November 2023 Author Interview
Historical Stories of Exile
Alison Morton and Elizabeth St.John
Anna Belfrage, Amy Maroney, Helen Hollick, Annie Whitehead, Helen Hollick, Cryssa Bazos, with a Introduction by Deborah Swift
Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is run by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue.
Alison blends her fascination for Ancient Rome 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 Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit.
Four good reasons for joining with other writers to produce a book of short stories:
· An opportunity to stretch your writing muscles,
· The fun of working in a project with writing colleagues (new and old),
· A chance to show your work to their readers and beyond,
· The discipline of a single theme and few characters.
Historical Stories of EXILE
Exile: a risky defiance, a perilous journey, a family’s tragic choice – or an individual’s final gamble to live. Exile: voluntary or enforced, a falling in love, or a falling-out between friends, a prejudiced betrayal – or the only way to survive persecution?
Join an inspiring Anglo-Saxon queen of Wales, a courageous Norwegian falconer, and a family fleeing back in time to escape the prospect of a ruthless future. Oppose the law with the legendary Doones of Exmoor or defy the odds with two brave WWII exiles.
Meet a Roman apprehensively planning exile to preserve the 'old ways', and a real Swedish prince forcibly expelled in heart-wrenching circumstances. Thrill to a story based on the legend of Robin Hood, sail with a queen of Cyprus determined to regain her rightful throne; escape religious persecution, discover the heart-rending truth behind the settlement of Massachusetts and experience the early years that would, eventually, lead to the founding of Normandy.
Experience the stirring of first love, and as an exclusive treat special guest author, Elizabeth Chadwick, reveals a tale about the 12th-century’s heiress, Isabelle de Clare, and the Greatest Knight of all time – William Marshal.
Thirteen authors present an exclusive collection of historical short stories on the theme of exile. Some are true history. Others are speculative fictional possibilities. Some are hopeful, some sad, but all explore the indomitable spirit of resolute, unforgettable characters.
Excerpt from ‘My Sister’ in Historical Tales of EXILE by Alison Morton
A group of Roman families is preparing to go into voluntary exile and found a new colony in the mountains of Noricum. But how can Marcellus Varus to broach this to the most awkward sister in all Rome?
Rome, summer AD 395
‘Have the maniae entered your mind and destroyed it?’
My sister, pale skin flushed and eyes blazing, was a change from her usual whingeing persona. She shook her head so fiercely that several strands of her curly hair became unpinned.
‘No, Flavola, and if the mad spirits had entered my head, it would make no difference. We’re going and that’s it.’
‘You can go on your own then, Marcellus.’
She stuck her chin out in the way a recalcitrant mule did.
‘It’s only a dinner and poetry recital,’ I said. ‘Maelia Mitela will not eat you.’
‘She’s snooty and ignores me. Take that time I told you about at the baths. She and Apulius’s daughter – the middle one – just gave me a curt nod, then she turned her back to me and went off to the caldarium arm in arm with the girl and didn’t say another word to me. She thinks that just because the Miteli have more consuls in their ancestors that she’s above me. She’s certainly above herself considering her husband was a traitor and she had to sell up to pay the fine.’
‘That’s an old story, and none of it was her fault. She just caught the brunt of it.’
I wasn’t about to disclose the efforts I’d made at the time to negotiate total confiscation of Maelia’s late husband’s estate down to a large fine. Flavola did not need to know that.
‘Are you still sweet on her?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. We’re old friends and I advise her from time to time about property.’
I fixed my eyes on the red and gold patterns at the top of the far wall. They gleamed in the light of the afternoon sun and the dancing gods and their flute boys seemed about to step down into the room. Frankly, any diversion would be welcome at this instant.
‘Is that all?’ Flavola’s eyes narrowed though she didn’t quite sneer at me.
‘Maelia Mitela is devoted to her family and does not think of another marriage.’
‘She rejected you? Ha! Good thing. I couldn’t stand her coming to live here. And take over the household keys.’
I was sure Maelia would rather be torn apart in the arena than live under the same roof as Flavola.
The Mitelus domus sat on the summit of the Mons Cispius, part of the Esquiline, so it wasn’t too far away. Flavola had appeared, decked out in a bright yellow dalmatica with orange embroidery and stripes which made her look like a basket of citrus fruit. It clashed with my late mother’s carnelian and gold necklace from which hung a heavy gold pendant. I remember being upset when my father had given it to Flavola’s mother when he’d married her as I always regarded it as belonging to my mother. Flavola would have an aching neck by the end of the evening which would do nothing for her mood. She stepped into the litter, pulled the curtains shut and didn’t say a word. I sighed, more to myself than out loud.
Flavola was my sister, so obviously I cared for her and protected her. But she had such a prickly manner that she’d seen off any number of suitors despite the size of the portion that she would take into her marriage. She had few women friends as she quarrelled with them with almost indecent haste after she’d met them. She was now twenty-two and I had no idea what to do with her.
Honorina Mitela, Maelia’s late aunt, said Flavola needed to keep a civil tongue in her head and not assume the world was against her. Her mother was my father’s second wife and had been very young, barely sixteen, when Flavola was born, and had probably transmitted her own nervousness and desperate need for recognition to her daughter.
Flavola had recovered her temper by the time we arrived at the domus Mitela and deigned to take my hand to step down from the litter. Inside, the steward ushered us through to the atrium where Maelia waited to receive us. Flavola took in an audible breath, then set her lips in a tight smile.
‘Welcome, Marcellus and Flavola. Please come and meet our other guests,’ Maelia said smoothly and smiled.
I nodded to Lucius Apulius standing behind her, a fellow senator and leader of our little group. I hadn’t explained to Flavola exactly what lay behind this evening; getting her here was struggle enough. Lucius’s daughter, Galla, came forward and took Flavola off to talk to some of the other women while Lucius himself and that scamp Gaius Mitelus drew me aside.
‘How are your plans progressing, Marcellus?’ Lucius was a serious man who wore a solemn expression every time I met him. Maelia said he had never recovered from the death of his wife more than a dozen years ago. Now he was planning an expedition of the most ambitious sort involving hundreds of people and the gods knew how much stock and baggage. I could see an endless procession of carts and carriages disappearing into a distant cloud of dust in my mind’s eye. A migration north to Noricum that would be permanent and a rupture from everything we knew. However, up to now, I had fought shy of informing Flavola and I was scratching my head about how to broach it with her.
Excerpt from Into the Light in Historical Tales of Exile by Elizabeth St.John
Boston, England: Spring, 1634
The rhythmic thump of an axe splitting wood echoed from behind the rectory as Elizabeth hurried home. Her pace was also driven by another layer of anger—this time fuelled by the infuriating conversation with the schoolmaster. As she had anticipated, he was completely opposed to girls receiving any formal education other than learning to sew or cook and knowing their letters so they could sign their name. When she had laid before him her dream of a school for young women, equipping them with an education far beyond that of copying the alphabet into their hornbooks, he had shrunk away from her. If he could have had the courage to lift his fingers in the old sign to stave off witches, he would have.
What an ignorant and petty man.
Pulling the ribbons on her bonnet, she ripped it off as soon as she ran through the gate, letting it dangle from her fingers, not caring that it caught on the rosemary hedge that lined the path. She tugged the pins from her hair and gingerly shook it loose, relieving the pain that the combined aggravations of Boston’s citizens had induced. Between the welt on her forehead and the injury to her pride, Elizabeth was eager to leave the morning behind.
Her husband was in his sleeves, his cream linen shirt clinging to his chest as he swung the axe on the stump of the old apple tree he was felling. His leather britches moulded to his muscular thighs, and his shoulder-length dark hair was tied back from his face—except for one thick lock that fell over his brow.
Samuel looked, she thought, like a young lord of the manor, with his fine features and athletic body. No one would have guessed he was a book-learned preacher who shared her passion for rhetoric and logic, Latin and Greek. When she had fallen in love with him, his sharp intellect and his devotion to God had been as attractive as his physicality. What had her brother Oliver said? “You have a man’s mind in a woman’s body, Lizzie. Use it well, and do not let it be lost in the mires of convention and society.”
“Elizabeth.” Samuel smiled as he stopped and leaned on the axe hilt, drawing his forearm across his forehead. “You look flustered, my love. Here, come and let me kiss you better.”
She stood a quarter turn away for a moment, seeking her calm, for she did not want to upset him with her injured head. His first reaction was always to fight for what was right, and if she presented her indignation as anger, he would respond with further fuel. Elizabeth did not need her beloved, hot-headed husband creating more havoc amongst his congregation. She stepped into his arms and relaxed as he closed them around her in a reassuring embrace. They stood together for several minutes until she felt the anxiety run from her and lifted her head to kiss him deeply.
“That’s better.” Samuel grinned as he smoothed the hair from her forehead, and then he gasped. “What happened here?”
Elizabeth took a deep breath. It was important she kept composed. “A misunderstanding,” she replied. “I stood in the way of a stone that was perhaps intended only to frighten me, not hit me.”
“You were stoned?” Samuel’s eyes narrowed. “Where? By whom?”
“No, not stoned. It was one flint that hit me by mistake. It made more of a cut than expected.” She took a deep breath. “In Boston market.”
“By whom?” he demanded again.
Elizabeth remained silent. Sharing this news would indicate a different path in life than that which they had planned. She knew that Samuel had encountered resistance from his congregations before they were married. He had been ousted from Lynn for preaching a nonconformist text. But they believed themselves safe in Boston, their living in Skirbeck protected by centuries of family ties with the ancient borough. Today’s incident in the market proved different.
“Elizabeth. You must tell me, or I shall find out for myself.” Samuel was already reaching for the jacket he’d tossed across the hedge.
“Some women. From our congregation—”
Elizabeth nodded and committed to the truth. “Samuel, they threatened to force you from town. They said your sermons contravene the word of God.”
“And that was the reason they threw stones at you?” He pushed his arm into his jacket, struggling because his hand was clenched as a fist and caught in the fabric of his cuff. Impatiently, he tugged at it, almost tore the cloth. “This is completely intolerable.”
“Just one stone,” Elizabeth repeated. “And I don’t think she intended it to hit me. Please, my love, don’t make the situation worse.”
“So you will just accept this?” Samuel was buttoning his jacket, searching for his hat, which Elizabeth could see was hanging from the branch of another tree in the budding orchard. Beneath the gnarled trees, the daffodils’ green spikes pushed from rich loamy soil, and a robin hopped along a branch, searching for insects. How peaceful this scene, how disturbing their conversation. Elizabeth struggled to equate the two.
“We need to talk,” she said quietly. “I fear this foretells of something much deeper than just one arrowhead or confrontation.”
He paused then, quirked his head to one side. “What do you mean?”
Elizabeth put her hands on his shoulders, drew close to him so he could see the serious intent in her eyes. “Your sermons are no longer acceptable to the small-minded people in Skirbeck.”
“I will not change,” Samuel said abruptly. “I will not preach a different message.”
“Then, my love,” she responded, “we may need to find a different congregation.”
What she didn’t know was where. Or how. For the worry of being ousted was one that had been hidden so deep in her heart that she didn’t realise it until just now.