12 May 2015

Publishing the Roman Way

My Tuesday Talk guest today, Alison Morton, has just published AURELIA,
the fourth book in her Roma Nova 
alternative history thriller series (more below). 
Her characters live in a modern imaginary Roman country, but for her research she often looks back to the Ancient Roman world... 

over to Alison who will tell us more:

Money-making booksellers, exploited and impoverished authors, celebrity book launches and the danger of writing controversially. Sound familiar?

Even without the current technology of print-on-demand, digital publishing, even the lithographic or moveable type of not so long ago, the Roman world had a thriving publishing industry. Production was by teams of slaves who copied original manuscripts which were then sold in shops. Copyright didn't exist, so publishers didn't have to pay authors for their work.

The only way writers could make a good living out of their work was to be sponsored by a wealthy Roman, i.e. to become the 'client' of an influential 'patron'. The writer could produce his own work, but he was under a strong obligation to write what the patron wanted. He would also be trotted out to give readings of his work to the patron's friends at parties. However, it was an opportunity for the writer to launch his latest work in front of other potential patrons, to network and possibly find a new, and better sponsor.
Seated man reads from a scroll to Thalia, the Muse of comedy
AD 180-200 © Trustees of the British Museum
However, woe betide (thrice woe!) if the author wrote something that displeased his patron. Apart from losing his livelihood, an author could face serious penalties. Books were seen as dangerous because they spread ideas. Political control of the media was exercised very firmly in ancient Rome; the punishment for writing something libellous was death.

Gravestone of Avita, who is reading from a scroll; 
second scroll on a reading-stand.  © Trustees of the British Museum
As the writer Juvenal pointed out, the best thing to do was to wait until someone died before you criticised them. Historians were considered to be particularly dangerous.Emperor Domitian disapproved of books written by the historian Hermogenes of Tarsus and had him executed. As well as ordering the destruction of all the books written by Hermogenes, Domitian also had all the slaves killed who had done the copying. 

The first books published in Rome took the form of a long roll of papyrus consisting of about twenty sheets glued together. These volumenes were both difficult to read and easy to damage, especially if produced on cheap, poorly produced papyrus. If handled clumsily, the scrolls would crack or disintegrate, if exposed to the damp the papyrus rotted, and the ink made from soot, resin and the black liquid from cuttlefish, would begin to fade. Insects liked eating papyrus so books had to be stored in boxes.

In about AD 365 Romans began to make books of parchment. The sheets were folded and sewn together and looked much more like modern books. However, parchment was expensive and as with the papyrus scrolls, few people could afford them.

Photo courtesy of Benh LIEU SONG 
under Creative Commons
Most major cities in the Roman Empire had public libraries such as the remarkable one in Ephesus built in honour of the Roman senator, Tiberius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus by his son, Gaius Julius Aquila. Celsus had been consul in 92 AD, governor of Asia in 115 AD. Influential private citizens, including G. Julius Caesar, established them as status symbols. By AD 377 Rome had twenty-eight large libraries where citizens could go and read books free of charge. However, to maintain tight control over what people read, government officials censored the books that appeared on the shelves.

For further reading(!), I thoroughly recommend Mary Beard's article "Scrolling Down the Ages" 16 April 2009 New York Times and Lindsey Davis' Ode to a Banker where her irrepressible detective Falco fancies himself as a poet, but comes up against things far more sinister than a poetry reading evening...

© Alison Morton
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. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – all over the globe.

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. 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 started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women…

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines:

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series

– shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

PERFIDITAS, second in series

– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year

SUCCESSIO, third in series

– Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014
– B.R.A.G. Medallion
– Editor’s choice, The Bookseller’s inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014

About AURELIA, the first of a new three book cycle in the Roma Nova series

Late 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead – and forced to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer.

But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a known smuggler who knows too much and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised and feared since childhood.

Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she discovers that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova...

Warning: there is exciting music!

AURELIA is available from Amazon and other ebook retailers or as a paperback from Amazon or through any bookshop. (All direct links here)

Find out more about Alison and Roma Nova here: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton  @alison-morton

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  1. Alison, I enjoyed reading your post about books and their beginnings and also watching your book trailers. Well done. I'm just now worrying myself over trailers for my Loyalist series. Great post!

    1. Thank you for your comment Elaine - my apologies for the late reply I've been away from the computer. I can recommend www.avalongraphics.org for trailers, although I think Cathy Helms is fairly booked up at the moment. (she does all mine - see Book Trailers on the menu bar above)

  2. Thanks, Elaine, I'm delighted you enjoyed it. Sometimes the non-battle and non-conquering side of Roman life is more fascinating than all the 'tough stuff' we generally associate with ancient Rome.

    I confess to being a bit of a geek, so I made the book trailers myself using iMovie. The key things are to define what effect you want (tense, soft, thrilling,romantic, etc.) work out the story board (images, words), choose music and hunt down pictures/movie clips. I think about the content a lot beforehand, but keep the production side *really* simple,


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