Monday, March 25, 2024

Join The Coffee Pot Book Club in conversation with #AwardWinning author, Alison Morton #AuthorInterview @alison_morton @cathiedunn


A Roma Nova Foundation Novel

by Alison Morton

Exile – Living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, the penalty for holding true to the traditional gods is execution. 

Maelia Mitela, her dead husband condemned as a pagan traitor, leaving her on the brink of ruin, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man.

Lucius Apulius, ex-military tribune, faithful to the old gods and fixed on his memories of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future.

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father and only too aware of not being the desired son, is desperate to escape Rome after the humiliation of betrayal by her feckless husband.

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.

Welcome, Alison!

Thank you, Cathie, for inviting me to visit the Coffee Pot Book Club.

Please make yourself at home. Would you prefer tea or coffee, or perhaps something more…fortifying?

Ha! In the daytime, a cup of strong tea is always welcome, but in the evening, little beats a flute of our local bubbly, Crémant de Loire.

Ah, we enjoy a lovely Crémant here at the Coffee Pot Book Club Café.
But before it gets to our heads, please introduce yourself.

I became a novel writer by accident after seeing a badly scripted film. That triggered INCEPTIO, the first Roma Nova thriller. Eleven books later, we have EXSILIUM. As a change, my second, contemporary series features an ex-French Army intelligence specialist, Mel/Mélisende, who grew up in the corner of France where I live.

Ancient Rome has fascinated obsessed me since I was eleven.  After a BA in modern languages and economics, I worked in the City of London, served six years in the military, managed a family antique business, took an MA in history and lastly, set up and ran my own translation company. Coupled with this has been a parallel life of constantly reading crime, historical and thriller fiction.

Could you tell us a little about your new book, and what inspired you to write this Roma Nova foundation story?

The Roma Nova series is set in a remnant of the Roman Empire that survived into the modern world; INCEPTIO, CARINA, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO in the early 21st century and AURELIA, NEXUS, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO in the second half of the 20th century. Not historical? Yes and no. They belong to alternative history where the timeline split in the distant past and history went off on a different timeline. Roman values underlie their society and their institutions reflect the ancient ones but with one big difference – women head the family and inheritance passes down the female line. How this came about is too a long story to tell here, but it’s basically one of necessity and adaptation. (Find out more HERE!)

Readers seemed to enjoy the modern thriller series which featured two Praetorian Guard heroines Carina and Aurelia, but once they’d read those books, they started to ask about that split in the timeline. When did Roma Nova start? Who were the ancient ancestors? Why did they leave Rome in the late 4th century? Then they became ever more determined. I was requested, then instructed, to write the Roma Nova origin story.

I obeyed my readers! JULIA PRIMA came out in late 2022 and told the story of Julia and Lucius, two significant ancestors. But the story was bigger than one book, so I wrote EXSILIUM. The story is well-known to Roma Novans; the characters in the modern series are always going on about it, much as British people keep referring to the 1066 Norman invasion of England.

When you researched the era, could you tell us about one fact or item you came across that you considered unusual or even baffling?

Luckily, I was still immersed my favourite historical era after writing JULIA PRIMA. I’d been down so many research blind alleys and rabbit holes and much of it had stayed in my mind (and on my computer!). Something that may be surprising was that by the 4th century, male Romans, including the military, wore trousers or leggings despite earlier attempts to ban them as barbarian dress. By the last decade of the 4th century, Romans were starting to resemble early medieval people.

What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing alternative historical fiction? And how do you decide which events in history to keep, and which to ditch?

When I wrote INCEPTIO over ten years ago, I had no idea I was writing alternate history. I thought it was just an imaginative story… Once aware of this wonderful genre, I started researching it. I like to know what I’m doing!

“Althist” is a speculative genre with has two parents: history and science fiction. Its fiction can sit anywhere along a sliding scale from the well-researched counterfactual following historical logic and methodology to the completely bonkers story designed only to be cool. (Find out more HERE!)
I stand at the historical end because I’m a historian as well as a thriller writer.

Like any genre or sub-genre, there are ‘da rulz’ or conventions:
the event that turned history from the path we know – the point of divergence – must be in the past. (Roma Nova’s is AD 395.)
the new timeline follows a different path forever – there is no going back. (No time travel!)
stories should show the ramifications of the divergence and how the new reality functions. (World building on steroids.)

The world can partially resemble our timeline or be very different, but no magic or dragons – that’s historical fantasy! If you’re writing alternate history properly you really can’t have heroines falling through time, time travellers dropping in to sort out history then popping back out, or goddesses putting it all back as it was.

The main thing is to follow historical logic. Could this have happened? Is it plausible? Keeping the alternative world close to one we all know keeps the reader engaged. Most importantly, the characters must act and feel like real people in real situations. They may be clever and competent, but they still have to eat, drive through traffic jams and file their tax returns. The most important thing is to keep the setting consistent and story line plausible.

JULIA PRIMA, set in AD 370, comes before EXSILIUM and is a standard historical fiction novel with no alternative history element. EXSILIUM set between AD 383 and 395, forms the bridge between the history of our time and an alternative timeline. The trick is to make conditions at the point of divergence – the moment the timeline split – reflect the time in the real past as accurately as possible and then carefully meld the two together.

Do aspects of Roma Nova in the past affect the present-day politics of Roma Nova?

Most definitely! Our parents and grandparents often refer to ‘the war’ as their formative experience and we are impressed by how they learnt ways of coping with trying, sometimes dangerous, circumstances, yet still carried on. Similarly, 21st century Roma Novans feel they should live up to their ancestors’ courage, sense of service and determination. In fact, Roma Novans throughout their history have often cited the example of those forebears.

The Twelve Tables of law drawn up by Praetor Tellus in AD 395 still form the basis of modern Roma Novan law and the Apulians still provide the head of state, although their role has changed over the centuries. The latest one in the 21st century, Silvia Apulia, whom we meet in INCEPTIO, is now a constitutional monarch, not an absolute one. Along with a Senate, modern Roma Nova now has a chamber of people’s representatives.

And the Twelve Families who made the journey in EXSILIUM? Their modern descendants support the imperatrix, giving her advice and she consults them in turn on important decisions for the country. When an imperatrix ignores this fine balance, things do go wrong as in the Great Rebellion outlined in INSURRECTIO and RETALIO, but in general, structure still holds.

Where are you heading next in your Roma Nova journey? 

Ah! I’m not too sure. My next writing project is the third story in the Mélisende ‘Doubles’ thriller series, so I’m flitting back to 21st century France for the rest of this year. But there will be more Roma Nova stories, possibly in the past, possibly in the present.

Thank you for your time, Alison. It's been fascinating to read about your projects, and we're looking forward to reading more of your Roma Nova novels in future.

And thank you for hosting EXSILIUM and me today.

Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue. The latest, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the very foundation of Roma Nova.

She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit

Connect with Alison:


  1. I loved doing this interview about EXSILIUM! Thank you so much for inviting me.

    1. We really enjoyed your virtual visit here, Alison. Thank you for popping over. :-)