Writing Challenge Day 6: How the writing all began

Ampurias mosaic

Ampurias mosaic

I’ve always enjoy writing, but not fiction; essays at school (often fictional), civil service papers and reports, business plans, company PR materials, insurance analyses (so exciting!); corporate documentation, brochures, military reports and fifteen years’ worth of translation and editing.

Words fascinate me, how they’re derived, how they’re used and what they can do. And the fascination spreads over into other languages. Nobody likes comparative word registers and vocabulary analysis like me. (Well, perhaps somebody else does…)

My imagination gets out of hand all the time and I enjoy telling a tale, but write a story? A whole book? Nah!

Then three things came together.

The first was when a memory of when I was on holiday near Ampurias in Spain one summer. Here’s the story…

A small child, curls bobbing on a head she’s forgotten to cover with the sunhat her mother insists on, crouched down on a Roman mosaic floor in north-east Spain. Mesmerised by the purity of the black and white pattern, the craftsmanship and the tiny marble squares, she almost didn’t hear her father calling her to the next one.

Jumping up, she eagerly ran to him, babbling questions like many eleven year olds do: who were the people who lived here, what were they called, what did they do, where have they gone?

The father, a numismatist and senior ‘Roman nut’, started telling her about the Greek town of Emporion founded 575 BC which became Roman Emporiæ in 218 BC, where traders sailed in and out with their cargoes of olive oil, wine, textiles, glass and metals; where people lived in higgledy-piggeldy houses, traded from little shops; where the Roman army based its operations; where money was minted. And the people came from every corner of the Roman Empire to live and work. Boys went to schools and girls learnt to be good wives and mothers.

The little girl listened carefully to every word, sifting the information. Her hand in his, she turned as they leave, looked back at the mosaics and asked her father a final question.

“What would it be like if Roman women were in charge, instead of the men?”

Maybe it was the fierce sun boiling my brain that day, maybe I was just a precocious kid asking a smartarse question. But clever man, my father replied:

“What do you think it would be like?”

The second piece of the jigsaw was when I picked up Robert Harris’ Fatherland in my local independent bookshop in 1992. The emotional high of the breaching and tumbling down of the Berlin Wall was only three years before. Germany, and Europe, was redefining itself. Into this whirling pot was thrown the concept of ‘what if Nazi Germany had won the war?’ Others had tackled it before; I had a vague memory of watching An Englishman’s Castle starring Kenneth More when I was younger, but it hadn’t clicked then.

Reading Fatherland, I started to speculate on what would have been the alternate path of history? Suppose Elizabeth I had married and had children? Suppose Julius Caesar hadn’t been assassinated? Suppose women had got the vote in Britain when New Zealand women did in 1893? Suppose, suppose, suppose…

Until then, I hadn’t realised you really could project history forward in a different line, but in a non-fantasy logical progression. Revelation!

But the third thing, the trigger that  made me sit down and wear my fingers out for the next few months writing INCEPTIO?

Ewan McGregor

Ewan McGregor

In 2010 my husband and I (as they say) were sitting in a darkened cinema theatre, waiting for the movie to start. We’d picked this film, based on a popular novel, as it was the least worst on offer at the local multiplex. And it had Ewan McGregor in a key role…

The film started; exciting music, great cinematography, but thirty minutes in, we realised the plot was dire and narration hacked and chopped so many times the story was unintelligible.

I could do better than that,’ I whispered to my husband.

So why don’t you?

We drove home, my brain bursting with an idea I’d had forty years ago in Spain, fuelled by Robert Harris’s alternative history, tempered by the feminism of my student days and my six years in a military uniform. Ninety days  and 96,000 words later, I typed ‘The End’ on page 306 of the first draft of INCEPTIO, the first of the Roma Nova series.

And that is how I started writing fiction!


Writing challenges so far:

Day 5: What inspired the book I’m working on
Day 4: The setting for the new Roma Nova book
Day 3: Introducing the main characters Julia and Apulius
Day 2: Introduce your work in progress
Day 1: Starting with revealing information 


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, is now out.

Download ‘Welcome to Roma Nova’, a FREE eBook, as a thank you gift when you sign up to Alison’s monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

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