Posted in Reading, Writing

Me & My Mini #4: Alison Morton

In my last blog post of each month, I interview an author friend on a fun topic that’s currently caught my imagination.

photo of Alison at the wheel of her Mini
Take a spin in a much-loved Mini with Alison Morton

At the moment my topic is anecdotes about their Mini cars, in honour of the magical Mini that features in my recent novella Mrs Morris Changes Lanes. This month’s guest is Alison Morton, author of Anglo-French thrillers and the Roma Nova historical novels.

Regular readers will remember Alison’s previous interview here last year about Roma Nova, the alternative post-empire Roman nation in her historical novels.

I imagine the heroine of Alison’s new series of Anglo-French contemporary thrillers, Melisande des Pittones might be comfortable in the driving seat of a modern Mini, especially if it was a souped-up version!


Hello, Alison, and welcome back to my blog. I think you’ve owned more Minis than anyone I know! 

Yes, I’ve owned seven Minis – four originals, one ‘supermini’ and two new BMW ones. My first was Little Grey Min in 69 when I learnt to drive and my second (new!) was a purple Mini.

Alison with her first Mini
It looks as if Alison has changed far less than the Mini since 1976!

How much did it cost and how much did you sell it for?

Little Grey Min cost my mother £350. It was a beautiful car that had had ‘one careful lady owner’ for two years. The family friend who owned the dealership had sold it to her originally and knew the car.

Purple Min was brand new and cost £995! I bought it when I started work in the City of London. Yes, it was s possible to drive and park a car in London in the 1970s.

How long did you keep them and why did you sell them?

This is all a bit fuzzy, but when I wanted to upgrade. People did in those days, usually every two years. I had a red Mini Cooper at one stage and then ended up with a yellow ochre 1275 GT. That could really move. It had what we called ‘wellie.’ I think it was quite expensive, even though I bought it second hand.

I replaced the 1275 GT with a new red MG Metro – a ‘supermini’. That was a lovely car with a lot of flashy bits and pieces (It was sold as a sports model; 0–60 mph in 10.9 seconds, top speed 103 mph) but very comfortable.

Then I got married and a year later, all the paraphernalia of baby equipment became a challenge… There was an interlude with sensible cars such as Maestros, Allegros and Rovers.

Then BMW revived the Mini brand. Not the same, but lots of nostalgic features.

Yes, I queued up with all the other baby boomers with a printout from the online design tool on the first day that ordering opened in the local dealership.

My first new one in March 2002 was British Racing Green with a white roof (swoons at the memory), then a few years later a dark metallic blue one again with a white roof.

Please describe it in as much detail as you can remember.

Little Grey Min had dark red seats, sliding windows that stuck in the damp, a cable hanging in the door to open it and a floor button starter. It was my beloved first car, but it did need watching for rust.

The BMW Minis were at the other end of the scale, as the photo shows!

Alison with her last Mini in 2007
Alison’s most recent Mini in 2007

Many Mini drivers seemed to feel compelled to name their Minis, as if they have a personality of their own. Do they have a personality of their own? What was yours called?

They ALL had personalities, but I unimaginatively called them by colour plus Min.

What is it about Minis that makes most owners feel so attached to them?

They are cute, cuddly, easy to park, cheekily different and FUN. Also quite trendy…

What did you most love about your Mini? What drove you nuts about it?

Rust.

Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?

Little Grey Min went with me to Leeds then France and Germany and finally back to Leeds when I was a student. Purple Min went to the South of France with a couple of friends. The others went on several trips to the north of England.

What was your most exciting trip?

After I passed my driving test in Little Grey Min in 1970, I collected my mother from the test centre where she’d been waiting and dropped her off home. Then I had to drive back to school through the middle of Tunbridge Wells at lunchtime BY MYSELF!

What most surprised you about your Mini?

That I was allowed to have such a wonderful car!

Did you ever have any accidents or any scary trips in your Mini?

Winter in Germany in minus 20C was ‘interesting’. Poor Little Grey Min had to wear snow chains for a few weeks. Boy, did they clank!

Accidents? Some fool bashed into the back of Little Grey Min when I was waiting at a roundabout. He was drunk. I had terrible whiplash later, but at the time, I jumped out of the car, stared at the huge dent in the boot door and burst into tears. Then I swore at the drunk driver, but his car was a worse mess.

Who was your favourite/most interesting/most difficult passenger and why?

The test examiner. No further explanation needed.

What car do you drive now?

I am a Mini person through and through, and I’d buy an electric Mini tomorrow, but it would be a vanity at 35,000€.

I share a VW Touran with my husband. We really don’t need a car each now we both work from home. But it’s very big (and a little bit dull…)

What do you miss about your Mini?

The fun, the cheekiness of it. The French have a lovely word for it ­– espièglerie.

In Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of Mrs Morris’s Mini and of her adventure?

Ha! Minis always open up opportunities and alternatives. The adventure was before you and, of course, you had the wonderful Mini on your side. Go, Mrs Morris!

book cover with backdrop of country lane
Mrs Morris Changes Lanes is available in paperback and ebook for Kindle – click the image to buy it from Amazon, or ask your local bookshop to order in the paperback for you

All About Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the twenty-first century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue.

She blends her deep love of France with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of the heroine of her latest two novels, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.

Connect with Alison:

On her thriller site: https://alison-morton.com

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

On Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton    @alison_morton

Read Alison’s latest thriller, Double Pursuit, the sequel to Double Identity.

front cover of Double PursuitOne dead body, two badly injured operatives and five crates of hijacked rifles. 

In Rome, former French special forces intelligence analyst Mélisende des Pittones is frustrated by obnoxious local cops and ruthless thugs. Despite the backing of the powerful European Investigation and Regulation Service, her case is going nowhere. Then an unknown woman tries to blow her head off.

As Mel and fellow investigator Jeff McCracken attempt to get a grip on the criminal network as well as on their own unpredictable relationship, all roads point to the place she dreads – the arid and remote African Sahel – where she was once betrayed and nearly died. Can Mel conquer her fear as she races to smash the network and save her colleague’s life?

Buying link for ebook: https://books2read.com/DoublePursuit


Previous Posts in this Series

Me & My Mini #1: Anita Davison

Me & My Mini #2: Amie McCracken

Me & My Mini #3: Audrey Harrison

 

 

Posted in Self-publishing, Writing

Why I Publish Books on Special Days

A post about how I choose launch dates for my novels plus a quick survey of other authors’ preferences

While I don’t consider myself to be superstitious, I’ve got into the habit of publishing each new book on a date that is personally significant to me.

Choice of publishing date is a luxury that only independent authors can enjoy:

We call the shots ourselves, rather than being dependent on the huge engines of trade publishing companies, which typically take a year or more to launch a book from the date the author delivers the final manuscript.

My first novel, Best Murder in Show, was launched on 1st April, 2017 – not because I was staging it as a practical joke for April Fool’s Day, but because it happens to be the birthday of my good friend and mentor, Orna Ross, author, poet, and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors, for which I’m the UK Ambassador.

Orna Ross, Debbie Young and Katie Fforde
Having fun with Orna Ross and Katie Fforde at the first Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival in 2015 (Photo by Clint Randall)

For my most recent novel, Murder Lost and Found,  I chose my daughter Laura’s 18th birthday. Not only was it of course Laura’s majority, but the novel marked a kind of coming of age for Sophie Sayers too, marking the end of her first year in her adopted village of Wendlebury Barrow and a new confidence and assurance for Sophie that has been developing throughout the series.

horizontal array of seven books in series

However, Murder Lost and Found won’t be the last you will hear of Sophie Sayers: I’m planning an eighth adventure for her, A Fling with Murder, for next year, and further spin-offs in my Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series of novelettes.

Which Dates Do Other Indie Authors Choose?

Being able to publish on dates that are important to me gives me great satisfaction – the icing on the cake of completing a project – but I wondered whether this habit was just personal whimsy or common practice. When I asked some author friends, I was gratified to find I’m not alone in my approach, as these examples show:

Historical novelist Clare Flynn, on her latest novel, Sisters at War, set in Liverpool during the Second World War:

“I chose May 1st 2021 to launch Sisters at War as it was the 80th anniversary of the terrible May Blitz on Liverpool in 1941.” 

(Find out more about that tragic event here: https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/liverpool-and-may-blitz-of-1941)

Alison Morton, who writes alternative history and thrillers, decided to make her Roma Nova short story collection a gift to herself:

“This was the first time I’d dared to put together a collection of short stories, so I thought it would be fun to give birth to it on my own birthday on 19th October. The stories supplement, precede or follow the stories in the core Roma Nova novels – little episodes of their own. It was delightful to wake up to a mix of “Happy publication day” and “Happy birthday” greetings. I drank bubbly that evening in double celebration.”

Other author friends have published to honour family members – for example, Pauline Baird Jones will launch Cosmic Boom on her late mother’s birthday, 20th July, and Kristina Adams published her non-fiction book, Writing Myths, on her grandmother’s birthday the year she passed away.

Tom Evans has a very appropriate strategy for Soulwaves : A Future History and Soulwaves: Insertions, both of which feature the Moon almost as a character:

“I published on the first new moon of the year, this year and last, and then followed up with snippets of ancillary, augmenting content every subsequent new and full moon. My choice of date may have no significance, but it keeps me aiming at something – with a reminder in the sky when not cloudy!”

Cover of Leaning into the AbyssAmie McCracken had a very specific reason for fixing the launch date for her latest novella, which is set in the USA and Mexico:

“I chose the Day of the Dead for Leaning Into the Abyss because it features as the day my protagonist finally figures out her life! (And it’s a story about grieving for a lost loved one.)”

cover of Five Leaf Clover by Mark HaydenMark Hayden had a more pragmatic approach for the ninth in his King’s Watch fantasy series:

“Some indie authors are a lot more casual about publication. I adhere to the belief that the best day to publish a book is yesterday, and I put them out as soon as they’re ready. However, even I admit that I rushed out the ebook of Five Leaf Clover a good week ahead of the paperback because the UK bank holiday weekend was coming up and I wanted to give my readers an incentive to buy it. I also admit that my wife did once tell me that under no circumstances could I publish a book on her birthday. I know my priorities.”

Which Book Will I Publish Next?

So when will I be publishing my next book and what will it be?

  • Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, a new standalone novella – fingers crossed for 1st August (my maternal grandmother’s birthday)
  • Scandal at St Bride’s, the third St Bride’s School novel – before the end of the 2021 (exact date yet to be decided)

I’m also writing May Sayers Comes Home, a novella about Sophie Sayers’ aunt; a travel memoir, Travels with my Camper Van, and planning new additions to the Tales from Wendlebury Barrow series of novelettes.

So I’d better get off my blog now and get writing!


cover of Murder Lost and Found

 

HOW TO ORDER MURDER LOST AND FOUND

Order the ebook from a choice of retailers here.

Order the paperback online here.

Or ask your local high street bookseller to order it for you, quoting ISBN 978 1911223719.

Posted in Travel, Writing

Travels with My Books #3: To Roma Nova and Across Europe with Alison Morton

Meet Alison Morton, thriller writer

Despite living in different countries, Alison Morton and I have been friends for almost ten years, each building our own worlds in our series of novels – mine inspired by my real life in the rural Cotswolds, and hers by her passion for Ancient Rome. 

Until her most recent novel, a contemporary thriller set in England and France, Alison’s fiction has been based around an alternative vision of how the modern world might have turned out if the Roman Empire had never entirely fallen. Alison’s love of all things Roman is addictive – she’s even inspired me to dust off my schoolgirl Latin and study the language further. (More about that here.)

I’m delighted to welcome Alison to my blog today to tell us about her gripping series of Roman-inspired thrillers, the first of which is Inceptio – and the start of her new contemporary series, which kicks off with Double Identity.


array of Roma Nova book covers
The chronicles of Roma Nova by Alison Morton

Hello, Alison, and welcome! Can you you please set the scene for us by pinpointing Roma Nova’s position on the globe? 

Ah, this is a bit of a problem as Roma Nova is an imaginary country! Let’s just say a semi-mountainous area in south central Europe.

Can you please give a brief introduction to the books you’ve set in Roma Nova. 

They’re thrillers featuring characters who are descendants of Romans who trekked out of Rome in 395 AD. Given the grim, bandit-infested circumstances of Late Antiquity and Early Medieval Europe they were forced to call on the fighting abilities of everybody, whether man or woman. Although retaining their Roman culture and values, in order to survive they changed their society radically and permanently. More below!

One set of four stories (Inceptio, Carina, Perfiditas and Successio) take place in the present day and revolve around Carina who was brought up in the ‘Eastern United States’, a slightly alternative version of the USA, and who seeks refuge in Roma Nova when an EUS government enforcer is hunting her. Carina’s mother was Roma Novan so it’s logical she flees there. She crosses cultures – never an easy process – but becomes well acclimatised to the more structured and straightforward society and is supported wholeheartedly by her grandmother Aurelia.

Winding back to the late 1960s, when Aurelia was a young Praetorian officer, to the early 1980s when she’s become Roma Nova’s foreign minister, the second set of four books (Aurelia, Nexus, Insurrectio and Retalio) tell the story of Aurelia’s battle with her lifelong enemy, Caius Tellus, and of her part in the great rebellion in 1980s Roma Nova.

Carina and Aurelia, while behaving courageously in their efforts to defend their families and their country, both find that the ‘path to true love’ is both uneven and full of potholes.

What makes this place such a great setting for your stories?

Well, mountains usually mean tough people, and that’s a prime characteristic for the Roma Novans whose society has survived through thick and thin for sixteen centuries. I needed a setting able to shelter and nurture a small group of semi-refugees yet be roomy and varied enough to support an expanding population over time. It had to be fertile and support mixed farming in order to feed everybody, yet defensible from most comers over the centuries. Alpine and semi-alpine landscapes are perfect for this, which meant somewhere in south central Europe like Carinthia/Slovenia was ideal. Alpine areas have well-defined passes and routes through them, perfect for modern transport such as trains and fast roads in the twenty-first century.

array of photos of people and places of Roma Nova
A glimpse of Roma Nova

What is your relationship with the setting for your stories and how much of your life have you spent there?

Well, nobody can spend time in Roma Nova, much as they’d like to, but I’ve enjoyed several walking holidays in Switzerland, Northern Italy and Austria so I have a ‘feel’ for this type of landscape, plus as a ‘Roman nut’, I have clambered over most of Roman Europe. Last year, I had a three-week trip to Carinthia and Slovenia planned including a tour of the Julian Alps and a private guided visit to Virunum near Klagenfurt where the founders of Roma Nova met. Sadly, it had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic. But I’ll get there…

What is special about the people native to Roma Nova?

Essentially, they’re direct, hard-working and inventive – pretty much like their ancestors. But just like the original Romans, there are corrupt, greedy and criminal elements. However, there is one outstanding difference to their society from most Western societies – it’s governed by women. This dates from earliest times when daughters and sisters had to heft a sword and fight alongside the men to fend off invaders; there just weren’t enough men in the tiny colony. Older women farmed, traded and ran families and society away from any fighting, and kept the country going. And this became entrenched over the centuries. This gender balancing does upset outsiders though – but that’s their problem, as the Roma Novans say.

array of headshots
Meet key characters from Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series

If your protagonist or other characters come from elsewhere, what challenges do they face dealing with the local people?

Roma Novans are self-reliant but like to co-operate with their neighbours and are courteous with outsiders unless they attack or attempt to hurt Roma Novan interests. Then those outsiders had better watch out. The justice system is strong and fair and the police (vigiles, later called custodes), while polite, don’t stand a lot of nonsense. Roma Novans are generally well-educated and enjoy a very good standard of living. Although they speak both street Latin and the classical version, most Roma Novans are competent in English and Germanic and many know French and Italian, so visitors can be easy.

What are the distinguishing features of Roma Nova in terms of geography, geology, flora, fauna or any other detail you care to mention?

You probably have to like mountains, the smell of pines and snow! But you’ll also find fields of spelt, oats and barley, dairy farms, orchards, vines in sheltered valleys and lots of market gardens along the course of the main river. Of course, in the city you have public buildings, traffic jams, international retail, hospitals, schools, businesses as you would anywhere else, but also a forum, temples and senate house. But yes, the air is fresh and can get bracing up on the high alp pastures in early spring.

What are your top tips for any readers planning to travel to the setting of your book?

Keep an open mind, make sure you have the correct visa and be ready to enjoy a rich cultural life as well as many open air activities like climbing, horse-riding and walking.

“Only in Roma Nova” – name three things that could only exist/happen there!

  1. Games in the amphitheatres (sports competitions rather than fights to the death!)
  2. Wonderful public baths on the traditional Roman system (but with very high public health hygiene standards!)
  3. People in traditional tunics and sandals especially on warm summer days. The young tend to stay sweltering in tight jeans even in the warmest summers as they think it’s uncool and roll their eyes at their parents. The parents look at them cynically and think, “They’ll learn.”

Are there any other authors’ books with the same setting that you’d like to recommend?

Ha! As far as I know, none exist.

Where is your latest book set?

Double Identity is a departure from the imaginary Roma Nova as it’s set in the ‘real world’. Well, as real as any world in fiction is. We switch between London, Brussels, Strasbourg and Poitou in western France. Why? While Conn Iggulden, the distinguished historical fiction writer, was very kindly endorsing Insurrectio, he asked me why I didn’t take one of my heroines into the real world as a European agent, rather than as an ‘alternative’ Roman. I still had three books to write in the Roma Nova series, but how could I resist such a challenge?

I always wanted to write a heroine with a strong connection to Poitou where I live. Mélisende/Mel des Pittones, although she has an English mother, is like most French people very attached to her native region. Her family has deep roots going back centuries; even her name reflects the old Pictones tribe of pre-Roman times.

I’ve spent a fair proportion of my life in France, so I feel thoroughly at home in this setting. Like Mel, when I go back to London, it feels strange as if everything has shifted since I was last there.

But Mel, who has just finished serving in the French Army, has to buckle up and solve her fiancé’s murder which turns into a full-blown conspiracy, whereas I can sit and write peaceably in the clear light and fresh air of Poitou.

Where will your next book be set?

Ah, I have two ‘next books’. How daft is that?

  • One will be set in Roma Nova, back in the late fourth century when Carina and Aurelia’s founding ancestors meet.
  • The other, which I’m concentrating on at the moment, is another adventure for Mel which centres on Brussels, Poitou, Rome(!) and the mysterious and dangerous Sahel region of Africa where Mel did three tours during her time in the French Army. There is unfinished business there as well as a shadow game and an incredibly dangerous enemy intent on her destruction.

EXTRACT from Double Identity

The first in Alison Morton’s new series of contemporary Anglo-French thrillers

[Mel is in the family home in Poitou, waiting…]

 Every day since she’d returned from her assessment with her former unit, Mel had watched for the moment when the hands of the gilded Delettrez clock on the mantelpiece approached half past eleven. It was the third of January now and she’d heard nothing. She went to the kitchen, grabbed the yellow-fobbed key off the row of key hooks and jogged down the drive to the tall gates. Through the gate bars, she’d watch the almost silent electric La Poste van glide up the narrow, metalled road. The same woman had delivered letters and parcels for much of Mel’s life.

This morning, Marie-Anne pulled herself out of her yellow van and brandished a fistful of letters.

‘One for you, Mademoiselle Mélisende. From the minister himself.’

Mel doubted it. She unlatched the gate and pulled it open. After the obligatory kissing of cheeks, and a signature for the letter sent by registered post, Mel took the letter.

République Française, Ministre de l’Intérieur on the upper left edge of the envelope and addressed to Sergent-chef des Pittones. Marie-Anne leant over, excitement plain in her eyes, but Mel slipped it into her pocket.

‘Thank you, Marie-Anne. Don’t bother to put the rest in the box. I’ll take them. Bonne continuation.’ Thus dismissed and disappointed, the postwoman trudged back to her yellow van, executed a perfect three-point turn and disappeared into the fog.

Dodging round Madame Blanc, the cook, as she prepared lunch, Mel made herself a coffee and settled on the pale green sofa in the drawing room. She glanced at the envelope. Somebody must have used the wrong one for her posting letter. It should have come from the defence ministry. Maybe it was some kind of extra security check on re-enlisting. She ripped it open.


ALL ABOUT ALISON MORTON

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough, but compassionate heroines. She blends her deep love of France with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical, adventure and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.

Grips like a vice – a writer to watch out for” says crime thriller writer Adrian Magson about Roma Nova series starter Inceptio. All six full-length Roma Nova thrillers have won the BRAG Medallion, the prestigious award for indie fiction. 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. The Bookseller selected Successio as Editor’s Choice in its inaugural indie review.

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, where part of Double Identity is set and is writing a sequel as well as continuing her Roma Nova series.

CONNECT WITH ALISON MORTON

Connect with Alison on her thriller site: https://alison-morton.com

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison_morton

Alison’s writing blog: https://alisonmortonauthor.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/alisonmortonauthor/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5783095.Alison_Morton

Alison’s Amazon page: http://Author.to/AlisonMortonAmazon

Newsletter sign-up: http://eepurl.com/ckNeFL


Next month: join Carol Cooper for a trip to Egypt with The Girls from Alexandria – a cracking new novel, hot off the press, that I’m enjoying reading right now! 

(To receive each new post in your email inbox, just type your email address in the box beneath the “Follow Blog” button in the sidebar to the right of this post.)

Posted in Writing

My Favourite School Story: The Adventures of Jennings – with Alison Morton

array of Jennings books
Anthony Buckeridge’s Jennings stories – an addictive series

In this last of my series about favourite school stories, which I launched to celebrate the publication of my own school series for grown-ups, Staffroom at St Bride’s, I’m delighted to welcome thriller writer Alison Morton to talk about her choice: the Jennings series by Antony Buckeridge. These hilarious books were my personal favourite when I was growing up, although they seemed dated even then.

Alison Morton with Jennings books
Alison Morton shares her love of Anthony Buckeridge’s school stories

Set in a traditional English boys’ boarding school, and written by a former prep school teacher, the series revolves around the spirited, well-intentioned Jennings and his cautious best friend Darbishire. What I liked most about it was the humour, and it came as no surprise to me to learn recently that one of Buckeridge’s writing heroes was P G Wodehouse. (One of mine, too!)

I especially adored the language, peppered with posh schoolboy slang that I’d never come across in real life – a “wizard wheeze” for a good idea, and so on. (More on that in a moment from Alison.) But I could never use those terms in conversation, as only fellow Jennings fans might understand them. Which is why I was especially pleased to hear that Alison Morton was on the same wavelength.

Over to Alison now to tell us more…

Please give title, author and a brief description of the book.

Jennings Goes to School by Anthony Buckeridge.

It’s (John Christopher Timothy) Jennings’s first term at Linbury Court prep school. He befriends clever, but socially inept vicar’s son Darbishire, foxes into town in disguise, accidentally kicks the Archbeako (headmaster) on the kneecap while practising his football-skills, displays too much (or not enough) initiative during fire practice, and has a hair-raising incident with a poisonous spider. The expression ‘getting into scrapes’ must have been invented for Jennings, but he has such a genuine sense of honour it’s hard to be cross with him!

How old were you when you first read it, and how often and at what age have you reread it?

photo of Alison in school uniform aged 11
Alison first “met” Jennings when she started secondary school

Ha! I think I was eleven, as I remember borrowing it from the library in my new school when I was in the Lower Thirds (equivalent of Year 7 today). I re-read it recently, and let’s say it’s several decades on from when I was first enthralled by Jennings and Darbishire.

How has your perception of the book changed with later readings?

I was surprised to find myself still chuckling. Either author Anthony Buckeridge was a very clever man or I still have an infantile sense of humour. Actually, I probably laugh at different places today. And although Jennings is impetuous and sees the world in a very specific way, I still find him endearing and, in his own way, logical. I probably don’t find him as exciting as eleven-year-old me did as I have done more exciting things during my own life!

What did you particularly like about this book/series and about the author? Anything you disliked?

The humour (and there is plenty of it) rests on misunderstandings resulting from Jennings’s literal-mindedness and impetuosity. In the earliest novels in the series there are some Latin puns; these were often omitted from later reprints which is a pity, but times changed from the 1950s and few children now learn Latin. Comradeship, behaving fairly and a desire to ‘do the right thing’, even though the school staff might not agree with the boys’ view of what that right thing was, runs through the books.

The earlier novels including Jennings Goes to School present an idealised version of small town, middle-class English life in the 1950s and mid-1960s which is the period I went to school in Tunbridge Wells, so a lot of the environment was what I considered ‘normal’.

But for me, who loved playing with words, spoke passable French and was learning Latin, the coolest thing (although we didn’t say cool then) was the invented language.

Post-war slang ‘wizard’ generally meant ‘good’ or ‘very good’. ‘Ozard’ that the boys use derives from ‘Wizard of Oz’ and was used to describe anything the boys disliked or dreaded.

It was also used to describe the anger of Mr Wilkins, Jennings’ form master, which could be ‘ozard’. ‘Ozard squared’ and occasionally ‘ozard cubed’ implied the direst of occurrences!

I have to confess that we still use ‘bish’ in our family to describe a mistake and will often ‘square’ or ‘cube’ something that’s very unfortunate.

Which character did you identify with?

It has to be Jennings, but I do sympathise with Darbishire on occasion. As an adult, I can sympathise with ‘Old Wilkie’ being completely unsuitable in temperament to deal with a class of bright, lively little demons.

How did it affect you as a child and influence you as an adult?

Even though it was written about boys, this and the other Jennings stories were set in a children’s world where exciting things happened. I was extremely fortunate to be brought up by a mother who was determined to treat her son and daughter equally and my father agreed. I couldn’t see why girls and boys shouldn’t have the same adventures.

Jennings’ world was one I could escape to when my school had been particularly insistent on me behaving like a young lady rather than just a child.

How did it affect your writing?

Hm, interesting question. Perhaps it gave me a wish to read books only with snappy dialogue and a succinct style and plenty of action. And as we write what we would like to read, I hope I have passed this partiality onto the readers of my Roma Nova series.

In that equally imaginary world, my first heroine Aurelia’s child is home-schooled in the 1960s with a tutor although she did attend a private girls’ school in London when Aurelia was posted there. In her early days, Carina, my second heroine, and still Karen went to the local state school in rural America. Her children in Roma Nova went to school in the 2010s after initial nursery education at home.

What type of school(s) did you go to yourself?

A Church of England primary school which actually had an unofficial admissions policy. My mother, a teacher herself, had sussed this out and revealed this to me years later. It had an 80% pass rate of the 11 Plus (the national school exam that determined what kind of senior school you went to) and highest entry into grammar school in the area. Talk about hothouse! We didn’t know anything about that – it was just school.

I went on to one of the local grammar schools – Tunbridge Wells County Grammar School for Girls (as it was called then.) Famous alumnae include comedian Jo Brand and tennis player Virginia Wade. It was at TWCGS that thanks to Latin classes I discovered the rude poetry of Catullus, a book of which I actually gave to Carina, the heroine of Inceptio, my first Roma Nova novel!

Were your friends also fans or did you feel that this was your own private world to escape into?

Oh no, Jennings was definitely my private world!

Would it still resonate with young readers today?

I think so. Anthony Buckeridge was still writing the stories in 1994, although he changed some of the content with the times while keeping the basic concept intact. The themes of interacting with others in your group, acting equitably, trying to make your way through the bewildering business of school and growing-up are universal even though expressed differently today. My son went to a local prep school for a while in the 1990s before transferring to grammar school, and there were definitely some resemblances to Jennings’ Linbury Court!

It was a (surprising) pleasure to re-read Jennings and thank you, Debbie, for nudging me to rediscover that world.

Thank you, Alison, for sharing your passion for the Jennings school stories. I hope our shared enthusiasm will encourage more 21st century readers to discover his joyous world. 


About Alison Morton

cover of Double Identity by Alison Morton
Available to pre-order before its 7 January launch

After tearing round Europe clambering over Roman ruins, serving six years in uniform and collecting an MA in History on the way, Alison settled down to write the award-winning Roma Nova alternative history thriller series of nine books. Her first psychological thriller, Double Identity, will be published on 7th January 2021 and is now available to pre-order here.

Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: https://alison-morton.com

Introduction to Alison’s Roma Nova series,  via the first series, Inceptio:

cover of Inceptio by Alison Morton
The first in Alison Morton’s alternative history thriller series set in Roma Nova

“It’s about blood, survival and money. Mostly yours.”

New Yorker Karen Brown is running for her life. She makes a snap decision to flee to Roma Nova – her dead mother’s homeland, and last remnant of the Roman Empire in the 21st century. But can Karen tough it out in such an alien culture? And with a crazy killer determined to terminate her?

Store links for Inceptio:
Order paperback here
Order ebook here


That’s all from my Favourite School Stories series for 2020. Next year, I’ll be introducing a new monthly guest post series to my blog: Travels with my Books, exploring books set in other countries and times. 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

My Interview on Alison Morton’s Blog

Selfie of Debbie Young with Alison Morton
Selfie with Alison Morton at the Romantic Novelists’ Association annual conference in July 2014

This post gives you the link to my interview by thriller writer Alison Morton and fills in a bit of background. 

I’m very pleased to be interviewed on Alison Morton’s action-packed author blog, under the deeply flattering headline “Debbie Young – Marketing Superstar”. (She knows how to charm, does Alison!)

In it, her interesting questions include a query as to whether I’ll ever write a novel and, if so, what would it be about. Hop over to her blog to find out the answers, and also to read more about her terrific Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers (or alternate history, as the Americans call it, to the irritation of purists everywhere).

Here’s the link: Debbie Young’s interview on Alison Morton’s blog

More about Alison Morton

Cover of Inceptio by Alison MortonI’ve known Alison for a couple of years, during which our writing careers have been running in parallel.Not long after SilverWood Books published my authors’ marketing guide Sell Your Books!, Alison launched her first novel, Inceptio, assisted by SilverWood’s excellent author services.

Although Alison is energetic, computer-savvy and tremendously clever – in short, capable of doing all the self-publishing work herself – she preferred to delegate it to SilverWood, freeing up her own time to devote her time to writing and marketing her books.

At the SilverWood Open Day last September
At the SilverWood Open Day last September

Her strategy paid off, because she’s now published three books in the series – Inceptio, Perfiditas and Successio – and is writing the fourth. Her books have had fabulous reviews (including some from me here), they’ve won all sorts of awards, and she’s just been snapped up by A for Authors agency for her subsidiary and foreign rights.

Ironically, although Alison now lives and works in France, and I live in England, I’ve seen her more often than any other SilverWood author lately, our paths crossing at the London Book Fair, SilverWood’s Open Day, at the RNA Conference earlier this month, and other authors’ launches.

Cover of Successio
Alison’s latest book in the Roma Nova series

Or maybe it just feels that way because she has such a high profile on line. She’s also guested on my Off The Shelf Book Promotions blog, her latest appearance being to share her top tips for book promotion here.

Either way, she’s a great role model for any aspiring self-publishing author, and, as you can see from our selfie above, a lot of fun.

And if you’ve read this far without visiting my interview on her blog, do it now! Here’s that link again: Debbie Young’s interview on Alison Morton’s blog