AB: Your book, My Memories of a Future Life, follows a piano player who has lost her ability to play. I felt as though you had a real connection to the passion for music that the main character possessed. Do you have a musical background that inspired you to write with such musical passion?
Roz: Not formally. I can amuse myself on a piano, but I can't read a note. Professionals would probably cover their ears. I have had singing training, though it still never taught me to read the blobs. But I love being drenched in sound, or even better, making it. It's not that different from the way I feel about writing and stories - where we create experiences to explore and express the inexplicable.
So I found it very easy to inhabit a character who made music her life. I researched what it's like to play professionally and made friends with a concert pianist, who sorted out my misconceptions and led me to even better insights. I got to know some pieces very well - such as the Grieg piano concerto in A minor, a soaring, romantic piece with intricate history for the main character, Carol. I have a good ear anyway, but I marinated in that piece so often that I developed absolute pitch and could sing the note A out of thin air, accurately.
I’m so pleased that readers tell me I've captured the player’s way of life. It was love of making music and admiration for musicians that led me there.
AB: I was intrigued by the futuristic world that you created through Carol’s hypnosis sessions. In fact, I wanted more. You could have written the whole book about the futuristic underwater world, and I would have gobbled it up. How did you come up with such a fantastic setting?
Roz: Thank you! I wanted something startling and alluring that the reader would grasp instinctively, as it would be jarring if the character stopped to explain the world. And anyway, it's tedious if characters do that.
Global warming gave me the idea that people would live in domes nuzzled by the water, which also felt womblike. Then I started to imagine what the people would be like and what kind of society that would create. Ultimately a world gets its realism and richness from its people - the way they live in the setting. I had the wealthy areas in the Shallows, full of blue, rippling light, and the poorer people living deeper into the sea, in primitive, dark communities.
Andreq, Carol's future incarnation, is a healer, called a Soothesayer. Most of his clients aren't ill; they're bored and they want pampering. That gave a nice counterpoint to Carol's need for real healing. There’s also her connection with the hypnotist who is a healer too - a relationship that becomes increasingly tense and mysterious.
Andreq himself is in urgent need of a cure, which added a poignant edge to his seemingly frivolous occupation.
AB: Are you planning to try to find a traditional publisher for My Memories of a Future Life, or are you happy with the self-publishing route?
Roz: I'm happy with self-publishing, though I'm always open to offers! My agent - who originally took me on because of this novel - tried to sell it but we kept being told it was too unusual. I had so much feedback that said 'what a fascinating novel, if it was more conventional we'd take it'. This happens a lot at the moment - if a book isn't like other books in the charts, publishers can't take a chance on them. So I think I'd be unlikely to find a publisher in the current climate, but who knows?
There are advantages to self-publishing. I've worked in publishing for about 20 years anyway, so I knew my way around formatting, proofing, cover design and producing a book for print. I’ve copy-edited, so I write with an eye for the details a copy editor would pick up on. I wouldn't recommend everybody goes totally DIY as these are skilled jobs and it's harder work than you think, but I liked having absolute control. If I'd left it to someone else I'd have sent them mad by back-seat driving.
However, it is very difficult to get a self-published book in front of readers who might like it. As well as editorial expertise, that's one of the things a publisher does for you - gives you a much wider audience for your work than you could reach on your own.
AB: What is the next project you’re working on? Are you going to try another novel, or do you have any more plans to ghost write in the future?
Roz: Whatever comes along! I have another novel, Life Form 3, that I'm currently revising. It's aimed at MG upwards - the kind of novel you could read from age nine to nine squillion. I can't say anything else about it because it's a high-concept idea, but you can expect similar preoccupations with truth, love, loss and questions about the nature of souls.
Aside from that, I've got two other novels I'm making detailed notes for. Literally. My desk is a series of nests of scrawled scraps of paper. It's a big old dining table that I've painted a smoky lilac, and it has various zones where I deposit the notes for each book. Sometimes notes for one find their way into the nest of another, which can be interesting.
AB: Ghost writing is, rightly so, shrouded in mystery to those of us who aren’t involved. Can you tell us a little about the process, rights, and how you got into it?
Roz: Ghostwriting, as you probably know, is writing a book for someone else. Sometimes your name will go on it too, or sometimes the person you write it for will take all the credit.
The jobs don’t tend to be advertised. When an editor or agent has a book they feel needs a ghost - say, by a celebrity or expert - they look through their contacts and chat up writers who might be able to do it. Sometimes the ghost’s job is to tidy up a draft and fill the holes to make a good read out of it. Sometimes the ghost writes from scratch, interviewing the ‘author’ and weaving their experiences into a book. Your aim is to write the book they would write - if they could write.
Rights? The rights and copyright usually belong to the ‘author’ whose name is on the cover, although your agent might be able to negotiate percentages for foreign deals or movie options.
I got in by a lucky break because I knew of a publisher who needed a book in a hurry. I had one chance to prove I had the craft and the versatility to produce the book they wanted. (I had, though, been writing virtually since I was an embryo…) Luckily I made the grade. But there aren't many chances like that.
However, there are opportunities for beginners if you know where to look. Many first-time writers start with book packagers - companies that dream up commercial ideas for novels, which they then pitch to publishers. They need writers. They don’t pay very much, but they’re a good start.
AB: You must have a very impressive resume through ghost writing, but you can’t publicize it. If you were querying someone, how would you prove your experience without going into details?
Roz: Good question! Within the industry, I don't have to be bashful, I just tell them the books I wrote. If they need proof, I can produce contracts - but it's never come to that. Editors can tell by talking to you whether you're fibbing.
AB: Your blog, Nail Your Novel, is experiencing great success. Which came first, the book or the website?
Roz: I love having my blog, and the blog definitely came first. I didn't start it because I had something to promote, I did it because I felt like it. Shortly after, I wrote the book - but it wasn’t a grand plan, it simply happened.
I'd been book doctoring for years and I noticed that what most of my writers lacked was a system for getting the best out of their material. These are things I’ve figured out for myself, so I thought it might help people if I wrote a book about how to take control of a messy creative process and keep going when it looks overwhelming. And that's Nail Your Novel.
The blog started life with the improbable name of Dirty White Candy. It sounds very contemporary - indeed a bit racy - but in fact is one of the first delicacies sold by the Fortnum & Mason food emporium in the 1700s. I imagined Dr Samuel Johnson and cronies eating something with a name that could have been invented now and I liked it as a manifesto for writing - the detail that makes us feel 'these dudes are just like us'.
Clearly I knew nothing about naming blogs when I chose it; it was a roguish whim. Once I thought of the title of my book I changed the blog to Nail Your Novel otherwise no one would ever have found me. But I kept DirtyWhiteCandy as my Twitter name because writers sometimes have to be roguish and whimsical.
AB: It’s extremely hard these days to make a living by writing. Is writing your full-time job, or do you have another profession as well?
Roz: I also work as a book doctor. I used to freelance for a literary consultancy in London, and now do it independently. As well as that, I'm a freelance magazine sub-editor and general editorial handyperson.
On a completely different tangent, I'm also with a movie extras casting agency. They are always sending me texts about how they’ve put me in for a film and then telling me I wasn’t chosen because my hair’s too bright and it would stand out. The one film I did look right for was Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter for a scene at the London Book Fair - typecasting, I guess!
AB: Finally, on a more personal note, what keeps you ticking when you aren’t writing and blogging? What are your hobbies and passions?
Roz: I do Body Pump and enjoy it more than I admit, despite the awful music. Ditto running, but I like that better because I can bribe myself with books podcasts or soundtracks I've compiled for my WIP. I have a horse, who I bought years ago on a romantic whim and is far too big for me. I also go to dance classes and can’t plie because of all those hours I’ve spent in the saddle. But most of the time I live in my head. My writer brain lets me have diversions for a few hours but can’t be quiet for long.
Roz Morris blogs at Nail Your Novel and has a double life on Twitter; for writing advice follow her as @dirtywhitecandy, for more normal chit-chat try her on @ByRozMorris.
My Memories of a Future Life is available on Kindle (US and UK) and also in print. You can also listen to or download a free audio of the first 4 chapters right here.
Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books And How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence, is available in print and on Kindle at Amazon.com.
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