30 September 2014

Wonders and Marvels: The Roman Aqueduct of Segovia, Spain

Segovia’s aqueduct marks a period in Spain when most of the country was a Roman province, one of many examples of the fusion of cultures in the country. Emperor Domitian ordered the aqueduct’s construction during his reign of AD 81-96. That the two tiers of arches numbering 166 and the pillars of the monument still stand today, some twenty centuries later, makes the aqueduct one of the country’s true marvels. This feat of Roman civil engineering is 2,950 feet long and is made of rough-hewn granite blocks totaling just over 24,000, held together without mortar. Its use as a conduit for water to Segovia up through the early 19th century is even more remarkable.

I’ll never forget the first breathtaking sight of the aqueduct when I visited Segovia in 2012. Just an hour north of Madrid, Segovia boasts beautiful vistas throughout its rolling landscape of valleys and hills. The city incorporates many elements of Spain’s history, including its Alcazar, which had stood from the early medieval period in defense against the Moors, and the 16th century Gothic cathedral built upon the highest point in the city. The aqueduct is the city’s most distinctive feature as it rises above the old streets; apparently, many other tourists agreed with me judging from the gathering in the plaza at the best spot to see the arches. No wonder it remains Segovia’s heraldic symbol, featured on the city’s coat of arms.

The construction of the aqueduct began as a means to bring water from the river Frio nestled in the shadows of the Sierra de Guadarrama Mountains to Roman Segovia. Engineers first set granite blocks at an oblique angle to direct the water, which collected in a reservoir before it flowed through buried channels, covering a distance of more than nine miles to reach the city. Along the route, sand traps worked as cleaning basins to filter out impurities in the water and control its flow. After a steep descent, the channels directed the flow through a valley 30 miles deep before reaching the visible portion of the site. Single and double arches at an average width of 16 feet are interspersed to rest on pillars within the aqueduct. The difficult terrain of the region must have necessitated the use of the best and most brilliant minds among Rome’s engineers. At its highest point, the water traveled 100 feet above ground in its viaduct and reached as far as the northwestern portion of the city, where Segovia’s Alcazar is located. A cleaning basin still exists in the Plaza Mayor.

The aqueduct has withstood time, attacks on the city, and late conservation efforts. In 1072, the army of the Moorish king Al-Mamun from Toledo besieged Segovia and destroyed or damaged 36 of the arches. In the 15th century during the reign of the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón, Don Pedro Mesa and Fray Juan de Escobedo of the Jeronimos del Parral monastery raised funds for repairs to the aqueduct. A century later, Segovia’s people added statues of Saint Stephen and the city’s patron saint, the Virgen de la Fuencisla, to niches of the aqueduct. In 1929, concrete pipes replaced the Roman channel, but such efforts could not halt the damage caused by centuries of water seepage through the cracked granite. Car traffic is also banned near the aqueduct for fear the vibrations will cause further damage to the centuries-old stone. All efforts to ensure the aqueduct remained one of the best-preserved monuments in Spain.

Sources(2009). Roman Aqueduct at Segovia, Spain. Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 7(3), 2. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved September 30, 2014, from Project MUSE database.


UNESCO; Old Town of Segovia and Its Aqueduct, http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/311

The picture is mine from my 2012 visit to Segovia.


Lisa J. Yarde writes fiction inspired by the Middle Ages in Europe. She is the author of two historical novels set in medieval England and Normandy, The Burning Candle, based on the life of one of the first countesses of Leicester and Surrey, Isabel de Vermandois, and On Falcon's Wings, chronicling the star-crossed romance between Norman and Saxon lovers before the Battle of Hastings. Lisa has also written four novels in a six-part series set in Moorish Spain, Sultana, Sultana’s Legacy, Sultana: Two Sisters, and Sultana: The Bride Price where rivalries and ambitions threaten the fragile bonds between members of a powerful family. Her short story, The Legend Rises, which chronicles the Welsh princess Gwenllian of Gwynedd’s valiant fight against English invaders, is also available.

28 September 2014

Author Interview & Ebook Giveaway: Rebecca Hazell on SOLOMON'S BRIDE

This week, we're pleased to welcome author REBECCA HAZELL with the second in her The Tiger and the Dove series, SOLOMON'S BRIDE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The Grip of God, the first novel in the series, or Solomon's Bride in Kindle format. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Solomon's Bride is the dramatic sequel to The Grip of God. Sofia, the heroine, a former princess from Kievan Rus' was enslaved by a Mongol nobleman and then taken as a concubine by the leader of the Mongol invasions, Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. Now, having fled the Mongols with a price on her head, Sofia escapes into Persia and what she believes will be safety, only to fall into the clutches of the Assassins, who seek to disrupt the Mongol empire. In a world at war, both outer and inner, the second phase of her adventures unfolds. Can she ever find safe haven, much less the lost love and family that was almost destroyed by the Mongols?


**Q&A with Rebecca Hazell**

For those who are unfamiliar with your trilogy, can you give us a brief overview of it?

Yes, it’s set in the turbulent 13th century, which saw the massive Mongol invasions, the last desperate Crusades, the final era of the Assassins, and the establishment of the dreaded Inquisition. The story unfolds in a memoir written by a former princess of Kievan Rus’. Her life parallels these epic developments since she was so affected by them, but the story isn’t just about historical events. It also explores a journey of the heart: what keeps her sane and loving in a world ruled by greed, aggression, and willful ignorance.

In lots of ways, my heroine Sofia’s journey speaks to questions we may ask ourselves today, especially since a lot of our current world politics stems from that violent time. On the other hand, there’s plenty of room for romance in the story!

The first novel was The Grip of God. Tell us a little about the second novel, Solomon’s Bride.

Solomon’s Bride begins where The Grip of God leaves off, with Sofia having fled the Mongols for Iran. There she expects to find safe haven and a way to get west to her uncle in Constantinople. What she discovers is that she has fallen out of the frying pan into the fire. The Mongols didn’t just invade Europe; they invaded all across Asia and the Middle East. Iran was one of the early victims, and it was a mess there just from that. Plus there was sectarian warfare within Islam, just as there is today, with the added chaos of the Assassins, who were expecting the Apocalypse and were happy to help it arrive.

And beyond Iran, the Crusader states were fighting for survival and still hoping to ‘liberate’ Jerusalem someday, adding more mayhem into the mix.

It sounds like a terrifying time to live. Was there anything good going on?

Yes indeed! Sofia herself finds many kind people of differing faiths who help her both in her travels and on her life journey. One thing I wanted to show was how much goodness there is in the world, even in the midst of terrible times. Much of the novel is about her relationships, and there’s not so much visible violence as what she witnessed in the Mongol camps. So it’s not an action book so much as it is an exploration of how people keep sane in crazy times.

And as I say, there’s also romance and falling in love, which is a really good way to get either very sane or very crazy. But I don’t want to give the plot away.

Tell us a bit more about Sofia.

She’s so young and unformed when the story starts, so her mind isn’t yet set when she encounters so many different cultures and outlooks. She’s bright, curious, and naturally kind, but she also is pretty arrogant at first. So the reader sees her growing up into a complex woman with simple goals: Sofia wants love, to give and to receive, and she wants a home again. Her entire journey can be seen as a quest for those two things, but what she means by love and home begin to change as she matures.

What was your favorite aspect of writing these books?

‘Meeting’ so many different, interesting people. They are mostly fictional, but to me they became so real. I didn’t just want caricatures of points of view; I wanted the readers to care about them the way I did, with all their quirks and ways of viewing their world. And I enjoyed how Sofia kept growing and changing; all I had to do, in one sense, was record it just as she was recording her adventures in her journal.

And last, where did you get the title for this novel?

It comes from an Islamic legend about an aged Solomon and his young bride: she had to choose to come into his tent or be frozen to death on a mountain. In much the same way, Sofia’s life was full of challenge and the choices she made to survive.

About the author

Rebecca Hazell is an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best-selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.

She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

Visit Rebecca:
Website | Goodreads | Facebook Amazon

25 September 2014

Excerpt Thursday: SOLOMON'S BRIDE by Rebecca Hazell

This week, we're pleased to welcome author REBECCA HAZELL with the second in her The Tiger and the Dove series, SOLOMON'S BRIDE. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of The Grip of God, the first novel in the series, or Solomon's Bride in Kindle format. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.


Solomon's Bride is the dramatic sequel to The Grip of God. Sofia, the heroine, a former princess from Kievan Rus' was enslaved by a Mongol nobleman and then taken as a concubine by the leader of the Mongol invasions, Batu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan. Now, having fled the Mongols with a price on her head, Sofia escapes into Persia and what she believes will be safety, only to fall into the clutches of the Assassins, who seek to disrupt the Mongol empire. In a world at war, both outer and inner, the second phase of her adventures unfolds. Can she ever find safe haven, much less the lost love and family that was almost destroyed by the Mongols?

**An Excerpt from Solomon’s Bride**

As the steppes swelled into rolling, well-wooded hills, both my body and spirit slowly revived and I sometimes forgot to be afraid.  For an entire day I could pretend we were merely on some wondrous journey of discovery: we might be edging along narrow cliffs where waves boiled into creamy foam below us or come upon a wide river rushing into the sea.  If we were then forced to ride inland, sheltered under shady trees and serenaded by the river’s song, to find a decaying bridge or shallow ford where we could cross, that was only part of a delightful adventure, nothing more.  I ignored the grim watch Da’ud kept as we traveled, how he guarded my every move.

Perhaps I could do that because he also relented and allowed more speech among us.  Ali always found an apt verse for the wonders we passed, which lightened any sense of possible trouble.  He was also given to reciting parts of a wonderful epic poem, the Shanameh, which tells about great shahs and heroes of Persia’s past.  And Nasr often added some silly twist to Ali’s elegant words that added to my delight.

Although this land was fertile and well-watered, there were surprisingly few settlements to avoid, especially inland.  Sometimes I would glimpse a tiny walled village perched on a steep hill above us, but we never approached it. A necessary precaution, Da’ud said when I asked why we never stopped at any of them.  “Once we would have had to take far greater care.  Half the towns were bandit lairs—those and the caves hereabout.  But few people live here now.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“The Mongols, years ago.  They wanted no one at their backs when they attacked the infidel Georgians, so scouts destroyed every village they found and killed all the people.”

I suddenly realized: this would have been part of the great sweep Noyan Subodai’s armies had made around the Caspian, which led to the terrible battle at River Kalka where my grandfather and uncles had all died.  From then on I saw that land in a new way—not just desolate but desolated.

One late afternoon soon after, we passed the remnants of a ravaged fishing village.  Da’ud considered sheltering overnight inside its ruined walls, as the weather was wicked, but even the rain clouting our faces could not drive him to camp in that haunted place: a spirit of evil still clung to the charred remains, littered with skulls and bits of bone.

Praise for the trilogy

“How deftly and compellingly Hazell takes the reader with her into that mysterious and exotic world, and makes it all seem so very close to hand!” – Peter Conradi, Fellow of Britain's Royal Society of Literature and author of Iris Murdoch: A Life, and of A Very English Hero.

"I enjoyed watching her morph from a spoiled sheltered princess with slaves of her own, into a tough, savvy survivor, with a new awareness of social injustice. The book is action packed. I couldn't put it down." -- from a review on Amazon.com.

"I got completely caught up in the characters and story and always looked forward to getting back to them. What a fully fleshed and fascinating world you developed and it was wondrous to learn so much about that time and the Mongol culture. Your gifts come out in your lush descriptions of place and objects. All very vivid and colorful." --author Dede Crane Gaston

“Through all of Sofia's treks across miles of various lands and cultures, I am a reader who is ready to continue the journey with her. I highly recommend this series if you love medieval history of the Far East and Asia, and even European areas, or enjoy reading about ancient cultures and religions. Solomon's Bride was even more well-written than Rebecca's first book, stringently researched, artistically detailed, heartfelt, and exciting.” –Erin, Oh, for the Hook of a Book!

The novel is available both in paperback and Kindle versions and through your local bookstore by special order. The third novel, Consolamentum, is also available now.

About the author

Rebecca Hazell is an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best-selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.

She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

Visit Rebecca:
Website | Goodreads | Facebook | Amazon

24 September 2014

Wonders and Marvels: Nicolaus Copernicus


Nicolaus Copernicus was a Polish astronomer, best known for his theory that the Sun and not the Earth is at the center of the universe.  He was born on February 19, 1473 in Torun, Poland and died on May 24, 1543 in Frombork, Poland.

His father was a merchant and local official. When Copernicus was 10, his father died, and his uncle, a priest, ensured that Copernicus received a good education. In 1491, he went to Krakow Academy, now the Jagiellonian University, and in 1496 travelled to Italy to study law. While a student at the University of Bologna he stayed with a mathematics professor, Domenico Maria de Novara, who encouraged Copernicus' interests in geography and astronomy.

During his time in Italy, Copernicus visited Rome and studied at the universities of Padua and Ferrara, before returning to Poland in 1503. For the next seven years he worked as a private secretary to his uncle, now the bishop of Ermland.

The bishop died in 1512 and Copernicus moved to Frauenberg, where he had long held a position as a canon, an administrative appointment in the church. This gave him more time to devote to astronomy. Although he did not seek fame, it is clear that he was by now well known as an astronomer. In 1514, when the Catholic church was seeking to improve the calendar, one of the experts to whom the pope appealed was Copernicus.

Copernicus' major work 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' ('On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres') was finished by 1530. Its central theory was that the Earth rotates daily on its axis and revolves yearly around the sun. He also argued that the planets circled the Sun. This challenged the long held view that the Earth was stationary at the centre of the universe with all the planets, the Moon and the Sun rotating around it.

'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' was published in early 1543 and Copernicus died on 24 May in the same year.


For more info.:


James Conroyd Martin is an Irish and Norwegian writer who found himself immersed in Polish culture when a friend told him of a diary of a countess that had been passed down through his family for generations. The diary of a Polish countess became the foundation of the novel Push Not the River and led to a trilogy that included Against a Crimson Sky and The Warsaw Conspiracy.

22 September 2014

Wonders and Marvels: The Mezquita of Córdoba

By Kathryn A. Kopple

Córdoba is an ancient city in the region of Andalusia, southern Spain; a city that has everything for which a traveler in search of old-world charm could hope:  beautifully symmetrical plazas, exotic flowering gardens, reflecting pools, winding stone streets, beguiling alleyways, white-washed walls, colorful tiled facades, high towers, opulent palaces, sparkling fountains, bustling shops, any number of cafes and restaurants, and elegant hotels.  Córdoba also has the distinction of being one of the few—if only--places in the world where it is possible to say:  Voy a la Mezquita a oír misa.  I’m going to the Mosque to hear Mass.  Mezquita refers to the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the most significant and beautiful Islamic structure in the West.   Although the Mezquita retains important architectural elements of the original mosque, hundreds of years have passed since it was converted into the cathedral named in honor of the Virgin of the Assumption.  And yet, while it is a Catholic church where Christians may gather for worship, the people of Spain still refer to the cathedral as the Mezquita.


Recently, while in Spain, my family and I drove from Madrid to Córdoba en route to Granada and Sevilla.  Spain has always been a place to which I’ve returned.  Spain was where, in my well-spent youth, I went to live and study—and, of course, see as much of Iberia as I could see.  During my years abroad, I ventured as far east as Barcelona, had travelled as far west as Portugal, went as far north as Santander, and wandered as far south as Marrakesh.  I spent a year in Sevilla after graduating from college.  I would return again to Spain to take up residence in Madrid.   I’d seen the sun rise over the Alhambra. There had been a memorable ski trip to the Pyrenees.  I’d scaled the Art Nouveau cathedral  (still under construction) known as the Sagrada Familia.  I’d set out on my own for the historic cities of Toledo and Segovia.  One infernally hot day, I hopped a bus that took me to San Lorenzo to the Escorial (the austere palace built by Philip II).  At the invitation of friends, the pristine beaches of Huelva were all mine for a weekend.  But, for all of this travel, I had never been to Córdoba, and not for lack of trying.  Either I would run out of time or money or both, making it necessary to forfeit any plans I might have to visit the fabled city.  I regretted it, naturally.  Spanish friends would ask:  And Córdoba? Did you go to Córdoba?  Did you visit the Mezquita?  No, no.  I had not been there.  Once, a Spaniard and dear friend said to me: “If I had to choose, I would choose the Mezquita over all else in Spain.” I smiled.  Considering all Spain has to offer, that was saying something.  She went on to explain that palaces, cathedrals, museums—these were cultural monuments of which to be proud.  But there was nothing like the Mezquita.  Her enthusiasm, indeed passion, for the great mosque moved me.  I was determined that, on this trip, I would not leave the country until I had could say the same.  Now, having been there, I can.  I have been to the Mezquita and it is every bit as wondrous as its reputation.


 I have been to the Mezquita, and it is wondrous and complex.  The visitor enters a large courtyard enlivened with orange trees.  The size of the courtyard is remarkable, and so is the water system cut into the stone in precise lines that crisscross the patio.  A place of precision and repose; it is a place that invites lingering, reflection.  Then, it is on to the main hall.  It has been described as “a non-hierarchical, almost abstract space with a system of columns and arches extending in all directions in a strict grid… This arcaded hypostyle hall, in its final form, is composed of a ‘forest’ of 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite supporting red and white arches… The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch, a technical solution which allowed higher ceilings that would otherwise be possible only with relatively low columns.”  This forest of elaborate semi-circles is by far the most intriguing aspect of the Mezquita; it elicits a sense of order that does not impede the impression of spaciousness and freedom.  Airy, colorful, and peaceful.   Impressive as it is, the visitor enjoys a sample of the original mosque as “in the 16th century the clergy of Cordoba decided to increase the size of the Cathedral: the new project consisted in the demolition of an important part of the forest of columns and the insertion of a Christian cathedral grandly combining Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, although altering forever the unity of the Muslim building.”  The effect is not altogether successful—as Charles V lamented—but luckily not everything has been lost, and the remains of the original mosque are without a doubt lovely and compelling.


 While there, I was in the company of tourists from distant parts, including Muslims.  I couldn’t help but wondering what they felt, thought, as they walked about the mosque.  Muslims are not allowed to pray at the Mezquita.  To this day, the debate rages on as to why they should be prohibited from doing so.   In times such as these, lifting the prohibition would be seen as a gesture of reconciliation.  History is not so easily effaced—or forgotten.   To preserve a cultural treasure is laudable, but the Mezquita remains a contested site, and will continue to be so unless those of Islamic faith may find there a place to worship alongside Christians.  

Sources:    http://socks-studio.com/2014/04/11/the-field-and-the-nave-the-mezquita-of-cordoba/

Kathryn A. Kopple is the author of Little Velásquez, a novel set in 15th century Spain.  

21 September 2014

Author Interview & Ebook Giveaway: Alison Morton on PERFIDITAS

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Alison Morton with the second in her Roma Nova series, PERFIDITAS. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Perfiditas. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Captain Carina Mitela of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces is in trouble – one colleague has tried to kill her and another has set a trap to incriminate her in a conspiracy to topple the government of Roma Nova. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman dissidents and ruled by women, Roma Nova barely survived a devastating coup d’état thirty years ago. Carina swears to prevent a repeat and not merely for love of country.

Seeking help from a not quite legal old friend could wreck her marriage to the enigmatic Conrad. Once she’s proscribed and operating illegally, she risks being terminated by both security services and conspirators. As she struggles to overcome the desperate odds and save her beloved Roma Nova and her own life, she faces the ultimate betrayal…

“Sassy, intriguing, page-turning…  Roma Nova is a fascinating world” - Simon Scarrow

**Q&A with Alison Morton**

September is the month of wonders and marvels here at Unusual Historicals. How does PERFIDITAS fit in?

Well, the whole background to the Roma Nova books is ‘wondrous and marvellous’ as it’s a story of alternate history, where at a point in the past the timeline diverged from the one we know and went in a different direction.

For Roma Nova, that split was in AD 395 as the Roman Empire was fading. The small colony struggled to survive into the 21st century and managed to keep its Roman core values, but with a difference – it became egalitarian and is governed by women. If you would like to know why and how, there’s a potted history of the imaginary Roma Nova on my blog.

What made you bring the Roman theme up to the present day instead of setting your story in ancient Rome?

Although ancient Roman society had evolved significantly by the late fourth century and Roman women owned property, businesses and enjoyed more civil freedoms than several hundred years previously, they were still, to our modern eyes, second or class citizens. It would have been unrealistic for a heroine like Carina to live and work as a Praetorian in ancient Rome.

I wanted to explore the theme of a modern society, but traditionally Roman in style and custom. Alternate history allows you to explore the ‘what if’ questions and the juxtaposition of putting female members of a society we have always thought of as very male dominated onto more than equal terms with men was such a tempting one…

PERFIDITAS is the second book in your Roma Nova series, the sequel to your exciting debut novel INCEPTIO. Please tell us a little bit about the title.

PERFIDITAS means betrayal - our words ‘perfidy’ and ‘perfidious’ are closely related. To the Roma Novans who have invested their whole way of life over many centuries in their core values of rule of law, justice and service to the state, betrayal is deeply repugnant. And in PERFIDITAS the betrayal is political, professional and very personal.

How do you research an alternate history novel?

When you write alternate history, you need imagination as you are writing ‘into the void’; there are no sources.  However, you must be driven by historical logic and integrate your imagined country with the rest of the world. Of course, that rest of the world will probably be different from ours as well.

On a practical level, I have a general grounding in Roman history from reading classical texts, such as Pliny, Suetonius, Caesar’s Gallic Wars and modern history texts, plus my father introduced me to the Roman world at age 11. To me, it seemed perfectly normal to clamber over Roman aqueducts, walk on mosaic pavements, pretend I was a Roman actor in classic theatres all over Europe from Spain to then Yugoslavia, from Hadrian’s Wall to Pompeii. So I have a ‘feel’ for the Roman world. But I keep reading as there are new discoveries and new research appearing all the time.

As for writing the military scenes in PERFIDITAS, I spent six years in the reserve forces, which gave me experience of military life first hand. I know what it was like to crawl around woods, simulate battle, how to endure cold and move silently towards your objective.

The thing that keeps me digging is the determination not to give up even if the result is not what I expected. For instance, my characters catch bad guys in the 21st century, but I wanted to find out if there were special forces and spies during the ancient Roman period so I could bring anything with a Roman flavour into my books. I searched for sources and came across Exploratio by Austin and Rankin about military and political intelligence in the ancient Roman world. Perfect, I thought.

It turned out that there was no centralized intelligence organisation and it was all chaotically arranged on a regional basis with a lot of infighting in Rome itself until the later Roman period. Sixteen hundred years on, I’ve made their descendants a great deal better organised!

How do you portray characters accurately in the alternative world while still captivating readers in the real world?

Ha! That’s the crucial question. There are twin elements: the first is our old friend research. Knowing about food, costume and work, but also attitudes to crime, life, death, servants, masters, marriage, trade, property will give any historical writer a firm knowledge base against which to work.

The second element is plausibility. The writer has to maintain the reader’s trust. One way to do this is to infuse, but not flood, the story with corroborative detail so that it verifies and reinforces the plot and narrative. Even though my books are set in the 21st century, the Roman characters say things like ‘I wouldn’t be in your sandals (not shoes) when he finds out.’ 

Human beings of all ages and cultures have similar emotional needs, hurts and joys. Of course, they’re expressed differently, sometimes in an alienating or (to us) peculiar way. But a romantic relationship, for example, whether as instant as Colonel Brandon when he sees Marianne in Sense and Sensibility or the careful but intense relationship of Eve Dallas and Roarke in the Death series, binds us into their stories.

The hardest element is the conflict between projecting standard western sensitivities and viewpoints on to people living in a completely different set of circumstances, whether it’s the past or a different country, or both. And it’s not always true that people today are more liberal and enlightened than those in the past.

Ancient Romans were very open about sexual matters as they regarded sex as allied to fertility and survival rather than embarrassment and guilt. They would have given you a puzzled look if you’d suggested love was they main reason for marriage. My Roma Novans live in the 21st century but retain a similar practical attitude. They often partner or marry to have children to continue their families or consolidate property. Carina and her partner, Conrad are unusual in that they are strongly emotionally bound to each other in mutual love. But it doesn’t guarantee they always will be…

So what’s next in Roma Nova?

Well, book three, SUCCESSIO, which has the twin meanings of ‘what happened next’ and ‘the next generation’, has just come out. The action takes place seven years after the end of PERFIDITAS and deals with a threat from the past which even Carina may not be able to deal with …

Perhaps I’ll come back and tell you about it another time. ;-)

Thank you for joining me today and warm thanks to Unusual Historicals for inviting me.


PERFIDITAS is available through your local bookshop (paperback), Amazon (myBook.to/PERFIDITAS) and other online retailers here http://alison-morton.com/perfiditas/where-to-buy-perfiditas/.
PERFIDITAS will be at a special price of $1.99/£1.29 from 17 September through to 25 September.
About the Author

Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German, and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award, and PERFIDITAS, the second in series, have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion®, an award for independent fiction that rejects 90% of its applicants. INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS were shortlisted for Writing Magazine’s 2014 Self-Publishing Book of the Year Award. Alison’s third book SUCCESSIO came out in June 2014 and was selected in August 2014 by the Historical Novel Society as indie Editor’s Choice.

Links

Connect with Alison on her blog http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying links (multiple retailers/formats):
SUCCESSIO: http://alison-morton.com/successio/where-to-buy-successio/

18 September 2014

Excerpt Thursday: PERFIDITAS by Alison Morton

This week, we're pleased to welcome author Alison Morton with the second in her Roma Nova series, PERFIDITAS. Join us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free copy of Perfiditas. Be sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb.

Captain Carina Mitela of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces is in trouble – one colleague has tried to kill her and another has set a trap to incriminate her in a conspiracy to topple the government of Roma Nova. Founded sixteen hundred years ago by Roman dissidents and ruled by women, Roma Nova barely survived a devastating coup d’état thirty years ago. Carina swears to prevent a repeat and not merely for love of country.

Seeking help from a not quite legal old friend could wreck her marriage to the enigmatic Conrad. Once she’s proscribed and operating illegally, she risks being terminated by both security services and conspirators. As she struggles to overcome the desperate odds and save her beloved Roma Nova and her own life, she faces the ultimate betrayal…

“Sassy, intriguing, page-turning…  Roma Nova is a fascinating world” - Simon Scarrow

**An Excerpt from PERFIDITAS**

‘Captain Carina Mitela?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Who is this?’
Custodes XI Station. An emergency token with your code has been handed in. We’re holding the presenter.’
Juno.
I dropped everything and headed for the tunnel connecting our headquarters to the police station.  The duty sergeant, with a typical cop’s bland expression but trying to conceal a speculative gleam in her eyes, handed me the token without a word.
As we walked to the interview rooms, I stared at the thirty-nine millimetre diameter disc, made to imitate a casino chip, indigo blue polycarbonate shielding the tiny microprocessor. The last one I’d had in was from an informant handling incoming diplomatic baggage at the airport; her sharp eyes had spotted a very undiplomatic cargo of compact assault rifles. Sure, Roma Nova was a small country, hidden away between New Austria and Italy, but we weren’t stupid or sloppy. Working with the Intelligence section, I’d traced the weapons back to their Balkan Republic origins and led a covert service unit to destroy their warehouse.
The figure I saw today through the smartplex observation window of the public interview room was slumped over, elbows on the table, hands braced her under her chin, her long black hair looking like it hadn’t seen a brush for days. Mossia Antonia. She owned and ran one of the toughest, and most exclusive, training gyms in the country. Right now, she looked like a street vagrant.
I shucked off my uniform of beige shirt and pants and black tee, and pulled on the casuals the custodes duty sergeant had found in lost property for me, ignoring the smell of stale food and cooking fat clinging to them.
Mossia jerked her head up as I entered the room.
Salve, Mossia. What’s the problem?’ I plunked myself down on the other chair, crossed my arms and waited.
‘Bruna?’ She blinked and shook her head like she didn’t believe what she saw.
I opened my hand in a gesture inviting her to talk.
‘Aidan has disappeared,’ she said, looking down and rubbing the table with her index finger. Inlaid with coffee rings from careless mugs, the plastic surface reflected the impacts of hard-tipped pens and handcuff scrapes.
‘Are you sure?’
She nodded.
‘How do you know? Aidan has other clients apart from yours. Maybe he’s gone on vacation, or been called away.’
Her head came up at that. ‘His first duty is to me – I pay him a good retainer to look after my clients.’
‘So what makes you think he’s not coming back?’
‘This.’
She pulled out a folded piece of paper with black, sloping writing. I read it, laid it down on the table, and leaned back in my chair. Then I picked it up and read it again. I couldn’t believe it. He wrote he couldn’t bear it any longer; he’d had enough of her unfair working practices. He resigned with immediate effect and would make sure her clients knew exactly why he’d done it. I pinched the bridge of my nose to make sure I was awake.
‘He took nearly a thousand solidi from the cash drawer and my gold pen.’ Mossia jabbed the air with her finger. ‘Whatever. What really bugs me are those lies.’ Her face was rigid and her eyes blazing. ‘I could kill him for that.’ Her chair crashed backwards to the ground with the force of her jumping up. She started pacing around the room like a lion in the arena.
I wasn’t surprised at her anger. She worked her people hard, but looked after them. I knew her employment packages were first-class; as an anonymous shareholder, I’d seen her accounts.
‘You’ve reported him to the custodes as a missing person?’
‘I’m reporting it to you.’
‘Why? I’m not the custodes.’
‘Well, you’re something like that.’ Ninety-eight per cent of my colleagues in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces would take offence at that, but I let it pass.
She came to rest by the table and looked down at me.
‘What?’ I said.
‘It’s personal.’
‘Were you sleeping with him?’
Her shoulders slumped and she crossed her arms across her chest.
‘Silly sod.’
She pulled a small moue.
I stretched over and touched her forearm in sympathy. I shot a side glance at the watch on my outstretched wrist. Hades!
‘I’ll have the custodes log it,’ I said and stood up. ‘You go home now or, better, back to the gym. The custodes will let you know of any developments.’
She took a full stride toward me, so near that she was all but touching me. ‘What do you mean? Aren’t you going to do anything about it?’
‘Okay, it’s bloody annoying, it’s hurtful, whatever, but it’s hardly a case for an emergency token. Leave it with the custodes.’
I stepped away and pushed my chair under the edge of the table.
‘Come on, Mossia, time to go. Think of the money you’re not making while you’re wasting time here.’
She shot me a vicious look. The anger was rolling off her. She took a deep breath and gazed unseeing at the dirty beige walls for a minute or so.
Had I been too harsh? A stab of guilt prodded me. I’d known Mossia for years, but my schedule was crushing and I was behind already.
I knocked on the door which opened inward revealing a blue-uniformed custos.
‘We’re finished here,’ I told him.
I looked at Mossia’s taut, silent figure. ‘The custos will see you out. I’ll stop by the gym if I hear anything.’
‘Well, screw you!’ She turned her back to me and stalked out without another word.


PERFIDITAS is available through your local bookshop (paperback), Amazon (myBook.to/PERFIDITAS) and other online retailers here http://alison-morton.com/perfiditas/where-to-buy-perfiditas/.
PERFIDITAS will be at a special price of $1.99/£1.29 from 17 September through to 25 September.
About the Author

Alison Morton writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with strong heroines. She holds a bachelor’s degree in French, German, and Economics, a masters’ in history and lives in France with her husband.

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, she has visited sites throughout Europe including the alma mater, Rome. But it was the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain) that started her wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by women…

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award, and PERFIDITAS, the second in series, have been honoured with the B.R.A.G. Medallion®, an award for independent fiction that rejects 90% of its applicants. INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS were shortlisted for Writing Magazine’s 2014 Self-Publishing Book of the Year Award. Alison’s third book SUCCESSIO came out in June 2014 and was selected in August 2014 by the Historical Novel Society as indie Editor’s Choice.

Links

Connect with Alison on her blog http://alison-morton.com/blog/
Twitter https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying links (multiple retailers/formats):
SUCCESSIO: http://alison-morton.com/successio/where-to-buy-successio/