Alternative history. Is it fiction?

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The Roman Empire active, 2016? Alternative history in fiction

Today’s post features a very successful independent author of historical fiction in an imagined scenario. ALISON MORTON, is the author of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA, B.R.A.G. Medallion® honorees. Her premise for her ROMA NOVA series is: Suppose the Roman Empire never died? This idea has fascinated her readers,leading them into this world of alternative history.

Alison has had a recent fillip to her success. As an independent author and member of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) she has become an inspiring forerunner of what is to become; that is, the possibility for real commercial success, not through any gimmick or useful network of associates, but by sheer hard work, talent, thorough knowledge of her subject and an inspired theme.

I wanted to interview her so that other authors could gain some sense of her literary path.

ROSALIND
Alison, the warmest of welcomes. Please tell us about this latest, exciting success.

ALISON
Thank you for the welcome, Rosalind. Yes, it’s all very exciting. I’ve signed with Blake Friedmann Literary Agency who will be representing me for translation, audio and other ancillary rights. With all the other things I have to do, like writing books(!), I don’t have the time (or energy) to pursue these areas. Carole Blake and her team have exactly the experience, expertise and contacts to exploit these rights properly for me. Carole read INCEPTIO and was bitten by the whole Roma Nova idea.

Alison Morton with Carole Blake_opt

ROSALIND
To have Carole Blake representing you is the acme of success in itself. How exciting to know that your books will be enjoyed in different countries and in different forms. Can you predict the outcome of this widening of your reading audience? Perhaps your agents have suggested one?

ALISON
I can’t predict really, but from meeting my new agents(!), there are numerous possibilities. I’m hoping for audio and some translation deals this year, but I’m leaving that to the experts. Once readers discover the Roma Nova books, they seem to love them, so my aim is to widen the audience. I’m confident that the Romans are on the march to conquer the known world in the 21st century.

ROSALIND
That’s a wonderful 2016 ahead of you. What will it mean to you in practical terms?

ALISON
Lots more book sales! Being serious for a moment, Book 5 in the series has gone to my copy editor and I’ve drafted about 36,000 words of Book 6. I hope therefore to be able to offer new readers two more books this year which will then give them two Roma Nova trilogies. As a reader, I like series, so when I discover a new author who has written one, I’m in heaven.

If translation deals appear, that may mean more travel to give talks which I LOVE doing, and an increase in my profile. Of course, I’m waiting for Hollywood to knock at my door…

ROSALIND
Enviable! However, this success was not won overnight and it’s important for readers of this interview how much really came before. I know, for instance, that you have a military background. Do you think this training enabled you to plan an effective strategy?

ALISON
I’m not sure I had a strong strategic plan. As you learn your way around any profession, you discover the ins and outs and the players and influencers, you make friendships, you collaborate on promotion, you secure speaking and blogging spots. You monitor your own progress and amend your wishes, aims and goals accordingly.

Serving in the military does give you the purpose and the self-discipline to carry out plans. But I’d been in a government policy unit before then and also read an awful lot of crime and thriller novels, so I’m a plotter by habit. Also, to be truthful, by nature. It ties in with the whole ‘what if’ idea behind the Roma Nova books; you have to think everything through to see the possible consequences.

ROSALIND
Can you outline for readers the steps upon the way to your success? I note that Book 1 is a precursor of the following books in the series. Did you intend it to be a stand-alone originally, the further books emerging as you got immersed in the alternate world of Roma Nova?

ALISON
Well, the first one, INCEPTIO, burst out of my head after seeing a rubbishy film in 2009. I thought I must be able to do better. I’d had my strong character (Karen who became Carina) rampaging around in my head for years, so I plonked myself down in front of my computer and poured her story out.

ROSALIND
This strong female character did interest me, this blog being developed around character-driven fiction. Even though you are a plotter, Carina has been a factor in your success. And what about the professional steps toward publication?

ALISON
I’d written much of my life: translation, government policy papers and reports, academic papers, marketing and PR materials, but hadn’t written fiction since I was at school. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association which had a new writers’ scheme, read books, went on an Arvon Foundation commercial fiction course, attended conferences, talks and classes. IRoma Nova books_sm_opt put INCEPTIO through critique partner, beta readers, professional editors – you name it – in my drive for perfection.

As I wrote INCEPTIO, I realised I was going to have to write a trilogy; there was just too much story to contain in one book! More seriously, I wanted to find out what had happened to Carina a few years on. Book 2, PERFIDITAS, was half written by the time I (eventually) published INCEPTIO in March 2013, and I had the character development for Book 3, SUCCESSIO, in my head. Thus, although each book is a complete standalone, readers will a gain a richer experience if read one after another.

So that was the trilogy done and dusted, but I had become fascinated by Aurelia, who was a main secondary character in Carina’s story. She was Carina’s grandmother, but as a young woman had lived through a dangerous time in Roma Nova’s history, the Great Rebellion. Aurelia was still haunted by the charismatic rebellion leader, Caius Tellus, thirty years later. So of course, I had to write her story and this has developed into a second trilogy.

ROSALIND
You’ve certainly undertaken the whole process in a manner that writing and publishing professionals would admire. You have been so thorough and well organised in your approach. Finally, coming to the last stage – publication itself. I have seen several books published by SilverWood Books. They always have such good presentation: good quality paper, attractive lay-out, and a sense that the concept is geared to the particular book rather than pushed out in a set format aimed at speed of turnover. How did you come to SilverWood and what difference has it made?

ALISON
I was determined to publish my novels and to publish them with the highest possible production values. Once I decided I needed help, I researched the whole thing to death, asking other indies, reading articles and posts, searching and searching. Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine was especially helpful.

A publishing services company has to make money – they’re in business – but I wanted one with a book-oriented approach, rather than a services one, and an organisation run by caring human beings. In the end, I compiled a huge spreadsheet of questions about prices, services, rights, timings, and processes then narrowed the ‘finalists’ down to three. After a long telephone call to each, I chose SilverWood Books.

AURELIA_cover_image600x385_opt

AURELIA shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award

ROSALIND

Thank you so much, Alison. I think there will be many writers wanting to follow your path. However, the concept, knowledge and research your books entail, as well as the whole marketing process, will perhaps daunt them. Do you have any final words of encouragement?

ALISON
Persist! 
- Write stories you are passionate about 

‘Good enough’ is not good enough – Listen to advice and don’t be precious.

Be nice.

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