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The Other Rome: Alison Morton on Her Roma Nova Series

A picture of Alison Morton This week, my writing friend Alison Morton is publishing the fourth in her Roma Nova thriller series, AURELIA. We share an interest in all things Roman, so I asked Alison to tell us about Roma Nova where her books are set.

Thanks for inviting me on to your blog, Sandy!

Roma Nova started in my head when I was eleven years old, fascinated by the Roman mosaics at Ampurias, in northeast Spain. My father told me all about soldiers and senators, traders and engineers, farmers and settlers, politicos and slaves. I listened under the hot sun and when he’d finished, I asked, “What would it have been like if women were in charge?”

Clever man, he replied, “Well, what do you think it would be like?”

A picture of little Alison on the mosaic

Little Alison & the Roman Mosaics

Normal life intervened, but this slightly fantastical idea stayed in my head. When I sat in front of my computer to start writing my first novel a few decades later, the story sprung out and my fingers had to work hard to keep up with my brain!

So what is Roma Nova?

It’s a small (imaginary) country somewhere in central Europe founded sixteen hundred years ago by a group of dissident Romans wanting to keep their traditional religion and values. Apulius, the leader of Roma Nova’s founders in AD 395, had married a tough daughter of a Celtic princeling in Noricum (roughly today’s Austria). She’d left her native Virunum twenty years before, travelled to Rome, found Apulius and married him the day of her arrival. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first pioneers so necessarily had to act more decisively than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life. Fighting danger side by side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s roles. And in light of their ancestors’ persecution by the Christian emperor in the late fourth century, they never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions.

Photo of woman fighter with attribution Photo courtesy of Britannia

Photo courtesy of Britannia

So I don’t think that it’s too far a stretch for women to have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next sixteen centuries.

 Tell us about your books – why thrillers?

Well, much as I love, live and breathe the alternate timeline of Roma Nova, I didn’t want to bore readers with a straight counterfactual history. And I adore thrillers, especially with lots of twists and turns and a strong heroine. So I put these themes altogether into the first book, INCEPTIO, which means ‘beginning’. A 24-year-old New York office worker realises somebody is hunting her because of her family connections with Roma Nova…. And this same heroine continues through PERFIDITAS (betrayal) and SUCCESSIO (next generation).

AURELIA, which is out this week, is set in the late 1960s and tells the story of the threat against the first heroine’s grandmother. Quite a lot of the action takes place in Berlin, but in a world where the Second World War didn’t happen…

cover of Alison's Morton AURELIALate 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. Forced in her mid-twenties to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer, she is struggling to manage an extended family tribe, businesses and senatorial political life.

 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 suspected smuggler, and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised, and feared, since childhood.

 Aurelia suspects that the silver smuggling hides a deeper conspiracy and follows a lead into the Berlin criminal underworld. Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she realises that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…

Watch the book trailer video. 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:
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @alison-morton

Castle Sooneck and the Adventure of a Lifetime

a sketch of Castle Sooneck

Castle Sooneck

Have you ever imagined what it would be like to live in a castle? (I certainly have! But if you’ve read Castle of the Wolf that can’t come as much of a surprise. 🙂 )

And now you actually can live in a castle: the Upper Middle Rhine Valley is looking for somebody to live in Castle Sooneck (link leads to a German site) and blog about the area, the people, and the whole experience of living and working in a castle.

The Upper Middle Rhine Valley, that stretch of the Rhine between Koblenz and Bingen, is one of the most beautiful areas in Germany and one that is rich in history and legend. Indeed, it is an area where you cannot throw a stone without hitting a castle, a ruin, or some other kind of historic building — or a tourist.

British tourists discovered their love for the Rhine in the late eighteenth century. For a few years, the Napoleonic Wars put a stop to traveling, but as soon as soon as Napoleon had been banished to his little island, the tourists were back and descended in droves on the banks of Father Rhine. In 1840, the writer Thomas Hood remarked somewhat acerbically,

“It is a statistical fact that since 1814 an unknown number of persons have been more or less abroad, and of all the Countries in Christendom, never was there such a run as on the Banks of the Rhine. It was impossible to go into Society without meeting units, tens, hundreds, thousands of Rhenish tourists. What a donkey they deemed him who had not been to Assmannshausen!”

Many tourists from Britain would drag a copy of Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage along on their travels to marvel – like Childe Harold – at the sights that greeted them:

. . . Maternal Nature! . . . who teems like thee,
Thus on the banks of thy majestic Rhine?
There Harold gazes on a work divine
A blending of all beauties; streams and dells,
Fruit, foliage, crag, wood, cornfield, mountain, vine,
And chiefless castles breathing stern farewells
From gray but leafy walls, where Ruin greenly dwells.

The Rhine continued to be a popular tourist destination, and so it is not surprising to find the most iconic Victorian tourists, Richard Doyle’s Brown, Jones, and Robinson, the trio he created for a series in Punch, enjoying the sights along the banks of the Rhine as well – or at least, they try to.

from The Foreign Tour of Messrs Brown, Jones and Robinson (1855)
And tourists still pour into the Upper Middle Rhine Valley to admire the beautiful scenery of green hills and vineyards, to gaze in wonder at the many castles and ruins (not all of them medieval, btw), and to get shoved about by other tourists in the famous Drosselgasse in Rüdesheim.

But if you look closer, if you look beyond the pretty scenery and nice castles, you’ll soon find that the ravages of time haven’t spared this valley: It’s part of one of Europe’s major transport routes, and hundreds of trains rattle through the valley each day – with the noise being amplified by the hills on either side of the river. Indeed, the noise and the shaking and rattling has become so bad that cracks have appeared in some of the houses in the valley and people have started to move away. And it’s not just the trains: there are also surface quarries which have changed the face of the valley forever.

To explore this area, with all its history, its legends (Remember that story from Castle of the Wolf, about the Mouse Tower of Bingen and the bishop who got eaten up by mice? – Yeah, we’re talking about that kind of legend *g*), and all its problems will certainly be a fascinating project for whoever gets to move into Castle Sooneck (and yes, of course, I’m going to apply for the job!)

Today I give you….

a sketch of a pear, done by Sandra Schwab
Went to the supermarket yesterday and they had these boxes of lovely green pears. Green pears always remind me of the IASPR conference in Brussels, where I discovered (much to my surprise) that I actually like pears (as long as they don’t taste too much like pears *g*).

Quick sketch before I sat down and started grading this morning.

The Day I Jumped into a Novel

a sketch of the main gate of the Saalburg

Saalburg: Porta Praetoria, the main gate

Today I’m on Risky Regencies (I’m now a regular blogger there and post every other Wednesday) talking about my visit to the Saalburg, a reconstructed Roman fort, last weekend.

What does Mary Poppins have to do with the Saalburg museum, the novels of Rosemary Sutcliff, and my penchant for collecting tea sets? Find out on Risky Regencies!