Wednesday 11 December 2013

When do you get to just be?

The Christmas tree is up and my fountain pen's enjoying a rare outing as I work my way through the Christmas card list, but what I’m looking forward to most is just being. I hosted for eighteen last year and this year we're going to my dad's for a few days. No post, no bills, no important emails, no food shopping, no cleaning to be done, no clothes to be ironed and no need to get up early. Time to see family, to consume food and drink and to just be.
 Jules Wake and me at the RNA London Chapter lunch-a great afternoon
I was on a train last Saturday, en route to the RNA London Chapter lunch and I resisted the temptation to check my mobile and to read my Kindle; to see if I could survive a train journey without them, like in the old days when I didn’t have a book or newspaper and I had to look out of the window. Just being heightens the senses. You notice the way the sun catches the light on the leaves, yellowed by autumn; the clickety-clack of the wheels on the track, the whoosh and whistle as another train zooms past, the tannoy announcements when the train pulls into a station, the beep beep beep warning that the doors are closing and the way they slam shut. It was nice to let my mind wander and see where it went. And it wandered to…I must write my December blog post soon. What should it be about? Just being.
Just being has to be good for you doesn’t it? And essential for writers, because when else do you get to do that vital thinking? When else can ideas pop into your head, how can they when all those other thoughts are fighting to be thought about?

Today I had an idea for a series of children’s books whilst having my hair done; yes, I’d love to write children’s books when I’ve rewritten the end of Book 1 and finished Book 2 and mastered the art of short story writing, if that’s possible (I’m working on one of those too). Who knows if writing children’s books will happen? By the time I get around to it, my children will probably have grown up, but it’d be nice to give writing one a go. Just being allows all sorts of ideas to drop into the inbox of the mind.

And here's a pic taken on the lovely Lizzie Lamb's phone at the RNA Winter Party (thanks Lizzie!). I did wear the gold shoes, mentioned in my previous post and they did make my feet very sore indeed...
Liz Cooper, me, Lizzie Lamb, Shani Struthers
Hope you have a great Christmas and a very Happy New Year! And thank you for all your support in 2013.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

Do writers need friends who write?

Peaslake (last spring)
I signed up for my first writing course in the summer of 2004 at Richmond Adult Community College (“RACC”). Up until then, I’d been tapping away on an old laptop and I’d completed a first draft; a load of old rubbish. That's when I 'came out' as a writer. You know what I mean. When you first start writing, you don’t tell anyone except for close friends and family. Then the questions begin and you're not prepared for them: 'How's the writing?' and 'What's your book about?'; and you wish you'd kept it quiet because this means there's no going back, otherwise you'll look like a fool.

I went to several courses at the RACC, where I began to mould Book 1 into shape (still working on that…) and it was great to meet other writers, the array of talent inspiring me to improve. A few years later I signed up for a course with Ruth Brandt at Guildford Adult Learning Centre. Ruth started the ‘Write Away’ courses at The Hurtwood Inn in Peaslake in February 2012.  

Last weekend I returned to Peaslake for my fourth ‘Write Away’ course. The Hurtwood Inn closed for refurbishment on Sunday and there’s a chance the hotel may be turned into apartments. I hope The Hurtwood Inn remains a hotel and that Ruth's ‘Write Away’ weekends return. Peaslake is a village in the Surrey hills, reached by driving through sunken, single-track lanes (not that easy in the dark when you don’t know where you’re going!). The décor at The Hurtwood Inn is dated; the curtains flower-patterned and the windows in the rooms so old, they might as well be open when they’re closed; but that’s part of its charm. When you walk upstairs to your room, the carpet has that musty smell which takes you back to the 1970s. A log fire crackles in the bar (this time the smoke set off the alarm) and there are brown leather sofas to sink into. Again we were plied with food and endless cups of tea and coffee and the staff put the Prosecco in the fridge especially for us.

Writers are never short of conversation and often very supportive towards each other, there to pat each other on the back and say ‘Keep going!’. It was lovely to see old friends and make new ones and I enjoyed listening to everyone’s stories and poems. There were moments where we laughed so much, I had tears running down my face and I can’t wait for our next get-together.

On the way home, I stopped at Guildford to buy a pair of shoes I'd had my eye on for The Romantic Novelists' Association Winter Party next Wednesday; another opportunity to see lovely friends who write.

I wonder if these will make my feet hurt...

Other posts on Peaslake:
Writing in the Surrey hills and using snow to make a character vulnerable
Getting into the writing zone: Peaslake part II

Friday 4 October 2013

Blog Birthday, Novelicious Pinterest Prompt and Polesden Lacey

The house at Polesden Lacey
Yesterday my blog was two years old. I intended to write this post then, but I transferred my domain name and the blog disappeared for a day. I found an article on Godaddy’s support forum (about mapping the domain name to work with Blogger) and it’s back for good hopefully!

It doesn’t seem like two years since I typed those first words and dared to post them. I haven’t been posting regularly lately, mainly because I’m been focussing on writing and submitting. I’ve been alternating between Books 1 and 2: editing for Book 1 when I’m asked for a full manuscript and writing a second draft for Book 2. Both use different skills, but I enjoy switching between the two.

On 18th September, Novelicious announced I’d won their new feature, Pinterest Prompt and they sent me a £20 Amazon voucher! I wrote 280 words of flash fiction based on the photo Novelicious posted of a rainy day on the South Bank in London with a view of Big Ben across the Thames. My story’s the last one in the comments here. If you’d like to enter September’s Pinterest Prompt, the link is here.
Polesden Lacey
Last week I started volunteering as a Room Guide at National Trust’s Polesden Lacey in Surrey. Polesden Lacey is one of my favourite places locally with stunning countryside walks and a house with a fascinating history. I’m reading Mrs Ronnie by Siân Evans, which is about Mrs Greville, a society hostess who lived at Polesden Lacey from 1906-1942. In 1909 Mrs Greville hosted her first dinner at Polesden Lacey, attended by King Edward VII. There’s so much I could tell you about the place and I’ll probably write a separate blog post.
And here’s a website discovered today during some training: National Trust Collections has information and photographs about objects and paintings owned by the National Trust. You can search by century, so this website's useful if you’re doing research for a historical novel.

See you again soon (as long as my blog doesn't disappear again...)

Wednesday 4 September 2013

The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense part II

Taken at Blickling Hall, Norfolk (National Trust)
One of the first blog posts I wrote, back in October 2011 was this one:

The pros and cons of writing in first person present tense

I can’t believe how popular this post has been compared to others. It's even overtaken Why do I write?, which was the front-runner for a while.

Every day someone out there searches the web for information about the first person present tense.

Recent searches which led to the aforementioned post:
Advantages of writing in present tense
Advantages of writing story in past tense
Benefit of writing in first person present
Books can be written first person present tense and past tense
Does first person use present tense

When I started writing Book 2, The Painting, I decided to use first person present tense for the current day part and third person past tense for the eighteenth century part. The idea was to contrast the slow pace of life in the late 1700s with the I want it now world of today.
With Book 1, The Grandson, I avoided first person present tense for the current day protagonist because I worried about her becoming me. With The Painting, that thought hasn’t crossed my mind, probably because the protagonist is completely different from myself and I’m creating her whole life from my imagination.

I received my partial manuscript for The Painting back from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme this week and the reader said the tenses I’ve used work. Thank goodness for that, I can carry on now as I was! Thank you to my anonymous reader for such encouraging and helpful feedback.

Hope you’ve all had a good summer. School holidays are over and hopefully I’ll get back to more regular blogging and tweeting now.

What are your thoughts on writing or reading first person present tense?

Saturday 10 August 2013

The holiday's over, now for the deadline

Just back from a lovely holiday with my family in Sardinia. It was a treat to sit around and read novels on my Kindle. And yes, I still got a ‘Heavy’ sticker on my suitcase ('Pesante' on the way back) when checking in. I spoke Italian, but it was a bit rusty and I must brush up on verb conjugations at some point…

I attended a few 'aqua-fit' classes in the pool, as did most ladies invited to join in by the rather handsome, witty and six-packed instructor, even if it meant enduring Katy Perry and Europop at full volume, including an annoyingly catchy song which became part of the soundtrack to the holiday, called ‘Booma Yee’...

Somehow we managed to leave a car key in our hotel room, which the hotel kindly couriered back to us this week. At Cagliari airport, I paid for the same two magazines I’d bought at Heathrow two weeks previously without realising. At the till I spotted this pile of books on the counter. There’s no escaping E.L. James:

We lost a Spiderman rucksack containing a Nintendo DS at Heathrow airport when racing to get the suitcases from the trolley onto the bus for the car park. I’m still looking for that on Heathrow’s website-apparently it can take some time for bags to go through security before reaching lost property. We’re not usually so absent-minded, just unusually relaxed I think!

And now for the deadline:

This month I’m pulling together my submission for The RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme which needs to be sent in by the end of August. It will only be a partial this year as I’m submitting book 2, ‘The Painting’ for the first time. Although I’ve written a rough draft, I’d like what I send off to be as well written as possible.
Today I’m going back to research so I can fill in the gaps, looking into the painting which the story’s centred around and the artist as well as eighteenth century life: country houses, architecture, portraits, gardens, clothes, lifestyle, King George III, The Prince Regent, The Seven Years’ War etc.

I dropped into Hatchlands Park on the way back from Guildford yesterday where there are some wonderful paintings and the interior was designed by Robert Adam in the 1750s.
I do love a deadline and am grateful to the Romantic Novelists’ Association for providing me with one every year.

Hope you’re having a great summer and best of luck to everyone submitting to The New Writers' Scheme!

Tuesday 25 June 2013

How do you read?


Recently I realised that I’ve changed how I read. I’m currently reading:
  • A paperback novel: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan
  • Several novels on my Kindle
  • Research books for The Painting
  • A how-to book on writing
I don’t seem to be able to read one book at a time anymore. Some of this has to do with being a writer, but current lifestyle is also probably a factor.
When I was a child, everyone in my family would watch the same programme on television. There were only three channels until Channel 4 arrived in 1982. I remember the day well; the first programme was Countdown and getting a new channel was so exciting. There was no remote control then, so we’d watch one programme from beginning to end, including the adverts. Now if a programme doesn’t grab our attention within minutes, it’s easy to upgrade to something better. It’s the same with music. With records and cassettes we were more likely to listen to an album the whole way through. Now with CDs and MP3 players, it’s possible to switch songs in a second.
The increase in use of computers, tablets and smartphones also means our attention is rarely focussed on one thing for long.
When I read an e-book, I find myself flicking to others on the list I’ve downloaded. Sometimes I can’t wait to start a book I’ve heard about on Twitter or read about in a magazine/newspaper etc. Last month I decided to focus on one book at a time for a while and read two paperbacks from beginning to end: Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris and Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd. I found it easier to get lost in the world of these books this way.

I tend to stick with one book on holiday when my mind is clear and I'm away from technology. I’ve already started to download books in anticipation of this year’s summer holiday. I’ll be flying with a Kindle for the first time, so [hopefully] my suitcase won’t get one of those Heavy stickers at the check-in desk like it usually does!
Do you find it easy to read one book at a time?
More on e-books:

Saturday 15 June 2013

How do you keep track of research?

Recently I’ve been working on Book 2, The Painting for my submission to the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme, which needs to be sent in by the end of August.

Occasionally I stop writing/ editing because I need to reach into that mountain of research taking up too much space and find out a detail such as:
What did a dining room look like in the eighteenth century? Today I found out that dining rooms in country houses tended to have paintings of hunting scenes on the wall, whilst special paintings by Van Dyck for example were hung in the drawing room.

How do you keep track of all this information and where it came from?

I have a spreadsheet for the Bibliography, which mentions the book/article etc and includes notes relating to what it can be used for. After losing track of books etc read for Book 1 and having to locate them in various corners of the house, I won’t make that mistake again. (More on spreadsheets: How useful are outlines?)

Creating a board in Pinterest for a novel is useful for collecting information. I have one for Book 1, The Grandson but I don’t want to show a board for Book 2 to anyone until I’ve finished writing it-as things will change. In this situation, it’s possible to create a Secret Board. Here I’ve included links to paintings I’m using for research (The BBC Your Paintings website is lovely to browse if you’re an art fan). Also I include links to books read for research, paintings of famous people from that period; and other pictures I see which inspire or may be useful later on.

A4 pad
I use an A4 pad to write notes about anything relating to my novel. That way, if I have a random thought such as ‘what if the heroine doesn’t know what to do after finishing university?’ I can make a note of it and write for a few minutes whether that’s a good idea. It’s amazing how plot ideas can be developed in this way just by asking myself questions such as ‘Maybe the hero can offer her a job and she realises it’s exactly what she wants to do’ and then ‘but where will she live?’ etc. Underneath all this I can add my note about dining rooms. That way nothing gets lost like in the days when the house was littered with post-it notes which didn’t make much sense.

Ring binder
When reading a book for research, how do you make sure that you: a) draw out the relevant info without getting side-tracked by other stuff?; b) don’t forget what you’ve read in six months’ time and have to read the book again (another lesson learnt with Book 1)? These days, if a book is full of handy facts, I make notes and file them in a ring binder.

How do you keep track of research?

Thought I’d include a photo of this beautiful Chinese cedar tree at RHS Garden Wisley from a lovely walk last weekend on a day when the sun decided to shine (where’s it gone?!).

Sunday 2 June 2013

The Leibster Blog Award Questions

Thank you very much to Alison Morton for nominating my blog for a Liebster Blog Award, and for the lovely things she said about my blog. I always read Alison's posts and she recently appeared on my blog talking about her novel, Inceptio:
The rules:
  • Thank Liebster Blog Award nominator on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you;
  • Answer the eleven questions from the nominator;
  • List eleven random facts about yourself;
  • Present the Liebster Blog Award to up to eleven blogs and let them know they’ve been chosen;
  • Pass on the eleven questions to your nominees, or create new ones;
  • Copy and paste the blog award on your blog.
Here are my answers to the questions forwarded by Alison:

1. What’s your favourite novel and what do you love about it?
This is always a difficult question to answer as I could name many favourites and authors who inspire me to write, but the first novel which sprang to mind was ‘A Room with a View’. I haven’t read this novel for a while (note to self to read again), but I remember enjoying it because it transported me to Italy during a different time, it’s beautifully written and a lovely story. Both of my novels are inspired by this one. And it’s one of the few novels I can name where ‘the film is as good as the book’.

2. Do you have any pet peeves in fiction?

3. What are you most proud of?
Being a mother.

4. Your most and least favourite people in history?
Most: Churchill
Least: Hitler

5. The country, city or other place you’d most like to visit?

6. Which five people would you like to meet (dead, alive, or fictional)?
I thought for a minute about famous people, but I’ve been looking at family trees on recently as research for Book 2, The Painting; and I’d really like to meet all of my great-grandparents, but I’ll settle for the parents of my grandfathers (which makes four). And this is cheating a bit-I’d love my mother to come back and meet my children.

7. What makes you laugh the most?
The last time I laughed so much, I had tears running down my face was when I watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation at Christmas. Also Friday Night Dinner can be very funny.

8. If you could know the future, what would you wish for?
Happiness and good health for all family and friends.

9. If you won the lottery and could donate money to charity, which charity would you choose – and why?
Some charities unfortunately don't get as much attention as others and I'd have to go for more than one:


10. Do you suffer from any little phobias or superstitions?

11 What’s your favourite guilty pleasure?
TOWIE, Made in Chelsea, Celebrity Big Brother: all for research of course...I find human behaviour interesting.

Eleven random facts about me…
  1. I do yoga at least once a week.
  2. I speak French and Italian.
  3. I like handbags.
  4. I’ve worked as an au pair in Siena, Italy.
  5. I’m quite tall: 5’9”.
  6. I’m long-sighted and wore glasses from the age of four. Now I wear lenses for most of the time.
  7. I used to work in Investment Banking.
  8. I used to play the flute from age 10-18. It’s in the loft somewhere.
  9. I can usually tell when I’m not being told the truth.
  10. When given a problem to deal with, I can’t relax until it’s resolved.
  11. I’ve lived all over the U.K: Birmingham, Manchester, Derbyshire, North Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Cambridge, London and now Surrey.
I hope you didn’t doze off….

So my nominees are for five blogs I enjoy. These are also lovely people who I chat to on Twitter:

Louise Walters
Emily Harvale
The New Romantics 4
Helen MacKinven
Stacey Mitchell

Thanks again to Alison and no worries to those I've nominated if you don't have time/ don't fancy it. I hope to get back to blogging more regularly soon-my computer broke and I've got a new one, which I'm setting up today.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

How useful are outlines?

I've been working on my novel, The Painting recently. Occasionally I stop writing to reach into the mountain of books I've collected for research. This turned out to be worthwhile the other day when I read about Capability Brown's lakes. My fictional country house now has a lake which I'm using to my advantage in a key scene. This may change at a later date, but for now the lake is staying. Another reason why I stop writing (apart from to go on Twitter, Facebook, to write a blog post etc...) is to work on the outline.

I have a spreadsheet in excel for the outline with a row for each scene. For my novel, The Grandson, I divided the scenes into three acts on the spreadsheet. Then I filled in key scenes and added other scenes around them as I wrote/ edited.

On the spreadsheet there are columns for the following:

• scene number

• chapter number

• plot eg. Plot Point one, first encounter, mid-point etc as per Aristotle's Incline)/ subplot

• date (in the novel)

• point of view

• location

• 'what happens?' in a short sentence

• editing notes

• word count

Whilst writing the first draft, I'm not worried about chapter numbers, as I may move scenes around. Subplot will appear in subsequent drafts once I've sorted out the main plot. Although if I have an idea for a subplot as I write, I make a note of it on the spreadsheet.

I highlight the rows for each point of view in the same colour. When editing The Grandson, I initially worked on scenes with the same point of view together to ensure that I didn't repeat myself and so that those scenes told their own story.

Creating this outline allows me to apply some logic to the 'mess' which is the first draft and I would be lost without it. When editing, I use the outline all of the time as a reference and to plan the next day's work. 

Do you use outlines when writing?

I couldn't find a photo of a Capability Brown lake, but thought you might like this one of Lake Como from a few years ago.

Hope the sun is shining where you are. It's been lovely here recently and I'm finally wearing my sandals...

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Is writing a novel like learning a language?

I woke up at 3.30am this morning and couldn't get back to sleep for a while. I'd been having dreams about the eighteenth century plus my brain told me to write a blog post as it's been ages (due to school holidays mainly) and to put together some work for a writing course I'm going on this weekend.

The subject of this post sprang to mind when I woke early this morning. When I was living in Italy, someone told me that apparently when you start dreaming in another language, you know that you're fluent. In 1994, I studied at L'Università per Stranieri di Siena as part of my French and Italian B.A. degree and shared a flat in Siena with five other students. In July when the course ended, I got a job as an au pair and my English-speaking friends returned to the UK. When I was au pairing, I spoke Italian all of the time, except for the occasional telephone call home. I wrote letters in English to friends and family and when we went to the au pair family's holiday home in Castiglione della Pescaia, I found some Wilbur Smith novels ('When the Lion Feeds' and others in the same series) in English at the local Tabacchi. I'd buy one every time I got paid and reading them was a welcome escape during a time when I felt quite alone, despite living with a family.

The upside of working for the au pair family was that after a few weeks I started to dream in Italian. I'd reached a stage where I could chat away in Italian with confidence, using the right intonation, accompanying hand gestures and slang too. Recently I've been reading every eighteenth century novel, diary, letter, journal, non-fiction book I can get hold off, completely immersing myself in that period as research for my Book 2, 'The Painting'. Now I'm dreaming about that period, The Painting seems to be taking on a mind of its own, replacing Book 1, 'The Grandson' which dominated my thoughts for so long.

Learning another language fluently is about immersing yourself in the culture and history of the country where it's spoken, memorising vocabulary and grammar rules and reading literature in the language. Writing a novel is about immersing yourself in the world of that novel in a similar way. Hopefully The Painting is now on its way to becoming what I want it to be.

Over the next few months, I'll need to focus on The Painting in the run up to the deadline for The RNA's New Writers' Scheme ("NWS"), so I probably won't be blogging as often as usual. Best of luck to other NWS members who are working to get their manuscript ready.

Thought I'd include this photo from a sunny trip to Southwold in the Easter holidays. Spring is kind of here: I haven't got my sandals on yet, but I can hear the hum of lawnmowers as I type.

Saturday 16 March 2013

What would Jane Eyre have tweeted?

A few weeks ago, I re-read Jane Eyre as research for The Painting which is partly set during the same period. Even though this classic was published in 1847, Charlotte Brontë's beautiful description and skilled storytelling drew me in and I finished it quickly.

Inspired by the novel, I wrote a piece to submit to Mslexia's 'A Week of Tweets'. As it wasn't accepted, I'm posting it here. I used the most significant week in the novel and it was a good exercise. When I read the piece a few weeks later, the huge events seemed trivial which made me wonder if I got it wrong.

The tweets written by those I follow are mainly positive and I go on Twitter to be uplifted. I'm the kind of person who doesn't make telephone calls when miserable and I tend to go on Twitter when in a good mood. As in real life, I think that many of us smile on the outside when using social media.

It's unlikely that Jane Eyre would have been so laid-back, but when writing this piece, my goal was to translate the events into tweets, rather than make the tweets authentic.

I might try this exercise when developing characters because it made me view Jane Eyre in a different way.


Been travelling by coach since yesterday to visit an old friend. Hoping he hasn't moved to France. Should arrive tomorrow.


My friend's house is a ruin. Looks as though it burnt down. Hope friend didn't burn down with it. Going to ask at the local inn.


The innkeeper said my friend survives. Sadly he lost his sight and an arm because he rescued his servants when the house was on fire.


Got a chaise to my friend's house last night. He's in a terrible state, but pleased by my visit. I offered to be his lifelong companion.


Took friend for a walk in the fields and described the scenery. Then I told him where I've been for the past year. He proposed.


The wedding is on Monday! We tried to get married once before but were stopped by a rather significant impediment.


Excited about the wedding tomorrow. Will post photos on my blog:

Jane Eyre is free on Kindle at the moment.

Friday 1 March 2013

Launch of Inceptio by Alison Morton!

Today Alison Morton is visiting to talk about her novel, Inceptio. I know Alison from the Romantic Novelists' Association and we often chat on Twitter.

Thank you very much for welcoming me to Neetswriter’s Blog, Anita.

My debut novel, INCEPTIO, is published today, the end of three years of slog – researching, writing, and polishing. It’s a thriller, so it’s doubly exciting. You’re writing history with your latest work in progress The Painting so I think you’ll understand about inspiration and the long haul.

What inspired you to write Inceptio?

An eleven year old fascinated by the mosaics in Ampurias (huge Roman site in Spain), I asked my father, “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 it was just a precocious kid asking a smartarse question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?” Real life intervened (school, uni, career, military, marriage, motherhood, business ownership, move to France), but the idea bubbled away at the back of my mind.

I’d play with words much of my life - playwright (aged 7), article writer, local magazine editor, professional translator and dissertation writer. But I came to novel writing in reaction to a particularly dire film; the cinematography was good, but the plot dire and narration jerky.

‘I could do better that that,’ I whispered in the darkened cinema.

‘So why don’t you?’ came my other half’s reply.

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

Of course, I made the classic mistake of submitting too soon, but had some encouraging replies. Several rewrites later and I’d had some full manuscript requests, even from a US agent (INCEPTIO starts in New York)! I had replies like ‘If it was a straight thriller, I’d take it on’ and ‘Your writing is excellent, but it wouldn’t fit our list.’

I was (am!) passionate about my stories so I decided to self publish with bought-in publishing services. Using very carefully chosen high quality professional backing (editing, advice, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing, etc.), I’ve found it a fantastic way for a new writer to enter the market.

What is the difference between an “alternate history thriller” and a normal thriller?

Alternate history is based on the idea of “what if”? What if King Harold had won the Battle of Hastings in 1066? Or if Julius Caesar had taken notice of the warning that assassins wanted to murder him on the Ides of March? Sometimes, it could be little things such as in the film Sliding Doors, when the train door shuts and Gwyneth Paltrow’s character splits into two; one rides away on the train, the other is left standing on the platform.

The rest of the story, or history of a country, from that point on develops differently from the one we know. In my book, Roma Nova battled its way from a small colony in the late fourth century somewhere north of Italy into a high tech, financial mini-state which kept and developed Roman Republican values, but with a twist. It’s really fun working this out! But you really have to know your own timeline history before you can ‘alternate’ it. The thriller story then takes place against this background.

Stories with Romans are usually about famous emperors, epic battles, depravity, intrigue, wicked empresses and a lot of sandals, tunics and swords. But imagine the Roman theme projected sixteen hundred years further forward into the 21st century. How different would that world be?

What is Inceptio about?

New York – present day, alternate reality. Karen Brown, angry and frightened after surviving a kidnap attempt, has a harsh choice – being eliminated by government enforcer Jeffery Renschman or fleeing to the mysterious Roma Nova, her dead mother’s homeland in Europe. Founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety, a ready-made family and a new career. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus who rescued her in America, isolates her.

Renschman reaches into her new home and nearly kills her. Recovering, she is desperate to find out why he is hunting her so viciously. Unable to rely on anybody else, she undergoes intensive training, develops fighting skills and becomes an undercover cop. But crazy with bitterness at his past failures, Renschman sets a trap for her, knowing she has no choice but to spring it...

And next? I’m polishing up PERFIDITAS (betrayal), the second book in the Roma Nova series before it goes to the editor.

You can find INCEPTIO on Amazon UK and Amazon US

You can read more about Alison, Romans, alternate history and writing here:



Twitter: @alison_morton

Best of luck with the launch of Inceptio Alison and thanks for visiting!

Friday 22 February 2013

Getting away from my mobile phone

Blackpool Sands
I've been in Devon this week with my family where we made the most of crisp winter days with blue skies. We stayed in a thatched cottage in a remote village with views of the River Dart. En route when looking for services, we were pleased to spot a brown sign for Stourhead House, a stunning Palladian mansion inspired by the Italian Grand Tour.

Steam train from the ferry
In Dittisham we rang the bell by the Ferry Boat Inn (where we enjoyed the best Sunday roast ever) and a man appeared in a boat. He took us across the river to Greenway, Agatha Christie's house. We went on a riverboat cruise in Dartmouth where we saw a dolphin, a seal and a steam train; and at Blackpool Sands we found a sandy beach.

The best part about being in a remote village was that my mobile phone only worked if I stood on the crumbling steps by the church in the cold. Even then a couple of bars wasn't always enough to let my messages and emails through. I'm so used to tweets and texts beeping throughout the day that initially I missed them. But without them, my head was clearer and I found that I enjoyed the break. Of course as soon as we went anywhere in the car, the first thing I did was check messages and emails and reply to them. And on the last day I gave in and went into the pub/village store for a cappuccino and used their Wi-Fi.

On the path to Greenway from boat
Now it's almost March (hello Spring?), I need to change gear with respect to my writing so I can produce a half-decent draft of The Painting for the RNA New Writers' Scheme by the end of August. This means I shall have to [try and] limit time spent social networking. Sometimes it's easy to switch on the computer, open Word, open the internet; then Tweetdeck and Facebook, then Blogger to check stats and before I know it an hour has passed.

Do you sometimes wish you could get away from your mobile phone?

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Do you get lost in research?

                                                    King George III

             National Portrait Gallery, London

*see below re use of photograph

I've been researching Book 2, The Painting this week. Guildford Library has provided me with many books over the past few months. Sometimes browsing a shelf of books on the same subject is easier than searching on the internet. On Saturday I picked up ten books on the late 1700s/early 1800s. Knowing I couldn't take them all home because they were heavy (and I forgot to take a carrier bag again), I sat at a desk and skimmed through them. This allowed me to decide which books would be the most useful and I eliminated eight, noting their titles for future reference. Most of the books I've used so far are out of print, so I wouldn't have found them in a bookshop (unless it was a secondhand one). Two of the books I've borrowed from Guildford Library are so useful, that I've ordered secondhand copies from Amazon.

There is the question of what's the best method of extracting relevant information from these books? The loose outline for the story I'm writing is in four parts: Late 1700s/early 1800s: 1. England 2. Italy and Today: 3. England and 4. Italy.

I'm currently researching and writing 1 and 2 (late 1700s/early 1800s England and Italy), looking for ways to link research to the story. I've discovered loads of interesting facts such as that men often cried in public. Sometimes ministers in the House of Commons would be in tears; men also cried to woo women. Then there was King George III, The Prince Regent, William Pitt, The French Revolutionary Wars, Nelson and The Battle of Trafalgar, The Industrial Revolution, the Luddite riots, The American War of Independence and it goes on....This period in history is fascinating, but I need to know when to STOP!

It's knowing which facts are relevant and worth zooming in on; investigating primary sources rather than secondary ones. It's easy to get caught up in the web of information, especially if it's interesting. There's the question of do you write notes as you read research or do you absorb it the first time and write notes afterwards? Writing notes the first time I read research can be compared to taking photos on a special occasion; clicking away with a camera detracts from enjoying the moment in a way that taking notes without absorbing information can be less effective.

Do you get lost in research?

* I've downloaded the photograph under the Creative Commons license (use in non-commercial, amateur projects). Thank you to the National Portrait Gallery for allowing me to use the photo of this wonderful painting. There is a photo of another portrait in the post: Paragraph Planet: 75 words on The Ditchley Portrait