Jaffareadstoo is delighted to welcome, author, Alison Morton
Overcoming the fear of short stories
As a serial writer of 100,000 word novels I used to find short stories difficult. Distilling a tale down to 1,000 or 2,000 words without making a good, meaty story seemed a terrifying task.
As a newbie writer several years ago, I tried hard with them, even entering short story competitions. This is what writing gurus advised us to do at the classes, courses and conferences I attended in my 2009-2012 novel writing ’apprenticeship’. It would develop my style, my dexterity and that all important, yet insubstantial thing, my voice, they said.
I studied the theory: focus on a single story/theme/conflict; two or three characters ideally with a maximum of four or five; single setting; short period of time, quick resolution after the climax. I read a lot of short stories – some fun, some incomprehensible, some trite, some amusing – and practised writing them. My style is economical and succinct which helped to keep the word count down. After a while, I duly submitted the stories wherever I could. Most received no response, although one was shortlisted in a magazine competition.
I sighed and went back to my novels.
After publishing six full-length stories in the Roma Nova thriller series (many reviewed on this blog – thank you, Jaffa and Jo) where I could let my characters, plots and twists run a good long course, I was asked to contribute to an anthology of alternative history short stories centred on 1066. I was on the point of refusing; most of the other authors were medieval or Conquest specialists – what did I know? And I wasn’t comfortable producing such short fiction. But as a writer whose fictional world was nothing but alternative history and one who wrote and talked about it in theory and practice, how could I refuse the biggest ‘what it’ of English history? And how wonderful to have an eleventh century Roma Novan female envoy clash with the macho society of William of Normandy!
With a word count maximum of 5,000 – I nearly fainted with delight at that length – I would not feel too pinched and prodded into a tight frame. In the meantime, I had a mountain of research to do. Roma Nova traded with Saxon England but never with Normandy. It was terra incognita for both me and Galla Mitela, my heroine. I spent hours looking up eleventh century transport routes, the landscape of the River Seine (Sequana) as it was then, the town of Rouen (or Rotomagus as Galla called it), and the social, legal and economic dynamics that fell a long way below that of Rome, as continued in Roma Nova. And into all that, I had to weave a story of how Galla could possibly have stopped the Norman invasion. With collaborative encouragement from the other authors, 1066 Turned Upside Down was published.
My short story barrier was broken. Yay! But a collection of my own? Hm. In the end my curiosity bit me. While writing the full-length novels, I’d thoroughly enjoyed giving the characters their own backstory; it rounded them out and illuminated how they had developed into the characters they were. Almost without me realising it, the desire to explore incidents in my characters’ lives, to delve back into Roma Nova’s earliest days and discover what happened to characters after the main trilogies ended was gathering strength.
ROMA NOVA EXTRA sprang into life. Well, lurched in fits and starts. But this is the huge advantage of writing short stories; each one can be drafted in a relatively short time. Of course, the real work starts with the first revision! Seven of the eight range from 3,000 words to 10,000. At 18,000 words, the eighth story was originally going to be a separate novelette, but it seemed the perfect complement to the others. Together, they range from AD 370 to 2029, but all focus on people.
Lucius Apulius, a military tribune in the dusk of the Roman Empire, is posted from a plum staff position with one of the most influential commanders at the time to a Danube backwater. The reason? Wrong religion. His indirect descendant, Allegra Mitela, a tough 21st century Praetorian, struggles with her identity and emotional life. How did the eighteen-year-old Imperatrix Silvia, exhausted and lonely after the liberation of Roma Nova in the 1980s, meet her Italian husband? And what was the ancient mystery uncovered by Conrad and Carina during their ‘Roman holiday’?
Some are love stories, some are lessons learned, some resolve tensions and unrealistic visions, some are plain adventures, but above all, they are stories of people in dilemmas, in conflict, in trouble and their efforts to resolve them. Oh, and there are a few surprises…
Readers of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO, AURELIA, INSURRECTIO, RETALIO and CARINA will be familiar with many of the characters, but it’s not essential by any means as the stories are complete in themselves. However, I hope readers new to Roma Nova may find these glimpses intriguing enough to seek out the longer books.
Buying links for ROMA NOVA EXTRA
B&N Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/roma-nova-extra-alison-morton/1129592787?ean=2940161855010
Paperback from your usual online and physical bookstores
About the Author
Alison Morton writes the award-winning 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.
All six Roma Nova full-length novels 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. SUCCESSIO was selected as an Editor’s Choice in The Bookseller. CARINA is a novella set between INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds an MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.
Now she continues to write thrillers, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband.
Social media links:
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
Huge thanks to Alison for being such a lovely guest and for allowing us a glimpse into the fascinating world of Roma Nova.