A cast of characters you’ll never forget: guest blog with Carol Cooper

Women-Writing-Women-Box-Set-Cover_finalJPEG (1)A woman accused of killing her father. A young woman fleeing from the shadow of her infamous mother. A bereaved biographer who travels to war-ravaged Croatia to research the life of a celebrity artist. A gifted musician forced by injury to stop playing the piano. A single mother of four who dares to date again. A prima ballerina who turns to prostitution to support her daughter, and the wife of a drug lord who attempts to relinquish her lust for blood to raise a respectable son.

All these unlikely heroines – and more – appear in a new ebook anthology from seven indie authors called OUTSIDE THE BOX: WOMEN WRITING WOMEN.

Carol“Women characters in novels are often too good to be true. Too smart, too beautiful, too kind – or, even worse, all of these things at once. Or else they’re hapless, which is equally unrealistic,” says Carol Cooper. She’s an author, doctor and journalist; her fiction debut One Night at the Jacaranda, a gripping story about a group of people searching for love, is one of the seven full-length novels in this box set. “I wanted my characters to be feisty but imperfect. To me, that’s far more compelling.”

Orna Ross (founder-director of The Alliance of Independent Authors, and named by The Bookseller as one of the 100 mostOrna influential people in publishing) is the author of Blue Mercy, a tale of betrayal, revenge, and suspense. Her principal character Mercy stands accused of killing her tyrannical father, and now she wants her daughter to know what really happened that fateful night.

Orna says, “The mother-daughter relationship is one of the most fascinating, complex, and under-explored relationships in fiction. It was my hope, in writing the story of Mercy and her daughter Star, that it might help us all to look more closely at our own mothers and daughters.”

JaneThe mother-daughter relationship also features in Jane Davis’s An Unchoreographed Life. Prima ballerina Alison Babbage finds herself pregnant, and turns to prostitution to support her young daughter. Jane won the Daily Mail First Novel Award for Half-Truths and White Lies, and has gone on to self-publish four more acclaimed novels.

Jane says, “I wanted to address a major issue: the lengths that a mother will go to in order to provide for her daughter. I was gripped by a 2008 court case, when, in an interesting twist, it was ruled that a prostitute had been living off the immoral earnings of one of her clients. The case also challenged perceptions of who was likely to be a prostitute. She might well be the ordinary middle-aged woman with the husband and two teenage children who lives next door.”

In Crazy for Trying, the heroine Tulsa is a bookish misfit, says author Joni Rodgers. “Much as I was in my early 20s,” shejoni adds. “I also drew on my experience as the lone female disc jockey at a rock station in western Montana.” Joni is a New York Times bestselling author who’s also an accomplished ghost-writer.

The box set OUTSIDE THE BOX: Women Writing Women is the brainchild of Australian author, artist, and musician Jessica Bell. She’s also the editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the author of books on the craft of writing (the most recent is Polish Your Fiction). In her novel White Lady, Sonia, unfaithful wife of a Melbourne drug Jessicalord, yearns for sharp objects and blood. But now that she’s rehabilitating herself as a “normal” mother and maths teacher, it’s time to stop dreaming about slicing people’s throats. Easier said than done.

The spotlight here is on unlikely heroines. As Jessica says, “Though the seven novels included may fit through the Contemporary Fiction/ Women’s Fiction slot, they are all remarkably and uniquely different in style, which I believe to be a very strong attraction. There are readers out there who don’t like to read the same kind of genre, or about the same kind of characters over and over. This box set is for them.”

Roz Morris is a ghost-writer and teacher of creative writing master classes. “But I was busting to write as myself, with my own Rozcharacters, my own style and my own vision,” she says. Her novel My Memories of a Future Life is the haunting story of how one lost soul searches for where she now belongs. “My principal character Carol fits well with this collection of unconventional female protagonists. On one level, Carol is hardly an everywoman because her life has been unusual – she is a concert pianist. But the impulse that started her on that path, and ultimately undoes her, is certainly universal – she wants a place to belong and to feel loved.”

KathleenThis reader’s smorgasbord also includes Kathleen Jones’s novel The Centauress. A Royal Literary Fund fellow, and best-selling author, Kathleen contributes a story about a bereaved writer Alex, a young woman from a conventional background, who has come to Croatia to write the biography of a celebrity sculptor. Alex brings her own problems with her, and also encounters the puzzle of the eccentric artist’s ambiguous gender and a disputed inheritance. “As we were compiling books with unusual female protagonists,” says Kathleen, “The Centauress was the obvious choice.”

Outside the Box: Women Writing Women brings these uncommon heroines together in a limited edition box-set from February 20. It’s already had interest from the BBC, The Bookseller and the national press, and now it’s available for £7.99 for just 90 days across a range of ebook platforms. More info on www.womenwritewomen.com

Here are some short excerpts to give you a taste of the novels in Outside the Box:

From Blue Mercy:

We stay out until the bats start to appear and then we leave the lake and turn back the way we came down. I pick another flower, an orchid for my daughter’s hair, and we walk, with me just a shade ahead of you, through the slow-gathering darkness, back to the house where my father no longer lives.

From Crazy for Trying:

Trekking into Helena, Tulsa was somehow surprised by the full-size laundromats, buildings and Burger King. She’d half expected log cabins and free-ranging cattle and was a little disappointed to realize that, for all its legends of copper kings and Chinese muleteers, this town was still, on a mechanical level, the same as any town, including the one she’d just run away from.

From My Memories of a Future Life:

I wasn’t born gifted. It’s how I’ve cheated with the unsatisfactory clay I’m made from. When love went wrong, I turned to the intimate communion with ivory, iron, ebony and wire. Take the piano out of my life and what is left?

From The Centauress:

In every tragedy there is the accidental moment – choosing a particular seat on a train, turning down the wrong road, deciding to take a lift from the 89th floor – the arbitrary, pivotal moment that means destruction or survival.

From An Unchoreographed Life:

None of her mother’s friends ever stayed for tea or sleepovers, thank goodness – not like Emily’s mummy’s horrible bristly boyfriend, who transformed breakfast into a circus of broken eggshell and tossed pancakes, leaving washing-up piled high in the sink after he had basked in applause.

From One Night at the Jacaranda:

Superglue was a wonderful invention. They should have made some that worked on relationships.

From White Lady:

The warm soothing blood oozes from my skin and releases the pressure in my head as if I’ve injected myself with a sedative.

I drop the knife to the floor. It clangs on the tiles. I spread blood all over my arm and admire the patterns it makes on my skin.

Ibrahim. I miss you.

Outside the Box: Women Writing Women is a limited edition box-set available for £7.99/$9.99 across a range of ebook platforms. Details on www.womenwritewomen.com.

 

 

Saturday Spotlight: Alison Morton on Romans, self-publishing and the butterfly effect

We’re excited to welcome Alison Morton to the blog today.  She is the author of the Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers.  As the first alt history writer we’ve had on the blog we thought we’d start by asking about that.  Over to Alison…

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What is ‘alternate history’ and why did you want to write it?

It’s where the historic timeline has split at a ‘point of divergence’ in the past and the new timeline follows a different path from the one we know. Classic ones are what if the Germans had won the Second World War, or the Spanish Armada had succeeded in 1588? I sometimes wonder how English history would have developed if Elizabeth I had married and had children…

Sometimes, the change in history could have been caused by something quite small, but which eventually had a huge impact – the ‘butterfly effect’. In my Roma Nova books 400 Romans trekked north in AD 395 to found a new colony; their descendants survived into the 21st century and their existence has changed the rest of the world.

And why I wrote my thrillers in such a setting? I didn’t know you could change or ‘alternate’ the historical narrative until I read Robert Harris’ Fatherland. Perhaps my idea of a women-led modern Roman society could turn into a real story…

What gave you the original idea for the Roma Nova series? 

I was 11 years old and on holiday in north-east Spain. Fascinated by the mosaics in Ampurias, 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 early feminism peeping out or maybe just a precocious kid asking a smart-arse question. But clever man and senior ‘Roman nut’, my father replied, “What do you think it would be like?”

That idea bubbled away in my head until the novel writing trigger was pushed in 2009.

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Have you always had a great interest in Roman history? 

Yes! I think I clambered over every Roman ruin in Europe with my parents, but I loved it. So much that was left was elegant and solid; their history so concrete and purposeful.

As I grew older and studied the Romans more formally, I appreciated what a complex, clever and determined society they had made. ‘Rome’ in the West lasted for 1229 years – that’s the equivalent of from AD 785 to today. It passed from mud hut tribal subsistence farming to the heights of the Pax Romana with its rule of law, art and literature, trade, engineering, and ability to learn; Romans set the template for the western nations that emerged over the following centuries.

I don’t want to sound too much like the John Cleese video, but you get the idea I’m impressed! However, we should remember not everybody lived well, especially at the lower end of the social spectrum, but the majority of people had a standard of living that wasn’t achieved again until the nineteenth century.

How much research do you do for each book?
In my stories, the standard timeline had diverged 1600 years previously in AD 395. This gave me a known baseline of the end of the fourth century so I researched the social, economic and political conditions of that time. By then, much had changed, even the everyday stuff like coinage; solidi had replaced sestertii and denarii, for instance. Regional government was localising with ‘barbarian’ warlords acting less like client kings of Rome and more like autonomous leaders. The late fourth century was much less secure and prosperous than in the golden years of Vespasian’s or Trajan’s rule.

I had to consider what would seem important to the Roma Nova colonists in those transitional times: security, food, and hope, ultimately survival. Their core Roman values would have bolstered them and formed a social glue while they struggled for existence. Thus, I had to be sure what those values were and what Roman history was to that point.

And finally, a good general knowledge of/addiction to European history came in very handy!

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Why did you decide to self-publish?

I was getting full reads and ‘good’ rejections; “fresh, intelligent writing”, tight dialogue”, “good action sequences”, from agents and small publishers. I even had a full read from a US agent! Most concerns were about how to market “such innovative, high concept stories”.

My first book, INCEPTIO, had been through the RNA New Writers’ Scheme as well as other professional assessments. I was burning to get my stories in front of readers – they are the ultimate arbiters, so I investigated self-publishing.  I wanted my books to be have the higher possible production values and I opted for assisted publishing with SilverWood Books.

The main disadvantages of self-publishing are the terrible twins of visibility and discoverablilty, ultimately, of not being in the bookshops. The other one is bearing the cost of marketing. But the benefits are freedom, including the freedom to make horrible mistakes, but also to make decisions about your book at all stages, and the flexibility to choose timing to suit you and the proportion of your input into production.

What advice would you give any writer who is considering self-publishing?

Sleep a lot now because you won’t have any time once you start! Serious self-publishing is for the self-driven, but there is a lot of support out there whether you’re doing it completely DIY or using a publishing services provider. Two places to research options would be The Alliance of Independent Authors and The Independent Publishing Magazine.

Essentials include a properly designed cover, a thorough edit from an experienced and recommended editor and a well-formatted book. Readers hate trashy looking books and cannot abide bad formatting. Worst of all they are critical of overblown, ungrammatical prose, and rightly so.

As much as, or really more so than, traditionally published authors, self-published authors need to build a strong online presence. Even if you commission print books for local hand-selling or marketing purposes, the majority of your sales will be ebooks online. So start your blog now, open up a Facebook author page and get tweeting. I started my blog (www.alison-morton.com) on World Book Day three years before my first book, INCEPTIO, came out. When I launched INCEPTIO, I had a crowd of ready-made supporters to help me. But you may find you’re spending 50% of your time on promotion.

How do you go about promoting your novels?

Social media, talks, library and bookshop events, local fairs, fetes, etc. and writing articles. And, of course, appearing on blogs like The Write Romantics!

What’s been your most exciting moment as a writer? 

Can I have three? I really can’t choose!
– The arrival of the box of my first book, INCEPTIO.

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–  Simon Scarrow agreeing to endorse PERFIDITAS, my second book

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–  Broadcaster Sue Cook interviewing me at the launch of my third book, SUCCESSIO.

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You can check out the video of the interview here

What are your future plans?

Well, I’m finishing the first draft of book 4 in the Roma Nova series, set in the 1960s and 1970s. Romance does not run smoothly for our new heroine…

Then there are two more planned in my head.

Thank you so much for having me on Write Romantics – do feel free to ask me anything you like about Roma Nova, research or self-publishing here or via my site www.alison-morton.com

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.

INCEPTIO, the first in the Roma Nova series, which was also 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, which came out in June 2014, was selected as the Historical Novel Society’s indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014 and has also been awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion.

Connect with Alison on her blog http://alison-morton.com/blog/

Facebook author page  https://www.facebook.com/AlisonMortonAuthor

Twitter @alison-morton

You can buy the Roma Nova series as follows:

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INCEPTIO: http://alison-morton.com/inceptio/where-to-buy-inceptio/

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PERFIDITAS: http://alison-morton.com/perfiditas/where-to-buy-perfiditas/

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SUCCESSIO: http://alison-morton.com/successio/where-to-buy-successio/