The View From Here Interview: R.N. Morris
Part 1 of this interview can be found here
and my review of A Vengeful Longing here.
What was your first published work, are you a full time writer and if so, how did it develop alongside your day jobs?
My first published work was a short story for a woman’s magazine. Actually it was a magazine aimed at teenage girls. I was still a student, which was a long time ago. I followed that up with a couple more for the same kind of magazine. Then I decided I would write a novel, and that was where it all started to go wrong! Basically it took me years to get a novel published, and I have a stack of unpublished novels tucked away beneath the bed, or somewhere. I’m not sure how many! I have been writing full time for about a year now. Basically I stepped away from my day job in order to write A Razor Wrapped in Silk. Now that I’ve finished that book, effectively, I suppose I am out of a job! Before that I was working as a copywriter. I was lucky because I was able to work three days a week and have two days each week for my own writing.
You seem to favour a PC rather than longhand. What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Actually, I write a lot in longhand. I think I wrote all of the current book in longhand, typing up as I went along and then editing on PC. My method before that had often been to begin writing longhand, transfer to PC and carry on writing on PC once I was in the zone. But I consciously decided to write everything longhand this time. For one thing it took me away from the computer, which I see as much as a distraction as a tool these days. More of that later, though! Must-have tools for a writer – a range of pens in different colours, colour-coded index cards, big pads, comfy chair, coffee pot, computer, printer… white board, pin board… ummm…. waste paper bin. I’m sure there’s some other stuff too.
At what point in your career did you get an agent?
I’ve had my current agent for about ten years. Before that I had another agent and it was through her that I got my current agent. What happened was that the agency she worked for was taken over and she was out of a job, though she did successfully set up as an independent. However, she wasn’t able to take me on because she was focusing on children’s writers. So she contacted my current agent and he agreed to look at a manuscript. He liked it but had some reservations, so we met and discussed it. I revised it, he read the new version, liked that a lot better and took me on. Sadly, he was unable to place that manuscript. Or the next. Or the next. Or the next! You get the idea. But he stuck with me and I stuck with him, and eventually I managed to write something he was able to sell.
Does plotting crime come naturally to you? How do you manage to know whodunit but give the reader only hints all the way along and make it all match up?
I do enjoy the plotting stage of writing, though it can be frustrating at times, when you seem to hit an intractable problem. But I am great believer that there is always a solution. I do my plotting like I do everything – by instinct. It’s very flattering that people seem to enjoy that aspect of the stories. It is something I work at quite hard. I think all those techniques are just a way of tricking the subconscious into giving up its secrets. Writing stories is a kind of controlled, conscious dreaming. Your subconscious knows all along where you are going to take the story. You have to tease it into revealing its secrets.
You have four rather humorous YouTube videos in a series “the writer’s life”. In one you talk about your ‘amazon’ ranking. Do you really look at your ratings, or review online reader feedback comments?
Well of course. One of the things you realize very soon is that there is no one to do this stuff for you. You might expect that I would have someone at my publishers who is paid to check my amazon ranking for me. But sadly that is not the case. It’s just one of the things that an author has to take on.
You’re on the social networking writers’ sites Crimespace, The Red Room, and you have TWO MySpace pages. What role does the Internet play in your writing career and what advice would you give to unpublished writers with no online presence?
I am prepared to do anything I can to help make my books a success. Myspace has been very useful in that it has put me in touch with readers, booksellers and reviewers. One contact led to a podcast interview on The Writing Show. Another led to a bookseller in America who really got behind the book and started handselling it in her store. I even got contacted through Myspace by an MA student in Poland who is writing a dissertation about Dostoevsky and me! I only did all this stuff once I had a book published, or about to be published. It didn’t seem necessary before that. I think the only online activities I got involved in as an unpublished author were using it for research, and belonging to a writers’ community. In fact, I belong to two writers’ groups, writewords.org.uk and zoetrope.com. They are a great source of support and encouragement. But somewhere like that is also a place where you can have your work critiqued.
Assuming you will one day be on Desert Island Discs, which book and which useless, inanimate object would you hope to take with you and why?
My book would have to be Crime and Punishment. Useless, inanimate object? Hmmm… that’s a tricky one. My cat is useless, and inanimate for most of the time. I might take a guitar, if that’s allowed.
What is coming up next for you in terms of events or publishing news?
I will be at the Bristol Crimefest in May, taking part in a discussion on historical crime on Sunday May 17th. My next novel is scheduled for publication in early 2010. I have also written the libretto for an opera by the composer Ed Hughes about Jean Cocteau, called Cocteau in the Underworld. Scenes from it are going to be performed at the Brighton Festival on May 4.
Do you read other crime writers’ work for pleasure, for study of the competition or to improve your own writing? Is it possible for you read a crime novel without dissecting it?
To answer the first part of the question, a bit of all three. To answer the second part, yes and no. I do read books like an ordinary punter, but at the same time there is a part of my brain working away at how the author does what they do.
What are you reading currently?
War and Peace, as it happens. I’m embarrassed to admit I have never read it before and felt that I ought to. I am really enjoying it. It’s a great read, truly. Utterly gripping. Mind you, there are rather a lot of Russian names. I wonder if anyone complained to Tolstoy about that at the time.
The most recent copy of A Vengeful Longing is available in mass market paperback.
Visit Roger's blog / website here.
Roger’s page on MySpace
And the MySpace site for his first Porfiry Petrovich novel, A Gentle Axe