Monday, 27 June 2011

Writers Talk About Writing - Julie Morrigan

(Once you've finished reading what Julie's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here)

Julie Morrigan ran away to join the circus aged four and three-quarters and is a world-renowned tiger tamer and gibbon-wrangler with her own whip and chair. She single-handedly conquered Everest one morning last week and went on to cross the Gobi desert in the afternoon. She makes things up for a living, and rambles on about it here:

And, fortunately given that this is an interview and it would be a rubbish one otherwise, here too.

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

Convictions’ (US) is the story of Tina, a kid who sneaks off to see a boy band with her little sister, Annie. Needless to say it all goes badly wrong, with the outcome that Annie is abducted. Tina has to deal with her guilt, a mother who is verging on the psychotic, manipulation and religious mania. Meanwhile the search to find Annie - dead or alive - continues. All good fun!

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

I’ve had lots of short stories published in print and online, so I took the opportunity to pull some of them together into a collection, which I published as an ebook in March. ‘Gone Bad’ (US) is dark, sweary and violent and has been described (by Mr Paul D Brazill) as ‘kitchen sink noir’, which I love. Paul goes on to clarify that ‘the kitchen sink is blocked with fast food, cheap blow, lager and blood'.

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

I’m finishing off a novel about a 70s rock band with a history of secrets and lies. Lots of musical references, bad behaviour and dead bodies. Hopefully it’s also funny.

In addition, I also plan to publish this year a second collection of short crime fiction and one of short horror stories. The latter will be based around ‘The Black Dog’, a story about a cursed book that won Newcastle Literary and Philosophical Society’s ‘Phantoms at the Phil’ ghost story competition last year.

(The Lit and Phil's a wonderful place, if you're ever in Newcastle, check it out - Ed.)

You set a lot of your fiction in very familiar territory for both of us. Is the sense of place very important to you, and do you think the north-east is fertile ground for crime fiction?

I love the north east, it’s a brilliant place. It has a very colourful history, which might explain why there are quite a few crime writers writing in and about the region. One thing that has always struck me as odd - certainly about parts of Sunderland - is how a ‘bad’ area can be just a stone’s throw removed from a ‘good’ area. That brings very different types of people in close proximity on a daily basis, and that can be very handy for generating conflict.

Most of your characters are on the wrong side of the law, or at best, teetering on the brink. What draws you to these stories, and could you ever see yourself writing a police procedural?

Rogues and rascals are always interesting, I think. There’s no story in someone who just goes to work, comes home, pays all their bills on time and doesn’t cheat on their spouse or partner. Shake things up a little - maybe they’re mugged, or their spouse or partner cheats on them, or they lose their job unfairly and can’t pay their bills, and you’re getting somewhere. Focus on the bad lads (and lasses) from the start and you can’t go wrong.

As far as police procedurals go, I’ve read plenty of them in my time so it’s not that I dislike them, but I never had the slightest intention of ever writing one. Then I started writing Convictions, and the police - who were supposed to be bit part players, there of necessity - started taking over. It isn’t a traditional police procedural, but the police are in it a fair old bit. I can’t imagine writing anything like that again, but as a general rule, I never say never.

Gone Bad was a collection of fast-moving stories that were like a short, swift punch. Do you think your style has had to change in writing Convictions, your novel?

Funnily enough, all the longer pieces I’ve written have tended to be in a more laid back style. That’s never been a conscious decision, it’s just how it worked out. I’d love to write a novel that travelled at the same sort of speed as the shorter pieces. I’ll have to have a serious shot at that! (Maybe a novella as a stepping stone … that might be interesting to do.)

Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first story?

I started writing my first novel when I was seven. A friend’s mam gave us an old typewriter, a big, heavy, impressive-looking Imperial, and it seemed to me to be a sign that I should write something ambitious. The novel remains unfinished. I still have the typewriter.

What book do you most wish that you had written?

Probably The Grifters by Jim Thompson. Hell, ANYTHING by Jim Thompson!

You're publishing ebooks now - have you learned anything in that process?

Well, the same rules apply, up to point of publication: write the best book you can, get feedback from people who will tell you when you’ve gone wrong or can do better, and proofread your finished manuscript carefully. I’ve learned about formatting and I’m learning about promotion. The hardest thing is actually getting your book noticed in amongst all the others people are offering, and read by those people who might enjoy it.

Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

I find this aspect of publishing the most difficult by far. Interviews like this are good fun, I enjoy them and I appreciate the chance to do them. I blog and I mention stuff on Facebook and Crimespace, although I try not to just bang on about my own stuff. It gets really boring when people do that! Activity on the Amazon forum I’m less good at. I try to do something every few days - which is probably less than I should be doing. I can’t bring myself to use Twitter. It’s early days yet, so I’m not sure what’s the most effective. I like to think it all helps a little, and I’m in this for the long haul, so I hope over time I’ll really see a benefit.

Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

Yes, I think most people know now. I don’t have any family to speak of and I work from home, but I have a fantastically supportive partner (Steven Miscandlon, who doubles as my Take No Nonsense Editor) and some smashing friends, and there’s a terrific online writing community to share stuff with. For the most part, the reaction is just one of acceptance, which is great.

Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Oh, both. See above. ;p
(Hmm. Put you down as both right and very, very wrong, then. Ed.)

No denying you’re getting on a bit, girl. So what music do you want played at your funeral?

I’ve actually thought about this! I was pretty ill some years back and decided then I wanted to go through the curtains at the crem to ‘Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye’. Since then I’ve had a rethink and it’s currently between My Morning Jacket’s ‘I think I’m going to hell’, The Flaming Lips’ ‘Ego-tripping at the gates of hell’ and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’. (You might feel you can see a theme developing here.) In reality, I should think it’ll be something by Led Zeppelin. Not ‘Stairway…’, obviously, but maybe ‘Ramble on’. Hopefully not for a while yet, though!


  1. I did have lots of interesting comments in relation to your answers to the writing/book questions, but the mention of The Flaming Lips (great track) and funeral music at the end has wiped it all from my head.

    Mine would have to be:

    I Am The Resurrection - Stone Roses
    Lazarus - Boo Radleys

  2. Good call.

    My suggestion for funeral music is 'Straight To Hell' by The Clash. 'I Hear You Knocking' by Dave Edmunds would be canny just as the coffin trundles off through the curtains.

    For a crem though, I'm not sure you can beat Jools' pick of Arthur Brown.

  3. Good choices, James and Iain. Funeral music is the last chance to get your two penn'orth in - too good to miss. I may burn a disc for the wake. ;p

  4. Mine's 'Shaddapayerface.' Smashing interview.