch

Felix sanusque sit novus annus!

In the modern Western calendar, it’s the beginning of the year, a time for renewals and resolutions.I wish you every luck in your health, goals and prosperity.

It was a much more confused picture for the Romans, but then, their civilisation did last for 1229 years and evolved a fair bit over that time.

The early Roman calendar designated 1 March as the first day of the year – the awakening earth, renewed virility, the longer day, etc. Then, the calendar had ten months, beginning with March and some of the names of the months today reflects this. September to December, our ninth to twelfth months, were originally the seventh to tenth months (septem is Latin for seven; octo, eight; novem, nine; and decem, ten.)

Roman legend usually credits the second king, Numa Pompilius, with the establishment of the ‘new’ months of January and February which were first placed at the end of the year in the ’empty period’.

Fasti - list of consuls, Capitoline Museum, Rome (Author photo)

Fasti – list of consuls, Capitoline Museum, Rome (Author photo)

All change!
The January kalends (first of January) evolved as the start of the new year at some point after it became the day for the inaugurating new consuls in 153 BCE. Romans had long dated their years by these consulships, rather than sequentially, and making the kalends of January start the new year aligned this dating.

Still, private and religious celebrations around the March new year continued for some time and there is no consensus on the question of the timing for 1 January 1’s new status. Many other religions and many people more in alignment with the natural world still see the spring equinox as the start of the year. Nowadays, we assign Easter as the festival when new things begin.

Once I January became the start of the new year, it became a time for family gatherings and celebrations. A series of disasters, notably including the failed rebellion of M. Aemilius Lepidus in 78 BCE, established a superstition against allowing Rome’s market days to fall on the kalends of January and the pontiffs employed intercalation to avoid its occurrence.

If you think was was confusing…
In AD 567, the Council of Tours formally abolished 1 January as the beginning of the year. At various times and in various places throughout medieval Christian Europe, the new year was celebrated on 25 December in honour of the birth of Jesus; 1 March in the old Roman style; 25 March in honour of Lady Day and the Feast of the Annunciation; and on the movable feast of Easter. These days were also astronomically and astrologically significant since, at the time of the Julian reform, 25 March had been understood as the spring equinox and December 25 as the winter solstice.

I think that now in the 21st century, we’ve come to a workable accepted date, so I hope your new year start is a good one!

© Steve Morton

© Steve Morton

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s 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.