Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternative
history thrillers with strong heroines. A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has
visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. Both
INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was also shortlisted for the
2013 International Rubery Book Award, and PERFIDITAS, the second in series,
have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion.  Alison’s third book
SUCCESSIO came out in June 2014.

Alternative history stories are based on the concept of the standard
historical timeline splitting and going off in a different direction. In Kate
Johnson’s The UnTied Kingdom her
heroine’s adventures are set in a dystopian England that has developed into a
war-riven and disintegrating state.  My
own story’s timeline split in AD 395 in the Roman dusk when dissidents founded a
new city state with Roman value systems but a feminist twist.


an early survival strategy, women in the imaginary Roma Nova ran social,
political and economic life based on family and tribal lines while men fought
to defend the fledgling state. In the end, daughters and sisters had to put on
armour and take up weapons. Fighting danger side by side with brothers and
fathers to defend their homeland and their way of life reinforced women’s roles
through the centuries.  More
the 21st century, women in Roma Nova head families and organisations.
Men marry into women’s families and inheritance is through the female line. And
of course, a woman can take on any job, profession or task suitable to her
talents and inclination…

How do heroine
and hero meet in this setting? Is it through work, a family crisis, an
inheritance, at a party or in dangerous, even criminal circumstances? Are they
thrown together by an event, forced to work together by a third party or happy
to meet? Any of these can happen, so plenty of room here for the personal and
emotional conflict you typically find in romantic stories. So far, so normal.


But in Roma
Nova, the complicating layer and additional dynamic for conflict is the social
structure. My heroine belongs to a powerful family while her hero is a few
steps further down the social food chain. But in their professional life as Praetorian
officers, he is her superior in rank. They work hard to keep these two aspects
separate but, of course, one day it all explodes in their faces.


Women in this
society are used to making the decisions and leading action, but don’t lose
their essential feminine nature; they just don’t feel limited by it. Writing
this is not always straightforward; I sometimes catch myself writing ‘through
the male gaze’ and switch the gender roles, thoughts and dialogue in my head to
readjust. Try it sometime with your own writing. You may be fascinated by the

However alien or unfamiliar the setting, our characters must act and react like
real people. In essence, we have to root for them, flinch with them and
celebrate with them. Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar
emotional needs, hurts and joys. Sometimes, they’re expressed differently in an
alienating or (to us) peculiar way. But a romantic relationship, whether as
painful as in The Remains of the Day or as instant as Colonel Brandon
when he sees Marianne in Sense and Sensibility or the careful but
intense relationship of Eve Dallas and Roarke in J D Robb’s Death series
set in 2057 New York, binds us into their stories.


Whether the story
is pure romance, historical, paranormal or suspense, the core emotional
relationship must resonate with readers and link with their own actual or
wished for experiences. They want to smile and sigh at the heroine’s and hero’s
tender moments and agonise when they argue or misunderstand each other. Readers
love to watch the growth in commitment to each other, the characters’ realisation
that they are made for each other, the bonds that hold them whatever else
happens in the rest of their lives.  In
my latest book, SUCCESSIO, the heroine and hero’s relationship is strained to
breaking point. I was agonised writing it. Whether it snaps, you’ll have to
read it to find out!


with Alison on her blog
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