The Fame Game by new author David Barker

Tuesday Talk today:
David Barker
I recently had two launch parties for my debut novel, Blue Gold. It’s published by Urbane, who recently won best independent UK crime publisher by World Wide Business Review. Two launch parties? Why not, I thought, it’s not often you get published for the first time. It’s about as Rock Star as I’ll ever get.
The first party was at Waterstones Piccadilly. Yes, the big daddy of UK bookstores. Which in itself caused a problem. There are at least three event spaces that are used on any given evening, and despite agreeing with the events manager beforehand which one I would use, they pulled a switch on me at the last minute. Not a problem in itself, except that I had issued very clear instructions to all my party attendees which now told them to go the wrong part of the six-storey building. Oh, and my event space hadn’t been hoovered yet and the person who was going to serve drinks was running late.

So, fifteen minutes before my launch party started, I was bustling around, trying to chivvy along the cleaner, get some hasty poster instructions done to guide my guests to this party, while also talking to an old friend who had turned up early for the party and couldn’t stay for long. Definitely not Rock Star. My plans for world domination (or at least a minor lift in my book sales) were looking decidedly shaky… Thanks to my lovely wife – who did most of the haring around at this point – it all went off fine in the end. Yes, a few guests went to the wrong place at first, but they quickly realised and managed to hunt me out.

It was lovely to see so many friends there from different aspects of my life. One of my writer chums – we were on the Faber Academy novel-writing course together – had her debut novel published at the start of the year. Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land. It’s already a bestseller and is being sold across the world, with the full weight of Penguin’s marketing team behind it. It was fun – if a little envy-inducing – to compare notes in the pub afterwards about the differences in our marketing campaigns. Not that I begrudge Ali her success, she’s a brilliant writer with a distinctive voice.

My second launch party was two days later at Waterstones Windsor. You certainly can’t get lost in this store, although like the first party, there was a definite rush to get the store set-up for my party with only a few minutes to spare. I attend a Sci-Fi and Fantasy reading club every month at this store, so I know the staff well. I knew they were doing this on a Saturday evening as a favour for me, so I was keen to get lots of book sales through their till at least as part recompense.

I was fortunate enough to have an A-list film star come to this party (for his privacy I won’t name him here). I know that sounds unlikely, but he and his wife had moved into the road we live on at Christmas, and while he had been away for most of this year filming we got to know his wife. She was charming and very friendly and so we invited her to my launch party. As luck would have it, he returned from filming just in time and came along to show his support. I couldn’t believe my luck. Where were the journalists, the press photographers, to record this auspicious moment? Anyway, he was charming and I know that he came to my launch party to support me. That’s good enough.

This week, it’s back to real life and trying to market my book. As an author of an indie-published book, I know it’s not going to sell itself. The red carpet will have to wait.

Find out more about Blue Gold and me on my website:
About the Book
"The near future. Climate change and geopolitical tension have given rise to a new international threat - a world war for water. This most vital of resources has become a precious commodity and some will stop at nothing to control its flow. 
When a satellite disappears over Iceland, Sim Atkins thinks he knows why. He is given the chance to join the hallowed Overseas Division and hunt for the terrorists responsible. But his new partner Freda Brightwell is aggrieved to be stuck with a rookie on such a deadly mission. 
Freda's misgivings are well founded when their first assignment ends in disaster - a bomb destroys a valuable airship and those responsible evade capture. Seeking redemption, the British agents follow the trail to a billionaires' tax haven in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and uncover a web of deceit that threatens global war. Whom can they trust? 
As the world edges ever closer to destruction Sim and Freda must put their lives on the line to prevent Armageddon - and protect the future of 'blue gold'."
Want a sneak peak? Click here
Buy on 
Amazon UK £8.99 £1.99
Amazon US $7.60 $2.58
Live in Devon? Near Plymouth? 
Meet David at Waterstones Drake Circus, Plymouth on 2nd June from 11am onwards.

Finding the real people between the pages of history

My Tuesday Talk Guest: Melissa Addey

Sometimes a strange thing happens when you write historical fiction. You’ll invent something – a scene, a description, which you believe is entirely fictional and also, perhaps, taking a bit of poetic licence… and then you find out it is true. This happened to me most vividly when I wrote The Fragrant Concubine

The novel centres around a real woman in China in the 1760s.
When the Emperor of China conquered her homeland of Turkestan (now known as Xinjiang), he summoned a local Muslim woman to the Forbidden City to become his concubine.  It seems she was a favourite, being given gifts and promoted before being buried with all due honours on her death many years later. But many legends grew up around her.

In China, they say that she was naturally possessed of a fragrance so bewitching that the Emperor fell in love with her. She was homesick, but he built her a mosque and a bazaar, gave her a cook from her homeland and trees to remind her of home and finally she forgot her sadness, fell in love with him and they lived happily ever after. Her own people, now known as Uyghurs, say that on the contrary: she was a rebel and was dragged to court against her will, leaving behind her family and husband. That rather than submit to the Emperor, she swore she would kill herself and kept daggers in her sleeves to defend her honour. At last, fearing all of this was too much for her son’s happiness, the Empress Dowager arranged to have her strangled by a white silk scarf. I wrote The Fragrant Concubine because I wondered which story was true: the sad one or the happy one. The novel is about what might have happened and tries to incorporate all of these legends. 

While writing the novel, I added a scene where the Emperor and concubine go hunting together, something that I knew was a bit bordering on the make-believe: although the whole court went to the hunting grounds, the women did not ride much, but it was important to my character’s storyline. Only after I had written this scene was my attention drawn to a small painting done at the time, intended as a private portrait for the Emperor’s eyes only. In it, the Emperor rides in the hunting grounds while at his side rides a woman whose clothing marks her out as a high-ranking concubine but whose hairstyle proclaims her a foreigner. It is likely, historians say, that the portrait is indeed of Rong Fei, the concubine who in legends became the ‘Fragrant Concubine’. 

I have recently finished writing a novella to accompany The Fragrant Concubine, which I give to my readers. In it, I described a new concubine, one of two lead characters, as looking like a young ruffled eagle, angry at her capture. Checking the meaning of her Chinese name a few days later (I don’t speak Chinese), I found that it means intelligence… and eagle. 

The other thing that can happen is when you ‘see’ one of your characters in a modern person, and this too can be fascinating. A few weeks ago I went on a research trip to Beijing. It’s a busy place and I took my family. My children drove me pretty crazy on our first day visiting locations. In the exquisite park that is The Garden of Perfect Brightness (the title of my work in progress, a prequel to the two I’ve already written), my five year old boy insisted on climbing on rocks perilously dangling over deep water or wading into the muddy edges of the lakes to try and ‘fish’ using a twig. He was annoying me because I was worried for his safety as well as feeling that I didn’t have the luxury of looking around me and soaking up the ‘atmosphere’ of this key location for my next novel. But I then had a sudden realisation that the character of the boy prince (who would one day become the Emperor Qianlong from my previous two books) that I was writing grew up in this sport: and what does any child do when given the opportunity to explore such a place: climb rocks and hunt for fishes of course! I watched my son in a new light after that, seeing in him another little boy who, three hundred years ago, would have explored this very place.

These moments are mysteries, but pleasant when they happen. It makes me feel as though, after researching a historical era and its characters thoroughly, something has floated to me across the centuries, that I have found the people beneath the dusty textbooks.  

Helen: I thoroughly enjoyed The Fragrant Concubine - it was reviewed on Discovering Diamonds. In fact I enjoyed it so much I chose it as my Book of the Month!

About Melissa Addey
I grew up on an organic farm in Italy and was home educated. I spent fifteen years in business, both in new product development and mentoring entrepreneurs before going full-time with my writing. I now live in London with my husband and two young children and am doing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Surrey.

You can get The Consorts novella for free at and view images from my recent research trip to China on the slideshow link. 

Also of interest: 
Those Troublesome Typos by Helen Hollick


 by (a somewhat embarrassed)  Me... Helen Hollick

"I'd rather readers and reviewers laughed with me - not at me!"

Back in the distant days when novels were written with pen and ink on paper, or laboriously tapped out on a typewriter, typos were a rarity in the published book, for the simple reason the print-face had to be set by hand – and usually a skilled hand. The person checking the ‘proof’ was equally as skilled. Add to that, their (sic) were no spellcheckers to accept their instead of there.

Inevitably, typos appear despite rigorous proof reading by editors and authors. What is annoying, for an author, is when he or she has diligently done his/her best to proof read for errors but there in the published version instead of being full of pride, said author is awash with disappointment because the book is littered with errors. I say disappointment, in fact the feelings range from acute embarrassment to outright rage. I know. I'm feeling it at the moment.

Indie and self-published authors have, for years, been mocked, abused, denigrated (choose a derisive word out of a substantial list) because (as those sneerers have oft said) the quality of writing and production is poor and editing is non-existent. Those of us who are respected indie authors (and in my case reviewers – I recently founded Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction) have worked darn hard to prove these accusations wrong. 

We produce good books, we review good books. We expect and intend to publish  professional quality good novels. But we are only human. We are not machines. When I am writing it is the content, the plot, the scene, the character that I am focused on, not the right direction of an apostrophe or of/off - or whatever. I try my best to correct the errors. My team of beta readers try their best. My editors... well, you get the picture. But I hate to admit this, well sorry folks, I am not perfect!

I do take care with my novels. My original indie editions, published by a company which went bankrupt (the managing director turned out to be a con man) were a mess. The correct way to publish an indie book was, I can tell you, a very sharp learning curve! Things still don't always go right though.

I’m not saying there are no typos in – let’s say, Sea Witch, the first of my nautical adventure series, there are a few (possibly more than a few). Reading it through on the Kindle recently I spotted a couple of howlers:  james not James, and Jaw not jaw in the middle of a sentence, as example. (How on earth did they get missed?) But, sorry, I am not spending money on re-editing and reprinting. I can't re-edit myself, and it costs a lot to hire editors, money which has been set aside for the next book, not for one that has already sold several thousand copies and been in print for about nine years. The errors are there, they are now as much a part of the story as is my Jesamiah. I'm not proud of the errors, but, well they're there and there they'll have to stay. 

Having said that, the advantage for the indie writer using POD (Print on Demand – i.e printed when an order is placed, as opposed to many being printed in one go) is that it is possible to do a re-edit and reprint if desired. Errors, for us indies are our responsibility, and we really do try to ensure the end result is 'spotless', but as I have shown, not always  achieved. Some readers tut and moan and complain about typos, most realise they are not intentional errors or don't even see them because they are engrossed in the story. 

I've just discovered that the Kindle version of Pirate Code, for some reason has chunks of text in italics - the error isn't in the book, so I assume its down to technology. 

And then there are mainstream/traditional books. You would expect a professional publishing house to produce quality edited and published books wouldn’t you? Hence this article, my red face, disappointment and annoyance. The last two shrugged aside with  difficulty.

Book. Good.
Face. Red
My latest book Pirates:Truth & Tales, is not an indie book but was commissioned by a publisher, paid for by them, and in-house edited. It is littered with errors. All, so I have been informed by a 'reviewer', 249 of them. They begin on the copyright page, increase a few pages later and go downhill from there.

- in the Timeline 1685 comes before 1684.
- spelling mistakes: hansome, yeilded, acolade…
- verbs don’t agree with their subjects in terms of singular and plural: ‘the ship were in northern waters’, ‘The delight of this adventure story are…’
- ‘off’ and ‘of’ are confused
- apostrophes are misplaced and incorrectly reversed.
- sometimes there is no spacing between words: ‘July1726’
- the author twice misquotes the title of the book as ‘Pirates: Truth and Tale’

I have made light of this public exposure of my embarrassment on Amazon because, well, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it - the exposure or the errors - so no point in ranting and raving. And, I guess, out of 110,000 words the typos could be worse… (Can anyone do the math? What % of 110k is 249?)

I am NOT making excuses, and I am not whining or whinging  (well OK I am, but read on…) I made it VERY clear to the publisher that I have an acute degenerative eyesight problem. Believe me, trying to correct nit-pick errors on a printed page with distorted, misted vision is no picnic! Over and again I asked for assurance that the text would be edited, checked and double-checked. Over and again I was assured that it would.
Maybe I am the fool to have trusted the assurances?

Some of the typos are because of my sight (I can’t see that those ‘r’s and ‘s’s have crept in, and ‘. ,” and double letters ii or ll are hard for me to spot.) I rely on a good editor, although I hold my hand up to a couple of senior-moment bloopers: ‘Sloan’ should be ‘Sloane’, ‘Jeffries’ should be ‘Jeffreys’ and what on earth made me put ‘Marie’ Celeste not ‘Mary’ Celeste? Old age is creeping up, obviously. And my favourite treat is rum and raisin ice cream … the printed blooper is ‘as a desert’. *Laugh*. Well I blame that one on the rum!

Small publishers usually do not send out a final version for a last check. I only saw a pre-proofed PDF typeset version, I only got to see the final version once it was printed and published. So not my fault. I didn’t get to see it before publication.
That is not much comfort, mind you.

What do I do? What can I do? 

Not a lot.

I have contacted the publishers who have apologised, although that isn’t a great deal of help to me – the book is out there, for sale, dotted with highly embarrassing errors.

Production seems to have gone awry because the editor looking after my book left shortly before the final stage. Errors such as ‘the ship were in northern waters’ and ‘The delight of this adventure story are…’ were introduced because of this editor’s editing. My original sentences were cut, and the remaining words not double-checked for continuing to make sense. So not all of these are my fault - even if they were they should have been corrected by the publisher's copy editor and the proof reader. According to my notes the ones I picked up from the PDF file were corrected.

The publisher’s representative has said:
I’ve put a note on the file so that before it goes to reprint or paperback the book must be proofread before being released again. In the rare instances where I’ve seen a book with no proof corrections, we tend to find that the corrections are made but then the version that gets uploaded basically just isn’t that corrected version. We have all kinds of checks to make sure the right version goes up – which is where I figure the staff turnover might come in… so it looks like this was some unfortunate combination of errors our end.”

He goes on to say: “[in such instances] Options are recall, pulp and re-release (prohibitively expensive for small publishers in these straitened times) or wait until reprint. And if you print a lot [usually 1000 or so] because you think the book will do well, you can inadvertently let down the author because it means more copies to sell before reprinting.”

 “Sorry again about this – one of the worst things in publishing is how the good things in a book are rather invisible and the errors are glaring, so to have situations like this where you have a bunch of errors makes me very sad, and you have every right to be annoyed. “

So it’s good that the publisher thought the book would do well and have done an initial large print-run – but that means a lot of books with a lot of errors in them. Luckily, judging from Amazon I have some lovely reviews (and I will be delighted to get some more – even if they do mention the (not my fault) typos…) 

So it looks like an incorrect file was uploaded for printing, but the damage is done, not helped by one review on by a company called 'Proof Professor' savaging the book for what is blatantly a promotion for business gain. I don’t mind the mention of these errors – they are there, they are an uncomfortable and highly embarrassing fact, but this particular person from this company makes a regular habit of dissing various authors in exactly the same manner and style. These authors receive spam emails or messages offering a proofing service. When the spam is ignored – surprise, surprise, a bad review appears. A couple of weeks after I ignored him… guess what appeared? Yep. A ‘review’ highlighting the missed errors in 'Pirates'. Errors which I already knew were there, I didn't need his 'kind' offer of telling me about them!

But don't take my word for the nastiness of this person! ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) has issued this warning click here :"The threat implicit in these reviews felt clear to their victims: pay me to fix your editing, or I will hurt your reputation. The actions we observed in the course of our investigation and the overall pattern of Proof Professor’s reviews seem to confirm this interpretation."
"While it’s evident that some of the books in question did have errors, that’s irrelevant to the manner in which Proof Professor solicited business. Harassment has no place in the business model of a reputable service, especially when it escalates to invading someone’s home and personal life."

And another puzzle: why did Proof Prof pick on this particular book of mine? He had to buy it, I don’t give freebies. Why didn’t he ‘review’ the cheaper (much cheaper) Sea Witch, or Harold the King, or any one of my (much cheaper) books?

I wonder… could it be because there are not so many typos in these books, so he couldn’t pick on me, make his harassing hurtful and potentially damaging trollish spammy unpleasant comments about them? (And promote his business into the bargain?)
 Just a thought…

Fortunately for Pirates Truth & Tales, the publisher’s bad job of production hasn’t stood in the way of my entertaining writing. The queen of pirate book reviews, the highly professional Cindy Vallar gave it a very fair 5 star review – AND she mentioned the typos, but realised them for what they are: “There are enough misspelled words – not including the differences in spelling between British and American English – and missing words that readers will notice. But there is far more to recommend this book than these minor problems.”

But I now have a dilemma. Do I shrug, smile and take it on the chin, making light of this almighty cock-up, or do I sit here and wring my hands, not mention the book ever again? Like heck I won’t! I enjoyed writing it – and all I can suggest is, buy a copy and laugh at the silly typos. Maybe I should run a competition for ‘spot the bloopers’?

Oh, and yes the title was muddled. Again, not my fault! The publisher didn’t decide on a final sub-title until  the book was ready to go to print. In fact, on Amazon, Goodreads etc, it initially appeared as a completely different sub-title! I only knew the final version myself when the book was delivered to me.

One huge comfort about all this, I am not alone. The big publishers have been slammed for messing up with errors: Penguin, Harper Collins, Bloomsbury, Simon and Schuster... so have the big authors. Fleming's first edition of Moonraker is worth a bomb because of a typo. So is a certain first edition Harry Potter novel. Maybe one day I'll become a really famous author and the books with errors in will become collector's items!

The most famous blooper was in the 1631 edition of a Bible when the word 'not' was missed out from that commandment about committing adultery...  One of Henry Miller's novels is littered with typos (had I better check... is that Miller or Millar?) Twilight has typos, and so does one of the Game Of Thrones novels. Well, frankly if the Starks, Lannisters and Daenerys Targaryen can live with bloopers, then so can I! (Or rather, if the people who made the bloopers manage to stay alive, despite the revenge of the Starks, Lannisters and Daenerys Targaryen... )

I’m wondering, though, perhaps my pirate book was perfectly OK when it went off to be printed, but I do say some not very nice things about some famous pirates such as Charles Vane, Blackbeard and Edward Lowe… 

Hmmm. I wonder if their ghosts sabotaged the file?

"Errors?  I don't care... as long as you mention me...!"

Please do feel free to leave a comment below 
(preferably supportive and encouraging *laugh*)

and if you feel brave enough to read my books I have no objection to an Amazon review mentioning the typos, but maybe mention the entertaining read, the story, the characters etc., as well?

All errors is my own and are probablee delibrate. (sic)

Latest News - May 2017

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Monday 29th May 7 - 8pm  : I will be chatting to Oliver Tooley on North Devon Radio The Voice  Online, on DAB and on 106.1 & 107.8 FM

* 22nd May 2017
On the Amberley Press Blog 
I talk about writing Pirates: Truth and Tales (and note before anyone spots it: the publisher changed the title at the last minute from Truth and Tale to Truth and Tales - hence the discrepancy.

 * 21st May 2017
Giveaway Winner: I offered new subscribers to my newsletter a chance to win a copy of my recent Pirates Truth & Tales. And the winner was (drum roll) Alexis Johnson. I'll be e-mailing you Alexis.

* Tuesday Talk 16th May 2017
My guest today, Melissa Addey, talks about her research and the background to her novel:
"The novel centres around a real woman in China in the 1760s. When the Emperor of China conquered her homeland of Turkestan (now known as Xinjiang), he summoned a local Muslim woman to the Forbidden City to become his concubine.  It seems she was a favourite, being given gifts and promoted before being buried with all due honours on her death many years later. But many legends grew up around her."
Read More:
Finding the Real People Between the Pages of History

Saturday 13th May 2017  
Discovering Diamonds: Book Choice of the Month 

* Tuesday 9th May 2017
Those Troublesome Typos! 'I'd rather readers and reviewers laughed WITH me not AT me!" #RedFace - yes but I'm also the victim of a charlatan 'reviewer' who targets authors to boost his business.  Now ALLi has exposed him - but it doesn't help the typos in my book, alas.
Read the full article HERE

* Monday 8th May 2017

Special Offer:

For a few months ONLY Sea Witch and Harold the King (UK edition) are available in a hardback format.
These are exactly the same as the paperback (but with a hard cover - no dust jacket) and are available from:
Sea Witch  £18.99 : (the books will ship from the UK)
Sea Witch $27.97 +$5.19 shipping
Harold the King $34.67 + $5.55 shipping


More of Interest
Every Tuesday: Tuesday Talk on my main blog page: Of History and Kings
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In a world of its own: Roma Nova and Alternative Fiction with Alison Morton

Two trilogies, six books, an entire world.
This is where your imagination can lead you if you’re not careful.

Alison Morton
My world of Roma Nova had bubbled away in my head for several decades. Don’t we all dream of ordering the world to our own wishes, even fantasies, as we go about our shopping, picking up kids, cooking meals, working at our desks to a tight client deadline?

It had started on a hot day in Spain when I’d been fascinated by my first Roman mosaic at age eleven. I asked my father, the senior ‘Roman nut’, every question I could think of about the people who’d left such beautiful patterns behind. He told me about senators and sailors, traders and slaves, soldiers and builders. I asked him what the women did; he hadn’t mentioned them. I was dismayed when he said they mostly stayed indoors and looked after the men and children. Stay at home? How peculiar! My mother was a head of department at a local school. I thought about this for a bit, then asked him what a Roman society would be like with women in charge. He replied “Well, what do you think it would have been like?”

That first mosaic...
I haven’t been able to loosen the grip of Rome ever since, nor of a woman-led more or less egalitarian society. When the novel writing bug bit, I had a world pre-built in my head.  A colonia established at the very end of the fourth century as the once great empire fragmented. In the mountainous country north of Italy the few hundred members of pagan senatorial families persecuted by Christian emperors would guard their treasured Roman culture.

But this was the time of the rise of the new peoples of Europe; Goths, Vandals, Franks, Lombards and the men of the tiny colony were hard pushed to defend it. So the young women of Roma Nova put on armour and hefted swords. Fighting danger side-by-side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s status and roles. Moreover, the pagan Roma Novans never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions. Over the next sixteen centuries women developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life.

Service to the state was valued higher than personal advantage, echoing Roman Republican virtues, and the women heading the families guarded and enhanced these values to provide a core philosophy throughout the centuries.

Roma Nova’s continued existence has been favoured by three things: the discovery and exploitation of high grade silver in their mountains, their efficient technology, and their robust response to any threat.  This is a potted history; you can read much more here.

Fast forward to the 20th century where Roma Nova is facing its worst crisis in sixteen hundred years. In RETALIO we see the descendant of one of those first families, Aurelia Mitela, attempting to dislodge a brutal tyrant who has seized power in Roma Nova.  More below!

This power struggle is set in the early 1980s, a period more difficult to write than one more distant. Why? Because we think we remember it.  As I discovered when researching the technology, memory plays terrible tricks so I ended up checking everything.

So how do you write an imaginary country or an alternative timeline?
Unless your book is post-apocalyptic, the geography and climate must resemble the ones in the region where the imagined country lies. And no alternate history writer can neglect their imagined country’s social, economic and political development. This sounds dry, but every living person is a product of their local conditions. Their experience of living in a place, and struggle to make sense of it, is expressed through culture and behaviour.

How do writers weave these into their stories? The key is plausibility. Take a character working in law enforcement. Readers can accept cops being gentle or tough, enthusiastic, intellectual or world-weary. Law enforcers come from all genders, classes, races and ages and stand in different places along the personal morality ruler. But whether corrupt or clean, they must act like a recognisable form of cop. They catch criminals, arrest and charge them and operate within a judicial system. Legal practicalities may differ significantly from those we know, but they must be consistent with that society while remaining plausible for the reader. A flashing light and an oscillating siren on a police vehicle are universal symbols that instantly connect readers back to their own world.

Almost every story written hinges upon implausibility – a set-up or a problem the writer has purposefully created. Readers will engage with it and follow as long as the writer keeps their trust. One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the original setting the writer has introduced.

Some tips
1. Decide on your Point of Divergence [POD] from real timeline history 

Research this to death; know the political set-up, religion, customs, dress, food, agriculture, geography, economy, legal background, defence forces, cultural attitudes, everyday life of all classes and groups. These are the building blocks for your alternate society.

2. Know how you want your society to be and develop it with historic logic
If your story world doesn’t hang together, you will break a reader’s trust. You can have a fantastic world, such as Romans and steampunk but it needs to have reached that place in a plausible way. Writers need to provide motivation, whether personal or political or just forced by circumstances from outside. In my modern Roma Nova world, women are prominent, but I’ve provided a reasonably logic reason why.

3. Keep some anchors to the readers’ pre-knowledge
Creating a story should be fun for the writer and the result rewarding for the reader. Although most writers like to encourage the reader to work a little and participate in the experience, writers shouldn’t bewilder readers. I mentioned plausibility earlier and how to inject corroborative details into the world being created. Anchors are equally important. For example, if you say “Roman legionary” most readers have an idea in their head already of a tough soldier from an effective fighting force.

A modern Roman Legionary
4. Make the alternate present real
Writers need to imbue their characters with a sense of living in the present, in the now. This is their current existence, for them it’s not some story in a book(!). Character-based stories are popular; readers are intrigued by what happens to individual people living in different environments as well as taking part in major historical events. Often it’s more interesting to follow the person’s story than the big event itself…

Alternative history gives us a rich environment in which to develop our storytelling. As with any story in any genre, the writing must create a plausible world, backed by meticulous research, but the writer is, of course, the mistress of her universe.

Alison Morton

Alison Morton, writes the acclaimed Roma Nova thriller series featuring modern Praetorian heroines. She blends her deep love of Roman history with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, adventure and thriller fiction.

The first five books have been awarded the BRAG Medallion. SUCCESSIO, AURELIA and INSURRECTIO were selected as Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choices.  AURELIA was a finalist in the 2016 HNS Indie Award. The sixth, RETALIO, is out on 27 April 2017 and has received a Discovering Diamonds Review.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.

Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.

Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site:
Twitter: @alison_morton
Alison’s Amazon page:

Buying link for RETALIO (multiple retailers/formats):


Early 1980s Vienna. Recovering from a near fatal shooting, Aurelia Mitela, ex-Praetorian and former foreign minister of Roma Nova, chafes at her enforced exile. She barely escaped from her nemesis, the charming and amoral Caius Tellus who grabbed power in Roma Nova, the only part of the Roman Empire to survive into the twentieth century.

Aurelia’s duty and passion fire her determination to take back her homeland and liberate its people. But Caius’s manipulations have isolated her from her fellow exiles, leaving her ostracised, powerless and vulnerable. But without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.

Memoirs from the Tower of London

my guest today - Elizabeth St. John

“All the time she dwelt in the Tower, if any were sick she made (the prisoners) broths and restoratives with her own hands, visited and took care of them, and provided them all necessaries; if any were afflicted she comforted them, so that they felt not the inconvenience of a prison who were in that place.”
Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson
Lucy Hutchinson, 1620-1681
(Recounting the life of her mother, Lucy St.John)
Gazing from the parlor window of the Queen’s House within the walls of the Tower of London, I could see the chapel of St. Peter, the iconic White Tower…and the executioner’s block. Knowing that I shared this view with my ancestress, Lucy St.John, who occupied this house four hundred years earlier, made me shiver with awe.

The Queen’s House from the River Thames,
with the White Tower in the background.
Lucy St.John lived in the Tower of London for thirteen years from 1617 to 1630; not as a prisoner, but as Mistress of the Tower. I stumbled upon the quoted biographical fragment from Lucy Hutchinson’s notebook in Nottingham Castle, and I knew I must find out more about her mother. The Memoirs give tantalizing glimpses of Lucy St.John’s life, and further research on the position of Lieutenant of the Tower, Lucy’s husband, Sir Allen Apsley, revealed much more.

When I decided that Lucy would be the subject of my novel, The Lady of the Tower, I contacted Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces (HRP) and asked if I could possibly visit some of the private locations within the Tower. The Queen’s House is the family home of the Governor, just as it was for Lucy when she moved there in 1617. They readily gave their permission and kindly offered a Yeoman Warder as a guide.

I was excited to arrive early one winter’s morning, before the crowds, and walk along the old quay by Traitor’s Gate. Peeking over the massive stone walls were the gabled roofs of Lucy’s home – a curious juxtaposition of domesticity and fortress. I used that view and sensation to set the opening scene of my novel, for I could only imagine Lucy’s trepidation upon entering the Tower, and seeing her future home.

The Queen’s House, Tower of London
As I met my Beefeater, we quickly found a common love of history, and together we entered the Queen’s House.  What I didn’t anticipate was the visceral reaction of walking through Lucy’s rooms, standing in her kitchen, looking through her parlor window – just as she had done. The emotional response to treading in her footsteps inspired so much of my work within The Lady of the Tower, and so many small details found their way into my writing.

The house was used for administrative offices too, and as I explored the warren of rooms (the plans to which, alas, are missing), I came across a small corridor. Just a few feet from Lucy’s front hall, great blocks of stone took over from the domesticity of plaster, and in another pace or two, I was standing within the twelfth century Bell Tower. The ambiance was mournful, and it was not at all difficult to think of Thomas More, John Fisher, and the young Princess Elizabeth imprisoned in this bleak chamber. Their view from the narrow slit windows was the same as Lucy’s from her parlor – the execution block.

View from The Queen’s House toward 
the execution block, and the Chapel 
of St. Peter ad Vincula.
My inspiration from the Tower continued as I walked outside. Lucy was a great herbalist, and her medicinals no doubt eased the lives of many of the prisoners she nursed. In another part of the memoirs, her daughter refers to Lucy’s generosity with her hen-house – she allowed Sir Walter Raleigh to make free use of it to conduct his alchemy experiments when he was under her care and lodging in the Bloody Tower. Needless to say, this took me in another whole research direction.

The Victorians built over Lucy’s garden, but it is still easy to see the old levels of where her gardens were, and how she would access them from her home. She grew up in country houses where it would have been her responsibility to learn simple herbal cures and recipes, and I had a wonderful time researching recipes and including those within my novel. I was even more fortunate that another family member, her great-niece Johanna, collated a vast collection of remedies in a book that is now in the Wellcome Library in London. I liberally borrowed from those recipes to give examples within The Lady of the Tower.

Raleigh, of course, was also a great gardener. I couldn’t resist some interactions between him and Lucy involving some “Virginia Potatoes” as they were known. That is the joy of writing historical fiction – we can have these flights of fancy, as long as they are based in a foundation of solid research.

Sir Walter Raleigh
Attributed to William Segar
Lucy’s husband is buried within the chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, and as I explored the chapel, and saw the stone commemorating Anne Boleyn’s burial, so many emotions flooded my thoughts. Although the Tower is a world tourist attraction, and millions of people walk through its environs every year, I feel such a personal connection, knowing that my family lived and worked within its walls. A small votive to Sir Thomas Moore is still kept burning in the Yeoman’s private chapel, and that was an important detail for me to include in my book.

In Lucy’s time, the Liberty of the Tower housed over a thousand families, all of which came under her husband’s jurisdiction. It really was its own small city, for it lay outside of the laws of the City of London (which caused some friction on many occasions). I like to think of Lucy ministering to the residents as well as the prisoners, walking not just only in the areas where her aristocratic prisoners were lodged, but among the houses and gardens of the residents who all helped this important institution run smoothly.

The Tower of London played a crucial role in inspiring my first novel, which has become a best-seller in both the US and the UK. One of the most exciting achievements was the day Her Majesty’s Royal Palaces asked if they could stock The Lady of the Tower in the Tower’s gift shop, and we are now on the third re-order. In her own special way, Lucy has returned to the Tower.  

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Elizabeth will be giving an Author Talk at the 
Swindon Festival of Literature at Lydiard 
on 4th May 2017 at 7:30 pm. 

Elizabeth St.John was brought up in England and lives in California. She has tracked down family papers and residences from Nottingham Castle, Lydiard Park, to Castle Fonmon and The Tower of London to inspire her writing. Although her ancestors sold a few mansions and country homes along the way (it's hard to keep a good castle going these days), Elizabeth’s family still occupy them - in the form of portraits, memoirs, and gardens that carry their imprint.

The Lady of the Tower, Elizabeth’s first novel, a Discovered Diamond and a B.R.A.G. Medallion winner, is on sale on Amazon, and at the Tower of London. She is currently finishing up a sequel, which takes her family into opposing sides in the English Civil War