My guest this week is Roz Morris. Roz is a literary consultant, a book doctor, an instructor, a blogger, and even a ghostwriter. But the one constant in her life, through all her incarnations, is her love of literature, and she's coming into her own as a fiction author, writing under her own name.
Every week I interview a member of ALLi to talk about their writing and what inspires them, and why they are inspiring to other authors.
A couple of highlights from our interview:
On How She Discovered She Wanted to be a Writer
I was meeting a lot of other people who were writers and that was really where I felt I belonged, because I was suddenly with people for whom it was completely normal to have a book on the go. It was the thing we all talked about, what are you writing? Oh, I’m writing about this. I thought, this is wonderful, this is where I belong, this is what I've been looking for.
On Why She Went With Indie Publishing
And they looked at it and they said, oh, you know what we really wanted, can’t you make it more like those books you were ghostwriting? And I thought, this is one of those choices, isn't it? Where you decide to go with your heart, or you go with the commercial drive. And I thought, I simply can't do anything but what feels honest and truthful to me. And I thought, no, I have to write this book the way I want to write it.
Listen to My Interview With Roz Morris
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About the Host
Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last six years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.com, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Read the Transcripts of My Interview With Roz Morris
Howard Lovy: I'm Howard Lovy, and you're listening to Inspirational Indie Authors.
Every week, I feature a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors to find out what inspires them and how they are inspiration to other authors.
My guest this week is Roz Morris. She's the poster person for indie publishing. Roz is a literary consultant, a book doctor, an instructor, a blogger and even a ghost writer.
But the one constant in her life through all her incarnations is her love of literature, and she's coming into her own as a fiction writer, writing under her own name.
Roz Morris: Hi, I'm Roz Morris. I write quite literary fiction with a strong story drive. I have, in previous writing incarnations, I've been a ghostwriter. So, I've written novels for other people. I've also edited for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. I’ve taught master classes in creative writing for the Guardian. I now do a lot of these things online and for individual clients as a book doctor, tutor, mentor, all sorts of things like that.
I have a series for writers called Nail Your Novel, I also have a blog called Nail Your Novel. At one point, I did a radio show on Surrey Hills radio with an independent bookseller, and we had a whale of a time, covering absolutely everything from, how you start writing, how you get back to writing if you've got stuck, and we even managed to discuss covers on the radio. And this just proves the power of words. Pictures in words are brilliant, and I suppose that's what has made me a lifelong devotee of prose.
Howard Lovy: From a young age, Roz was always aware of her surroundings and how what she saw around her could also take on an alternate life in literature.
Roz Morris: I grew up in a small village in Cheshire, surrounded by fields and countryside. And also, it was the setting for Alan Garner's book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. So, I read these books very young and they had a lot of folklore, Arthurian legends, and that was based on the landscape. So, I was always running around and peeking into little holes in cave walls and things like that, and being aware of how these places had alternate, kind of, guises for other people. So, I was always very aware of stories and the imagination. Another influence was that from my bedroom window, I could see the radio telescope at Jodrell bank, which absolutely fascinated me because I realized it moved all the time, and it moved according to what it was tracking in outer space. And there it was, this white dish, pointing upward saying, there are things out there, there's absolutely loads out there to know. And I just had this real curiosity about everything. I loved creativity. I loved words. I loved making up stories.
I also love music, as well. We had a piano and I just would play it and make stuff up. I couldn't read a note, but it didn't really matter because for me, music’s for ears anyway. And I just was always a very creative person.
Howard Lovy: In school, Roz had an English literature teacher who further inspired her love of words.
Roz Morris: I, at the time, had an English literature teacher who was just a complete gust of fresh air. She was a hurricane of fresh air, in fact. She was the first person I'd ever met who truly loved literature and stories and characters in Shakespeare, and she would just make you feel that literature was life. No one has ever done that before. She made me think that studying English literature would be quite a good thing. She also collared me one day about an essay I'd written. Something else about her was she was very fierce, very small, very fierce, tall spiky heels, intense person. And if she collared you, you thought, oh no, what awful crass thing have I done?
And she said to me, you should write novels, and I was really surprised because I didn't think that coming from a little place in Cheshire, that people like me went and did art-y careers. But it was also kind of what I really wanted to hear. I really, really hoped I would have an artistic life.
Well, I didn't know how to have one. So, I went off to college and I did English literature, and I wasn't very good at it because there was so much to read. If you're studying English literature, you begin with old English and you end with the 20th century, because we hadn't yet gone into the 21st. And that's an awful lot of reading, and something else I discovered was I'm a really slow reader and that's because I savor it. When I was a kid, I would read the same books over and over again because I just thought, oh, I just want to get back into that and look at it again. So, having to cram all the works that I had to, as a kind of fast food, didn't really agree with me. So, I ended up with a very scant knowledge of English literature. I did scrape a degree, but I don't think I really had the breadth of knowledge that people hoped I would have.
Howard Lovy: Roz earned her English degree, and like most English graduates, got a job working at a restaurant, a deli to be precise. But she proved to be not exactly the service profession type. Roz was much too restless.
Roz Morris: So, I came out of college with the degree, wondered what to do, ended up working in a local delicatessen because I was really into food, and I'm still a real foodie today, but that didn't really suit me. I was quite bored and quite disruptive. You see, you have to have real saintly patience to deal with some of the people who come into a deli in a very posh area of London, they sort of think you're a speck on their boot and I wasn't pretty good at dealing with that.
So, I didn't last very long in that job. And then I noticed a proofreading job, casual proofreading job going at a tiny little publishing company that was quite nearby. So, I applied for that and they were desperate for people with degrees who could come and help proofread a mammoth work they were publishing. It was a directory of all the degree courses in the country.
So, I did that for a bit, and then I found my way into a permanent job in their editorial department. And then I thought, oh, I kind of get this. It was making books. So, I learned on the job how to put books together from the production point of view. So, copy editing, proofreading, layout, all that kind of thing, picture research. Then, I moved up in the ranks. I ended up being the editorial manager pretty quickly. I was in charge of about 30 publications all going to press at different times. So, that was a real workout for the brain, but it was an excellent groundwork though in publishing, I learned how to publish absolutely anything.
Howard Lovy: Roz went on to work for a magazine and her publishing career was off to a good start. Still though, part of her longed to be writing. Then something happened that changed her life.
Roz Morris: Then I went to a party and met the person who is now my husband and has been for about 28 years. People might know of him because I've mentioned him in my blogs and in my books.
And his name is Dave, and he had been a writer all his life and I think, one of the first things I said to him was, someday I will write novels and he thought, oh dear, just get on the dance floor. So, we got on incredibly well, and very soon I was meeting a lot of other people who were writers and that was really where I felt I belonged, because I was suddenly with people for whom it was completely normal to have a book on the go. It was the thing we all talked about, what are you writing? Oh, I’m writing about this. I thought, this is wonderful, this is where I belong, this is what I've been looking for.
And from then on, I just immersed in this world of writers, and that's where my writing career started.
Howard Lovy: Roz got to work writing short stories and then a novel and went off in search of an agent. Then, quite by accident, she discovered another branch of writing that she hadn't previously considered.
Roz Morris: As I was looking for an agent, I got my first ghostwriting job, which was, kind of, by accident. Dave had a contract for a book that he was ghostwriting, a novel, and he turned it in and then the publisher came back and said, oh dear, it's not quite what we need.
And it wasn't because he'd done anything wrong. What had happened was they’d commissioned 12 books, all by different writers, but they wanted them to look like one writer and they hadn't thought, when they got them all in, that they would all be quite different. So, they then said, oh, can you rewrite it? And Dave didn't have time because he had another job that he was having to start. But he said to me, you could just write them another book and they'd never know. So, we just kind of worked out a synopsis and then I wrote it in about six weeks and sent it to the publisher and they said, oh, thank heavens, you’ve saved our bacon. Then Dave said, it wasn't me. It was Roz. So, then I became somebody who was just a reliable person who could write novels to order.
It's probably like being an actor, playing a role, and it's probably also like writing dialogue for somebody who isn't like you. And quite often, when you're writing a novel, you need to write people who aren’t like you. So, you have to wriggle inside, not just a different way of using language, but a different way of thinking and feeling, and different values.
And I was always quite good at tuning into that, I think. And when I was ghostwriting, I would think, well, what would interest this person, who on his behalf I’m writing, what would interest them about this situation and therefore, what would interest their readers who are interested in them? So, really it all comes from that.
Howard Lovy: But while she was ghostwriting, Roz was also honing her own craft with stories about people who are haunted in unusual ways.
Roz Morris: Probably best to give an example. My first novel was called, My Memories of a Future Life. And that's about somebody going to another incarnation by hypnosis. She does this because she's a pianist and she is mysteriously struck down by a kind of neurological injury that stops her playing. She just gets terrible pain whenever she plays the piano, there seems to be no cure and she's gradually more and more desperate.
And then a friend of hers goes to a hypnotist and was taken back in time to the day of Jack the Ripper and finds out who's one of Jack the Rippers victims and this, in the current timeline, cures his panic attacks. He suddenly realizes why he always had this sense of panic that he could never get rid of, so this character, my pianist, is kind of persuaded to try some hypnosis to go to another life, but she doesn't go back in time. She doesn't really believe in that, she goes forwards and she finds a completely new life, but it seems to have echoes of the old one.
And I wanted to explore the fascinating conventions of the reincarnation story, that we were in kind of these echoes all the time, past lives, future lives, everything, but no one had thought of going into the future and thinking what that would be like and what you'd see of yourself. I also thought, if you've lost something as great as this character has lost, she's lost her ability to play, which is actually how she lives and how she expresses herself, if you lose that, it's like your life has ended. And I began to see all kinds of lovely echoes and resonances.
And I also, this is sort of veering off the topic a little bit, but, because she's a musician, what she was often doing was taking the scores written by people hundreds of years ago and absorbing them into her psyche.
She was actually, not just playing the music, she was playing the way they felt, because a musical score is very emotional. Music is very emotional. So, it's those kinds of layers of haunting I found very interesting, and that's what I explored in the book.
Howard Lovy: So, Roz had made a name for herself as a ghostwriter. Well, really no name at all since she was writing as other people. And for those projects, she was happy to do what she was told, but when it came to her own fiction, that was where she had to make a choice, change it to please a publisher or publish on her own and be happier with the final result.
You can guess which choice she made.
Roz Morris: Then when I started to go back to my own fiction, I went to a party. Somebody had interviewed me for a book called How to Write a Bestseller, and then they realized they couldn't use my name because the bestsellers are all for other people.
But they invited me to party anyway, and I met some publishers and agents there. And when I told them who I'd ghostwritten as, they actually fell over. I didn't realize how big some of these people were, because I just got my instructions to talk to who I needed to talk to. I hadn't realized how they fit it into the wider world. So, I thought, oh, well, that's interesting.
So, I talked to quite a lot of agents and they wanted to look at my novel and it was My Memories of a Future Life. And they looked at it and they said, oh, you know what we really wanted, can’t you make it more like those books you were ghostwriting? And I thought, this is one of those choices, isn't it? Where you decide to go with your heart, or you go with the commercial drive.
And I thought, I simply can't do anything but what feels honest and truthful to me. And I thought, no, I have to write this book the way I want to write it.
But I didn't really know about indie publishing then. But I'd been doing a lot of mentoring for Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. And then I was starting to take on clients of my own, and I'd learned a huge amount about the way other writers struggled with either getting their books written or getting them revised or getting things like their story arcs right. And I thought, I've got a lot of knowledge here and I could start writing about that. I was always quite interested in the idea of doing some how-to-write books and I’d read enough of them as well.
So, I started my Nail Your Novel blog and very quickly, I thought, there's a book in this, isn't there? So, I wrote the first Nail Your Novel book and, I had an agent by then, and she had a looked at it and said, oh, there are loads of these out, don't bother darling, and it's far too short. So, I thought, no, I know it is exactly the length you need, because writers want to write. They don't want to sit there and procrastinate with 400 pages. So, I looked into self-publishing it on Lulu, and because I've made books before, I knew exactly what you needed to do to make it professional. And I put it up on Lulu and it sold a few, I didn't really have ways of getting the word out to anybody, but then KDP came along.
So, I thought I'd try it on KDP. And my blog was getting a bit of traction, I got on Twitter and I just started finding loads of readers. And I think I was also in the kind of golden age where Kindle publishing was just starting, CreateSpace was just starting. So, I really kind of launched my Nail Your Novel book from that.
And then I thought, I'll try publishing my novel as well, because there's nowhere else for it to go. And from that, I really didn't know how people would view it. I didn't know how people would receive it. I just did what I felt was right for it. And people seem to love it, which genuinely surprised me.
They came back and said, this has got a lot of depth and it's wonderful. So, that started.
Howard Lovy: So, Roz has her own fiction writing career, and she's a book doctor, and a writing coach. It makes for a busy life.
Roz Morris: I pretty much work 24 hours a day, I think.
I do a lot of exercise and I go horse riding. And those things sort of give me a complete break from all that mental work that you have to do, and from sitting at sitting at the desk and being immobile. But, yeah, I don't take many holidays. I am usually found kind of glued to my computer most hours of the day and night.
Howard Lovy: Roz's advice to other fiction writers during these strange times under lockdown, and other outside pressures, is this, even if you're not planning on writing a story about current events, write down your emotions right now, how do these times make you feel? It's always something you can draw upon later in your fiction.
Roz Morris: Keep good notes, because something that's very hard to recapture when the time's gone by is the way something felt, and what you're usually doing in any kind of story is, you're not explaining things, you’re not giving information, you’re giving feelings. So, if fiction is what you want to write, especially if you want to write fiction about being in this peculiar lockdown state, write down for the way things felt.