|From the Writing Desk of Alison Morton|
From the writing desk of Alison Morton
Welcome to the French Village Diaries interview feature, From the Writing Desk, where this week, as part of the blog tour for her latest novel, Double Identity, I am delighted to be (virtually) joining author Alison Morton at her writing desk in France.
Alison writes thrillers featuring tough, but compassionate heroines including her award-winning Roma Nova series which one kind reader called “intelligent adventure thrillers with heart". Alison puts it all down to her deep love of anything Roman, six years’ military service, a masters' in history and an over-vivid imagination. Now she blogs, reads, cultivates a Roman herb garden and drinks wine in Poitou Charentes where she lives with her husband and where part of her new thriller Double Identity is set. As she hasn’t much to do, she’s drafting a sequel to that at the same time as her next Roma Nova novel.
Your writing space
Alison, how important is your desk space to your writing? Is your desk tidy and well-organised or creatively cluttered?
Alison: Down in the dungeon, sorry basement, lies part of the garage area we converted into an office using the IKEA Contract desking from my old UK office. That still looks good; the paraphernalia strewn over it, not so much. But it’s large enough to accommodate a standing desk with a Mac desktop and a sitting-at desk with a laptop.
Do you try and write at regular times of the day?
Alison: [Collapses in laughter] More seriously, I try to work on the current book draft in the morning. Usually it’s writing, but sometimes research which can be a huge time suck and complete enthrallment. Often, I get a second burst of writing push in the early evening when I’ve dragged myself off social media and other marketing delights.
Do you prefer to work to a deadline, and if so, do you set yourself daily or weekly targets?
Alison: I set a vague deadline, e.g. I must get this book out this year, but the biggest impetus is the fanbase that I’ve built up over the past eight years. I’m very aware they are waiting for the next book. At least, that’s what they say…
Wordcounts, hm. I aim for 500-1,000 a day. It varies so much because of research. You might have to spend half a day checking the calibre of Glock pistols, Roman warfighting tactics or the SNCF timetable for the Paris-Strasbourg TGV. Other times, I fly through the day and end up with 2,500 words.
Writing during Covid-19
As a writer, with a desk and computer at home, work would have continued for you throughout lockdown, but has the pandemic affected your motivation to write?
Alison: Ha! Yes, to some extent. I ended up writing a blogpost about it and nine ways to try to remedy it (see here). But it’s not easy. The key is balance between guilt and kindness to yourself.
In August, I was fed up with my dilly-dallying so set myself a 30-day challenge to write a daily blogpost on a writing theme. The pressure of doing that got me back into the groove. I did spread it over six weeks in the end as there was other stuff going on that I needed to blog about.
Do you think the content of your future writing projects will be influenced by the pandemic?
Alison: This is a great debate among writers! It depends what kind of book you are writing. I’d completed Double Identity when the pandemic hit and the story would have been impossible with masks and social distancing. If you were writing a story set specifically in 2020/2021 including the pandemic and consequences, those elements would need to be an integral part of the story. Very many fellow writers are not including it; I tend to prefer that as I feel we need escapist books at present.
Your latest novel
Double Identity is a very different book to your previous Roma Nova series, can you tell us a bit about it and where the inspiration came from? Is this a standalone novel, or will there be more from Mélisende des Pittones?
Alison: I can’t seem to keep away from thrillers! There two motivators. Conn Iggulden, the (rather wonderful) historical fiction writer, was reviewing the draft of INSURRECTIO, the third in the Aurelia series of the Roma Nova books. He gave me a terrific front cover quote, but also messaged me,
‘You clearly have the knack for fast plotting tension. I kept coming back to see what happened next.’
He suggested I recast one of my Roma Novan heroines into a modern day European agent and write a story as a crime thriller. So I did. Double Identity is the result. The second inspiration was that I wanted to write a heroine with strong French connections, preferably with one born and brought up here in Poitou.
This is the first of your books that is set in France, around the area where you live. Did you enjoy bringing your corner of France into your writing?
Alison: I loved it! Mel/Mélisende has a French father and English mother which reflects the dual French/English life I lead here (when not cowering in the house during the pandemic!). Poitou is rural, yet an ancient land peopled by the Pictones tribe before the Romans appeared on the scene. Mel finds tranquillity here and is very attached to her family and terroir, but she feels she has no role here. So at eighteen, she joined the French Army as a trainee NCO and has been very successful in her career. As well as some time in London, Double Identity takes Mel to other French-speaking areas – Brussels and Strasbourg – and she even has a bruising encounter with Canadian French! Spending ten days in Montréal and Québec certainly gave me an insight into it!
Life outside of writing
What do you look forward to, when you’ve saved the document and switched off the computer, as your treat at the end of the writing day?
Alison: A large glass of red wine or sometimes a more elegant flûte of Saumur bubbly
I know I have really missed a French café terrace, a café alongé and a spot of people watching, what aspect of normality have you missed most in the last year?
Alison: Lunch, definitely lunch out, and chatting to our neighbours over a glass of something. But I also miss the wider mental freedom to bumble about places e.g. a walk along the Thouet riverbank or though the centre of Poitiers without having to worry about being within two metres of others.
How would you normally celebrate the release of a new novel, and was it different this year?
Alison: I used to have big launch events both in the UK and France, carry out book signings and speak at events throughout the year, especially conferences. There’s nothing to compare with talking to readers at events, milling around between sessions and generally chilling surrounded by books. In 2020, three of the UK festivals where I was due to speak were cancelled. But for Double Identity, it’s Facebook, Twitter and blogs. I’m currently on this blog tour with another historical fiction writer ‘turned to crime’, Helen Hollick, then I go on a solo one in March. Hopefully, the sequel will be launched in person!
Thank you for taking the time out of your writing day to let me join you at your writing desk.
Double Identity the first in a brand new thriller series was released on 7th January 2021 and is available in paperback and ebook formats. Links to Amazon can be found below.
Buying links for Double Identity
Double Identity Blurb
Deeply in love, a chic Parisian lifestyle before her. Now she’s facing prison for murder.
It’s three days since Mel des Pittones threw in her job as an intelligence analyst with the French special forces to marry financial trader Gérard Rohlbert. But her dream turns to nightmare when she wakes to find him dead in bed beside her.
Her horror deepens when she’s accused of his murder. Met Police detective Jeff McCracken wants to pin Gérard’s death on her. Mel must track down the real killer, even if that means being forced to work with the obnoxious McCracken.
But as she unpicks her fiancé’s past, she discovers his shocking secret life. To get to the truth, she has to go undercover and finds almost everybody around her is hiding a second self.
Mel can trust nobody. Can she uncover the real killer before they stop her?
A stunning new thriller from the author of the award-winning Roma Nova series, fans of Daniel Silva, Stella Rimington and Chris Pavone will love Double Identity.