So, Deathwatch, Nicola, who’s it for and what’s it about?
I could say it’s for anyone who’d like to read it, but that would be a vapid answer (though true). It’s written with a particular teenage readership in mind – teenagers who want a fast, chilling read and something to think about along the way. It’s a thriller, about a girl being stalked by an insect-obsessive.
It’s not the only book you’ve published, is it? Could you tell us about the others? How does Deathwatch compare to them?
Er, no, it’s not the only one – there are about 89 others. Before my first novel, I was writing “home learning” books, the sort of fun+educational activity books that get children reading and writing. Full-length books – mostly teenage novels, each different: historical (including my gory signature book, Fleshmarket), magical realism (Mondays are Red, my first novel, characterised by extreme weirdness), futuristic (Sleepwalking, set 150 years in the future in a society where language is dying), and my favourite, The Passionflower Massacre, about a religious cult. Oh, and I mustn’t forget my only “nice” one, Chicken Friend, aimed at a younger age group. I have also written full-length non-fiction for teenagers, including Blame My Brain, about the amazing teenage brain, and Know Your Brain, showing the differences between brains and how we can best look after them. How does Deathwatch compare? I’d say it’s pitched to be more accessible than, for example, Sleepwalking, which tends to appeal to the deepest and keenest readers; less gory than but just as scary as Fleshmarket; not as shocking as the PFM; not weird like Mondays are Red. In other words, not the same as anything. And definitely not like the Thomas the Tank Engine books I once wrote…
What ingredients are essential in any great piece of fiction?
(Leaving aside the fact that I absolutely don’t think I write “great” fiction – I’m just trying to work towards the best I can do.) Readers. I feel very strongly that it is essential to remember that we are writing for readers more than ourselves. This does not mean prostituting our art, selling out, aiming to be “commercial”: it means listening to our readers’ body language. Imagine you’re doing live story-telling – the audience is essential to your performance. When you’re writing, you have to tune in to the reader. This means focusing on the meaning and imagery you are producing, trying to mediate the effect, crossing the void between writer and reader. That doesn’t quite answer your question as you’d intended, so I’d add that perhaps there are two specific essential ingredients: first, an idea/plot that will engage a reader sufficiently to allow you to build a whole world in his head and, secondly, the voice to carry that idea from beginning to end.
What makes a great writer?
(Ditto the qualification above) The ability to strive tirelessly towards the above and never to stop trying to improve. And developing an ability to deal with the ideas as they come into your head – having ideas is easy, honing them into a beautiful piece of sculpture is where the skill is. Writing is, I think, rather like sculpture.
All writers should…
Write for readers (if we want to be published.)
Could you tell us a little about your writing routine?
No! I don’t have one. I sometimes wish I did. I am trying to discipline myself to put creative writing at the TOP of my “to do” list, instead of doing other tasks first and then finding I have no time to write. So, maybe not a routine, but a rule. Nowadays, I find I’m asked to do loads of things (speaking, writing articles, interviews like this…) which is wonderful, but it does make it easy to put all those things first and forget what I started all this for.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
I think it gets harder, not easier, to judge my own work. So, there are times during the writing of a novel when I lose all objectivity and have no idea whether what I’m doing is any good. That usually continues till the book hits the shelves and I start getting feedback from people I trust. (I don’t listen to any other feedback – I know who I trust, certain readers, certain reviewers, certain websites, certain attitudes and expertises). But during the writing, I’m on my own, surrounded by doubts. Tough.
What do you think is the most common mistake beginner writers make?
Not reading the current successfully published books in their genre. Or they read them but don’t analyse them properly. Or they read them and make the wrong comparisons with their own work. Understanding why a publisher said yes to a book is essential to understanding whether a publisher will say yes to yours.
Tell us a secret.
I’ve already told people that I once wrote a covering letter to a publisher in rhyme. What I didn’t say is that it was also in a silly gothic font on pink paper. I know lots of secrets about other people but I am very very discreet. Actually, do you want to know a secret? I’m paranoid. But if you tell anyone, I’ll have to kill you.
What are your reading habits?
I read too quickly because I’m very impatient. This means that I forget a lot of what I read. I always forget names and endings but remember the mood, voice and what I felt while reading it. There have been a few books which I have re-read immediately on finishing them because they were so brilliant and I felt that I hadn’t done them justice with my quick reading: Under the Skin by Michel Faber, When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson, and something else which I’ve forgotten.
The internet + literature =
possibilities, risks and opportunities. Democracy or anarchy. We have the power to make a difference and we must not sit back and let quality be diluted by ignorance. Keep producing the best words in the best order and stop underselling ourselves.
What’s next for you?
My next novel, Wasted, comes out in June 2010. It’s different from everything I’ve done and it’s the novel I’ve been waiting to write since I first had the idea 15 years ago. Now I have the opportunity. It’s a risk because it’s closer to literary fiction than my other teenage novels, and is less accessible, . I hope they will like it. Meanwhile, I’ve started a novel with a shocking opening which rivals Fleshmarket – now I need the courage to finish it.
Anything you’d like to add?
My favourite quote, from Thomas Mann: “A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
Nicola Morgan is an award-winning novelist and acclaimed non-fiction writer. During 21 years of trying to win her first contract, she was an English teacher and dyslexia specialist. She has now published around 90 books for young people and hundreds of articles for the less young. As well as writing books, Nicola blogs about how to become published at Help! I Need a Publisher! and her blog is recommended by agents and publishers as required reading. Nicola spends a great deal of time travelling in the UK and more widely, speaking about publishing, books, brains and teenagers, sometimes simultaneously. She is ridiculously proud of being the first Google result for the phrase “Crabbit Old Bat”.