I first encountered Roz Morris in around 2008/09 when I followed her on Twitter. It was only in 2014, after I published my first novel, that I got to meet her in real life at a function for The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) of which we are both members. I’ve read and loved both her novels, I’ve been interviewed for her regular Undercover Soundtrack feature and was delighted to have the chance to review an advance copy of her new non-fiction travelogue, Not Quite Lost – which I loved and so had to get her on the blog. You can read my review of Not Quite Lost on Goodreads.
Tell me a bit about yourself – where do you live and what do you do when you’re not writing?
I live in London, surrounded by residential streets. But when I’m not at my desk my favourite place is on the back of a horse, exploring the woods and bridle paths of the Surrey Hills.
Can you give me a brief picture of your personal journey as a writer ?
I’m a reformed ghostwriter, now following my own muse. I started off working in the editorial department of a small publisher, then I got a break as a ghostwriter and cranked out bestsellers for other authors. I’ve got about a dozen novels out there that started life on my hard drive and were then passed off as the work of other people – quite big names, actually.
That was great experience, but I really wanted to make my own mark on the books world. The ghosting, though, took a bit of living down. I had literary agents for my own work but they always secretly hoped I’d rattle off a few more blockbusters instead. Meanwhile I gave them books like the ones I most treasured – quirky, character driven-stories with a dash of the strange. Then the indie revolution came along. I ditched my agents (yes, I had more than one) and found my readers for myself.
Who or what has been the greatest help to you as a writer?
I have had brilliant people to learn from. Ghostwriting was the chance to work with top editors, who were like writing bootcamp. I also met some singular characters – the people with interesting lives whose books I was writing. My early experiences with the publisher equipped me with some life skills that have proved endlessly useful – I learned how to produce books!
This might sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, but I’d also like to thank my husband, Dave. No, come back. He’s an author. He was the first author I spent a lot of time with, who made me feel like it was normal to have a book on the go, and not a mad thing that you had to keep secret. I think most writers mark that as an important step. At some stage, somebody will give you the confidence to come out and say ‘I write, and I’m rather dedicated to it’.
Tell me about your latest book and why we should all buy it?
My latest book was a bit of a surprise to me. It’s a travel diary, a kind of book I never thought I’d write. It began as a leatherbound volume I keep in my suitcase and write in when we go away. The book has ‘visitors’ stamped on the cover in gold foil. This pleased me with Alice in Wonderland logic because it was the book I’d write in whenever I was a visitor.
So Dave and I went away last November, and on the first night I pulled out the visitor’s book and read out a few past adventures. The time the car window got stuck on the coldest day of the year and we had 20 miles to drive to get it fixed. A tour guide we met in Glastonbury who was in love with a real-life reincarnation of a character from Arthurian legend.
‘You should put those in a book,’ said Dave.
‘Yeah, they’ll go in a novel sometime,’ I said, and poured more wine.
‘No,’ he said, ‘write them up as a book of travel essays. People like that kind of thing. Think of Bill Bryson.’
‘Ha ha,’ I said, not taking him seriously at all.
As the week went on, I came to like the idea. But I was worried it could be horribly self-indulgent, so when we returned I asked my bluntest author friends to talk me out of it. Instead, they all said ‘do it’. So I did.
After a good bit of editorial massaging it’s now ready. It’s called Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction.
Has location inspired your fiction?
A location certainly inspired my second novel, Lifeform Three. Many years ago I bought a horse and I set out with a map to explore (usually mixing up north and south – the title of my travel diaries is thoroughly deserved).
I became aware of how I was treading on the past; of how these fields, woods and paths were ancient byways or the estates of great houses, some of them long vanished. As I looked across the hills I wondered what this landscape would be like in the future. How would we treat it? Would anyone even be aware of the kinds of lives that were once lived here? And so I wrote a story about the last remaining piece of countryside, which has been preserved as a theme park – and a character who has a thrilling dream about riding the old places on the back of a horse.
Do you have a dedicated space to write in?
I’m lucky enough to have a room I can keep as a study. I write at a desk made from a reclaimed dining table. My mother-in-law found it outside a neighbour’s house, and as we were short of furniture she gave it to us.
I painted it with a colour like a dusky sunset that I mixed myself from matchpots. I love creating unique things and I wanted my desk to be special. However, you can hardly see its pretty colour as it’s covered in drifts of notes for the novel I’m working on and a selfpublishing masterclass I’m teaching at the end of September. But although it looks like chaos, I know exactly where everything is. I guess that’s how the brain works, actually.
Anthony Burgess once said “Literature is all, or mostly, about sex”. How true is that of your books?
What a great question. Now you mention it, my books do have a common preoccupation – with love and soulmates.
My Memories of a Future Life (novel #1) is about a pianist, Carol, who has a mysterious injury that stops her playing. When she’s deprived of her ability to play, she throws herself into a very unwise relationship, trying to fill the void. She also has a literal soulmate – her next incarnation in the future. There are loads more ways I could unpick it but I want to leave that to the reader, but underlying the book as I was writing it, I felt this immense yearning. Carol was yearning for a soulmate.
Lifeform Three has a secret relationship at its core – between a worker in the theme park and a horse.
Even Not Quite Lost is built around a relationship. Dave is in most of the travels, and so there’s a lot about the humour and irritation and companionship of a long-term partnership. I won’t expand on that because it’s easy to sound sentimental, but reviewers have remarked on it.
Now I’m writing my third novel, Ever Rest, which I realise is heaving with characters in troubled love. I hope you realise I’ve never revealed anything about Ever Rest, so this is an exclusive! (I’m now really excited! – Clare)
If you could pick one of your own characters to spend some time with, who would it be and why?
Pea, the enormous, feisty horse in Lifeform Three. He’s based on my actual horse, Byron. Byron’s still with me, but he’s very elderly and I’m not allowed to ride him any more because he has a heart condition and advanced arthritis. Pea is Byron in his prime, when we would ride all day. I wrote him from my diaries (another lot of diaries). Byron of 2017 still sometimes gets the wind in his tail but can’t do much about it. So if you could arrange it, I think he’d like to be Pea and I’d like to take him for a wild, epic ride again.
Roz Morris is an award-nominated novelist (My Memories of a Future Life; Lifeform Three), book doctor to award-winning writers (Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012), has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Not Quite Lost is her first collection of essays. Find her at her website and on her blog, contact her on Facebook and tweet her as @Roz_Morris
Clare Flynn is the author of five historical novels and a collection of short stories. To receive a free e-book of her short story selection, A Fine Pair of Shoes, and keep up to date with special offers and news from Clare, sign up here.