One of the very best things about Twitter is meeting other writers. Alison Morton and I got chatting about writing, blogging and France a few months back and with the her debut novel, Inceptio, out today I jumped at the chance to interview her for House With No Name.
Inceptio is your debut novel. Can you tell me a little about the road to publication?
Alison: I’ve played with words most of my life - storyteller, playwright (aged seven), article writer, local magazine editor and translator. I started novel writing in 2009 after seeing a particularly dire film. "I could do better than this," I whispered in the dark to my other half. "So why don’t you?" Three months later, I had completed the draft of Inceptio, the first Roma Nova alternate history thriller.
I knew the draft was both woolly and rough. I needed to learn novel-crafting skills and joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme in 2010. Two RNA conferences, an Arvon Foundation course in commercial fiction and the Festival of Writing at York spurred me on me on. I met some knowledgeable, generous and fun people along the way, one of whom ended up mentoring me. My history MA had taught me how to research and my six years in the Territorial Army trained me to do “guns and mud.” Perfect preparation for Inceptio.
I made the classic mistake of submitting too soon. Several rewrites later I had some full submission requests, including from a US agent. 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” were a little depressing. I was (am!) passionate about my stories so, happy that my writing was at a reasonable standard, I decided to self publish with bought-in publishing services. Using high quality professional backing (editing, advice, registrations, typesetting, design, book jacket, proofing etc), I think it’s a fantastic way for new writers to enter the market.
Why did you choose to write a thriller and what is it about?
Alison: Inceptio started as a romantic novel with some action bits, but the thriller proportion grew until I realised I loved writing tension, danger, death, cliff-hangers and conspiracy more than romance. But the central romantic relationship is still key in this and the next two books.
It starts in New York, present day. 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 16 centuries ago by Roman exiles and ruled by women, Roma Nova gives Karen safety and a ready-made family. But a shocking discovery about her new lover, the fascinating but arrogant special forces officer Conrad Tellus, 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...
Do you have any tips for writers working on their debut novels right now?
Alison: Bash the story out. If you pause too long beautifying individual scenes at this stage, you risk losing the narrative flow. You’re first and foremost a storyteller; the story is the most important thing.
Put it away for at least six weeks, then do the first self-edit, checking the plot structure, deleting the dreadful parts and working on the sloppy bits. Then back into the drawer and start the next project.
Out of the drawer comes the first novel a few months later and this time you scrutinise each sentence word by word, forcing each one to justify its existence. Then you have something to work with.
What is your own favourite novel?
Alison: Currently, it’s Restless by William Boyd – spies, two strong women leads, Second World War, love, betrayal on personal and political levels, Cold War, class, alienation, irreverance and beautiful prose. Perfect!
Inceptio by Alison Morton (SilverWood Books, £9.99)
Alison’s blog: www.alison-morton.com