That inspiration thing...

Fortuna, Capitoline Museum, Rome (Author photo)

What inspires you?” is a question I’m frequently asked in many guest posts, in podcast interviews, or at conferences.

The people asking are usually lovely – genuinely interested and keen to hear the answer. Perhaps they are writers themselves, or wish to make a connection on an artistic and creative level or want to know the answer to life, the universe and everything. That last one’s easy: 42.

Let’s be serious. Well, for a moment.

I dread this question, not because I don’t want to reveal the secret identity of my silken-gowned muse, nor divulge her equally secret pearls of wisdom. Am I frightened she might run away, never to be seen again? No, I don’t want to let readers down with my answer.

I confess – I don’t know. *runs away and hides*

An inspiring thought or emotion can be anything and come from anywhere. For me, it’s like being ambushed. I often don’t have a clue until it drops into my head. When it does, it’s something shallow and mundane like being held on the phone in a queue, spotting a bargain or scoffing at a mistranslation at a tourist site.

Roman food strainer, 1st century AD, British Museum (Author photo)

I’m more likely to wonder how Roman women handled menstruation than how the battle of X was won, or how long it took to hand pierce the holes in a Roman kitchen sieve rather than how many nails were used in the Norman invasion ships. (Actually, the nail question is quite interesting…)

The Roma Nova books originated from a decades’ long fascination with Ancient Rome and women’s roles in the modern world but given it took more than thirty years to get the first words onto the computer screen (bypassing the typewriter), it can hardly be called a *moment* of inspiration.

Like all authors, whether they admit it or not, I drew on events, people and experiences from my life up to that moment. We are all shaped by these experiences and by our background and values. There will always be a little bit of the author in her book…

The Mélisende books, Double Identity and Double Pursuit, written after nine Roma Nova thrillers, have elements of a more obvious origin:

  • tough, active heroine with heart – check
  • crime/adventure/thriller – check
  • France/French setting – check
  • European connection – check
  • armed forces – check
  • modern Rome – check
  • financial skulduggery – um, sort of, years ago, 25% check
  • African Sahel – nope (Research required)
  • gun-running – nope (Massive amounts of research required)

Inspiration for me is a formless cloud, wisps, really, wafting around in my mind with no fixed abode. It takes something to come along – a bad film, five words in an email from a Very Famous Author, idle attention to a television report of a coup – to get the cloud to clump and produce a bolt of lightning. Usually, it’s a little crackle at the back of the sky. Hopefully, not a damp squib.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA, a new Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, will be out on 23 August.

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