The Reading Writer
Writers are always readers. Or if not, they have no business writing. This interview asks authors about both their reading and writing, because I’m curious how one affects the other. Meet Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova series.
Which book most influenced you when growing up?
The CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia. Talking animals, a magical lion, portals between worlds, strange seas, enchanted princes, culture clashes, high-minded and selfish protagonists, fauns, beavers, stroppy teenagers, swords, noble quests, temptation, betrayal and redemption with children leading the world saving adventures – what’s not to like? And I still have my original box set…
Where do you write?
At my desk in my basement office.
Do you have a phrase that you most overuse, in writing or in speech?
‘Just’, ‘really’ and lots of looking, seeing and watching. The first two are excised at editing phase, but I do like characters to be aware of the reactions of others so the looking, seeing and watching tend to stay, accompanied by glancing at or studying and searching of faces.
Tell us which books are your go-to comfort reads.
Anything by Georgette Heyer (I know!), but they are beautifully written, humorous, well-researched and have a happy ending. Perfect for a duvet day!
Why do you write in the genre(s) you write?
See the first question! More seriously, thrillers because I like a tight, exciting story, Romans because I am fascinated by a civilisation that lasted over twelve centuries which still underlies much of our language, legal systems and literary inspiration, not to mention the engineering behind roads and buildings and pragmatic scientific approach. Women as main characters drive the action in my books (Cue the Bechdel test), and thy serve in the military because I spent six years in uniform myself and loved it even when freezing in winter in the middle of the North German Plain. And did I mention an over-active imagination?
What makes your storyworld/concept special?
Ha! Just imagine women leading a 21st century Roman world! And yet the characters work hard, joke, foul up, fall in love, battle the bad guys, achieve, endure loss and come to terms with unpalatable decisions. They heft a Glock, a gladius or a glass of bubbly as the occasion requires.
Which part of the writing process do you enjoy most: drafting or editing?
Editing! Getting the first draft onto paper is like passing several months in a Roman punishment officer’s hands. Yet it happens, mostly because I want to know how the story ends. But yes, editing – that’s where I knock the story into something intelligible.
To which authors would you compare your style?
I would love to be considered similar to Robert Harris or Lindsey Davis.
How do you view the variety of publication routes available to authors now?
As wonderful. Every writer now has the choice of route according to their goals and wishes. And choosing one way for one book and another for a different one opens a galaxy of opportunity. But however published, writers must still work hard to commercialise their work for not much return unless they are outliers.
Will you give us a hint about what you’re working on next?
A novella set in the 1970s. The first strand of the Roma Nova novels takes place in the ‘present’, recounts how Carina Mitela became a Praetorian Guard, fights her battles and finds love, and consists of three full-length books and a novella. The second, originally another trilogy, tells the story of Aurelia Mitela, Carina’s grandmother, as a young woman and follows her rivalry with the charming but amoral Caius Tellus into the worst of nightmares. The only thing missing for that strand was a novella…
Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces.
So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see.
But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the breathtaking mosaics at Ampurias in Spain and the engineering brilliance of the Pont du Gard in France, she was curious about the role of women in the complex, powerful and value-driven Roman civilisation. That started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…
Now, she lives in France with her husband and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines.