Morgen Bailey is the author of numerous short stories, four novels, articles and poetry. She also hosts a writing-related blog. It features a daily author interview author interview, twice-weekly author spotlights, twice-weekly guest blogs, details of fortnightly podcast red pen sessions, among other things. Morgen met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about the E Book revolution and the publishing industry.
To what extent do you think the class system in England still informs its fiction?
Boarding schools have always been a popular location in fiction and although it’s been done to death (but that doesn’t stop people writing about them) they do imply class and a certain cost of living to send their children there. Early stories were pretty horrendous and I’m sure things have improved in real life over the years but where would be the fun of writing about that. And cozy crime will always have a place. It may not necessarily be ‘class’, but where you have the likes of Midsomer Murders and Thaw they’re certainly set in a comfortable surroundings. Then you have EastEnders with market traders and modest residences. The main thing is that they are all incredibly popular… and not to the ‘class’ that they’re written for. Whilst some people will prefer one over the other, they both share one important factor; strong writing and believable characters. As long as the story is good, viewers (readers) will get swept along and by the end (of the chapter / novel / episode / series) they will have cared for their new acquaintances and if gripped enough, want to know what happens next – as writers, that’s all we can ask for isn’t it?
Graham Greene said writers have a piece of ice in their hearts. What do you make of his observation?
I’d say he’s not far off. I certainly do. I say that one thing I love about fiction is that we get to kill… legally. Not that I would outside of fiction, of course, but that’s the great thing about making things up – you can be as warm and cozy, or as evil as you like. People say it’s therapy (I agree) and unless you name a character after someone you know, you can base your antagonist on that person, put them through the ringer and they’d never know. I recently interviewed thriller writer PT Dawkins and he said that his sister-in-law had asked to be a character in his (latest) novel and he wasn’t very pleasant to her… “careful what you wish for”, he told me. One key aspect of any story has to be conflict and without that little chip of ice, there’s no story. And if there was no story… well, that, for me certainly, is unthinkable. Isaac Asimov is quoted as saying “I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.” A little dramatic perhaps but if you want to be a writer, you have to write, and write regularly. I’m currently creating a short story (flash fiction mostly) a day for http://storyaday.org, for the second year running (last years’ are in my eBook collection) and after long absences, it’s got me back on track, to the point where I want to keep going and have created a new 5pm Fiction blog slot to do just that. 🙂 So whether your ice is frozen lake solid or melting along with your heroine’s heart, if you don’t add the drama your readers, are going to be bored and we all know what means.
Who are your literary influences?
Roald Dahl for his dark humour and twists in the tails (my favourite form of writing / reading). I say I write ‘dark and light’ so yes, definitely the genre (and his brain). Coincidentally my father did some photography for Roald (including a video of one of Sophie’s birthday parties) but I never met him (Roald). Had I had an interest in writing when I was a child I would have made sure I did.
I love Kate Atkinson’s quirky writing, especially her short story collection (her third book) ‘Not the end of the world’. I have all her books (some more than once) but have only read the first three. I have ‘Case Histories’ (the TV series) on my Sky Planner and haven’t seen it for a while so the next wet day we have (plenty of those at the moment) might just be spent that way.
What do you make of the Ebook revolution?
‘Revolution’ is a perfect way to describe it. It’s certainly shaken up the industry. With few exceptions, publishers are now realising that they’re no longer in charge and authors now have more of a say as to the way their writing is distributed.
Of course there’s a downside; there’s a lot of dross out there but in the main this is because the authors haven’t run it past anyone else, and I’m sure there are cases where what’s put out to the buying public have been first drafts. Always get a second opinion on your writing if you are expecting someone to pay for it. I’ve been writing a short story a day since May 1st and have put most of them on my blog without having a second pair of eyes scanning over them, which is fine for a blog (although I still have to be happy with them – I’ve been writing fiction since 2005 and have certainly broken the 1,000,000-word barrier!) but I will have at least one (very reliable) first reader to vet them (and I know he’ll pull them apart) before they go online as eBooks. I also run or belong to four writing groups and two are critique-only, and whilst there’s only so much I can read out at one time it’s great having so many opinions, although they often disagree with each other (someone disliking a section but someone else loving it) but that’s the thing about writing, it’s like Marmite; you’re going to get readers (listeners) who love or hate it. I’ve had 1* reviews and 5* reviews for the same short story on Goodreads, with one of the 1* reviewers vowing to never read my writing again. This is a shame but I loved the fact that (a) they’d read my story and (b) that they (she) felt so strongly about it (albeit not the way I would have wanted).
The other great thing about eBooks is the speed. When we’re happy with the content, the work can go online within minutes, be read just as quickly and commented on, for better or for worse, and this is another aspect I love… that a reader can email me and tell me what they think of my work (fortunately all the emails so far have been positive, with some wanting to know what happens next).
The process of bringing eBooks online (Amazon, Smashwords) isn’t as daunting as it may seem (although I’m technically minded so I’m sure that helps) – it’s always easier once we’ve conquered the fear of the unknown – and you get to design your own covers (or work with a designer), pick your title (carefully – they both have to shine) and most importantly, if we self-publish, reap all the financial benefits.
With eBooks being so accessible, it does mean that there are thousands of authors all clamouring for their books to be sold and most of the authors I’ve interviewed have said their least favourite part of writing is the marketing and it is extremely hard, if you’re with a publisher or not. My blog is just one platform amongst probably as many outlets vying for readers’ attention. You just have to try every way you can to be spotted, make your work as good as it can be and if you’re passionate enough about what you do (traditional or electronic, acceptances are hard so why wouldn’t you be passionate?) you keep going. As the saying goes, “You get out what you put in” and for those who know me, I put in a LOT, but wouldn’t have it any other way.
Is there a particular incident that has changed your life and influenced your writing?
One and the same. I left school (20-something years ago) not knowing what I wanted to do and ended up at secretarial college (day release) while working for my dad in his camera / computer shop. I went on to be a secretary and was for most of those 20-something years. At the back of my mind I always knew I wouldn’t do that for the rest of my life but there was nothing else I enjoyed enough to replace that… until I went to my first creative writing evening group (run by Sally Spedding). Right from the off I was hooked, to the point where I’d wake up in the middle of the night, switch the light on and write things down… then switch the light off, think of something else, switch the light on, and so on. I live in a cul-de-sac so anyone walking their dog on the green in the middle would think I was sending Morse code messages. Although back then I’d not considered it as a possible career, it gradually took over my life to the point when I realised last year that it’s all I wanted to do and I quit my job in October 2011, finally leaving (due to a ridiculous amount of trouble trying to find someone to replace me… my job wasn’t that hard!) mid-March this year and I’ve loved every minute since.
What advice would you give to yourself as a younger woman?
As I keep saying to myself, “I should have done it earlier”, I’d say to work out a time to manage my time better. Of course this is something I can still work on and most of the people visiting my blog wonder how I do everything I do (quitting my job has certainly helped). I suppose anyone turning the clock back wouldn’t make the mistakes they’ve made and one, which to be fair wasn’t a mistake as such, was to sell my first house. It quadrupled in value within a handful of years so I’d have no mortgage on this one if I’d done that but this house tripled in value too so I can’t complain… although I don’t plan to sell it so that doesn’t help. I’m luckier than most and am full-time writer (or more accurately, blogger) with two lodgers paying the bills but I may not need to have those (although I enjoy the company) if I’d foreseen the house market… thousands of people probably feel the same. Whenever I interview someone who says they started writing as a child and / or knew they always wanted to be a writer I feel a little pang of jealousy that I could have been doing in my 20s now what I’m doing in my 40s but I wouldn’t have had 20 years’ experience to write about and I’m sure my writing’s stronger. I try not to have regrets although if I could turn the clock back, I might have not started dating some of the men I did, but even then they end up being characters so that’s not to be regretted at all.
What makes you passionate?
That’s easy. Writing. Fiction. Central lane hoggers on the motorway. 🙂 I live and breathe writing and for me, there’s nothing better than creating something new, especially from ‘thin air’. I can start with something as simple as a word and it can end up with new characters, dilemmas (essential in any piece) and hopefully something that readers can care about, relate to or at the very least enjoy. I write a short story (mostly flash fiction) for my blog’s daily 5pm Fiction slot and have a variety of prompts from a single word, five keywords (that have to be included) to a mixed bag where I have the characters, situation, object, trait and dilemma ahead of the writing process. With my first novel I plotted quite considerably… well, for me, about seven Word document pages of notes, and soon found the characters took it away from where I’d planned – before then the longest thing I’d written, for a college project, was about 3,000 words (although it had seemed MUCH longer). As long as I have ideas, and – she says looking at over a dozen display folders of newspaper cuttings – I have more than I can possible ever write, even at a story a day, I’ll keep going and I’m sure, will keep being passionate.
What are you working on now?
Since NaNoWriMo 2008 I’ve written four and a bit novels (the ‘bit’ is a reworking of a 102-page script I write for the now defunct Script Frenzy) and the third one (a 105K chick lit) is currently with three first readers. I’m hoping it’ll come back shortly then I’ll make final tweaks (it’s been through four edits and past two other sets of ‘eyes’ so I’m hoping there won’t be much) and put it online… probably with Amazon’s KDP Select programme. Apart from that I’m writing my short story a day (which I love doing… I’m a short story author at heart) and compile the stories I wrote for Story a Day May 2012 into an eBook (the 2011 version went up late last year so I hope to be much quicker this time!). I also wrote four collections of short stories last year, all of which are still sitting in files / on my computer so I do want to do something with those… and the other three and a bit novels. Anyone have a secret to getting more hours in the day?
How relevant do you think the online world is to the publishing industry as it still stands?
Given how few bookshops there are left, I think have a presence online is essential to any, and every, publisher (and everyone involved in publishing). Bearing in mind that most websites have minimal running costs, they are cheap overheads (blogs are free; or very cheap to set up if you employ someone like me). Many (perhaps most) companies these days don’t replace staff when they leave, stretching the remaining resources so anything that takes the pressure off them has to be a bonus and with Amazon just announcing that they’re now selling more eBooks than pBooks the publishing industry has to sit up and take notice. Whilst mainstream publishers cheekily (OK, that’s me being polite) charge a little less for their ‘big name’ eBooks than pBooks, only über fans will pay that. Companies will say it costs a fair amount to ‘build’ an eBook (I’ve done it, albeit it on an amateur – me – scale, for free) but once it’s online it costs them no more to sell one as it does to sell a million so prices will (hopefully) have to come down. Technology, though, as we know, moves onwards and upwards so eBooks are bound to have more bells and whistles (interactivity) in future, but there are also more of us doing it and with a fatter ‘library’ for readers to choose from, and easier ways for an authors readers to provide feedback, it’s not only the ‘little’ authors who have competition. Although we have to spend an awful lot of time trying to get people to notice us, there are more opportunities online to do so, giving authors more of a ‘voice’, and a say in their careers, which can only be a good thing… and about time, too.
You’ve written four novels but say your first love is short stories, why?
It is. I used to read Stephen King novels in my teens (under the duvet with a torch, when I should have been sleeping. I blame him for me wearing glasses) and the thicker the better – book, not glasses – but I didn’t write anything other than school essays. It hadn’t even occurred to me that writing could have been a career. Then when I left home in my early-20s and moved to Northamptonshire (on my own) I wrote limericks for colleagues and enjoyed those but again life took over and the writing, such as it was, fizzled out. It wasn’t until I started evening classes to meet more people that I started going to a creative writing workshop in January 2005 (lead by crime writer Sally Spedding), which I took over in March 2008 when Sally moved to Wales, that I realised how thrilling creating fiction could be. From the very first session I was hooked. Sally gave us homework each Monday night so there was only time to write (and then read out when we met again) short pieces. Because I worked full-time I also had little time to read other authors so I favoured (and still do) anthologies over novels. I’m a fairly patient person but when it comes to reading I love devouring a whole story in one session and an hour is about as free as my time gets these days so something like the Quick Reads series is about as thick as my books get… the ‘Thinner’ the better, to borrow one of Stephen King’s (writing as Richard Bachman) titles.
Thank you Morgen for a perceptive and informative interview.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey is a prolific blogger, podcaster, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), freelance author of numerous short stories, novels, articles, and dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, is consumed by all things literary.
Get a copy of Story A Day May 2011 at Amazon UK and US
Check out April’s Fool at Smashwords and The 365-Day Writer’s Block Workbook (Volume 1), also at Smashwords