A short story: From 1066 to Roma Nova

Roma Nova Extra by Alison Morton

Roma Nova Extra by Alison MortonOver the years, Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova alternate history series, has become a good friend.  Alison’s award-winning Roma Nova thriller series features 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.

Alison has dropped by today to provide the background for Roma Nova Extra, an exciting series of short stories.

A short story: From 1066 to Roma Nova by Alison Morton

After publishing six full-length novels in the Roma Nova alternate history series where I could let my characters, plots and twists run wild, (in a disciplined and targeted way, of course 🙂 ), I was asked to contribute to an anthology of alternative history short stories centred on 1066.  I was on the point of refusing; most of the other authors were medieval or Conquest specialists – what did I know? And I wasn’t very comfortable writing such a short form of fiction. But, as a writer whose fictional world was nothing but alternative history and one who wrote and talked about it in theory and practice, how could I refuse the biggest ‘what it’ of English history? And how wonderful to have an eleventh century Roma Novan female envoy clash with the macho society of William of Normandy?

Roma Nova Series by Alison MortonWith a word count maximum of 5,000 – I nearly fainted with delight at that length – I would not feel too pinched and prodded into a tight frame. In the meantime, I had a mountain of research to do. Roma Nova traded with Saxon England but never with Normandy. It was terra incognita for both me and Galla Mitela, my heroine. I spent hours looking up early transport routes, the landscape of the River Seine (Sequana) the town of Rouen (or Rotomagus as Galla called it), the social, legal and economic dynamics that fell a long way below that of Rome as continued in Roma Nova. And into all that, I had to weave a story of how Galla could possibly have stopped the Norman invasion.

1066 Turned Upside Down produced by nine authors was published and is still selling well. My short story barrier was broken. But short stories of my own? In the end, curiosity bit me. I’d always enjoyed giving the characters in my novels their own backstory as it illuminated how they became the characters they were. I’d wanted to explore incidents in my characters’ lives, delve back into Roma Nova’s earliest days and find out what happened to characters after the main trilogies ended.

ROMA NOVA EXTRA sprang into life. Well, possibly lurched in fits and starts. But this is the huge advantage of writing short stories; each one can be drafted individually in a relatively short time. Of course, the real work starts with the first revision! Seven of the eight in this collection range from 3,000 words to 10,000. At 18,000 words, the eighth story was originally going to be a separate novelette, but it seemed the perfect complement to the others. Together, they cover a historical range from AD370 to 2029, but they focus on people.

Some are love stories, some are lessons learned, some resolve tensions and unrealistic visions, some are plain adventures, but above all, they are stories of people in dilemmas, in conflict, in trouble and their efforts to resolve them. Oh, and there are a few surprises…

What is a short story?

Merriam Webster defines it as ‘an invented prose narrative shorter than a novel usually dealing with a few characters and aiming at unity of effect and often concentrating on the creation of mood rather than plot.’

I’d add that typically it can be read in one sitting and can also focus on a self-contained incident or series of linked incidents. Modern short stories only occasionally have an initial exposition, more typically beginning in the middle of the action (in medias res).

Other characteristics of a short story:

  • A short story should create a single impression.
  • It should be highly economical with every word, all characters, dialogue and description designed to develop single effect.
  • They may or may not have a moral or practical lesson.
  • The opening sentence should initiate the predetermined or predesigned effect.
  • Once the climax is reached, the story should end with minimal resolution. Some stories finish with an open or abrupt ending or hint of resolution.
  • Character should only be developed to the extent required by the story.

However, as with many forms of writing, there are many exceptions to these ‘rules’!

Short stories have deep roots and the power of short fiction has been recognised in modern society for hundreds of years. William Boyd writes in Prospect Magazine:

‘The short form is, conceivably, more natural to us than longer forms: the anecdote that lasts several hours is going to find its listeners drifting away pretty soon. The stories we tell to each other are short, or shortish, and they are shaped….The well-told story seems to answer something very deep in our nature as if, for the duration of its telling, something special has been created, some essence of our experience extrapolated, some temporary sense has been made of our common, turbulent journey towards the grave and oblivion.’

A taster of the ROMA NOVA EXTRA short stories…

Lucius Apulius, a military tribune in the dusk of the Roman Empire, is posted in AD 370 from a plum staff position to a Danube backwater. The reason? Wrong religion.

His indirect descendant, Allegra Mitela, a tough 21stcentury Praetorian, struggles with her identity and emotional life.

How did the eighteen-year-old Imperatrix Silvia, exhausted and lonely after the liberation of Roma Nova in the 1980s, meet her Italian husband?

And what was the ancient mystery uncovered by Conrad and Carina during their ‘Roman holiday’?

The full list:

  • The Girl from the Market  AD 370
  • Victory Speaks  AD 395
  • A Roman Intervenes  1066
  • Silvia’s Story 1987
  • Games  2011
  • Conrad and Carina’s Roman Holiday  2019
  • Saturnalia Surprise  2027

Readers of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA, INSURRECTIO, RETALIO and CARINA will be familiar with many of the characters., but it’s not essential by any means as the stories are complete in themselves. However, I hope readers new to Roma Nova may find these glimpses intriguing enough to read some of the longer books.

Many thanks, Alison and best wishes for Roma Nova Extra.

author Alison MortonROMA NOVA EXTRA is available on Kindle, Kobo, B&N Nook, Apple/iBooks and in paperback from you usual online and physical bookstores.

You can connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor, Twitter:https://twitter.com/alison_morton@alison_morton, Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton and on her Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION FOLLOW A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

Building an Alternative Historical World by Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes alternative historical fiction, an intriguing genre with many fans. With her novels – six to date – she’s created a world with a country in Europe called Roma Nova, founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women. Great premise, don’t you think? The latest is called Retalio. Today Alison tells us about building such an alternative world. Over to you, Alison!

Building an alternative historical world

Romans in the 21st century? Possibly provocative, but a perfectly feasible venture into alternative history fiction. How do you do this with no historical foundation?

Setting a story in the past or in another country is already a challenge. But if you invent the country and need to meld it with history that the reader already knows, then the task is doubled.

Unless writing 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.

Norman Davies in Vanished Kingdoms: The History of Half-Forgotten Europe reminds us that:

in order to survive, newborn states need to possess a set of viable internal organs, including a functioning executive, a defence force, a revenue system and a diplomatic force. If they possess none of these things, they lack the means to sustain an autonomous existence and they perish before they can breathe and flourish.

So these are the givens. How do writers weave them 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 should catch criminals, arrest and charge them 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.

Readers will engage with an alternate history story and follow it 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. Even though my books are set in the 20th and 21st centuries, the Roma Novan characters say things like ‘I wouldn’t be in your sandals (not ‘shoes’) when he finds out.’ And there are honey-coated biscuits (Honey was important for the ancient Romans.) not chocolate digestives (iconic British cookie) or bagels in the squad room.

In my first novel, INCEPTIO, the core story of a twenty-five year old New Yorker who faces total disruption to her life when a sinister government enforcer compels her to flee to Roma Nova could be set anywhere. But I’ve made New York an Autonomous City in the Eastern United States (EUS) that the Dutch only left in 1813 and the British in 1865. The New World French states of Louisiane and Québec are ruled by Gouverneurs-Généraux on behalf of Napoléon VI; California and Texas belong to the Spanish Empire; and the Western Territories are a protected area for the Indigenous Peoples. These are background details as the New World is only the setting for the first few chapters. But as J K Rowling knew with Harry Potter’s world, although you don’t put it in the books, you have to have worked it all out in your head.

So, how to do this? 

  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.

  1. 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, but it needs to have reached that place in a plausible way. Writers need to give characters motivation, whether personal or political or just forced by circumstances from outside.

In my modern Roma Nova world, women are prominent. This seems a long way from the ancient world where Roman attitudes to women were repressive [starting point]. But towards the later Imperial period [moving time on] women gained much more freedom to act, trade and own property and to run businesses of all types [social and economic development]. Divorce was easy, and step and adopted families were commonplace [standard Roman social custom].

Apulius, the leader of Roma Nova’s founders, had married Julia Bacausa, the tough daughter of a Celtic princeling in Noricum. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women in her family made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property [non-Roman values introduced]. Their four daughters [next generation] were amongst the first pioneers [automatically new tough environment] so necessarily had to act more decisively [changing behaviour patterns] than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years [outside circumstances], eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life [societal motivation]. Thus, women have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next sixteen centuries.

  1. 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.

Taking Roma Nova as an example:

Roma Nova’s continued existence has been favoured by three factors: the discovery and exploitation of high-grade silver in their mountains [geography with a dollop of luck!], their efficient technology [historical fact], and their robust response to any threat [core Roman attitude]. Remembering their Byzantine cousins’ defeat in the Fall of Constantinople [known historical fact], Roma Novan troops assisted the western nations at the Battle of Vienna in 1683 to halt the Ottoman advance into Europe [known historical turning point]. Nearly two hundred years later, they used their diplomatic skills to help forge an alliance to push Napoleon IV back across the Rhine as he attempted to expand his grandfather’s empire [building on known historical person’s story].

  1. 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. Sometimes it’s more interesting to follow the person’s story than the big event itself…

In summary, alternate 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.

Download Alison’s practical guide to writing in an alternate historical environment:
http://alisonmortonauthor.com/writing-books/writing-in-an-alternative-history-setting/

Fascinating, Alison. Both parallels to and divergence from traditional historical fiction. I’m sure readers will be eager to sample your novels and their alternative world. 

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

The What Ifs of History with Alison Morton

Today Alison Morton talks about an intriguing kind of historical fiction — alternative history. She’s the author of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, alternate history thrillers (Roma Nova series) and B.R.A.G. Medallion® honorees. AURELIA is Alison’s most recent novel, the fourth in her Roma Nova series. 

Historical fiction is a broad church; a re-telling of real events, quasi-biographical fiction, romantic, adventure, fantastical and detective stories, tales from the cave to the 1960s and set in every country and social situation you can imagine. And within that mix are counter-factual, alternative history stories, the ‘what ifs’ which project a possible different timeline from our own. Suppose the Spanish Armada had succeeded (Pavane, Keith Roberts)? Perhaps Napoleon had escaped from St Helena (Napoléon in America, Shannon Selin)? Or Germany had won the Second World War as in Robert Harris’s gripping Fatherland?

These are grand scale events, but historical fiction is also about ‘small people’. Ever since I walked on my first Roman mosaic at age eleven, I’ve been mesmerised by the complex, powerful and technological civilisation that was Rome. But even at eleven I wasn’t content with the part played by women in their society: influencers, eminences grises, heiresses and mothers, but de facto as well as de jure powerless. Enter Roma Nova, a modern, alternate version of a Roman society where women play the prominent role. (More about how this evolved.)

Is it historical fiction? Alternate (or alternative) history has two parents: history and speculative fiction. Alternate historical fiction can sit anywhere along a sliding scale from the well-researched counter-factual following historical logic and methodology to the completely bonkers story designed only to be cool. I explain the types in full detail here; I stand at the historical end because I’m a historian.

Alternate history is nothing new – Roman historian Livy speculates on the idea that the Romans would have eventually beaten Alexander the Great if he had lived longer and turned west to attack them (Book IX, sections 17-19 Ab urbe condita libri (The History of Rome), Titus Livius).

Alexander the Great

 

The basic characteristics of alternate history are three-fold: firstly, the event that turned history from the path we know – the point of divergence – must be in the past. Secondly, the new timeline follows a different path forever – there is no going back. Thirdly, stories should show the ramifications of the divergence and how the new reality functions.

The world can partially resemble our timeline or be very different. Sometimes there are documented historical characters, sometimes entirely fictional ones or a mixture of both. In no case are alternate history stories parallel or secret histories such as The Da Vinci Code or fantasy like Noami Novik’s Temeraire series.

But isn’t alternate history all invention? Yes and no. Plausibility and consistency are, as in all historical fiction, the key guidelines so that the reader is not lost or alienated. Local colour and period detail are essential, but only where necessary and when relevant.

The foundation step is to identify the point of divergence and make it a logical point where history could split and cause an alternative time line to emerge. My books are set in Roma Nova in the 20th and 21st centuries, but the country’s origin stretches back to a divergence point in AD 395 when the Roma Nova founders fled Rome after the Christian Roman emperor Theodosius issued the final edict outlawing all pagan religions.

‘Rome’ was significantly different in AD 395 from how it had been in 200 BC. For instance, the serstertius, the archetypal silver Roman coin that pops up in TV and films, had disappeared by the late fourth century. The gold solidus served as the standard unit at that time, so my modern Roma Novans use solidi.

Carina Mitela, 21st century PraetorianRoma Novans hold their culture and history very dear and see it as both a purpose and method of survival. In INCEPTIO, our heroine finds a forum, senate, a family based social system, all ruled by an imperatrix. The military elite is called the Praetorian Guard and service to the state is valued before personal pleasure or gain. Well, in theory! Roman homes are based around an atrium with a set of ancestor busts and statues (imagines) in the hallway. Although Latin is the official language, naming conventions have evolved along with the social system.

And finally, as with all historical fiction, my characters must act, think and feel like real people. The most credible ones live naturally within their world, i.e. consistently reflecting their unique environment and the prevailing social attitudes. Thus Roma Novans are tough and ingenious and their language, including slang and cursing, reflects this. Of course, it makes a stronger story if the permissions and constraints of their world conflict with their personal wishes and aims. But that’s what happens in good fiction!

Many thanks, Alison. I’m sure you’ve intrigued a lot of readers with your explanation and examples.

Alison MortonEven 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. Alison served too, joining the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and leaving as a captain.

Now, she lives in France and writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

AURAL by Alison MortonAURELIABook four of the Roma Nova thriller series, set in Roma Nova’s recent past – the start of the young Aurelia Mitela’s adventures…

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…