I was quite flattered when Alison Morton reached out and asked if I wanted to be part of her ten-year celebration tour. What a silly questiom. OF COURSE I did – I am a major, major Roma Nova fan, as those of you who read my blog regularly probably have worked out. Besides, Alison is a dear friend and a prson who is generous with both time, advice and (sometimes brutally honest) feedback. To really celebrate, Alison has published the first book in the series as a hardback which includes some new material. Quite a gorgeous book, IMO.
Anway, after that short intro, I hand you over to Alison!
The Roma Nova thrillers are set in the near present ‘somewhere in Europe’ in a timeline that’s shifted slightly from ours. A tiny part of the Roman Empire survived into the present but has a predominantly female leadership. The rest of the world has diverged as a result.
One strand of four books – INCEPTIO, CARINA, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO – feature the character who starts off as Karen Brown and becomes Carina Mitela. The second strand consists of four thrillers – AURELIA, NEXUS, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO – featuring Carina’s grandmother, Aurelia, as a young woman.
But they are all interwoven…
Where does a character like Carina spring from?
You need to take it with a large spoonful of salt, not a pinch, when a writer declares their main character doesn’t in some way reflect themselves or their direct opposite. None of my heroines – Carina, Aurelia or Mélisende – is me, but I confess to drawing inspiration from certain parts of my life. I did serve six years in uniform in a special communications unit, I am a ‘Roman nut’ and I do love a challenge.
When I sat down at the keyboard to write INCEPTIO, I wanted a woman leading the story. However, she was going to go through several traumatic events before coming into her own. Carina had to go through a ‘birthing’ process or perhaps even a regression; she’d started off fully formed in my imagination at the start of INCEPTIO, the first of her adventures so I had to take her back to cell level. I still don’t know ten years on why she had to start in America… Perhaps it was a wish to show the sharpest possible contrast between Carina’s early environment and the one she came to live in.
When you invent a character, you need to know who she is, where did she come from, what does she want, and fear? What’s stopping her? What does she like? What are her values? What are her strengths and weaknesses?
So I had to lay some clues for the reader
We first see her working in the New York Kew Park as a weekend volunteer.
What this tells us – she loves the outdoors and works happily with others.
She enjoys running and keeping fit.
What this tells us – she’s sporty. (Not me!)
At the beginning of INCEPTIO, Karen (not yet Carina) is not particularly happy or unhappy, although she’s not achieving anything in her life.
What this tells us – she’s unsure of her abilities, and unsettled, but resilient.
The early loss of her parents and fostering with cold relatives forces her to be self-contained and not a little wary of others.
What this tells us – she needs to feel safe. Part of the urge to protect herself makes her a smartmouth and prickly by instinct.
She defends an older person from some young bullies.
What this tells us – she has a strong sense of fairness and has the courage to put it into action.
She has a hot temper and makes snap decisions, not always wise ones.
What this tells us – she’s passionate and fallible.
She enjoys the movies and subscribes to a movie periodical.
What this tells us – she has a nice, normal, safe hobby.
The foundations are then laid. The traumatic events in INCEPTIO reveal her innate toughness and determination, her sense of fairness, her hot temper and compassion. Now I had to build in some factual background.
Carina’s brief biography
Born in the Eastern United States (EUS), father William Brown, ex-UK citizen, mother Marina Mitela, daughter of one of the Twelve Families who founded Roma Nova in ancient times. Although registered with the Roma Novan legation in Washington at birth as Carina Mitela, by her mother, she was raised as Karen Brown in the EUS as her father wished.
For her first twelve years, she lived in New Hampshire. Sadly, she lost her mother in a mysterious car accident when she was three (full story revealed in the new 10th anniversary hardback edition), and her father from cancer when twelve. Fostered adequately, but unlovingly, with distant Brown cousins in Nebraska on the edge of the Indigenous Nations’ territories, she left for the autonomous city of New York the day after graduating high school. After one or two mundane jobs, by the beginning of INCEPTIO she has ended up as an assistant account executive in Bornes & Black Ad Agency.
Physically, she is too tall and angular to be classically pretty, she has an athletic build, blue eyes and red-blonde hair. She doesn’t know it yet, but she bears a striking resemblance to her Roma Novan grandmother, Aurelia, as a young woman.
Deeper and deeper…
But characters need solid backstory to be credible. Carina’s is reinforced when we see her mother, Marina, as a five-year-old in the late 1960s in AURELIA, age ten in NEXUS, and as a young woman in the early 1980s in INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. William Brown, Carina’s father, not only courts and marries Marina, but helps Aurelia in INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. And Carina is born during RETALIO.
Although these incidents are subplots to Aurelia‘s story – she is after all the heroine of these four books – this fleshes out Carina‘s own background, only part of which which emerges from the books where she is the lead character – INCEPTIO, CARINA, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO.
Characters also need to move on. In the novella CARINA, our heroine leads her first overseas mission and some of the eager newbie enthusiasm fades as the realities of political and professional life touch her. In PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, she matures, becoming a parent as well as an effective special forces soldier. She has found her place in life, but the heart-wrenching challenges she faces test her loyalty and duty to the full and nearly break her profound love for her life partner, Conrad.
Later, she becomes a senior officer in the Praetorian Guard Special forces, a senator and imperial councillor, and heads the Twelve Families of Roma Nova, yet remains a loving mother and granddaughter but not without her doubts and worry about fouling up. Not an easy combination at any stage of her life!
Over the series we glimpse different parts of each individual’s story – I love hooking the past, present and future together – but Carina retains her basic character traits and values throughout, although how she expresses them and assesses her reactions develop through the stories.
She’s only human, after all!
In Karen/Carina’s own voice:
Early days as Karen, when she seeks refuge in the Roma Nova legation in Washington.
I looked at Conrad. ‘Will it be any different in Roma Nova?’ I tried not to sound dejected.
‘Hey.’ He put his arm around me. ‘Don’t be so worried. I think you’ll find it a lot better. Probably more direct than you’re used to, perhaps more regulated. People are expected to be responsible for themselves and to make an effort to take part in things, to contribute.’
‘What, even those like Favonius?’
‘He may want to be king of the pile, but he’s not only doing it for himself – he’s doing it for his family, his tribe. And somewhere under all that oil, he’s doing it for his country.’
We found a couch opposite a painting of a tough but distinguished-looking woman, brown hair piled up and eyes looking down her nose.
‘But there’s this patrician group I’m supposed to belong to?’ Although I hadn’t given her the satisfaction that I cared, Sergia’s remark about being like an alien had stung.
‘Yes, you do. They’re descendants of the original Twelve Families that founded Roma Nova. Many of them go into public service, the law or even the military, like me.’ He paused. ‘Failing or dereliction by a member of the Twelve is treated more seriously – basically, they’re expected to know better.’
‘But I don’t know what the proper things to do are, how to talk to people, whether what I’m saying is right.’ I wanted to run. ‘Oh God, Conrad, what have I done?’
He grasped me by both shoulders and held me at arm’s length until I stopped trembling.
‘It’s the way you behave, your attitude and instincts that are crucial. Yours are absolutely right. Look how you reacted to Favonius’s attempt to manipulate you. I’ve watched you set others at their ease, like Gaia. You treat them like people, not clones or inferiors.’
I thought he was trying too hard to cheer me up, but I did feel less like I’d made a huge mistake.
And later, in full Carina mode;
I slid silently into the atrium and waited unmoving by the back wall. I watched my grandmother bending over the planting in the centre, picking at the leaves, tutting at the same time. It made me smile; I had missed her. Sensing the presence of another, she looked up, caution in her eyes as she scanned the room.
She embraced me, tears threatening to ambush both of us. Pulling away, she didn’t say anything but studied my face. She smiled, like she was satisfied, or she recognised something. For the first time in my life, I knew I was in the right place.
‘You look wonderful, darling,’ she said. ‘Outstanding.’
‘I’ve learnt a whole lot about myself, Nonna. And how to stand my ground. I’m never going to be a victim again.’
Thank you, Alison! Now on to the practicalities, starting with the blurb:
“It’s about Roman blood, survival and money. Mostly yours.”
In an alternative New York, Karen Brown is running for her life. She makes a snap decision to flee to Roma Nova – her dead mother’s homeland, the last remnant of the Roman Empire in the 21st century. But can Karen tough it out in such an alien culture? And with a crazy killer determined to terminate her for a very personal reason?
Stifled by the protective cocoon of her Roma Novan family, deceived by her new lover, she propels herself into a dangerous mission. But then the killer sets a trap – she must sacrifice herself for another – and she sees no escape.
A thriller laced with romance and coming of age, this first in series is Roman fiction brought into the 21st century through the lens of alternative history and driven by a female protagonist with heart and courage.
This 10thAnniversary hardback edition includes bonus content: Three character ‘conversations’, two short stories and the story behind INCEPTIO.
Buying links for INCEPTIO 10th Anniversary special edition hardback:
Book Depository: https://www.bookdepository.com/Inceptio/9791097310363
Your local bookshop or library
All other formats (ebook, paperback, audio): https://www.alison-morton.com/books-2/inceptio/where-to-buy-inceptio/
Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue. INCEPTIO starts the adventure…
She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading historical, crime and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.
Six full-length Roma Nova novels, including INCEPTIO, have won the BRAG Medallion, the prestigious award for indie fiction. 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 Bookseller selected SUCCESSIO as Editor’s Choice in its inaugural indie review. The Historical Novel Society recently selected JULIA PRIMA, the first Foundation story set in the 4th century, the accolade of Editors’ Choice.
Alison lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.
Social media links
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: https://alison-morton.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Alison’s writing blog: https://alisonmortonauthor.com
Alison’s Amazon page: https://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon
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