Guest Post With Author Alison Morton

I would like to welcome back, Author Alison Morton. Thank you, Alison.

The enigmatic and alternate Robert Harris

When I first picked up Robert Harris’ Fatherland in my local independent bookshop in 1992 I was fascinated by the concept of ‘what if Nazi Germany had won the war’. What would have been the alternate path of history? Fatherland was intrinsically a political thriller. In 1992 when it came out, the whole of Europe was attempting to realign after the exhilaration of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and dissolution of the East/West Iron Curtain imposed after the Second War World. Perfect timing by the astute political journalist, Robert Harris, Fatherland went on to become an eternal best-seller.

The story begins in April 1964 in a Nazi Germany which won the Second World War. It’s the week leading up to Adolf Hitler’s 75th birthday and shortly before his meeting with American president Joseph P Kennedy (JFK’s father in our world). The plot follows police detective Xavier March as he investigates the suspicious death of a high-ranking Nazi. As March uncovers more details he realises that he is caught up in a political scandal involving senior Nazi Party officials, who are apparently being systematically murdered under staged circumstances. As soon as the official’s body is identified the Gestapo claims jurisdiction and shuts down March’s investigation. March meets a female American journalist, who is also investigating the case. Ultimately, the two uncover the horrific truth behind the staged murders.

At its best, alternate history challenges fixed ideas while providing entertainment. In Fatherland we enjoy the frisson of terror at the nightmare of what could have been. Readers, especially those who haven’t tried an ‘althistory’ book before, are intrigued by the different setting and the ‘what if’ trope, but are still after a cracking good story with emotional grip. Harris is a political journalist and this shows through his writing. I love his succinct, pictorial style, and the inference of tension and past memory he can conjure up in a few words:

“Xavier March, homicide investigator with the Berlin Kriminalpolizei  – the Kripo – climbed out of his Volkswagen and tilted his face to the rain. He was a connoisseur of this particular rain. He knew the taste of it, the smell of it. It was Baltic rain, rain from the north, cold and sea-scented, tangy with salt. For an instant he was back twenty years in the conning tower of a U-boat, slipping out of Wilhelmshaven, lights doused, into the darkness…”

According to Robert Harris, in an interview with the Guardian, Fatherland attracted the biggest outrage from Germans who castigated Harris for ‘trivialising’ their history. Thirty publishers in Germany refused to handle the book. Das Spiegel magazine ran a six-page denunciation of Fatherland which ensured it became a bestseller in Germany.

My own ‘what if’ story was bubbling away in my head, more as a fantasy than a concrete idea for a book, but the idea of bending and extending history as Robert Harris had done planted itself beside it. It spurred me on to find other such stories, such as Keith Roberts’ Pavane about an England after being defeated by the Spanish Armada, Kingsley Amis’ The Alteration and Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. This year, C J Sansom has taken up the ‘what if Nazi Germany had won the war’ theme in Dominion, but used ordinary people as the carriers of the narration while using the great smog of 1952 (which really happened) as a symbol of obfuscation. Clever stuff.

In 2003 Harris turned his attention to ancient Rome with his acclaimed and very exciting Pompeii, which has become another international best-seller. He followed this in 2006 with Imperium, the first novel in a trilogy about Roman orator and politician Cicero. The second novel, Lustrum, was published in October 2009 (Conspirata in the US). The third and final novel is scheduled to be released in 2013. I can’t find any details yet, even its title, but it’s already on my to-be-read pile.

My favourite, Pompeii, centres on Marcus Attilius, an ordinary engineer placed in charge of the massive aqueduct that services the tens of thousands living close packed around the Bay of Naples. Quiet, expert, and stubborn, Marcus has to face the facts that his predecessor in the job vanished mysteriously and that the towns’ wells and springs around the whole bay are failing. On top of this, the greatest aqueduct in the world – the mighty Aqua Augusta – has suddenly ceased to flow. Marcus is tasked by the scholar Pliny to undertake crucial repairs to the aqueduct, all under the shadow of the restless Mount Vesuvius.  For me, Harris’ genius for narrative is pronounced in this work.

“He reached for the decanter but stopped, his hand poised in midair. The heavy crystal glass was not merely shaking now: it was moving sideways along the polished wooden surface. He frowned at it stupidly. That couldn’t be right. Even so, it reached the end of the sideboard and crashed to the floor. He glanced at the tiles. There was a vibration beneath his feet. It gradually built in strength and then a gust of hot air passed through the house, powerful enough to bang the shutters. An instant later, far away – but very distinctly, unlike anything that he or anyone else had ever heard – came the sound of a double boom.”

Newer work includes The Ghost, a thinly disguised story of the recently unseated Prime Minister Tony Blair. Harris adapted the book with Roman Polanski for a 2010 film starring Pierce Brosnan, Ewan McGregor, Olivia Williams and Kim Cattrall. For me, it echoed the political conspiracy, corruption and twisted allegiances in the Roman novels centred on Cicero.

So who is Robert Harris?

Born in Nottingham, Harris spent his childhood in a small rented house on a Nottingham council estate. His ambition to become a writer arose at an early age; from visits to the local printing plant where his father worked. Harris read English literature at Selwyn College, Cambridge, where he was president of the Union and Editor of the student newspaper Varsity.

He became a columnist for the Sunday Times, but gave it up in 1997. He returned to journalism in 2001, writing for the Daily Telegraph, and was named “Columnist of the Year” at the 2003 British Press Awards.

So, in conclusion, if you are looking for tight writing, excellent research and a cracking story that challenges, I don’t think you can go wrong with Robert Harris.

Allison Morton

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.

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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

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Interview with Author Alison Morton

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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!

 Allison Morton

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

Book Deal Announcement!

One of my absolutely favorite authors, Nancy Bilyeau recently released the second book,” The Chalice” as part of her fantastic  Sister Joanna series, which I highly recommend. But if you haven’t read the first book in the series, “The Crown”. One week from today -Friday, April 12th- it will be the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal offered at ONLY $1.99 for just 24 hours! So mark your calendar and spread the word!

 

 

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Interview with Author Maria Grace

Stephanie:  I would like to introduce Author Maria Grace. A talented writer whom I have had the honor to meet on social media and have had the pleasure of working along side with. She not only writes wonderful stories but is also a blogger who has been instrumental in promoting other writers and book reviewers work. Maria, thank you for visiting my website and having a chat with me. Please tell me a little about what genre of books you write?

Maria: My current books are historical fiction, set in the Regency era, England.  I have a science fiction series in the works which explores many of the Regency cultural issues, but in a very different context.

When did you first become interested in the Regency era and what do you like most about it?  

 

Maria: Sadly, somehow my history classes in high school missed this period entirely.  It was not until I ‘met’ Jane Austen through Emma Thompson’s version of ‘Sense and Sensibility’ that I really became aware of it. My academic leanings make me more of a social historian, so the social upheaval of a society on the cusp of industrial revolution fascinates me. This is a society in which everything is about to change and we see the stirrings of that in the Regency period.

Stephanie: Out of all the ones you have written, which one is your favorite?

Maria: Usually the one that I am working on at any given time is my favorite. That’s probably a good thing, all in all. The one up next for editing is called “If I had Only Learnt.” So that’s officially my current favorite. It is the story of a blind gentleman in the Regency era and how his condition affects him and his daughters both positively and negatively.

Stephanie: Is there a character in one of your stories you relate too?

Maria: In my most recent book, the heroine is one of several daughters.  Her mother does not understand her, but she is her father’s favorite. I relate to that character very well, though I think there are elements I can strongly relate to in all my heroines.

Stephanie: That is really interesting. What is your inspiration for your stories?

Maria:  Evil plot bunnies my cats chase by.

Ideas come winging past at the oddest of times.  My current work-in-progress was inspired by an odd thought that hopped past while napping on the couch under a couple of large cats.  My sci-fi series was inspired by an idea that tagged me while lifting weights in the gym with my sons. So I never know when an idea is going to hit. I have a file called the plot bunny pound where I corral them and see which one will grow up into full fledges plots.

Stephanie: It’s truly intriguing how ideas for stories come to authors. When did you start to write?

Maria:  I have been writing and making up stories as long as I can remember. I wrote my first poem and short story in the third grade, and if memory serves me correctly, wrote a number of plays in the third and fourth grades.

In middle school I wrote a short story anthology and two novels that I shared with friends. They were enthusiastic about them. In high school I added another standalone novel and a six book series to the mix, again written mostly for the entertainment of my friends. I still have those old scribbles, hidden in a box in my office. They remind me I’m just getting back to one of my first loves.

Stephanie: How do your characters voices come to you?

Maria: I find running to be very meditative, so I strap on my running shoes and get ‘in the zone’. I try to get very quiet inside my head and just listen and they usually reveal themselves pretty clearly.

Stephanie: Now that is interesting. Often times when I go for walks my characters speak to me. I believe only a writer can get away with saying that. Lol. How long does it take for you to write a novel?

Maria: It is hard to say as I write multiple projects in parallel.  But from the idea stage to the final proof read probably would take a year, though the rough draft alone is probably only 1/3 of that.  Putting the polish on the story and making sure all the historical details are accurate is what really takes me the most time.

Stephanie: What is your favorite literary genre?

I like anything that takes me away from the here and now whether it is historical, fantasy or science fiction. Oh and happy ending, those are important to me to.  I read to escape the everyday world. I see too many unhappy things so I don’t want to read about them, too.  So is there a ‘Calgon take me away with a happy ending genre’?

Stephanie: I too prefer a happy ending. What is your all-time favorite novel?

That’s a little like asking me which of my children is my favorite! I don’t think I can narrow it to just one.

Stephanie: I have so many favorites, so it’s always hard to pin point that, when someone ask, If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?

Maria: I’d love to meet Shakespeare as we share a birthday. There are so many questions surrounding his works, I’m not sure where I’d start.

Stephanie: Maria, that is really neat you share a birthday with Shakespeare. What is your favorite quote?

Maria: I think it would have to be a biblical quote, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” I have found it so true, the way a person speaks and what they choose to say is so much a reflection of what goes on inside them.  If you learn to really listen, people reveal an amazing amount about themselves without realizing it.

That is also how I like to reveal my characters.  Of all things, I like writing dialogue the best.  I actually find that it writes itself many times and I’ll even close my eyes as I type so as to let it flow with less interruptions.  Sometimes my characters will say things that I didn’t exactly plan and I learn about them or they provide answers to things that I couldn’t come up with.  I love to be the bug on the wall to my characters and listen while they are in the process of revealing themselves.

Stephanie: Good quote. Maria, it was a pleasure chatting with you! Thank you!

 

 Maria Grace

Author Bio:

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, six cats, seven Regency-era fiction projects and notes for eight more writing projects in progress. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

She can be contacted at:

email: author.MariaGrace@gmail.com.

Facebook: facebook.com/AuthorMariaGrace

On Amazon.com: amazon.com/author/mariagrace

Visit her website Random Bits of Fascination (AuthorMariaGrace.com)

On Twitter @WriteMariaGrace

On Pinterest : http://pinterest.com/mariagrace423/

English Historical Fiction Authors (EnglshHistoryAuthors.blogspot.com)

Austen Authors (AustenAuthors.net)

maria's book

Book Blurb

 

What is a young woman to do? One handsome young man has all the goodness, while the other the appearance of it.  How is she to separate the gentleman from the cad?

When Darcy joins his friend, Bingley on a trip to Meryton, the last thing on his mind is finding a wife. Meeting Elizabeth Bennet changes all that, but a rival for his affections appears from a most unlikely quarter. He must overcome his naturally reticent disposition if he is to have a chance of winning her favor.

Elizabeth’s thoughts turn to love and marriage after her sister, Mary’s, engagement. In a few short weeks she goes from knowing no eligible young men, to being courted by two. Both are handsome gentleman, but one conceals secrets and the other conceals his regard. Will she determine which is which before she commits to the wrong one?