New Yorker Karen Brown is caught in a tangle of hot foreign agents, vicious maniacs and tough families. Running for her life, she flees into the alien culture of Roma Nova, the mysterious last outpost of the Roman Empire in Europe. Apart from kidnapping, heartache and a close encounter with Latin grammar, she must contend with a fascinating but arrogant Praetorian special forces captain.
Plus a crazy killer wants to terminate her for a very personal reason.
Roma Nova is Karen’s dead mother’s homeland. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman exiles and now ruled by women, it gives her safety, a lover and a ready-made family – but at a price. And the enforcer is still pursing hers her. Desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously and unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, the enforcer sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it.
I am delighted to be kicking off the blog tour today for Inceptio by Alison Morton, book one in the Roma Nova series of thrillers featuring Carina Mitela. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and to the author for featuring on the blog today with a fascinating guest post.
Now it’s over to Alison to tell us more about her writing process for Inceptio.
An avid reader of spy, thriller and crime stories from childhood and a life-long devotee of all things Roman, I yearned to write a Roman thriller with a true-hearted heroine imbued with Roman virtue but a tendency to go off-piste. But I wanted women to run this New Rome. There was only one solution: I brought it up to the 21st century.
When I produced my first manuscript, I didn’t know I was writing in a genre called alternative history (“althist” for short). I was inspired by Robert Harris’s Fatherland, a tense, shocking and beautifully written thriller with a heart-wrenching ‘secret’. Twisting history was allowed and used by acclaimed writers!
Of course, a thriller must be exciting, intriguing and full of emotional punch, but althist stories have their own ‘rules’. The most important are to identify the moment where history as we know it veers off onto a different path forever, and to weave into the story how the alternative timeline has developed since.
How to do this
1. Make the point of divergence logical. It doesn’t have to be a single grand event like a battle or assassination; it can be a private incident, or a new law passed. My first four books are set in 21st century Roma Nova, but the country’s origins stretch back to AD 395 when the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius banned all pagan religions on pain of death. This sparked the trek north by twelve families to found Roma Nova.
2. Research the divergence point. You have to know your own timeline history before attempting to “alternate” it. Roman civilisation lasted over 1,200 years; things were significantly different in AD 395 from how they had been in 200BC. Serstertii, the classic silver Roman coin, had been replaced by AD 395 by the gold solidus as the standard unit, so my 21st century Roma Novans use solidi but as notes, debit cards and via internet banking as well as coins.
3. Reinforce the divergence point story. People often refer back to a significant event, e.g. “the war”, in their country’s history. Roma Novans are no different and often quote the courage of how their ancestors trekked north out of Italy sixteen centuries ago to find their new home.
4. Steal from the historic record. In my books, I reach back and pluck the Praetorian Guard forward into the 21st century. Not only does this build on the image of toughness, a dash of ruthlessness and a sense of duty and glamour that we may already have, but it also anchors them as Romans guarding the ruler and the state. Sadly, like their historical counterparts, modern Praetorians can become corrupt and plot against the state – a gift for a writer!
5. Think through the setting that has formed your characters. How do people make their living? How are they educated? What kind of industry and transport are there? Is the government representative? Are laws authoritarian, permissive and strictly enforced? What’s the food like? Are there markets, little shops, big chains? What’s growing in the fields, does the countryside consist of plains, valleys or mountains? And what’s the weather like? And the big question – who holds the power? You don’t need to mention any of this unless it impacts on the story, but you should have it all worked out in your head.
6. Make sure your characters live naturally within their world. Your characters know where they live; this is their normality, so writers need to remember to view things through their characters’ eyes rather than their own. As The temptation to explain what is everyday to your characters should be resisted!
The keys are plausibility and consistency.
Almost every story hinges upon implausibility – a set-up or a problem the writer has purposefully created. Readers will engage with it and follow as long as the writer keeps their trust.
One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the setting. Honey cake is more common than digestive biscuits – honey was important for the ancient Romans. We might call law officers ‘fuzz’, ‘the Old Bill’, ‘filth’ or ‘rozzers’, but the Roma Novan public call their police, the custodes, ‘scarabs’ – hard-shelled dung beetles having to deal with a lot of nasty stuff. But the custodes wear a dark blue uniforms and clamp flashing blue lights on the car roof when chasing the bad guys.
A vital way to connect to readers is to make sure characters display normal behaviour. Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys, often expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or peculiar way. But romantic relationships, (whether painful, instant or intense), grief, friendship, impatience, fear, frustration and triumph are emotions that connect us all, whether reader or writer.
Thank you for sharing insights into the process of writing ‘althist’ today, Alison, it is absolutely fascinating to get a peek into the work and research that went in to writing the book.
If your curiosity has been piqued by this post, the resulting book, Inceptio is out now and you can buy a copy here.
To follow the rest of the tour, make sure you visit the blogs listed on the poster below on the relevant date:
About the Author
Alison Morton writes the Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. This springs from a deep love of Roman history, six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.
All six full-length novels have received the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices. AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. SUCCESSIO featured as Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds an MA History, blogs about Romans, social media and writing. Oh, and she gives talks.
She continues writing, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband. To get the latest news, subscribe to her free newsletter https://alison-morton.com/newsletter/
Connect with Alison:
Facebook: Alison Morton Author