Morning everyone, and welcome to the first Sunday Sojourn of June (where is this year going?). Today, I’m welcoming Alison Morton to the blog, and she’s taking us somewhere you may feel you know, but not as you know it, and explains how to create a new, fictional state…
Hello, Jennifer. Thank you for inviting me into your blog world. Let me take you to an imaginary one in Central Europe, to a city state in the mountains. Its people are tough, its history long and its heroines valiant. Well, nearly always valiant; they do have their bad days.
This is Roma Nova! Founded sixteen hundred years ago when the Roman Empire was crumbling, this tiny country has struggled its way through history, survived and thrived. Silver in the mountains, Roman engineering genius and a robust attitude to threats has brought them through. Roma Nova lives by core Roman values, but with a huge twist: it’s run by women. You can find the whole story here. At the heart of each of the six books lies a complete thriller story. My latest book, RETALIO, tells of resistance against a dictator in a darker period in Roma Nova’s recent past. More of that later!
Technically, this genre is called alternative history as it changes the standard historical timeline at a particular point. Events then veer off in a different direction. Some alternative history stories are a bit fanciful, but many deal seriously with the concept of ‘what if?’. The Second World War seems to top the list of possibilities as we’ve seen with SS-GB and The Man in the High Castle, but other popular topics include the Spanish Armada succeeding or the Norman invasion in 1066 having a different outcome.
I’ve been rather vague about exactly where Roma Nova lies, but it’s bordered by ‘New Austria’, the ‘North Italian Federation’ and the ‘Helvetian Confederation’ or Austria, Italy and Switzerland as we know them in our timeline.
Now, the obvious problem when showing you photos of this imaginary setting is that the country doesn’t exist! However, there are some clues. First of all, like many alpine countries, it has high mountains to the north.
These give way to typical valley towns and villages just below the snow line resembling those found in Austria, Switzerland, northern Italy and Slovenia.
But then we rapidly reach the lower part of Roma Nova where they grow wheat, oats and spelt…
…and still lower, grapes from which in the west comes the famous Castra Lucillan white wine. and in the east Bracadorum champagne. Both feature often in the Roma Nova stories!
How can I be so sure of this landscape? While Roma Nova is an imaginary country, I’ve based it on sound geographical principles. Austria and Switzerland both have this kind of scenery and land use, and Austria and Slovenia are known for white wine. The trick with world building is to make it plausible and consistent. and the best thing is to ‘borrow’ a landscape that already exists! Although the ancient Roman Empire was a military society, it was also an agricultural one; every metre of land available was exploited for crops. Their descendants are no less industrious.
When we get into the towns of Castra Lucilla, Aquae Caesaris and Brancadorum and the city of Roma Nova itself, you would see more obviously Roman structures. The triumphal arch, at the end of the decumanus maximus (the main street)…
…and in the forum.
The central market is busy every day, and the galleried macellum, or shopping centre, would be familiar to most people…
…as the streets would be to most people in central and southern Europe.
So how did I create this image of a non-existent place?
In the same way that the Roma Novan landscape ‘borrows’ from alpine and southern European countries, so does the cityscape. Most of the city photos were taken from my Rome album. It’s highly likely that Roma Nova will have evolved its cityscape in a similar way but with classical touches of central southern European cities like Vienna, Trieste and Ljubljana.
The trick is not to overwrite the description, but let the flavour and appearance of an imagined country emerge through the plot, the characters’ lives and actions. I particularly enjoy evoking scents (and sometimes smells) as well as textures and tastes, but the best way to connect with readers is through the characters’ eyes and ears, their reactions, whether good or bad, to what they are seeing and hearing. In RETALIO, heroine Aurelia’s reaction to the state Roma Nova has been reduced to under dictator Caius Tellus tells us more than anything:
Instead of the noisy, sometimes boisterous, seething mass of a year ago – shoppers, traders, hucksters and tourists, all pushing past and exchanging insults and greetings – it was dead. Instead of over two hundred stalls, there couldn’t have been more than thirty. One or two had a good selection of fruit and vegetables at outrageously inflated prices, several were selling second-hand irons, toasters, hairdryers and electrical toys for just a few solidi each. Others displayed curtains, sheets, towels and tablecloths; all neatly folded, but faded. Grey faces, desperate faces, worn clothes and even some people without shoes or boots. It looked like the third world.
So what’s RETALIO about? In three words, resistance, resilience, retaliation.
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. Without their trust and support Aurelia knows she will never see Roma Nova again.
You can watch the RETALIO book trailer here: https://youtu.be/Mql2Mm3ytJc and find RETALIO in ebook and print format from your favourite retailer here: http://alison-morton.com/books-2/retalio/where-to-buy-retalio/
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, came out in April 2017.
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.
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton
Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon