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Inceptio turns 10

Celebrating the 10th anniversary of Alison Morton's alternative Roman history thriller

What would have happened if the Roman Empire never completely fell? British novelist Alison Morton created an imaginary world based on that premise a decade ago with her groundbreaking novel Inceptio, book 1 in what would become her Roma Nova series (now 10 books in total).

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. 


A conversation with the author

This year, Alison Morton is celebrating her award-winning series with a 10th Anniversary hardback edition of Inceptio, and she’s including bonus content: three character conversations, two short stories, and the story behind Inceptio. I’ve invited Alison to the blog today for a discussion of the inspirations behind the book and a look at her writing life. Welcome, Alison!


Amy: What’s the tagline or ‘elevator pitch’ for your book?

Alison: I’m a Libra so I’m constitutionally unable to make up my mind. Usually, it’s the dramatic one: “It’s about Roman blood, survival and money. Mostly yours.”

Sometimes it’s more factual: Twenty-five-year-old New Yorker hunted by a killer flees to the last province of the Roman Empire in 21st century Europe. But the killer follows her…

Amy: How did you come up with the idea for your book?

Alison: It was triggered by a particularly bad film. I was entranced by the gorgeous cinematography but appalled and bewildered by the poor continuity and the chopped-up narration.

I could do better than that,” I whispered in the darkened cinema to my husband.

So why don’t you?” came his reply.

Ninety days later, I’d completed the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first in my Roma Nova thriller series.

But it wasn’t that simple.

As an eleven-year-old fascinated by the mosaics in Ampurias (vast Roman site in Spain), I had asked my father:

What would it be like if Roman ladies were in charge, not the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe it was just a precocious kid asking a smartass question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied:

What do you think it would be like?

It bubbled away in my head for decades until that fateful cinema evening. Since I could read, I’d loved historical and thriller fiction and I wanted a resourceful and independent heroine to lead the story. But I couldn’t make her fulfil that role as I wished in Ancient Rome. So, inspired by Robert Harris’s alternate history thriller Fatherland, I invented Roma Nova, a tiny remnant of the old empire that had survived into the modern age. Now my heroines were ready to spring into life.

Amy: How did you create a realistic setting for your story?

Alison: To write alternative history authentically, you need to research as carefully as an author writing a conventional historical novel. Alternate history starts when the timeline diverges at a point in the past from the one we know. You research thoroughly up to that point, then jump into the void and follow historical logic.

The key is to keep everything plausible and consistent, so I use familiar anchors to prevent readers becoming alienated and throwing the book on the floor. Some things will be different – hopefully giving the book an intriguing, possibly exotic feel – but many things, both for the characters themselves and their environment, will be the same or similar enough not to jolt them out of the story. For instance, even in a country occupied by 21st century Romans, a blue uniformed figure driving a car with door markings and a flashing blue roof light will inevitably suggest modern law enforcement to the reader.

Another technique is to mine elements from the historical record. In my books, the heroine becomes a special forces operative, so I reached back into history and plucked the Praetorian Guard forward into the 21st century. Not only does this build on the thoughts of toughness, a dash of ruthlessness, a sense of duty and glamour that we may already have about them, it uses their historical name to anchor them as archetype Romans guarding the ruler and the state. I’m aware they became corrupt in real history and eventually disbanded but, as in all historical fiction writing, in alternative history you can bend the rules a little.

Things will have progressed through the alternative historical timeline, and you can use elements harking back to the original culture. My 21st century Roma Novans stand at the forefront of the digital technical revolution as an echo of their engineering, craft and organisational expertise in ancient times.

Amy: Do your research findings guide the plot, or do you plan out the plot first and flesh it out with research?

Alison: Luckily, I know the Ancient Roman world and its mentality reasonably well, as well as the military life (I served six years in a special communications regiment).  I know where each story should end and I like to have an exciting beginning, but I let the characters loose and see how they handle the situation I’ve dropped them into. However, they must live naturally in their environment, so the research is always there as a constant hum, ready to be pulled in and woven into the story when needed.

Amy: What is your usual writing routine?

Alison: Chaotic, although I usually write all morning.

Amy: Do you have any tips for other writers about historical fiction research?

Alison: Try to find three credible sources for any ‘fact’. This is a principle drummed into me by my MA History supervisor.

Where to buy Inceptio

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About Alison Morton

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.



  1. Cathie Dunn says:

    Thank you so much for hosting Alison Morton today!

    Cathie xo
    The Coffee Pot Book Club

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      It was my pleasure!

  2. Alison Morton says:

    Thank you, Amy. Really appreciate being with you today. I love your header image for my interview!

    1. Amy Maroney says:

      Thanks, Alison. It was a pleasure to host you and celebrate 10 years of Inceptio! I love that image, too.

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