Review: Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt

Rocamora book cover


*2012 Finalist International Book Awards for Historical


Publication Date: September 26, 2011

Raven’s Wing Books

Paperback; 408p
ISBN-10: 1618070150

Rocamora, a novel of 17th century Spain, is based on the life of Vicente de Rocamora, who struggles to make his place in a Spain obsessed with limpieza de sangre, purity of blood untainted by Jew, Moor, or recent convert.

Poet, swordsman, and master of disguise, at the insistence of his family, Vicente enters the Dominican Order and is soon thrust into the scheming political and clerical hierarchies that at Court.

Vicente becomes Confessor and Spiritual Director for King Philip IV’s teenage sister, the beautiful Infanta Doña María, five years younger than he, protégé and possible successor of Inquisitor General Sotomayor, and an invaluable assistant to the King’s chief minister, the Count-Duke de Olivares.

Vicente needs all his skills and cunning to survive assassination by a growing list of ruthless foes in both Church and Court, solve a centuries-old riddle to quell rumors of his own impurity of blood, and above all suppress his love for the seemingly unattainable María.

Rocamora Book Trailer:

My review for,”Rocamora”

I have not read very many novels that center around 17th Century Spain, so I don’t know a whole lot about the culture and history. But as you read this story, one can tell this novel is certainly rich with history and has sparked my interest in learning more. One of the great things about Historical Fiction is if the author can pull enough fiction into to it to make it believable and Platt as done that. Well written and beautifully crafted, complex characters, court intrigue, bold themes. Some are dark and graphic but I was able to handle that alright. Fantastic plot with a-ahem-interesting ending. This novel will most definitely entertain you and many of you will admire Vicente, even though you might not approve of his choices. He is a wonderful, intelligent, brave and interesting man.

Through this tale I have learned a lot more of the Roman Church during this period and look forward to doing a little research of my own. My Spanish is a bit rusty, so I had some trouble with the Spanish words through-out. It was a small distraction for me but by no means did it take away from the story. I highly recommend and I can’t wait to read, “House of Rocamora!” below is some information about it. Check it out!


House of R

Publication Date: November 19, 2012

Raven’s Wing Books

Paperback; 346p

A new life and a new name … House of Rocamora, a novel of the 17th century, continues the exceptional life of roguish Vicente de Rocamora, a former Dominican friar, confessor to the Infanta of Spain, and almost Inquisitor General.

After Rocamora arrives in Amsterdam at age forty-two, asserts he is a Jew, and takes the name, “Isaac,” he revels in the freedom to become whatever he chooses for the first time in his life. Rocamora makes new friends, both Christian and Jew, including scholars, men of power and, typically, the disreputable. He also acquires enemies in the Sephardic community who believe he is a spy for the Inquisition or resent him for having been a Dominican.

As Isaac Israel de Rocamora, he studies Medicine at Leyden and, at age forty-six, receives a license to practice. That same year Rocamora weds twenty-five year old Abigail Touro, and together they raise a large family. During his time in Amsterdam, Rocamora has a bizarre encounter with Rembrandt, serves the House of Orange as physician, and advises Spinoza before the philosopher’s excommunication. He survives a murder attempt, learns from the great English physician Harvey, and a surprise visit from a childhood friend leads to an unusual business venture.

Life is never routine or dull for Rocamora. The intrigues start with his arrival in Amsterdam and do not end until he takes his last breath.

About the Author


Born and raised inside San Francisco, I graduated from Lowell High School and received my B.A. in History from the University of California at Berkeley and won a batch of literary cash awards while in graduate school at San Jose State.

When I moved to southern California, I began my professional writing career. I sold to the TV series, MR. NOVAK, ghosted YOUR HAIR AND YOUR DIET for health food guru, Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and with diverse producers, among them as Harry Joe Brown, Sig Schlager, Albert J. Cohen, and Al Ruddy as well as Paul Stader Sr., dean of Hollywood stuntman and stunt/2nd unit director. Also, options were taken on my unpublished WWII fighter ace novel and several treatments.

After living in Florianópolis, Brazil, setting of my horror novel A GATHERING OF VULTURES, Dark Hart 2007, Briona Glen 2012, I moved to Florida where I wrote as a with: VITAMIN ENRICHED, pub.1999, for Carl DeSantis, founder of Rexall Sundown Vitamins; and THE COUPLE’S DISEASE, Finding a Cure for Your Lost “Love” Life, pub. 2002, for Lawrence S. Hakim, MD, FACS, Head of Sexual Dysfunction Unit at the Cleveland Clinic.

Currently, I reside in Winter Haven,

Florida. My magnum opus historical novel, ROCAMORA, set in 17th century Spain and Amsterdam during their Golden Ages, was released by RAVEN’S WING BOOKS at the end of December 2008. It has been republished by Briona Glen, September 2011. My completed sequel HOUSE OF ROCAMORA was published by Briona Glen November 2012, and I am polishing a completed novel set in the 9th century Carolingian Empire about another unusual historical character, Bodo, the Apostate.

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Review: Seduction by M.J. Rose

seduction book cover

Publication Date:  May 7, 2013
Atria Books
Hardcover; 384p
ISBN-10: 1451621507
SYNOPSIS: From the author of The Book of Lost Fragrances comes a haunting novel about a grieving woman who discovers the lost journal of novelist Victor Hugo, awakening a mystery that spans centuries.

In 1843, novelist Victor Hugo’s beloved nineteen-year-old daughter drowned. Ten years later, Hugo began participating in hundreds of séances to reestablish contact with her. In the process, he claimed to have communed with the likes of Plato, Galileo, Shakespeare, Dante, Jesus—and even the Devil himself. Hugo’s transcriptions of these conversations have all been published. Or so it was believed.

Recovering from her own losses, mythologist Jac L’Etoile arrives on the Isle of Jersey—where Hugo conducted the séances—hoping to uncover a secret about the island’s Celtic roots. But the man who’s invited her there, a troubled soul named Theo Gaspard, has hopes she’ll help him discover something quite different—Hugo’s lost conversations with someone called the Shadow of the Sepulcher.

What follows is an intricately plotted and atmospheric tale of suspense with a spellbinding ghost story at its heart, by one of America’s most gifted and imaginative novelists.


My Review:

I was so delighted to be able to participate in this book tour. I have not read any of M.J. Rose before and she now has a new fan. What an interesting and intense premise for a story, one I’ve not quite read. There are so many wonderful characters in this story. One of them being Victor Hugo. An author who lived in the nineteenth century. All I really knew about him was his extraordinary talent for storytelling and have read several of his novels. This tale gives you a look into his personal life. His daughter lost her life and I believe he was always haunted by her death. Years later, He began dabbling in séances hoping to contact her. By doing so, he opens a window to an evil force.

In the present, Jac L’Etoile-a women who is recovering from a loss as well-travels to the Isle of Jersey at the request of an old friend. Jac is a mythologist and is wanting to uncover mysteries and secrets of the island. She and her friend discover journals that was written by Victor Hugo.

There is so much more to this story, but I don’t want to give anything away. As your reading this story, you feel as if you are finding an unexpected gift in every page. Hard to describe really. I was instantly absorbed with the imaginative writing. Beautiful prose throughout, suspenseful, descriptive, romantic, mystical- but realistic at the same time- and haunting. I was completely memorized by this tale.

I really admire an author who writes characters in such a way you can connect to them on some level. Even some of the characters’ you will have a love/ hate regard for them. After reading this story, I want to read the whole series now. I highly recommend this brilliantly written novel. I’m giving it a five star rating.


About the Author

M.J. Rose

M.J. Rose is the international best selling author of eleven novels and two non-fiction books on marketing. Her fiction and non-fiction has appeared in many magazines and reviews including Oprah Magazine. She has been featured in the New York Times, Newsweek, Time, USA Today and on the Today Show, and NPR radio. Rose graduated from Syracuse University, spent the ’80s in advertising, has a commercial in the Museum of Modern Art in NYC and since 2005 has run the first marketing company for authors –  The television series PAST LIFE, was based on Rose’s novels in the Renincarnationist series. She is one of the founding board members of

International Thriller Writers and runs the blog- Buzz, Balls & Hype.  She is also the co-founder of and

Rose lives in CT with her husband the musician and composer, Doug Scofield, and their very spoiled and often photographed dog, Winka.

For more information on M.J. Rose and her novels, please visit her WEBSITE. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Link to Tour Scheadule:
Twitter Hashtag: #SeductionVirtualTour

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Interview With Author Pam Stucky

Stephanie: I would like to introduce Author Pam Stucky, winner of the BRAG Medallion.  Pam, congrats on winning the Medallion! What an honor! Please tell me about your book; Letters from Wishing Rock.

Pam: Thank you! I’m so delighted and honored. In self-publishing we don’t have the nod of approval one gets automatically by being one of the ‘chosen ones’. It’s so affirming to hear that someone else thinks my books are great, too!

Letters from Wishing Rock (a novel with recipes) (“LfWR”) is the first in the Wishing Rock series. (I just published the third and final book in the series in March 2013!) These books are about the happenings in the small made-up town of Wishing Rock, Washington, an island town where everyone lives in the same building. I was inspired by the format of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society to write my own books (this first series, anyway) in e-mail format. Letters amongst the characters and their friends and families chronicle the twists and turns of the characters’ daily lives. The first story mostly focuses on Ruby Parker, a 35-year-old woman who at the beginning of LfWR has just moved to Wishing Rock after having been dumped by her fiancé. She’s in need of healing and quickly finds herself surrounded by a community of quirky, funny, wise but fallible people. Other characters get to share the spotlight, too, though, with a full cast of what I hope are really likeable people opening up about their lives. When it’s all said and done, the Wishing Rock books really are about community, relationships, and happiness, and about making choices about how we live in our own lives and with the people around us. With lots of humor and recipes tossed in for good measure!


Letters from Wishing Rock


Stephanie: I’m intrigued with the premise for your story and I’ll be adding Letters from Wishing Rock to my reading list. Is there a character you relate to in anyway?


Pam: I relate to all of them in some way, I’d say. Said E.L. Doctorow, “Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.” In some ways, all these characters are me; in other ways, none of them is me. I do believe, though, that to successfully write a character you have to be able to understand that every character, every person, is the protagonist in his or her own story. To each character, what he or she does has to make sense. In that sense, you have to somehow be able to relate to every character in order to make them believable.


Stephanie: What genre does it fall under?


Pam: Contemporary women’s fiction, with a bit of humor, travel, and cookbook tossed in! I see so many indie books that don’t quite fit into one pre-defined genre, and I suspect in some cases that’s why they ended up self-publishing. Traditional publishers don’t always know what to do with books that don’t fit one genre. We indies like to think outside the box!


Stephanie: Contemporary women’s fiction is really popular. Strong female characters is one of the things I like to look for in this genreWould you ever consider writing in another genre?


Pam: Absolutely! I’ll be tackling travel humor this summer and fall. I have a YA mystery-adventure-sci-fi-fantasy in the wings, and I’m also working on a book of humorous essays. I know I’m not supposed to diverge so much − it dilutes my brand, yada yada yada − but I have too many paths I want to explore, too many ideas to be tied to just one genre. My brand is me, Pam Stucky, rather than romance or sci-fi or travel. I’m just writing what I want to write. Whether that will work out for me is yet to be seen!


Stephanie: What time period is it set in?


Pam: Modern day. The e-mails are dated, even. The first book opens on February 14, 2010.



Stephanie: Was there a particular scene you found a challenge to write?


Pam: Two things come to mind. First, there was a scene that actually ended up on the cutting room floor, but which I resurrected and put into book two (The Wishing Rock Theory of Life). One character, Alexandra, is talking, and I can’t say about what or I’ll give away a surprise. Anyway, her experience in some ways is closely based on some of my own, and I cried for a week as I wrote the scene. I cut it from the first book because it just didn’t fit with the plot at any point, but there was a place for it in the second book so I put it back in.

The second thing that comes to mind is the challenge of writing in e-mail format. Little did I realize when I embarked on this format how challenging it would be. I stretched the limits of credibility sometimes, but generally there needs to be a reason why someone who lives in the same building as someone else wouldn’t just walk down the hall to talk to them, rather than sending an e-mail. I resorted to travels, conferences, too-late-to-call, and all sorts of things to separate my characters and give them a reason to write each other!



Stephanie: That sounds like quite a task you had with that format style. I don’t know if I would have the patience! How do your characters’ voices come to you?


Pam: When I first started writing a book, long ago – a book that has never been finished or published – I got completely stuck in creating characters. I finally realized that’s because I was trying to create them completely from scratch, and I couldn’t visualize them, couldn’t get the feel for who they were. Now, I’ll often start with the idea of someone – not necessarily someone I know, even, or know well – and then when I imagine the character, I’ll just imagine what I think the real-life person might say or do, and it flows more easily. None of my characters is ‘based’ on anyone, but some are ‘inspired’ by someone. One of the main characters, for example, Ed Brooks, is inspired by someone I only met a couple of times but who had a strong personality that I loved and built on, extrapolated from. Another character, Jake Stewart, is externally very similar to a guy I met a couple times – everything from his looks to his age to his career choice – but I knew almost nothing about the original guy’s personality. Still, having even the slightest base on which to build a character helps. After three books with the same characters, they’re like real people to me themselves so it’s much easier.

On rare occasion, when I’ve sat and listened carefully, some characters just opened up and told me their life stories, like it was completely outside of me. That’s the coolest thing ever.


Stephanie: There have been times I have struggled to find my characters’ voices. I think as writers we have all been there one time or another. What compelled you to write this story?


Pam: Several things. As I said, Wishing Rock is a town in which everyone lives in the same building. That was inspired years ago when I worked at an environmental consulting company. One day, a wetlands scientist came back from a trip and told me about a town in Alaska (Whittier) where almost everyone in town lived in the same building. “You should write a short story about that,” he said. The idea percolated in my mind for a long time before I wrote the first book.

So that’s part of it. Another part is that I occasionally get tired of all those books that are filled with dread, rape, incest, failure, poverty, all the hard stuff. Obviously those are real parts of real life, but life is hard enough and I like to read books that help me escape. I wrote the books I wanted to read. They’re quick reads – I’m a slow reader and even I can get through half of one of my books in an evening. One reviewer described them as “light without being frivolous,” and I think that’s exactly what I was going for. There’s a lot of thinking in my books, but there’s a lot of fun and humor, too. As I say a few times in the series, what we focus on increases. I wanted my books to focus on the positive things in life and in the world.


Stephanie: That is refreshing to hear you say; you want your books to focus on the positive things in life and in the world. I believe we need more of that. People should remember that stories we read can really affect our outlook and too many times we get so wrapped up in the negative we lose sight to the many blessings we have. What is your writing process and what intrigues you most about it?


Pam: I completely agree, what we spend our time on becomes our lives. I mean, think about it! What else could happen? The things you put your energy into, that is, by definition, your life. I want my life and my focus and my world to be positive, as much as I can make them so. I don’t always succeed but that’s the goal.

What most intrigues me about the writing process is how many people and voices stand over my head while I’m writing. I’ve come to understand there’s no such thing as writer’s block; writer’s block is nothing more than letting the fear of judgment stop you. Learning to sit down and write has been the greatest part of learning to write. That’s all you have to do: just sit down and write. Stop letting: the fear of failure, the fear of what others will say, the fear of success, the fear of not knowing what you’re going to write, stop letting all those fears stop you. Just write.

When I’m in my best ‘zone’, I’ll spend the evening sort of plotting out what I’m going to write the next day, and then in the morning I’ll write it. That works best for me. It gives my brain the evening and night to work on the ideas, and by morning it often comes pretty easily. The hard work gets done at night, when I’m better able to focus, and in the morning I just get it done.

Note that I’m not always in my best zone. 🙂 But I’m definitely getting better. When I started, there would be days when I’d congratulate myself on writing 200 words. Now, most days where I’m writing with focus I can write at least 2,000 pretty easily.

I’d say the hardest part can be coming up with ideas. I’m not really the girl who was always making up stories growing up. It’s real life that fascinates me. This is part of why my next series is going to be travel-related humor, non-fiction (the “Pam on the Map” series, coming to you this fall!). Real-life tales of my travels and the people and adventures I encounter.

Stephanie: What is your favorite quote?


Pam: Do I have to have just one? I have so many! I like quotations that inspire me to dream and to believe.

Stephanie: Sure! Go right ahead! I would enjoy seeing them all.

Howard Thurman:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Janet Rand:
“To love is to risk not being loved in return. To hope is to risk pain. To try is to risk failure, but risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.”

Maya Angelou:
“Love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got. Love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it.”

Mark Twain:
“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

William Shedd:
“A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

Stephanie: Fantastic quotes! I’ve booked marked all of them! Mark Twain’s quote is probably my favorite among them. Pam, it was a pleasure to interview you and thank you so much for chatting with me. I hope you will visit Layered Pages again in the near future!

Pam: Thank you so much! The pleasure was mine!



Author Pam Stucky

Author Bio:

 In 2009, Pam Stucky decided she didn’t want to reach the end of her life wondering whether she could succeed at a career in writing. She quit her ‘real’ job to try writing a novel, figuring that if it didn’t work, at least she would have tried. Now, she is delighted to have completed this three-novel series and is excited at what’s next: long-form travel journalism filled with humor. Watch for these books in the fall of 2013. Pam lives near Seattle, where she is furiously and joyfully working on several writing projects at once. Visit Pam at

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Pam Stucky who is the author of, Letters from A Wishing Rock, one of our medallion honorees at To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Letters from a Wishing Rock merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Edited by Dawn Lamprecht


Review: Roses Have Thorns by Sandra Byrd

roses have thorns



Publication Date: April 9, 2013

Simon & Schuster/Howard Boo

Paperback; 336p
ISBN-10: 1439183163

From the acclaimed author of To Die For comes a stirring novel told that sheds new light on Elizabeth I and her court. Like Philippa Gregory and Alison Weir, Sandra Byrd has attracted countless fans for evoking the complexity, grandeur, and brutality of the Tudor period. In her latest tour de force, she poses the question: What happens when serving a queen may cost you your marriage–or your life?

In 1565, seventeen-year-old Elin von Snakenborg leaves Sweden on a treacherous journey to England. Her fiancé has fallen in love with her sister and her dowry money has been gambled away, but ahead of her lies an adventure that will take her to the dizzying heights of Tudor power. Transformed through marriage into Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton, she becomes the highest-ranking woman in Elizabeth’s circle. But in a court that is surrounded by Catholic enemies who plot the queen’s downfall, Helena is forced to choose between her unyielding monarch and the husband she’s not sure she can trust–a choice that will provoke catastrophic consequences.

Vividly conjuring the years leading up to the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots, Roses Have Thorns is a brilliant exploration of treason, both to the realm and to the heart.

Praise for Roses Have Thorns

“In Roses Have Thorns Sandra Byrd has given the reader another amazing Elin to tell the intimate story of England’s greatest queen, Elizabeth I. What a unique point of view and deeply moving story Helena von Snakenborg provides. Byrd is especially adept at blending political and private lives. This is a timeless women’s friendship novel as well as a poignant love story to cherish–both the roses and the thorns.” (Karen Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Mistress of Mourning)

“There is something golden about this tale of Elin, an eager young woman in a strange land, diligent in her duty but alive to love. A tale gracefully told, even as it renders the terrors of treachery that form the crucible of Elin’s hard-won wisdom. A heartfelt story of loyalty, longing, life-long friendship, and the many seasons of the heart.” (Barbara Kyle, author of The Queen’s Gamble and Blood Between Queens)

“Beautiful prose and masterful research combine to bring this fascinating tale to life, treating the reader to fully realized characters and providing an original window through which we can view Elizabeth’s court. Ms. Byrd’s work will stand as an unforgettable contribution to Tudor fiction.” (D.L. Bogdan, author of The Forgotten Queen)

Layered Pages Review:


Roses Have Thorns is the third novel I have read of Sandra’s and I have thoroughly enjoyed everyone single one of them. With each book, I say, “No, this one is my favorite.” I can’t decide!  She not only gives you wonderful, strong characters but gives you a fascinating and fresh look into the Tudor dynasty. What I like most about her stories is that she does not add brutal and graphic scenes but gives you a rich and vivid picture of how Tudor life was like. Which Sandra has tastefully crafted and has proven you don’t have to have to have all that to write a thrilling and intriguing story.

I really admire the young Elin-the heroine- who later becomes Helena, the Marchioness of Northampton and the second most powerful women in all of England. She earns the trust and loyalty of the Queen. She loves her family and she encourages and lifts up everyone around her.

Her second husband, Thomas is an interesting character. I truly believe he loves Helena, but throughout the story I felt that there was something off about him, that he was hiding something. You’ll have to read the story to find out!

I’ve read so many stories of Queen Elizabeth’s life and her relationship with Lord Robert and I must admit that was becoming tiresome. Sandra gives you just a hint to what their relationship was like, which was refreshing! She didn’t go on and on about it.

Sandra, paints beautiful and wonderful scenes of what court life must have been like during Queen Elizabeth rule. Her portrayal of all her characters are superbly done and she entertains you from beginning to end. I love reading a story that you don’t want to tear your eyes from. You want to immerse yourself in the history and court life. This story is perfect for everyone and more so for new readers of the Tudor period. Five stars for Roses Have Thorns!


About the Author


sandra byrd

Sandra Byrd has published more than three dozen books in the fiction and nonfiction markets, including the first book in her Tudor series, To Die For: A Novel of Anne Boleyn.  Her second book, The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr, illuminates the mysteries in the life of Henry’s last wife.

For more than a decade Sandra has shared her secrets with the many new writers she edits, mentors, and coaches. She lives in the Seattle, Washington, area with her husband and two children. For more Tudor tidbits, please visit Follow Sandra Byrd on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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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

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INCEPTIO Blog Tour Schedule

April 1 Review by Because this Girl Loves Books (

April 2 Guest Post on Of History and Kings (

April 3 Guest Post/ Sneak Peek on Alive on the Shelves (

April 4 Interview by Because this Girl Loves Books (

April 5 Author Spotlight by Brook Cottage Books (

April 6 Guest Post on Layered Pages (

April 7 Interview by Layered Pages (

April 8 Review/ Giveaway on Pedacinho Literario (

April 9 Interview/ Review by Crime Thriller Girl (

April 10 Review by Jaffa Reads Too (

Edited by Dawn Lamprecht

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

INCEPTIO Blog Tour Schedule

April 1 Review by Because this Girl Loves Books (

April 2 Guest Post on Of History and Kings (

April 3 Guest Post/ Sneak Peek on Alive on the Shelves (

April 4 Interview by Because this Girl Loves Books (

April 5 Author Spotlight by Brook Cottage Books (

April 6 Guest Post on Layered Pages (

April 7 Interview by Layered Pages (

April 8 Review/ Giveaway on Pedacinho Literario (

April 9 Interview/ Review by Crime Thriller Girl (

April 10 Review by Jaffa Reads Too (


Edited by Dawn Lamprecht