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Monday 27 November 2017

My Guest this week: Alison Morton and An Alternative World View

 Thank you for having me on your esteemed blog, Helen, in the launch week of CARINA.

Now, you asked me what the ‘North America’ of my alternative Roman world looks like. World building is essential in any novel, whether romantic, a thriller, a swords and sandals epic, space opera or pirates on the high seas. We ask readers to abandon Real Life and enter a different world for several precious reading hours, so as writers we’d better get it right!

Key principles of world building are plausibility and consistency. Characters need to act as if their world is perfectly natural to them. This is where they’ve grown up, got their first job or date and the place they have to make sense of by finding their own path through it. In other words, they have the same challenges, opportunities and disappointments we have in our world and time.

Whatever whizzy gadgets the characters use or back-breaking rural work they have to perform, their normality has to be credible and this is done by them interacting with their environment, the structures and people within it in a consistent way. In an Ancient Roman society, your characters would need to make connections with others more powerful than them who would protect them. If not, plan for those characters’ life chances to be cut short in all senses! On a larger scale, characters’ activities are regulated by the way their government works (or doesn’t) and by who holds the power.

The Roma Nova of my books is based on the foundation of small fiefdoms and city states established at the time the Roman Empire was fragmenting. My heroines’ ancestors, who worshipped the traditional Roman deities, left Rome in AD 395 to protect themselves from Christian persecution. You can read the full story here. Their presence as a tough little country robustly dealing with all-comers changed the face of Europe and later the rest of the world. The effect can be compared to ripples after a stone is thrown in a pond or the famous ‘butterfly of doom’ 

Roma Novan village
Roma Nova itself is ‘somewhere in central Europe’ but has borders with the Italian Confederation (Confederatio Italiano) and New Austria (Neuösterreich). As members of the European Economic Area based in Berlin, Roma Nova enjoys friendly relations with Bavaria and Prussia in the German Federation and ‘most favoured nation’ terms with the United Kingdom.

Speaking of which, in the Roma Novan world, the last British Governor-General didn’t leave North America until 1867 and in Carina’s time, Britons still own considerable stretches of land and business interests. The British and Dutch co-ruled Manhattan and the surrounding area from the 1600s, with Britain the junior partner. But in 1813, due to economic and political problems at home, the last Dutch Governor-General sailed out of New York in 1813, leaving the British to rule for another fifty years.

Roma Nova - Constantine Arch
The other colonies on the American continent? The rebellion in the 1770s was a ramshackle affair and the leaders squabbled too much to form a united movement. Wisely, the British granted parliamentary representation, full trading and civic rights equal to those in the mother country. The colonies known as the Eastern United States (EUS) were permitted to expand west to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes with Georgetown (later Washington) as their capital. The territories beyond the original colonies were supposed to be called the Western United States, but the name faded away as the Easterners become dominant.

New York became an autonomous city, although staying within the EUS. Further west lie the Indigenous Nations Territories and the Spanish Empire lands. Louisiane gained autonomy from France under Napoleon V after the Great War of 1925-35 and the République Québecoise shortly before the time of INCEPTIO (Book I in the Roma Nova series), English-speaking Canada is more or less where it is in our timeline. Phew!

INCEPTIO itself starts in New York and from the first sentence you know you are in a different place:

The boy lay in the dirt in the centre of New York’s Kew Park, blood flowing out of both his nostrils, his fine blond hair thrown out in little strands around his head.

Kew Park, not Central Park

Beyond the trees behind it, the windows in the red-brick Dutch highthouses along Verhulst Street threw the full sun back.  

There is no Verhulst Street alongside Central Park.
(In 1625, the real Willem Verhulst oversaw the decision to locate a main fortress and town, New Amsterdam, on the tip of Manhattan Island in the colony of New Netherland. It was the first permanent European settlement, later the city of New York.)

‘If you want to be a real tourist, you could take a trip around the harbour,’ I said. ‘You know, Fort Amsterdam, Hudson statue, Franklin Island. Or a comedy club or a show. Maybe Jonas Bronck’s zoo or a walk around the old Dutch Quarter in Manhattan, or the Georgian lanes.’

None of which exists in our reality, but all of which are credible in the Roma Nova timeline.

Upper Bay near Manhattan
the statue is, of course, Governor Benjamin Franklin
(no Statue of Liberty...)
In my latest book, a novella called CARINA, nearly half of the action takes place in North America. Our heroine lands in Montreal in the République Québecoise. I drew on my own visit there and to Quebec to flesh out the location detail. It’s not entirely inconceivable that this French-speaking part of Canada could have become autonomous by Carina’s time, although it was still a French imperial territory in the 1980s when Aurelia led the action in INSURRECTIO.

Montreal, where Carina and Flavius arrive
on the first night of their mission
We’d brought a supply of Napoleonic louis as well as the livre québecois they’d recently introduced; both were used at present. We had enough for our visit, but on the way back from the supermarché on the Avenue du Mont-Royal we checked out the nearest bank in case we needed more.

This is another essential part of world building. Time has to pass; countries, treaties, governments as well as people should change.

Only about 10% of research should appear in the finished novel; a historical note and links to an author’s website can provide more. Like the Ruritania created by Anthony Hope, or the 1960s Germania of Robert Harris’s Fatherland, I don’t go into too much detail, just enough to set the tone and paint a sketch for the readers to fill in.

I hope you enjoy the world of Roma Nova. Happy reading!

about 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.

All six Roma Nova full-length novels 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. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. CARINA is a novella set between INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS.

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
Twitter @alison_morton

Buying links for CARINA
Barnes & Noble NOOK

read the review HERE
What’s CARINA about?
Carina Mitela is still a young inexperienced officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. Disgraced and smarting from a period in the cells for a disciplinary offence, she is sent out of everybody's way on a seemingly straightforward mission overseas.

All she and her comrade-in-arms, Flavius, have to do is bring back a traitor from the Republic of Quebec. Under no circumstances will she risk entering the Eastern United States where she is still wanted under her old name Karen Brown.  But when she and Flavius discover a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Roma Nova, what price is personal danger against fulfilling the mission?

Set in the time after INCEPTIO but before PERFIDITAS in the Roma Nova series, this thriller novella reveals hidden parts of Carina's early life in Roma Nova. And North America isn't quite the continent we know in our timeline...

Visit Discovering Diamonds during December for some
Diamond-themed short stories - one of which is written
by Alison Morton and features Carina.
Leave a comment!
Alison is giving away a free (ebook) copy to the person who leaves the most original comment!


  1. Alison - I am absolutely in awe of the way that you have created this 'alternative' country giving it not only a history but also 'sights' of the city as we would know it today. The concept is not only brilliant but, above all, convincing, logical and plausible without ever going 'over the top'. Congratulations and thank you (also to Helen for publishing this account) and, oh, how I would love to see this on TV!!

  2. You've made me blush, Richard!
    I'm thrilled that you enjoyed CARINA and her world. I have had such fun creating it and exploring it along with the characters.
    Everybody says Roma Nova is perfect for TV. Now to find a producer and finance...

    1. well, I stand by every word and I know I'm far from the only one who thinks so! All we need now is to get Helen Mirren to play Aurelia!!!

    2. Helen Mirren – yes, she would be fab in the older Aurelia role!
      *Drifts off in a dreamy mood, lost in the improbable*

    3. I think you hear 'would be perfect for TV' a lot, but in all honesty producers are looking for something different, something easy to make (location & set wise) and something which will be immediately popular. Yours, Alison, fits the bill perfectly!


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