Interview with Author Alison Morton


Stephanie: Hello Alison! Welcome back and thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on winning for the B.R.A.G Medallion twice! Today, I would like to talk to you about your book that won the first medallion, INCEPTIO. Please tell your audience a little about your story.

Alison: Hi Stephanie. Thank you so such for having me on Authors’ Chat. Yes, I’m delighted to have been twice honoured.

INCEPTIO is an alternate history thriller, the first in the Roma Nova series, which begins when New Yorker Karen Brown, terrified after a kidnap attempt and hunted by a killer, is forced to flee to her mother’s mysterious homeland in Europe – Roma Nova. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety – at a price. But the killer has followed her and sets a vicious trap knowing she’ll have no choice but to spring it…


Stephanie: Please tell me a little about the mysterious Roma Nova and how you came up with that name.

Alison: ‘Roma Nova’ means ‘New Rome’ in Latin, and this is the language they speak, although it has evolved over the centuries. Roma Nova is a small semi-mountainous country, somewhere between Austria and Italy, high tech, and keeping the traditional Roman values. The founders who wanted to keep the old Roman gods and religion were being persecuted by the Christian Emperor Theodosius, so left Rome in AD 395 and trekked north.

Apulius, leader of the new colony, had married Julia Bacausa, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women in her family made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first Roma Nova pioneers so necessarily had to act more decisively than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, and their fierce desire to survive, eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their new homeland and way of life. Over the next sixteen centuries women developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life. You can get the full story here.

Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this book?

Alison: Three things! As an eleven year old fascinated by the mosaics in Ampurias, a huge Roman site in Spain, I asked my father, “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 it was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question or early onset of feminism. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?” I thought about it for several decades…

The second piece of the jigsaw was reading Robert Harris’ wonderful alternate history, Fatherland that came out in 1992. I hadn’t realized you could project history in a different line.

The third thing that triggered novel writing was a terrible film. The cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration stop-start.

‘I could do better that that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.

‘So why don’t you?’ came my other half’s reply.

Ninety days later, I’d completed the first (very bad) draft of INCEPTIO.

Stephanie: What are Karen Brown’s weaknesses and strengths?

Alison: She’s not particularly happy or unhappy, but gets on with most people around her whether at her regular, boring office job or her weekend volunteer work as a park guide. Both her parents are dead and her cousins uncaring so she’s learned to be self-sufficient, but this makes her lonely, wary and prone to not believing in herself. She’s outdoorsy and enjoys jogging and squash and circuit training, so she’s fit. As terrifying things happen to her, she is surprised to find herself resilient. But Karen has a temper and when she thinks people are being unfair or unkind, that temper comes out for an airing.

Stephanie: What genre does this book fall under and what do you like most about writing in it?

Alison: Primarily, INCEPTIO is a thriller, but there are no dripping body parts or detailed, gratuitous violence. The tension, or suspense, comes more from threats and Karen’s reactions to them. There is an emotional relationship and that weaves in and out the action, but it’s not a romance as such. As the story is set in an alternate timeline, I use “alternate history thriller” which sums up the combination of elements quite neatly.

I enjoy alternate history as it is a sub-genre of history that allows me to expand beyond the normal framework of historical writing. However, I’m firmly convinced you have to know your history before you can alternate it.

Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story and were there any challenges? What research was involved?

Alison: The first (very rough) draft took 90 days and then I started to learn my trade as a novelist! It was only three years later after courses, conferences, writing group, beta readers, full editing, etc. that I felt confident enough to publish INCEPTIO. I have a history and cross-cultural background and have been immersed in the Roman world since childhood, but was never too proud to check and/or research any tiny detail I was worried about. And the military scenes? Well, I spent six years in uniform as a reserve officer…

Stephanie: Writers develop their own writing practice or habit-if you will-that tailors to their own needs. Stephen King writes 2000 words a day and Jack London wrote 1000 to 1500 words each day from what I hear. What is yours? And what helps you get started?

Alison: I aim for 1,000 words a day, with an absolute minimum of 500. I have a back problem, and write in spurts of an hour mixed in with checking the little things that come along when writing. Walking and thinking time and rehearsal-in-the-head time are absolutely necessary before sitting down and writing; it makes your writing time more efficient. I’m often heard muttering characters’ dialogue as I’m gardening or cooking lunch.

Stephanie: Where in your home do you like to write?

Alison: I can show you this! [see photo] We converted part of the basement under our house into an office. A writer must have a properly equipped and comfortable workplace, a dedicated personalised space so that their muse feels inspired to come out to play. More about where I write

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Alison: I discovered it via Layered Pages(!) and shortly after that saw my writing friend Paula Lofting had been awarded the Medallion. Indie/self-publishing needs a high-level quality mark and I’ve been very impressed (and mildly terrified) by the rigourous selection procedure.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Alison: In many ways! Paperbacks can be ordered through your local bookshop or online and the ebook is available though most online retailers. I’ve compiled a list here of the most popular ones so that readers have a good choice.

Read more about Alison here

Stephanie: Part two of our interview with be held here on March 20th and will include a giveaway.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Alison Morton, who is the author of, INCEPTIO, one of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . 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, INCEPTIO merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Interview with Author GJ Berger


When G. J. was eight, his mom told him the story of Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants and a great army. He asked her what happened to Hannibal after that. Mom didn’t know, but he was hooked, had to find out, had to write about it.

G. J. spent much of his young life on the road and at sea. Often working as a crew member on a tramp steamer. Wherever his travels took him, old walls, canals, even storage holes deep in the ground, made him wonder about how they got there, about the people who built them, how they lived and got along.
The result is this and two other novels-to-be wherein the places, the history, even some of the “Burnt Rocks” characters do and did exist.

When not writing, G. J. tries to roam around the places he writes about, likes to sit and soak up the times back then and bring them to modern life in his stories. G. J. is convinced that for all the changes in last 2000 years, people loved and hated, suffered and rejoiced, destroyed and built the same ways then as they do today.

G. J. lives in San Diego with his favorite grammarian and English Professor.

Stephanie:  Hello, George! Welcome to Layered Pages! I am delighted to be chatting with you today and congrats on winning the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Please tell me about your book, South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon.

George: Several of my readers have said it reminds them of The Hunger Games—in a good way.  And better yet, it’s mostly true. Though it takes place more than 2000 years ago, the locations, many of characters, the implements of daily life, the background history are portrayed as they were then.

The Imperial Power of that day and time was all-mighty Rome. It looted its neighbors’ property; it enslaved all healthy bodies (or worse); it slaughtered all resistance.

Iberia, modern Spain and Portugal, too fell victim to Rome.  At that time Iberian Celts were the main people in that beautiful and productive land. After Rome crushed Carthage, the land and people of Iberia had no great power to protect them. In wave after wave of conscripted armies, wealthy Romans invaded and looted Iberia, sometimes imposed crushing treaties, other times simply took everything of value and returned in triumphant to Rome with their bounty.

But the Iberian Celts were not hapless. They were good and clever fighters, excellent farmers and sailors. Most Celts fought naked—better for fast movements and to avoid septic wounds from old grimy clothes and rusty armor.

Celtic women held a higher place than in other societies of the time. The strongest and most talented women fought side-by-side with their men.

The hero of my novel is such a woman. “South of Burnt Rocks” tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining Iberian tribal leader. She must grow up fast and use all her cunning and courage to survive each day. At times helped only by her father’s favourite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace.


Stephanie: What was your inspiration for this story?

George: In some reading about ancient people for another novel, I ran across a photograph of a dying Celtic warrior who had fought against Rome. His look, his almost naked body, the power of him even while his life ebbed away stuck with me. I wanted to write his story. One of my writer friends suggested I make the main character a woman for more universal appeal. So that warrior’s daughter become my heroine, Lavena. He too has a very large role in “South of Burnt Rocks”.

Spain_2009_085 GJ Berger

Stephanie: How much research was involved?

George: I think I’ve spent more time reading, going to places, checking and double checking than actually writing the story. But it’s not really research—not like real research in a medical lab injecting mice and measuring the effects, or in a science facility creating sub-atomic particles. My “research” is a lot of interesting reading and visiting and a bit of talking to others who know the time and place better than I. I have climbed around some of the remaining fortress walls, houses, baths, paths, rivers and forests where “South of Burnt Rocks” rolls out.

Stephanie: Tell me about Lavena. What are her strengths and weaknesses?

George: We meet Lavena when she is eleven years old. She knows that, as the daughter of the region’s leader, she is privileged, and she soon realizes that she’s physically gifted. But she also grows up at a time and society where most girls/women marry soon after puberty, bear children and help their men in all activities of life. She’s not able to pursue that path—not as the future leader of her tribe, not with the crushing might of one more Roman army bearing down on her village. She also feels less than up to the task, fears that she’s respected only because she is her father’s daughter—until circumstances she can’t control make her grow up fast and become the greatest She Warrior of her time.

Stephanie:  How long did it take to write your story?

George: Two years for a pretty good first draft—then years of polishing.

Stephanie: Was there any challenges along the way?

George: Nothing extraordinary or not known by other writers. Writing is both lonely and selfish. Writing forces one to shut out everyone and everything. That’s hard for the writer, for family, for colleagues.

The route of self-publishing does require great attention to many details, but that too is well known to other writers. My greatest fear was not so much that my story would hold together, would be captivate the reader from first page to last line, but that my books might contain production problems—a missed line here, an extra word there and so on. Another writer friend published by a “smaller” publisher discovered months after her book was out that the publisher had omitted an entire chapter! Those concerns were constant until my first readers found only a handful of tiny typos, each of the kind that the eye-mind ignores or does not even spot, and are easily corrected in the next upload.

Stephanie: What do you like most about Roman History?

George: The history of Rome’s adversaries. Plenty enough has been written and portrayed in other mediums and preserved about Rome. But really not much at all about the people Rome destroyed along the way.

Stephanie:  Is this your first publish work?

George: Yes.

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

George: A writer friend suggested it.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

George: All usual places. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords. It’s available in hard cover, soft cover, and e-book formats.

Thanks so much for what you do and for indieBRAG!

GJ Berger’s Website

Stephanie: Thank you, George!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview GJ Berger, who is the author of, South of Burnt Rocks: West of The Moon, one of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . 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, South of Burnt Rocks: West of The Moon merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.


Review: The Secret History by Stephanie Thornton

the secret history book cover

Publication Date: July 2, 2013
NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778X

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it.

Where to begin in this review was the question when I first begun to write this. There are so many highlights to this story and what can be discussed on different viewpoints. Here is only a glimpse of my thoughts and feelings. Theodora is my new favorite heroine who will capture your attention from the beginning and leave you with wanting the story of her life to continue. She is an incredible and courageous women who inspired one not to give up on what life might throw at you and she is the model of a strong, vibrant woman. I’m looking forward to more of Thornton’s stories to come. I hope you enjoy my review below and I’m sure this story will give you newfound appreciation for the wonderful stories writers bring to their readers.

My review:

Historical Fiction is the echo of the past. Where the writer draws you in its fold and as you explore the timeless treasures it has to offer, you want to hold on tight to the- what if’s and the voices that resound through the pages. Thornton gives you that and much more…Every word, every emotion and thought awakens new senses and transcends you back to sixth-century Constaninpole.

She writes a wonderful backdrop of how the city must have looked and the daily life of its people. You can imagine how the different scents of spices must have smelled like at the markets, hear the street merchants as they sell their wares, the cries of babies wanting to feed and the beggar’s unrelenting voices as they beg for food and coin. Not only that- her story is rich with wonderful historical detail and beautiful characters. The love of Theodora and Justinian is one I will never forget. They are forever in my heart.

From what I gather -this is Thornton’s first published novel. She is a history teacher who has been drawn-to put it lightly- with infamous women from ancient history since she was a young girl. It definitely shows throughout this novel! An exceptional story that has left me with what can only be describe as adoration and inspired anew.


Layered Pages

Link to Tour Schedule:
Twitter Hashtag: #SecretHistoryTour

the secret history banner