Lady of the Day – meet Alison Morton
Today I welcome Alison Morton to my blog, this both to celebrate the recent launch of her fifth book, INSURRECTIO, but also because I rather enjoy chatting with Alison, a lady with strong opinions and a huge dose of sarcastic wit. Plus she drinks tea, which is always a major plus with me. Okay, she doesn’t ONLY drink tea, but then who does?
And just like that, let us start with the interview:
Having just read the fifth book in your excellent Roma Nova series, I reflected on the fact that time-wise the fifth book is the second – the events in books 4,5 and the upcoming number 6 all predate the events in 1,2,3. Was this intentional, or did the urge to tell the back-story grow on you?
In INCEPTIO, the first book set nominally around 2010, the Great Rebellion that nearly destroyed Roma Nova had occurred twenty-three years before, but it had a long reach for most Roma Novans over thirty; characters in PERFIDITAS, the second book, are haunted by it and its consequences swoop back with a vengeance in SUCCESSIO.
While I was drafting the first three, but more so in SUCCESSIO, I became intrigued by the heroine Carina’s clever and no-nonsense grandmother, Aurelia. There’d always been an air of self-containment about Aurelia, a bottling of the past. Her public role was well-known, but there was something in her private life that was shut away. What part had Aurelia played in the lead up to the rebellion and after it? How was her story tied up with that of Caius Tellus, the traitor who’d grabbed power? The only way to answer these questions properly was to write Aurelia’s story as a young woman. Book 4, simply titled AURELIA, came out last year. But that was only the start. I had to tell the whole story of the rebellion, or ‘insurrectio’.
And while we are on the subject, were you aware from the beginning that you had a series on your hands?
Not really, I was only planning one book! Halfway through, I realised I had so much story to tell that I needed at least one more, then I needed a resolution for the deeper issues raised in INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS, so SUCCESSIO emerged. Each book is a separate story, but readers may enjoy a richer experience by reading all of them.
In Aurelia and her granddaughter Carina you have endowed the literary world with two strong, brave women. In between, we have Aurelia’s daughter – and Carina’s mother – Marina, an entirely different creature. I would love to hear a bit more about Marina and your reasoning behind making her so frail – at least in contrast with her mother and her daughter.
Marina coughed and wheezed her way through childhood, giving Aurelia terrible moments of anxiety. As a result, Aurelia is very protective of her daughter. Marina’s open sunny nature is completely without guile and Aurelia worries whether her daughter will develop the strength of character to survive the complex world of adult life. When Marina is twenty, she still has a childlike, rather flighty personality. I made her an otherworldly, fairy child in order to be a complete contrast to the practical, tough and focused Aurelia who, although she loves Marina to the depth of her soul, is often bewildered by her daughter. Apart from allowing the reader to see Aurelia’s compassionate side, Marina’s character demonstrates the diversity of Roma Novans – they’re not all ‘amazons’. But Marina shows unexpected strength under moments of extreme stress in INSURRECTIO, and in her determination to be with her love.
Do you think the fact that Marina was something of a “disappointment” to Aurelia – no matter that she loves her daughter to bits there is a lot of frustration between the lines – affects Aurelia’s future relationship with Carina?
I think Aurelia is anxious about how Carina may have turned out, especially as she was brought up on the other side of the world in a society with a significantly different value system. This is why she sends Conrad to the EUS to find out. When Aurelia meets Carina on her arrival in Roma Nova at Portus Airport, she is as nervous as Carina. Would Carina be like Marina and need constant protection or was she made of sterner stuff?
Roma Nova seems a fascinating place – please tell us a bit about it!
Well, the article by Claudia Dixit for the Sol Populi’s travel section is a great introduction. Claudia’s a bit of a gossip, but a good journalist. 😉 Roma Nova started off as a survivor colony at the dusk of the Roman Empire. Many senatorial families worshipped the traditional gods, something the Christian emperor Theodosius was determined to stamp out on pain of death. So twelve families led by Senator Apulius fled north into the mountains in AD 395; their descendants toughed it out for sixteen centuries. There were only four hundred exiles at the beginning and they settled on land owned by Apulius’s Celtic father in law. By purchase, conquest and alliance, they expanded to absorb the neighbouring settlements which appreciated these new Romans’ determined will to survive. And in the 20th and 21st centuries, they retain core Roman values and the same robust attitude. You can read a fuller story here:
I am especially fascinated by the matriarchal aspect of the Roma Nova society. What made you decide to present us with a nation ruled by women? What are, in your opinion, the pros and cons of matriarchy contra patriarchy?
With the collapse of the Roman system and the Great Migrations of peoples across Europe, the new colony struggled to survive. At first, women ran the families, worked the land and traded while the men defended the colony. But in the end, there weren’t enough fighters so sisters and daughters had to put on armour and wield swords along with their brothers and fathers, thus earning them the famed equality of Roma Nova. Women, especially senior and more experienced ones hold social and economic life together in Roma Nova. Their co-operative nature and track record of results via negotiation fit them for the Roma Nova model of ruling by consent. Although women head families, and descent of name and property is through the female line, men are not disadvantaged, so Roma Nova is ‘matriarchy-lite’. And patriarchy? Well, we see the results all around us…
In INSURRECTIO, the entire Roma Novan way of life is endangered by a violent coup. A society that has for centuries functioned based on notions of equality is taken over by a gang of thugs, highlighting just how fragile the political structures can be. Similarities to historical events are evident, but do you think something similar could happen in countries with established democratic traditions such as, e.g. the U.S or France? Are those of us who live in functioning democracies too complacent?
Yes, we are probably far too complacent. Look how low the voting turnout is these days; people don’t want to make the effort to participate. We don’t focus on all the good things we enjoy unconsciously, but spend time whinging about marginal matters.
Apart from Yugoslavia, which was a vicious tribal war of dissolution, there has been no war between nations on the European mainland for over seventy years. This is odd, given past history. Although crises such as in 1983 and 1989 threatened to break that peace, the first was averted and the second resulted in the demolition of totalitarian government in Eastern Europe. Remember, too, there has been no general need for universal military service for two generations.
We tend to poke fun at demagogues, although many of us are appalled at how easily and irrationally they capture people’s emotions and fears, such as across the Atlantic at present. Attributed to American abolitionist Wendell Phillips (sometimes, mistakenly, to Thomas Jefferson) and quoted by Winston Churchill, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance”.
In INSURRECTIO, Aurelia finds herself in a position where the lives of others depend on her submitting to one humiliation after the other – a most unfamiliar position for this proud and brave woman. How did you go about writing these scenes where Aurelia acts so out of character?
With difficulty! I think we’ve all been in a situation in our working lives where we’ve had to buckle down to an uncongenial boss, so I magnified that feeling ten times and threw in a bucketful of malice.
You leave the readers with something of a cliff-hanger in this book. How long need we wait for the next one?
Well, the story is resolved and all the characters are where they should be at the end. But for the future? Sorry, no clues at present, but be assured, I am drafting Book 6. It will probably be out next spring, but possible before.
What are your plans after having finished Aurelia’s story? Will we see more of Roma Nova – and have you ever considered writing a book about the founding of the colony, back when the Roman Empire collapsed?
Ah, you must be telepathic! Yes, I’m going back to AD 395 to tell the young Apulius’s story, how he captured the heart of the fiery Celtic princess Julia Becausa and of how he and Mitelus stole but in a way saved Victory. After that, who knows? Only Juno and she’s not telling.
Well, that is a book I am already looking forward to reading 🙂 Thank you, Alison for visiting!
My review of INSURRECTIO:
This is the fifth in Ms Morton’s books about Roma Nova, and the second featuring the adventures of Aurelia Mitela, and like all the previous books, Insurrectio offers quite the exciting ride, this time with the decided dark undertones of a bloody insurrection within Roma Nova itself.
Ms Morton’s Roma Nova is a fascinating place – as always, the author brings her imagined country into vivid life, whether it be the back allies of the capital or the harsh beauty of the countryside – and in particular because of its matriarchal society. In Roma Nova, blood lines and power passes from mother to daughter, albeit that men play an equal part in events. Not all men are happy with living in a country that is such an anomaly compared to the rest of the world, and one such man is Caius Tellus, the unscrupulous villain of Insurrectio. Charming, handsome, determined and gifted with far more than average intelligence, Caius is determined to upend the normal order of things – and, if possible, avenge himself on Aurelia for perceived wrongs.
Soon enough, Roma Nova – and Aurelia – are fighting for their very existence, and the book closes with the outcome as yet unresolved, leaving me more than eager to get my hands on the next book of the series.
Ms Morton delivers yet another fast-paced story with quite the cast of characters, all the way from our heroine Aurelia to the evil hazel-eyed Caius. My one objection would be the ease with which people who have known Aurelia all their lives come to believe the lies spread by Caius – surely anyone with more than a passing acquaintance with the Countess Mitela would know she would never, ever, bend knee to Caius voluntarily!
About the book:
‘The second fall of Rome?’
Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and imperial councillor in Roma Nova, scoffs at her intelligence chief when he throws a red file on her desk.
But early 1980s Roma Nova, the last province of the Roman Empire that has survived into the twentieth century, has problems – a ruler frightened of governing, a centuries-old bureaucracy creaking for reform and, worst of all, a rising nationalist movement with a charismatic leader who wants to destroy Aurelia.
Horrified when her daughter is brutally attacked in a demonstration turned riot, Aurelia tries to rally resistance to the growing fear and instability. But it may already be too late to save Roma Nova from meltdown and herself from entrapment and destruction by her lifelong enemy.…
About the author:
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.
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. Or that she can talk about, even now…
But something else fuels her writing… Fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.
Alison lives in France with her husband and writes Roman-themed thrillers with tough heroines, potters around the garden and drinks wine. (And tea, Anna adds)