My writing process

LizHarrisMy thanks to Liz Harris for inviting me to be part of the My Writing Process blog tour. Her own blog is so engaging and full of photos ( Do go and visit, but not quite yet.

So, I have to answer four questions…

IMG_4880_smWhat am I working on?
I’ve just finished the revisions to my third Roma Nova novel, SUCCESSIO. The title has a double meaning of ‘what comes next’ and ‘the next generation’. I drafted it last year, but in between launching INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS, I snatched out time to edit and polish SUCCESSIO bit by bit. I’m very picky and aware of how competitive the book world is, I sent it to a multi-published author who acts as an external assessor for a professional writers’ association. Would it be immodest to say that she found only one half-size plot hole? This is now fixed and SUCCESSIO has just gone off to the editor.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Quite a lot…

Alternate history is a wide church and embraces serious, well-researched contra-factual histories at one end of the scale to the fantastical, frankly bonkers extreme space opera at the other.  My Roma Nova stories are thrillers and adventures set in and entwined with an imaginary, but hopefully historically logical country, so I place them towards the historical or ‘hard’ end of the scale. The twist is that instead of a masculine Roman society like the ancient one, it is much more egalitarian, with women in leading roles. It mirrors many of what we think of as traditional gender roles, but not in a polemic way. It just is.

Why do I write what I do?
Ampurias4I’ve been a Roman nut since I was an eleven year old walking on the mosaics in the Roman part of Ampurias (a huge Graeco-Roman site in Spain). I wanted to know who had made them, whose houses they were in, who had walked on them.

After my father explained about traders, senators, power and families, I tilted my head to one side and asked him, “What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?” Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain, maybe early feminism surfacing or 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?”

Over the next few decades the idea bubbled away in my mind morphing ancient Rome into a new type of Rome, a small but tough state that survived into the 21st century, but retained its Roman identity. And one where women were going to be leading society.

The next nudge along the path was Robert Harris’ Fatherland set in a 1964 Germany where Nazi Germany had won the war. It fascinated me and led me into a world where an alternate path of history was possible.

writingHow does your writing process work?
I’m not sure I can call it a process! The first set of characters had been maturing in my head for years so I had them nearly fully formed when I started to write the stories. Although I have a general outline of each plot, the detail tends to evolve as I go along. The characters’ quirks and interactions dictate how the story emerges to fit the overall outline. Sometimes, the characters take over the show! But I have a little talk to them and we agree on a compromise and I nudge them back into the story.

I’ve developed a tracking grid which keeps the timeline straight and where I can jot down the main actions in each chapter – a kind of index to the book. After the first rough draft, I leave the file in a folder and ignore it for at least six weeks and work on something else.

RedpengonemadWhen I open it again, I carry out the first edit with my red pen. Then off it goes to an external assessor. He/she will look for plot holes, character failings, extraneous or awkward scenes and inconsistent dialogue but more than anything for cohesiveness and whether the story grips. Without page-turning quality, the book won’t deliver a good read and that’s the writer’s duty.

Then revisions and on to a final edit. I’m very lucky to have a critique partner who is eagle-eyed, caring and scrupulously honest, so she had been a sounding board as well as critic all along. After all this, then it’s off to the publishing house to turn it into a book…

Oh, maybe it is a process after all. 😉

Now I’ve revealed all, I’m pass the pen to three other writers who’ll be answering these same questions on their blogs on 10 February.

georginatroyGeorgina Troy
Georgina Troy lives in Jersey near the sea – well, most people do in an island only 9 x 5 miles – she’s always wanted to write and being an impossible romantic is always falling in love with heroes both real (hopefully), in fiction (definitely) and those of her own creation (absolutely). A Jersey Kiss is the first in a series of stand-alone romances based in Jersey and is soon to be followed by A Jersey Affair, the second book in the Jersey Romance Series.

MarkPattonMark Patton
Mark Patton was born in Jersey, and studied Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge. He is the author of several works of archaeological non-fiction; a biography of the Victorian archaeologist, statesman & banker, Sir John Lubbock (Ashgate 2007); and two historical novels, Undreamed Shores (Crooked Cat, 2012) and An Accidental King (Crooked Cat, 2013).


ElizaGreenEliza Green
Eliza Green lives in Dublin, Ireland with her partner, who is an even nuttier science fiction fan than she is. She has worked in many industries from fashion, to sport to finance but when she discovered writing several years ago, she was surprised by how much she loved it. Eliza writes down-to-earth science fiction, which has stemmed from her lifelong obsession with sci-fi stories. Of special interest is the not-so-distant future; gaining that glimpse into what life could be like if we carried on as we are. A dystopian future, overcrowding and pollution are themes of the Exilon 5 trilogy. Becoming Human (Book 1), and Altered Reality (Book 2) are available to purchase from all major online retailers.

But before you go, what is the most important element of your writing process?


Update 2018: Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO. A Roma Nova novella, CARINA, is published 23 November 2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines… Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, FREE as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter

7 comments to My writing process

  • I enjoyed reading this very much, Alison ( and not just your very nice comments about my blog).

    Your titles are striking. I love the double meaning of SUCCESSIO, and look forward to reading it.

    Liz x

    • Alison

      Thanks, Liz. I remember us sitting down at the 2011 RNA conference at Caerleon in the college refectory discussing the writing process – a concept I had very woolly ideas about. I couldn’t have written this post then. Shows how far we’ve all come!

  • I remember that, too. Doesn’t it seem a long time ago – several years and several published books ago. xx

  • Thanks so much for inviting me to take part in the tour, Alison. This is a fascinating post and I’ve enjoyed discovering another Jersey author and more about you.

    • Alison

      Thanks, Georgina, for your kind comment. I didn’t realise Mark was a Jerseyman either! Looking forward to reading your post on Monday.

  • David Gladwin

    As a non-fiction (“never knowingly writing fiction”) writer (38 books published) I find the writing of fiction quite fascinating….radically different but to some extent similar, inasmuch as we all have a degree of assembly work. And imagination – you have to start from a vague idea …and I, too, do this; you assemble facts (real or imagined) while I do the same by grovelling about in archives!! Your blog is a good viewpoint and I enjoy it.