Posted in Reading, Writing

An Interview with Helen Hollick, Author of Cosy Crime and Much More!

In this week’s post, I’m pleased to share an interview with my author friend Helen Hollick, who during lockdown took to crime! Cosy crime, that is (or cozy, if you’re on the other side of the Atlantic from us).

cover of latest Sophie Sayers audiobook Also new this week: an interview with me has just gone live on the website of Saga Egmont, the award-winning audiobook publisher currently in the throes of publishing audiobooks of the first seven Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries. Click here to read my interview on Saga Egmont’s website. (Link will open in a separate window.)

Continue reading “An Interview with Helen Hollick, Author of Cosy Crime and Much More!”

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

Me & My Mini #5: Lizzie Lamb

cover of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes
The cover of my novella, hand-drawn by Rachel Lawston, depicts Mrs Morris driving off into the unknown in her magical purple Mini …

Although I’ve never driven a Mini, as a child of the Sixties, I can’t help but be charmed by this iconic car design, with its distinctive personality. That’s why I chose it to take Juliet Morris on her life-changing journey in my romantic comedy novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes.

Writing that story also made me curious about why so many of my author friends have chosen to drive a Mini, hence this occasional guest post series in which one of them tells the story behind their Mini.

headshot of Lizzie Lamb
Meet Lizzie Lamb, romantic novelist and Mini driver

Today I’m pleased to welcome Lizzie Lamb, whose romantic novels are based in the Scottish Highlands, a setting close to my heart too. Over to Lizzie…


Hello Lizzie and welcome! Please tell us, why and when did you buy your first Mini?

My/our first Mini wasn’t a Mini at all. It was a Wolseley Hornet (posh Mini) which my husband’s family bought him when he went to teacher training college in 1969. The reason I was attracted to him was because he was one of the few students who had a car. (Just kidding). I stayed with him long after the car went to the scrap yard and spent most of my grant keeping it on the road. So, it must have been love. LOL.

photo of the Wolsey Hornet
Not quite a Mini, but nearly

Our second mini we saw advertised in a newsagent’s window. Its elderly owner had passed away and it was free to a good home. We took it home, looked after it and then sold it on to an enthusiast years later.

photo of brown Mini
Given a new lease of life after its previous owner’s death

My car then was a Golf VR6 Automatic – a rare beast, and went like a rocket.

Our third Mini is mine, all mine.

photo of Lizzie with Mini
Third time lucky!

We bought it from a dealership in the Fens and it cost £2,500. I wanted a Mini Cooper with all the bells and whistles but couldn’t afford a Cooper-S. This fitted the bill.

Please describe it in as much detail as possible.

The only extras were Mini mats and a shoulder strap to stop the seat belt from rubbing on my collar bone. It came with two electric sunroofs, CD player, climate control, CD stacker and somewhere to plug in our cool box when we go off for picnics. My husband likes tinkering with cars so he got the climate control, door locks and reversing sensors working properly.

Due to the massive hike in petrol prices, we now go everywhere in my Mini and keep his Nissan El Grande for towing the caravan and his Triumph Stag for high days and holiday when the sun comes out.

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

As a writer of romantic fiction, I felt compelled to name mine: Jilly Cooper.

photo of Lizzie Lamb with Jilly Cooper
Lizzie (left) with fellow author Jilly Cooper at a Romantic Novelists Awards ceremony in 2018

I met Jilly in 2018 at an RNA awards ceremony and she was everything I hoped she would be, she signed my book and wished me well. #fangirl

Close up of name badge on car showing "Jilly" added
The four-wheeled Jilly Cooper!

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

I think because they are iconic, steeped in history and great to nip about it. They are reminiscent of The Italian Job, the Swinging Sixties and models learning to get out of them without showing their lingerie to all and sundry.

Mine is an automatic and, should I win the Lottery, I would probably upgrade to a Mini Cooper-S or a Countryman.

What do you most love about your Mini?

  • How ‘nippy’ and economical it is
  • Our original one could turn on a sixpence
  • The fact that you can park it just about anywhere
  • It fits on our very short drive

Oddly enough, two of our neighbours have almost identical Minis to mine and we kept saying that we’re going for a burn up on the A6 before we get too old.

What drives you nuts about it?

  • It’s a very ‘hard’ ride, the side impact doors are heavy and difficult to close, and there is no handle above the front passenger or driver seats to help me in and out of the vehicle.
  • Every time I push the front seat forward a warning light comes on and has to be reset or it’ll fail its MOT.
  • The sunshade is pathetically small and I have to wear my ‘Bill and Ben’ hat to shade my eyes from the sun.

Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?

It was in our Wolsey Hornet, actually. As students, we drove from Grantham to Fort William, stacked to the gunwales with camping equipment and two passengers in the back. Happy days.

What was your most exciting trip?

Our trip round Scotland, because of how far we travelled each day and the sights we saw: Edinburgh, Loch Ness, Inverness etc. I love history and the fact that we were able to visit Marston Moor, the site of a Civil War battle, en route to Scotland made the trip for me.

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

We bought my Mini from a dealership on the Fens. When we took it for a test drive, we pulled into a layby to check out the controls etc.

A blacked-out Range Rover pulled alongside, a man lowered the window and offered us drugs. That’s what being in a Mini will lead to . . .

Once, when we travelling along a dual carriageway and yanked on the handbrake, it came off in our hands, and we hurriedly had to pull in to a layby.

Also, I have a huge phobia about wasps and that’s why I can’t drive a convertible. Even so, a queen flew in through the open sun roof and I nearly crashed the Mini in my panic to escape from it.

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

My most interesting passenger was our parrot who went everywhere with us in a large ‘cat box’. He would chatter away nineteen to the dozen and join in with the music I played on the CD stacker. Not real words, naturally, although he did sing along with ‘What you gonna look like with a chimney on you’. I don’t know why that song appealed to him but it did.

My most difficult passenger is someone I used to give lifts to. However, she was never on time and was often horrendously late, making me late in the process. In the end I stopped giving her lifts because, as a very punctual person, I found her behaviour disrespectful and highly irritating.

What car do you drive now?

I still drive my Mini Cooper. I bought personalised number plates when I had my VW Golf and I’ve put those on my Mini. LI7 VWG almost looks like Liz, right?

What would be your dream car if money were no object?

  • For towing our 25 ft caravan, probably a Kia Sorrento or VW Tuareg.
  • For everyday travelling, probably a Range Rover.
  • As for Minis, a top of the range one with all the bells and whistle in either British Racing Green with go-faster stripes or purple like Mrs Morris’s.

If you’ve read Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, what did you think of her Mini and of her adventure?

I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read Magical Realism before. I preferred her magic Mini’s sat nav to mine (I use Google Maps on my iPhone).

Her Mini was a dream and I’d quite like one of those.

I also fancy a purple mini as it would match my novel covers. My favourite part was at the end of the novella. I love second-chance love stories.

What most surprised you about your Mini?

The fact that most people seem to have a soft spot for Issigonis’s classic and are keen to share their Mini stories with me.

Lizzie, thank you for sharing YOUR story of many Minis with me!

For anyone interested in sampling Lizzie’s romantic fiction, all set in Scotland (perhaps inspired by her favourite trip in her Mini!), Scotch on the Rocks is a great starting point.

photo of cover of Scotch on the Rocks

Ishabel Stuart is at the crossroads of her life. Her wealthy industrialist father has died unexpectedly, leaving her a half-share in a ruined whisky distillery and the task of scattering his ashes on a Munro. After discovering her fiancé playing away from home, she cancels their lavish Christmas wedding at St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh and heads for the only place she feels safe – Eilean na Sgairbh, a windswept island on Scotland’s west coast. When she arrives at her family home – now a bed and breakfast managed by her left-wing, firebrand Aunt Esme, she finds a guest in situ – Brodie.

Issy longs for peace and the chance to lick her wounds, but gorgeous, sexy American, Brodie, turns her world upside down. In spite of her vow to steer clear of men, she grows to rely on Brodie. However, she suspects him of having an ulterior motive for staying at her aunt’s Bed and Breakfast on remote Cormorant Island. Having been let down by the men in her life, will it be third time lucky for Issy? Is she wise to trust a man she knows nothing about – a man who presents her with more questions than answers? As for Aunt Esme, she has secrets of her own . . .

To order your copy of Scotch on the Rocks, click here. 

Find out more about Lizzie Lamb and her books, click here. 

To order your copy of Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, click here. 


Previous Posts in this Series

Me & My Mini #1: Anita Davison

Me & My Mini #2: Amie McCracken

Me & My Mini #3: Audrey Harrison

Me & My Mini #4: Alison Morton

Posted in Reading, Writing

Talking About Myself: New Podcast Interview Now Live

Back in January, I was pleased to be invited onto The Writer’s Mindset podcast to speak about writing cosy mystery (or cozy mystery, to my American friends). I also talked a lot about why and how I write what I write, and recommended some mystery books by other authors that I enjoy reading.

The podcast has just gone live, and as you’ll see if you watch it, I had a great time chatting with host Kristina Proffitt. The interview is topped and tailed by her co-host Ellie Betts, and I join them about six and a half minutes into the show.

Click the image below to watch it on YouTube, or via The Writer’s Mindset website here.

Although The Writer’s Mindset is aimed at writers rather than readers, I hope that whether you are a writer or a reader, you will enjoy listening to our conversation.

Approval from Australia

headshot of B M Allsopp
BM Allsopp. author of the Fiji Island Mysteries

I was pleased to receive the following feedback from my author friend B M Allsopp in Australia, whose Fijian detective series I mention nine minutes into the show:

Your voice is much as I would have expected and your books are exactly as you intended. It’s probably rare for an author to have such accurate insight into her own work. Your exposition of the cosy genre was also absolutely clear and enjoyable.

You may remember BM Allsopp was the guest on my blog last year, when I ran a series of interviews with authors who write books set in different countries around the world:

Introducing a New Series of Author Interviews: Travels with my Books #1 – To Fiji with BM Allsopp

A Quick Correction

By the way, do bear in mind that this interview was recorded back in January, and you’ll hear at one point that I say I’m not sure whether there will ever be a Sophie Sayers book 9. Well, I’ve changed my mind – and I’ll be telling you more about my new plans for Sophie and friends in a future post, very soon.

What do YOU like best about reading or writing cosy mysteries? I’d love to know! 


Posted in Writing

Me & My Mini #1: Anita Davison

Introducing a new occasional series of interviews with authors about their Mini cars

Beautiful cover design by Rachel Lawston of

When I started writing my new novella, Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, in which an unusual loan car takes the heroine on a lifechanging journey, the Mini was not my first choice of car for the central character, Juliet Morris.

Originally I’d intended to give her a red Fiat 500, but as I began to describe the sleepy, narrow lanes of the Cotswold countryside in which her journey begins, that car seemed all wrong. I realised a Fiat 500 would be more at home in the teeming, noisy roads of central Rome than on quiet English country lanes lined with ancient hedgerows.

My original reason for choosing the Fiat 500 was that for reasons of the plot, Juliet Morris’s car needed to be a relatively timeless model that had been in production a long time. Was there a more appropriate British equivalent?

Suddenly it came to me: the Mini, even more of a recognisable cultural icon than the Fiat 500. And it would have to be purple rather than red to look more at home among the greens and whites of the Cotswold lanes in spring.

Now, I’ve never owned or even driven a Mini, other than the MG Mini Metro, a 1980s hatchback that had very little in common with the classic Mini or its modern equivalent. But as soon as I started to tell my author friends about Mrs Morris Changes Lanes, many of them went into raptures about Minis they had owned.

I wanted to know more about why they were so passionate about their Mini, and I thought my readers might too, especially if they’d already fallen for Mrs Morris’s Mini.

Reviewers often express their desire for a car like Mrs Morris’s. If you read the novella, you’ll understand that their longing is nothing to do with the car’s classic design.

So without more ado, let’s welcome historical novelist Anita Davison to tell us all about her love affair with the Mini.

Anita Davison with Ralf, her latest Mini – a world away from the cars driven by the characters in her Flora Maguire historical mystery novels set around the turn of the 20th century

Anita, why and when did you buy your first Mini?

My first Mini Cooper was a gift from my husband in 2005 so I have no clue how much he paid for it. He asked me to meet him at a specific location at a certain time. I remember being annoyed at the time as I had things to do and it was a half-mile detour from my usual route so when I arrived, I was a bit prickly. I saw my son, daughter and husband all standing in the road looking extremely smug beside a blueberry-coloured 1.4 Mini Cooper with a black interior. It was obviously just out of the showroom. I gave the car a cursory look and was about to demand what they were playing at when they yelled ‘Surprise!!’

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

We moved to Surrey about five years later and it seemed the right time to trade it in for another vehicle. To be honest, I don’t recall what replaced it, but it was far less memorable.

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

Of course he had a personality of his own! He was definitely male – all Minis are male, aren’t they? So I called him Alice, after Alice Cooper.

What did you most love about your Mini?

Alice gripped the road beautifully, was very nippy, and left many more powerful cars for dead at traffic lights. He also had this little squeal in the power steering which always made me smile, like he was talking to me. Parking was a dream too as the square design meant I could see all four corners – this in the era where distance alerts were an expensive extra.

Where did your longest journey in your Mini take you?

Alice was a second, even a third vehicle, so used for mainly short trips – I think I only did about 8k miles in him in two years – so not very far! I did take him into Central London once and can honestly say I was put off completely and never did that again. Not because of Alice, but because of me!

What was your most exciting trip?

The above one into London – and was also the most hairy!

What most surprised you about your Mini?

Driving him made me feel more adventurous. Not reckless, but driving became a bit more exciting, and other Mini drivers would often give way, wave me on and smile as if we were all in a secret club.

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

No, not once, but then I only did short trips to places I knew well.

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

A writer friend came to London from New York and I went to fetch her from the airport. She was interesting in that it was our first meeting face-to-face. From the second she got into Alice, we chatted all the way home non-stop as if we had known each other for years. Which we had, but virtually. She loved Alice too and asked about her long after she went home to NY.

Was your Mini a one-off buy or did you stay brand loyal and buy more Minis later?

We bought another Mini Cooper two years ago – He is British Racing Green and called Ralf.

What do you miss about your first Mini?

I don’t, as Ralf’s out on the drive anytime I want some fun, but I do think of Alice sometimes.

What would be your dream car if money were no object?

I’m not much of a petrolhead – that’s reserved for the men in my family. Actually, scrap that, my daughter IS a petrolhead! To be honest, if I was in that position I would go for a JCW Mini Cooper S.

What did you think of Mrs Morris’s Mini in Mrs Morris Changes Lanes?

She reminded me of Alice, as physically they were very similar – In fact, I got quite nostalgic. Alice was special.

To what extent do cars feature in your novels?
I certainly do have motor cars in my novels, and I had fun researching them!

Flora’s husband Bunny is an enthusiast, but in the very early 1900’s it wasn’t a lucrative business to become involved in so he became a solicitor.  However, motor cars are an integral part of his life.

Flora is taken on a balloon ride by William, and she meets Charles Rolls, the joint founder of the Rolls Royce Company. The company only ran for about four years when Charles was killed in an air accident at a display at the age of 32. His older partner, Henry Royce changed the ‘RR’ emblem from red to black to honour him and it’s stayed that way ever since.

Anita, thank you so much for sharing your passion for your Minis with us, and for your kind permission to quote two extracts from your Flora Maguire Mysteries series below. In the first extract, Bunny’s interest in “horseless carriages” is instrumental in his making Flora’s acquaintance, and in the second, her father shows off his latest acquisition.

Flora and Bunny first meet on the deck of the SS Minneapolis over the bonnet of his, Panhard-Levassor Landaulet, one of the first motor cars built by a French company in the 1890’s. This was an A1 Model made in 1898

Excerpt from FLORA’S SECRET (Flora Maguire Mysteries Book 1)

cover of Flora's SecretFlora headed for the aft saloon deck, where land was no more than a blur on the horizon beneath the purple and navy of a darkening sky. A gust of cold air lifted the hair at the temples and she shivered, glad of her shawl. She passed a stack of steamer chairs piled beneath the metal companionway, the massive round winches on a deck empty but for a square, bulky shape under canvas, fastened down with thick ropes.

Flora recalled from Eddy’s lecture that the Minneapolis was designed to carry livestock, but sailed in ballast this trip, used to keep the vessel upright and discarded when the ship reached port.

The strange object stood a few inches taller than herself, several feet wide and distinctly square, but with vague shapes protruding from the front; that it was ballast seemed unlikely.

With a swift backwards glance to ensure she was not observed, Flora eased into a gap between the swaddled shape and a stack of fenders piled beside the companionway.

The oiled canvas proved heavier than she imagined, but a brief struggle and a determined tug revealed a rubber wheel more than two inches thick, beneath a curve of black-painted metal. Smaller than a cartwheel, the wooden section was painted in cream with thick spokes picked out in brown; some sort of wheeled cart, but much sturdier.

‘Magnificent, isn’t it?’ a male voice said at her shoulder.

Flora jumped backwards, her head colliding with the metal support, sending a sharp pain through the crown of her head. She raised one hand to her scalp and swung round to where a young man stood, his feet splayed and both hands tucked into the pockets of a dinner suit. His tie lay undone against the lapels of his jacket, the collar open on his throat and his fair hair in disarray from the evening breeze. Penetrating eyes of an indistinguishable colour in the low light behind a pair of rimless spectacles regarded her with unnerving intensity.

And he was laughing.

A reprimand rose to her lips, suppressed when he removed his hand from his pocket and held it out, whether to draw her from beneath the metal support, or to shake hers, she wasn’t sure.

‘I cannot tell,’ Flora snapped, taking small revenge by ignoring his hand. ‘Whatever it might be is still mostly covered by this canvas sheet.’

‘Quite right. And I shouldn’t laugh, not when you might be hurt? I apologize, but I’ve simply never seen someone look so guilty, and yet so angry at the same time.’

‘I’m not hurt, not really.’ Flora rubbed the crown of her head. ‘However, next time, I would appreciate some sort of warning before you creep up on me like that.’

‘Next time?’ His lips twitched. ‘Should I assume you make a habit of skulking round ships in search of treasure then? Because if so, you do know that makes you a pirate?’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Flora tucked in her chin, frowning. Either her throbbing head was making her dizzy, or he was deranged.

‘I’ve never met a pirate,’ he chattered on. ‘But as I always say, life is an adventure.’ He thrust out his hand again. ‘Bunny Harrington, pleased to meet you.’

Gingerly, she accepted his hand, startled at how firm and warm his grip was in hers. Her pulse raced uncomfortably, and, unnerved, she snatched back her hand.

‘Actually it’s a nickname,’ he said in response to her surprised start. ‘My real name is positively unmentionable.’ He guided her from beneath the overhang with one hand, his other at her waist. ‘Do you have a particular interest in motor cars?’

‘Is that what this is? One of those horseless carriages?’ Her thoughts flowed again, though with less clarity than normal, hampered by her throbbing scalp.

‘Indeed, yes. Would you like to see her?’

Before she could answer he had hauled the canvas aside, revealing what resembled a scaled-down hansom cab, but on four wheels as opposed to two, with a fifth wheel on a pole behind a sheet of glass where the driver should be. Instead of traces for a horse, there sat a rectangular metal box with rounded corners.

‘It’s, um – quite impressive.’ Flora stared, fascinated. ‘This is yours?’

‘She is indeed. He ran a hand gently over the fender in a caress. ‘A Panhard-Levassor Landaulet.’

‘They make these in America?’ Flora’s nerves receded and curiosity took its place, though her head still throbbed a little. Following his example, she stroked the caramel paintwork, surprised to find it was smooth as glass beneath her fingers.

‘This particular masterpiece is French.’ He adjusted his glasses by a sidebar. ‘I had her shipped over in the autumn to show to the Duryea Motor Wagon Company.’

‘And it really goes all by itself?’ Flora had seen pictures in the London Illustrated News of motor cars, but she had never seen one.

‘Not exactly.’ His bemused frown made him even more attractive. ‘She’s powered by a front-mounted engine with rear-wheel drive, a sliding-gear transmission—’ His mouth closed with a snap. ‘Well, never mind all that, I’m sure it’s of no interest to you.’ He pushed a hand through his hair, revealing a well-defined brow and arched eyebrows slightly darker than his hair. ‘Besides, I still don’t know your name.’

‘Flora. Flora Maguire,’ she said, disarmed by the intensity of his stare that made her think they had met before, but couldn’t possibly be the case.


photo of an Aster
As an affluent solicitor, Bunny graduates to an Astor

Extract from THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN (Flora Maguire Mysteries Book 4)

cover of The Forgotten Children by Anita Davison‘Master Arthur has been dressed and fed, Mrs Harrington, if you wish to visit the nursery.’ Milly, the nursery-maid, her face as expressionless as a mannequin in Selfridges shop window.

stood in the door frame, her gaze fixed somewhere above Flora’s head.

Didn’t the girl ever smile?

‘Thank you, Milly. I’ll be up in a moment,’ Flora replied, dismissing her.

‘What was that about?’ Bunny scowled as the door closed. ‘You aren’t usually so terse with the servants? Has she done something to annoy you?’

‘I now have arranged set times for my visits.’ At his incredulous look, she shrugged. ‘It’s the only way I ever get to see the baby. She would keep me out of the nursery altogether if she could.’

‘What do you mean?’ Bunny’s brusque tone demanded an explanation. Stokes could have set up a wine shop in the cellar for all Bunny would have noticed, but anything concerning the wellbeing of their son required his full attention.

‘Her manner makes me feel as though our son is like a new toy I’m not allowed to play with. Milly chooses his clothes and decides which toys he plays with and when.’

In Flora’s opinion, Milly was too young to bear the responsibility of their precious new baby, though Bunny had insisted she was well qualified. If only she was more animated; surely babies needed smiles and happiness around them?

‘He’s not yet five months old, darling.’ Bunny chuckled. ‘He doesn’t play with toys yet apart from the soft and fuzzy kind.’ He returned to the table and shuffled his papers into order, apparently having lost interest in the subject.

Flora sighed in frustration. The teddy bear Flora had bought Arthur was always missing from his crib when she visited, replaced by a surprised looking bunny rabbit. Its appearance always made her feel rejected, although the baby could not know the difference.

‘I took him to the park in his perambulator the other day,’ Flora persisted, conscious she sounded petulant. ‘When I got back, Milly told me I had kept him too long in the London air.’

‘Should I discharge her?’ He peered at her over his spectacles, though a smile twitched the corner of his mouth.

‘Er-no, don’t do that.’ The idea had instantly appealed only to be rejected again, replaced by practicality. ‘Good nursery staff aren’t easy to find. Besides, she’s very efficient and even I have to admit Arthur’s thriving.’

‘Then you mustn’t let her bully you.’ He slid the papers into a well-worn leather briefcase that sat on an empty chair.

‘Sally tells me the same thing. She doesn’t like Milly much either.’ Flora’s lady’s maid was a forthright young woman engaged partly because her mother-in-law disapproved. Flora had never regretted her decision, for Sally Pond had proved an asset during an encounter with a murderer the previous year. She couldn’t imagine life without her now, in spite of the girl’s forthrightness.

A discreet knock at the door followed by a cough preceded the return of Stokes.

‘Mr Osborne has arrived, Madam. I’ve shown him into the study to await your convenience.’

‘Thank you, Stokes.’ Flora glanced at the ormolu clock on the mantle as the butler withdrew. ‘He isn’t due for another half hour.’

‘Where is William taking you on this treat which he won’t reveal to anyone?’ Bunny hefted the briefcase in one hand and made for the door.

‘You’ve just answered your own question. He says it’s a surprise.’ Flora moved to the window that overlooked the street. ‘Now I know why he’s early. He’s come to show off his new acquisition.’

Bunny crossed the room in three brisk strides and gave a sharp intake of breath at the sight of a gleaming motor car that stood at the curb. ‘Good grief, it’s a Spyker!’

‘A what?’ Flora blinked at the admiration in Bunny’s eyes which reminded her of an intensity he normally reserved for her, and was now being shared by several passers-by on the street who had gathered round to admire it.

‘I suppose it is quite pretty,’ she said, feeling a need to show some enthusiasm. ‘I like the emerald green colour with the black outlines on the doors.’

‘She’s more than pretty. Beneath that bonnet is an eighteen-horsepower engine, a pressed steel chassis with solid axles and an advanced suspension system of elliptic leaf springs.’

‘Well, of course, that makes it all so much clearer.’ Flora rolled her eyes and reached up to plant a kiss on his cheek. ‘And now I know you’ll be happily occupied with William’s new toy, I can spend a few moments with Arthur before we leave.’

Bunny is impressed when Flora’s father turns up in a Dutch-built Spryker


cover of Flora's Secret
To join Flora at the start of her adventures aboard the SS Mesopotamia, read Flora’s Secret

Visit her website:

The five Flora Maguire Mystery novels, published by Aria Fiction, are available in ebook and paperback:

Flora’s Secret

Betrayal at Cleeve Abbey

A Knightsbridge Scandal

The Forgotten Children

The Bloomsbury Affair


Click the link below to find out more about Mrs Morris Changes Lanes and to order your copy in ebook or paperback:

Mrs Morris Changes Lanes

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.


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.


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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! 

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