Stephanie: I have the pleasure of introducing, Alison Morton. Hello Alison, thank you for visiting my website. Please tell me about your book, INCEPTIO.
Alison: Hi Stephanie, and thank you for inviting me on to your blog. INCEPTIO is an alternate-history thriller where Karen Brown, a young New Yorker, is pursued by a sinister government enforcer. She doesn’t have a clue why. Threatened with twenty years’ imprisonment or even elimination, she flees to her dead mother’s homeland in Europe, Roma Nova.
Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But the enforcer reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. 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…
Stephanie: Sounds very fascinating! What genre does it fall under?
Alison: INCEPTIO is primarily a thriller, but is set against an alternate history
background. I have a whole series in the pipeline and this first book is an introduction to the alternate timeline where Roma Nova exists. Although I’m in no way holding myself up to Robert Harris, I think the nearest parallel is his thriller Fatherland set in an alternate Germany where the Nazis won the Second World War.
Stephanie: What a great genre combination! Who or what inspired you to write this story?
Alison: Two things – one a long summer, the other the reaction to a trigger. The first was when I was on holiday in north-east Spain one summer. I was eleven and fascinated by the mosaics in the Roman part of Ampurias (a huge Graeco-Roman site). I wanted to know who had made them, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them.
After my father explained about traders, senators, power and families, I tilted my head to one side and asked him, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe early feminism surfacing or maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”
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. It is one where the social structure changed; women were going to be leading society.
But what actually started me writing INCEPTIO? One Wednesday I’d gone to the local
multiplex cinema with my husband. Thirty minutes into the film, we agreed it was really, really bad. The cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration uneven.
“I could do better than that,” I whispered in the darkened cinema.
“So why don’t you?” came my husband’s reply.
Ninety days later, I’d written 96,000 words, the first draft of INCEPTIO.
Stephanie: I can certainly identify with wanting to know who had made the mosaics, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them. How fascinating; I probably would have asked the same questions. What research was involved?
Alison: Revisiting classical texts–Pliny, Suetonius, Caesar’s Gallic Wars in particular– plus my years of visiting sites and museums throughout Europe. My father had introduced me to history and especially to the Roman world. So much so, that it seemed perfectly normal to clamber over Roman aqueducts, walk on mosaic pavements, and pretend I was a Roman play-actor in classic theatres all over Europe; from Spain to then Yugoslavia, from Hadrian’s Wall to Pompeii.
I’d also spent six years in the reserve forces, which gave me experience of military life first hand and enabled me to write the later action scenes in INCEPTIO.
But the most important source for any writer is other people’s books. Not plagiarising (the gods forbid!) but reading what is out there. Writers must read within their genre and learn the traditions and ‘rules’. It’s a plain fact that readers will be disappointed if you jolt them off the path they expect. I don’t mean your writing should be predictable, but that it should not be implausible. For instance, Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union can be wild at times, but for all its quirkiness it stays within the genre.
Stephanie: What is your writing process?
Alison: On a typical day I write most mornings after a short spurt on social media, and do domestic stuff in the afternoons, or, depending where I am in the book, some research. In the evening I’ll write a few more lines and dip into Facebook and Twitter.
If I’m editing, I tend to work straight through, with a short lunch break as I’m totally immersed. Strange, isn’t it? I can draft in paragraphs, but prefer to edit in long stretches. Proofing is another question – I do that in short bursts because of the concentration needed.
My books centre around a big conflict, dangerous assignment or saving-the-world story within the Roma Nova environment. Luckily, I’ve breathed in history since I was a kid. I even went back to school to get a history masters thirty years after my first degree. So I have enough grounding in the aspects of Roman history to draw on to start the story. I write the basic dynamics of a scene, and then if I need to check a detail I mark the text up in bright blue which gives me a visual signal to come back and research that item.
For example, my 21st century Romans follow the traditional system of burning their dead. I knew how the pyres were built and that libations were thrown into the flames, so I could go ahead and write the scene. But then when I went back to the sources to refresh my memory, I saw I’d totally forgotten that the family party has to walk three times round the pyre. We are so lucky we use computers and not typewriters these days and can slot researched details in afterwards.
As for the story itself, I’m probably 20% ‘plotter’ and 80% ‘pantser’. I evolved a thirty-line system, Line 1 is the inciting incident, Lines 6, 14 and 22 (or nearabouts) the three crisis points, Line 27 or 28 the ‘black moment’ and Line 30 the resolution. I fill in some of the lines in between with likely scenes, but often leave some blank. It’s a process to imprint the plot on my conscious mind so that the unconscious mind has something to hang the story threads on. All the rest in between just thrashes around in my head and eventually emerges as I’m writing.
Stephanie: I’m intrigued! Alison, what book project are you currently working on?
Alison: I’m working on book two of the Roma Nova series, PERFIDITAS (Betrayal). I drafted it a little while ago, but it’s been ‘in the drawer’ for several months. It’s a thriller again; this time the whole Roma Novan society faces collapse as well as pushing the heroine to a personal crisis. I’m looking forward to reading it again after many months away!
Stephanie: Thank you, Alison for this lovely interview! I will certainly be adding your novel to my reading list!
Alison Morton grew up in West Kent, served as a Territorial Army officer and owned a translation company. She completed a BA in French, German and Economics and thirty years later an MA in History. She now lives in France with her husband. A ‘Roman nut’ and wordsmith since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe always wondered what a Roman society would be like if run by women… Find out more about Alison’s writing life, Romans and alternate history at her blog www.alison-morton.com.
INCEPTIO Blog Tour Schedule
April 1 Review by Because this Girl Loves Books (booksandbeverages.wordpress.com)
April 2 Guest Post on Of History and Kings (ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.co.uk)
April 3 Guest Post/ Sneak Peek on Alive on the Shelves (aliveontheshelves.com)
April 4 Interview by Because this Girl Loves Books (booksandbeverages.wordpress.com)
April 5 Author Spotlight by Brook Cottage Books (brookcottagebooks.blogspot.co.uk)
April 6 Guest Post on Layered Pages (layeredpages.com)
April 7 Interview by Layered Pages (layeredpages.com)
April 8 Review/ Giveaway on Pedacinho Literario (pedacinho-literario.blogspot.pt)
April 9 Interview/ Review by Crime Thriller Girl (crimethrillergirl.com)
April 10 Review by Jaffa Reads Too (jaffareadstoo.blogspot.co.uk/)
Edited by Dawn Lamprecht