Roger Morris Interview
Posted on 09 September 2005. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
WriteWords talks to author Roger Morris, about to be one of the first writers to be published in the Macmillan New Writers scheme.
Tell us something about your background.
I sold my first story when I was still a student, to a teenage girlís magazine called Look Now. I sold another to a magazine called 19. Anybody remember that? So a few early successes then nothing, in terms of publications, for years and years and years. I started working on novels, you see. My wife tells me Iíve written 8 novels. But I donít believe her. I challenged her to name the titles and she couldnít. Couldnít get them all. Currently, Iím taking a bit of a breather really. I do have a couple of things lined up Ė at least in my head.
Iíve always written really. Started as a kid at school, like everyone. I used to love writing stories. Proudest moment, in secondary school, was when a stand-in teacher during the English lesson asked the class, ĎWhose story should I read you?í and they all shouted back ĎMorrisísí. I went to one of those schools where everyone was called by their surname. I blame early encouragement for everything, really. So I suppose the answer to Ďhowí is it always seemed natural to me. The answer to Ďwhyí is harder. Some sort of need I think. I donít know where that comes from.
Have you ever collaborated with another artist or had any work performed?
I collaborated with a composer called Ed Hughes. Heís a fantastic composer Ė his music is wonderful, so I was very lucky there. We collaborated on a piece of music theatre called The Devilís Drum. What actually happened was I showed Ed a load of stories Iíd written and he picked this one. The text he used was a stripped down version of the story. He then used to come to our house every now and then and play me what heíd done on the piano. It was a fantastic thrill to see it taking shape. My job at that part was to sit back and say brilliant. It was performed in the Purcell Room at the South Bank and we took it on a short tour around some secondary schools. The response was amazing. Iím very pleased to say Iím going to be working with Ed on something else very soon.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Oh, this is the hardest one. I get something out of everything I read, I mean in terms of learning something new, really, even the bad stuff helps. But Iíve been reading a lot of Russian writers recently and Taking Comfort was definitely written under the influence of Dostoevsky. Thereís something incredibly dynamic about his writing, and the way he constructs his stories. He has the reputation of being a sloppy writer. But really thatís because he is into voice, I think. I donít read Russian, so I have to be careful here, but the best translations confirm something Iíve felt - that he knew exactly what he was doing, in terms of the writing. And what was taken for sloppiness was really an attempt to convey the voice or voices of his characters through the actual narrative. That seems natural to me. I love Zola. The great set pieces, the compelling visual imagination Ė and of course, the drama. Trying to think of more recent writers now. Josť Saramagoís Blindness was Ė paradoxically Ė a great eye-opener for me. Sorry about the pun. Somehow it allowed me, gave me permission, to take risks. I saw what was possible, what you could do. I was very impressed by Jonathan Safran Foerís Everything is Illuminated, although the funny mistranslation voice bit slightly annoyed me after a while. Yann Martelís Life of Pi, I loved, though I was determined to hate it, given the thing about that other book that he supposedly got the idea from. Some people have put me on to George Saunders, and heís great. Again, fantastic sense of voice. He really gets inside his characters heads, and the writing itself is part of that. DeLillo was an early influence, though I donít keep up with his work as much as I should. I loved White Noise. It was funny, and somehow got to the heart of what it feels like to be alive today, or should I say at the moment of its writing. Itís something like that Iím trying to achieve in Taking Comfort.
How did you get your first agent?
First agent came about the usual way. Sending out queries and sample pages. I got an answerphone message asking for more. The agency in question also repped J.M. Coetzee and Anne Fine and Roald Dahl, so I felt in good company. They never placed anything of mine, though. The agent in question was lovely though. She continued to believe in me and curse the narrow-mindedness of the publishing industry. She even helped me find my current agent when she couldnít help me any more. Basically, her agency was taken over and she lost her job.
What's the worst thing about writing?
And the best?
When someone gets in touch to say a piece Iíve written meant something to them. All it takes is one reader to get what youíre trying to do.
Tell us what kind of response you get from audiences/readers and if/how this affects/influences your writing
I donít know. A tough one to answer this. I had my novel Taking Comfort read by another writer Ė she lives in Canada and Iíve never met her Ė as part of a novel swap exercise. I was blown away by her response. She loved it in a way I couldnít have anticipated. When people comment on my stories, I always listen to what they say, even when theyíre being critical Ė especially then. But I donít really think it influences me. It may get me to correct some heinous mistake Iíve made. Or it may force me to be doubly sure that I believe in it the way Iíve got it.
What was your breakthrough moment?
Getting the word from Mike Barnard of Macmillan, I think I would have to say. Having it sink in that, yes, I am going to have a book published, after all these years of persevering. Seven novels later, according to my wife. But I seriously donít believe her.
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