I’m delighted to feature Alison Morton in my series ‘Where I Write.’ Alison has proved a very helpful friend to me and is a great source of help and inspiration. So, without further ado, it’s over to her.
Artists traditionally write in a garret preferably in Paris, but I write in a basement in the middle of rural France.
Actually, it’s a sous-sol, a half-basement common in French houses until the late 1980s.The house part is a three-bedroom single storey building of 110 square metres but underneath lies treasure: another 110 square metres of precious garage, utility area, garden shed equivalent, boiler, massive storage area, husband’s ‘radio shack’ (Don’t ask!), downstairs loo and wine cellar. But the jewel in this crown is our 3.6 x 3.6 metre office.
Shortly after emigrating to France, we converted a chunk of the sous-sol into a work space that wouldn’t be out of place in any UK office. I already had two full workstations, wall cupboards, filing cabinets, book shelves, computers, printers and office paraphernalia from the UK where I had run my own translation business. The builder built the office around the size of the desks. The final addition was a large Parker Knoll sofa bed: we had nowhere else to put it but it makes a perfect writer’s sofa!
Whether it’s aging/decrepitude, I have a chronic back problem (Don’t let’s go there.), so my ever-resourceful husband, Steve, fortified by his ‘O’ level Woodwork, converted a redundant bedside table into a standing desk unit for my Mac. It can be lifted off easily: no desk was harmed in the making of this unit.
When I can sit down to work, I tap away on my faithful MacBookAir on the proper desk and the whole thing is linked through the cloud-thingy. I don’t ask – Steve was an IT and radio engineer in his Real Life, so I’m pathetic and leave all the technical stuff to him. I’m an artist, darling.
But I’m a simple artist. I used boring old Word. I started computing in DOS over twenty-five years ago and drove programmes like Wordstar, SuperCalc and Dbase on commands only. When Windows came along, WordPerfect gave Word a run for its money, but sadly WP has gone the way of Betamax.
Pixelmator and PowerPoint are my standard programs for fiddling about with photos and the standard Office programmes like the Excel spreadsheet keep track of character ages, features/characteristics, sales stats and accounts. Some of my research is paper-based, i.e. a library of books, but most of it is digitally stored or linked. I use Protopage to keep all my links neatly arranged so I don’t get my Roman gladius dimensions mixed up with the fifth floor in Macy’s department store (You’ll have to read INCEPTIO to see why I needed both of those in the same book.)
You asked me about planning, Martin, and said we weren’t talking house extensions. My book ideas start with a character, then expands to those around her. I give her some background, including the reason why she is like she is, then I throw a big problem at her and see how she reacts. This ‘mulling’ phase can last a few days or weeks or even years. After all, the Roma Nova idea took several decades to burst out of my head. But I was living my Real Life over that time with zero ambition to become a novelist.
These days, mulling time is shorter so I sit down and write (theoretically) 30 lines of plot notes; the inciting incident, three crisis points, the Black Moment, the climax and resolution. My books are thrillers and this is the classic structure that readers expect. It shouldn’t be formulaic, but this process gives my writing a structure. That’s the 15% of plotting. After that, I fly off into the void by the seat of my pants.
Turning to the production path, what happens when the first draft is finished? Well, I resort to two non hitech solutions: the one-and a-half spaced printout and the red pen. I use a process I evolved in my early writing days and it catches all sorts of little horrors. But you’d expect that from self-editing a first draft. The next stage is to read the amended draft on my Kindle as a complete book to check whether the story has legs and/or if there are any gaping plot holes. Then it’s off to my critique partner for her thoughts. If I say she has the eyes and instincts of a velociraptor combined with an unfailingly polite way of expressing herself, you can guess how cathartic a process it is. But this is where you need brutal literary love from somebody you trust.
Next, I send full-length books (100,000 words) to a structural editor, then after the inevitable revisions, the final version will go to the copy editor to be tidied up and given a final polish. Then, and only then, does it go off to be made into a book.
Until recently I used an outside company to produce my books and have been very grateful for their expert introduction to independent publishing. But now I’m off on my solo flight path with my own imprint, Pulcheria Press. Recently, I’ve discovered the delights of Vellum, very user-friendly software which formats and prepares files ready for uploading to eBook retailers and print book producers and distributors. My first ‘experiment’ has been on my new novella, CARINA, eBook release date 23 November. So far, so super-smooth
The middle of nowhere in the Poitou-Charentes where I live has some lovely undulating scenery, mostly caused by the River Thouet and I take time out most days to walk by it and gather an impressive collection of insect bites.
Apart from that, some garden pottering, the occasional sortie to meet real people for lunch and the need to sleep, I am lured to and chained to my writing desk for most of the day.
Alison Morton bio (CARINA)
Alison Morton writes the acclaimed 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.
A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison has misspent decades clambering over Roman sites throughout Europe. She holds a MA History, blogs about Romans and writing.
Now she continues to write, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in France with her husband of 30 years.
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
Buying links for CARINA
Carina Mitela is still a young inexperienced officer in the Praetorian Guard Special Forces. Disgraced and smarting from a period in the cells for a disciplinary offence, she is sent out of everybody’s way on a seemingly straightforward mission overseas.
All she and her comrade-in-arms, Flavius, have to do is bring back a traitor from the Republic of Quebec. Under no circumstances will she risk entering the Eastern United States where she is still wanted under her old name Karen Brown. But when she and Flavius discover a conspiracy that reaches to the highest levels of Roma Nova, what price is personal danger against fulfilling the mission?