Today, I welcome the lovely Morgen Bailey to my blogging corner. Morgen must be one of the busiest writers I ‘know’. And when I say ‘busy’, I am sure after reading this, you will agree that this is certainly an understatement. This then begs the obvious question: When does Morgen find time to sleep? Being so passionate about anything literary and supporting other writers, Morgen is normally the one doing the interviewing. So I appreciate Morgen taking some time out, so we can find out a little about her writing journey.
Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor/critiquer, Chair of NWG (Northampton Literature Group,which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition and creative writing tutor for her local council. Morgen is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/, is consumed by all things literary.
Wow! But she doesn’t stop there. Morgen is currently writing her eighth novel, a departure from the crime genre; its protagonist is Henry, a talking dog with attitude.
I have many questions for Morgen, so please take a break at any time to grab a cuppa. And I have bought cake. Oh, and if any naughty gremlins have got in and caused problems with any of the links, could you kindly copy and paste into your browser.
So without further ado …
Morgen, thank you so much for taking valuable time out to chat with me. You are normally on the other side interviewing writers/poets, so thought it time to find out a little about your own writing journey, and why you are so passionate about all things literary.
So to start off, could you tell us a little about yourself? Did you always want to be a writer? If not, what did you want to be?
Hi Helen. Thank you for inviting me. I’m a 40-something female who wears glasses because I used to read Stephen King by torchlight under the duvet in my teens (so it’s all his fault!). I originate from Buckinghamshire, England but have lived in Northampton since the early 1990s where I share a house with my ever-patient Jack Russell/Cairn-cross dog and two lodgers (housemates).
To-date I’ve interviewed c. 1,000 authors (yourself included) and when asked this question, about half say they’ve always wanted to be a writer, the other half have (mostly) said they stumbled upon it. That’s what happened to me. The short version is that I moved to a new area and took up evening classes. After computing and languages (French and German), I then spotted (January 2005) creative writing… and I’ve been a freelancer now since March 2012 and a part-time creative writing tutor for my local county council since January. I used to be jealous (in a good way) of those who’d always known they wanted to write but then I remind myself I have all those years’ experience to write about. Plus it’s FAR easier being an author these days (internet search engines, social media, self-publishing etc.).
When did you start writing, and what was the spark that inspired this passion?
I wrote constantly since starting the college classes but they stopped a couple of years later so it fizzled out (no incentive) but the passion was always there. I bumped into (not literally) one of the other students in early 2008 and we said it was a shame it wasn’t still going (we’d both almost stopped writing), so I said, half-seriously, “Why don’t we have it at my house?” To which she said, “OK then” so I did – every other (then every) Monday night from March 2008 to January 2013 when my other commitments proved too much, and one of the other members took over running it at her house. I met up with them early December 2013 and nothing’s changed, only the venue.
As a child, were you an avid reader? If so, what was your favourite book? If answer is yes, what do you love about burying your head in a good book? Do you read a lot these days?
I do remember being a bookworm but the only book I remember the title of was Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and His Child. Sadly he died last year. I would have liked to have met him.
As for ‘these days’, I wish. I love reading novels but I tend to be a bit sporadic so have to keep backtracking. I’ve tried joining book clubs three times to get me reading more but as soon I see the to-be-read lists, I think, “I don’t have time to read something I probably won’t like”. Anna Karenina was the one that made me realise that book groups aren’t for me. History was my worst subject at school so a 700+-pager classic made me go cold (sorry any Tolstoy fans reading this). I’d started writing short stories before I turned to novels (if I had to make the choice, shorts would still win) so I’ve been reviewing them (individually or as collections) on my blog and am booked up for the next four months so there are plenty of writers out there wanting theirs read (which is great!).
The great thing about reading is the escapism. It’s a chance to switch off from the real world and be excited, appalled, thrilled and everywhere in between. A good book teaches you something and makes you think when you’ve finished reading it. If you’re laughing or crying during or at least by the end of it, then the writer’s done their job.
What writers do you think have influenced you?
Without a doubt, Roald Dahl. I love writing twist-in-the-tail short stories/flash fiction and apart from reading his books, I was an avid watcher of his ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ TV series. Stephen King was my other ‘hero’ back then so I’ve always had a dark side, although I’ve mellowed now to crime and humour and love whatever Kate Atkinson writes, especially her quirky short stories.
Is there one person you can think of who has played a significant part in your writing career? If so, can you elaborate?
Crime writer Sally Spedding lead the writing workshop I started in and apart from almost putting me off it completely the first session (by rightly pulling apart a poem on the first night), she’s never failed to encourage me. I really do owe it all to her.
Some writers have a preferred writing schedule. Do you? And, do you have a favorite place to write?
I tend to write when I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like (as well as a blogger, I’m also a freelance editor and tutor). I’m much quicker on my computer (my desk overlooks my back garden so a quiet atmosphere, only accompanied by classical music and my snoring dog!) although I often write or come up with ideas when I’m walking the aforementioned dog.
What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
A bit of everything, especially for my short stories although they often have dead bodies in there somewhere. I’ve written seven and a bit novels to-date: lad lit, mystery, chick lit, sort of lad lit (the ‘bit’) then three crime novels, and most recently the beginning (50k) of a not-sure-the-genre-yet-possibly-humour novel about a talking dog with attitude. The literary agent Judith Murdoch said to me at a pitch session, “You’re a crime writer, you need to write crime,” and it turns out that I do. Not sure how she got that from the chick lit and mystery novels I was pitching but she was right. As for other novel genres, I think it’s unlikely I’d write historical or sci-fi/fantasy because I don’t read them (or have any interest in reading them) but the short stories I’ve written in those genres have ended up being readers’ favourites so maybe I’ll surprise myself. I can write very quickly – I wrote the first draft of my chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List (TSDSL) for NaNoWriMo 2009 and did 117,540 words in the month, 28 days actually). As long as the ideas flood out, and I’m very fortunate in that they do, my fingers can usually keep up (I was a secretary for 20 years).
What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person, second or third person?
I LOVE LOVE LOVE second person. Normally I use a mixture, I suppose mostly third person, but my heart always beats a little faster when I write second. For anyone not reading this I’d say please do give it a go (let me know if you need help) or take a look at http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/2ppov.
Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
A bit of both. Like most of my interviewees have said, I’ve had a nugget and gone with it, seeing what comes out. I did plot my first novel and it sort of stuck with what I had in mind but there were a few going off at tangents along the way so I didn’t plan too much for the subsequent ones (at all, for TSDSL) although it would have helped with my serial killer series as I got stuck a few times but generally I’m happy with the first draft… but then I am with most of them. The subsequent drafts is where the hard work really starts.
Do you have a method for creating your characters, their names and what do you think makes them believable?
It depends what I’m writing. If it’s from a picture (a tool I use when teaching) then I’ll just look at it and see what I think the person’s name is, otherwise I’ll either pick a name from the air or it’ll just come to me as I write the piece, sometimes I change them if it doesn’t suit. I do look at baby name websites which really I should perhaps refer to more often as I want to call all my characters Elliot (the men anyway, unless it’s a surname). Not sure where that desire comes from other than being the surname of a school friend, Natasha.
Do you have a favourite of your stories, books or characters? What have you had published to-date?
Ah. I’m rather rubbish at submitting (I don’t!). The first thing professionally published was a 60-worder (below) in Woman’s Weekly in October 2006. They stopped publishing them within a month or two (was it something I said?). I’ve also had a few articles and short story (Goldilocks with a twist) published in the NAWG’s LINK magazines and have appeared a various places online. I list everything I do/have achieved on my ‘Morgen With An E’ blog page.
Deep Pan Payback (published as Payback)
“Deep-pan 12-inch Hawaiian, delivered, please”. Alex was starving. Moving house, he’d skipped lunch. He thought of his ex-girlfriend, Jane, and sighed. Landing a high-powered job had gone to her head and she’d kicked him out of her flat. His doorbell rang. He got his money and opened the door. The delivery driver, horrified, dropped the pizza. Alex smiled. “Hello Jane.”
Yes, I love the twist!
Morgen, do you have a preference for traditional publishing, independent publishing, ebooks, etc? And why?
I’m sure every author would love to have their books traditionally published and in every bookshop in the globe but it’s one of the toughest things going. I tried the agent route (admittedly only to a dozen or so) before going with eBooks. Creating eBooks is really easy (I have a free guide on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/ebooks/how-to-create-an-ebook) but there’s nothing quite like seeing your name on a book cover. I’ve yet to have that, although I’ve been in a charity anthology which was thrilling. I should submit more but again it’s a time thing. Yes, I know, priorities, Morgen!
I do plan by the end of this year to have re-edited my own novels and get them to my editor, Rachel, either for eBooking or out to agents. I have a publisher interested in one of my standalones so I’m currently working on getting that out to them.
Have you encountered any obstacles during the writing or publishing process of your books?
Agents saying “no” is the biggest. It’s why I went down the eBook route but I’d like to be traditionally published. You just have to keep going and most writers find that once writing grabs them they don’t want to ‘give up’. Not that self-publishing is giving up. I did it for various reasons: freedom of control (cover design, content, pricing, etc.) and I know several authors who are doing really well out of it and others who have turned down big dollar/pound contracts because it wasn’t right for them (I turned down a couple for TSDSL for the same reason).
Having said earlier that my words flow so easily, there are of course times when I get to a point in a story when I don’t know what happens next so I move on to something else, or at least have a breather for a while (a dog walk is a good distraction) then I can usually pick up when I get back to it.
Morgen, you now work full time as a writer? What services do you provide for other writers?
I do. I gave up my day job March 2012 and while it’s been hard (only going broke once!) I don’t regret it. There’s nothing like being your own boss, although I do obviously have a few options listed on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writer-for-hire but editing (and / or proofreading / feedbacking) is the one that keeps me in bread and water (the former is granary, the latter is flavoured… I really push the clichéd boat out!). I also build blogs, record short stories, type up manuscripts etc. – and am planning on getting my courses online – anything to do with writing, really.
Morgen, you are doing what your love, so that is wonderful.
What do you love the most about your writing life?
The writing itself: easy. Never knowing what’s going to come out. I know it’s come from my sub-conscious but it surprises me all the time. I love it when characters take over… and they do.
I also love editing because I get paid to pull apart other people’s novels (and short stories)… in a firm but fair way. So, technically I read a lot of novels but it’s more analysis so a different kind of read. I enjoy helping people, and pretty much everyone I’ve worked with has said my feedback has helped their writing ongoing.
Is there a least enjoyable aspect of your writing life?
Least favourite is not having enough time. My life is 90% writing-related (with 10% thinking about writing or going to the cinema etc.) so I can’t complain but an extra couple of hours (days) here and there would be good. I love leap years for that very reason.
Do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
I don’t but I’d love one. They do prefer series and now I’m settled into writing crime, I plan to send all those (and the other ones) to my editor and take my writing more seriously. They’re not any good to anyone sitting in files.
How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’? Why does it seem to be so vital these days?
All of it but I’m enjoying it. I’m on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and many others, and of course my blog helps get my name known. Authors have to have an online presence. I had an email this week from a 74-year-old who’s just published his first (non-fiction) book and his publisher has pointed him in my direction to help him get a blog built.
Yes, having an online presence is so important these days. Gone are the days when a publisher would do the marketing/PR.
You certainly have your finger on the pulse in relation to writing/poetry competitions. Do you enter any of these? Do you think this a good idea?
I think it’s a great idea to enter competitions, especially themed ones because it invariably gets you (me) writing something new which, if it doesn’t get anywhere, means you still have it to do something else with. They also help the editing process because if you’ve written a 3,000-word story but the limit (and do always read the rules – it’s all too easy to get disqualified) is 2,500 then you have to find at least 500 words to chop… and don’t think they’ll accept 2,501 words, they won’t.
Are you involved in anything else writing-related other than actual writing or marketing of your writing?
I run two writing groups; one critique, the other a writing workshop and I love them both. I’m lucky and have a great bunch of people, some of whom (two) come to both sessions. I’ve also been teaching from January 2014; five creative writing courses and initially three I.T. courses (eBooking, blogging and social networking) but I’ve just submitted my courses and dates for 2014/15 academic year and have removed the social networking but added four more writing courses – details on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/courses.
I love going to lit fests, workshops talks etc. and you (I) never stop learning. I live and breathe writing – it’s always a pleasure never a chore, as Hugh Laurie said to Joely Richardson in ‘Maybe Baby’ (if you’ve never seen it, do, it’s hilarious… especially Rowan Atkinson and Dawn French). And do see ‘Stranger than Fiction’. It’s my favourite film of all time and most people have never heard of it.
I haven’t seen these movies, so will definitely check them out. And you are right – you never stop learning. And when you do something you love, it isn’t a chore.
Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
I am on most things going: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ are four that my blog posts to automatically (when I post on it, of course) as well as Pinterest, Tumblr, about.me etc. Unfortunately it’s very time-consuming so other than the automated aspects, I’m not on them much.
Could you give any tips for writers about the writing process or the path to publishing?
I have a page of writing tips on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/writing-101. Every time I think of something else, I add it, so do keep checking back.
What projects are you working on now?
Of mine, I’m editing my old stuff, mainly. I’m currently editing a client’s 79,000-word mystery novel and it’s really interesting (and I’m not just saying that, I’m a tough crowd!). She’s planning on sending me a horror so I have that to look forward to (with a one directly from a publisher in between, not sure of what genre yet and I have two others in the pipeline).
What attributes do you feel are necessary to be a successful author?
Determination definitely, and the ability to accept a ‘no’, even if it’s wrapped up as a nice ‘no’. I can almost feel my skin thicken with every rejection but you have to have that. Horror writer Dean Koontz had over 500 rejections so I bear that in mind, although I’m also a competition judge so I know what works and what doesn’t, in other authors’ writing certainly. It always takes a second pair of eyes to spot anomalies, and reading our work out loud… which is where writing groups are invaluable.
Morgen, what do you think the future holds for a writer?
I am SO excited by where we’re at right now and I’m so glad that I didn’t try to get loads of work out when I first started. (a) because it was probably dire, although looking back there are some redeemable nuggets and (b) because we can now do what we like, under hopefully editors’ guidance. I know of a writer who finished his/her novel one day and self-published it the next. That’s the worst thing they could do. Even if they don’t get anyone else’s opinion, they should leave the first draft for at least a month, do at least another edit thereafter and put it up only if it’s good as it can be… for a non-second pair of eyes novel, anyway.
Yes, it is exciting times for an author.
Now for a very important question. Do you have any favourite snacks on hand when you write?
Oh dear. You’ve found me out. Yes, I’m a terrible snacker. I’ve let weight creep on over the past few years (worse since I gave up work) but I’ve lost nearly four stone (26kg) since June 2013 so I’m determined to keep it off… and if I can, lose another 10kg to get back to my 2001 weight.
To answer your question, I love crisps, mints, and satsumas.
Morgen, what words best describe you?
Dedicated, determined, passionate, helpful.
Do you have a favourite word, phrase or quote?
‘Cuddle’ is my all-time favourite word. My favourite quote is “I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.” Isaac Asimov. It’s often how I feel.
Aside from writing, do you have any other passions?
Is there anything else? Sorry, obsessive part of my brain took over there.
HA! I can relate to that also.
So where can we buy your books?
At the moment just online – see http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/books-mine for all the links. I do plan to paperback my chick lit novel, The Serial Dater’s Shopping List, this summer.
Would you like to add anything else?
Just to say thank you very much for inviting me. It’s certainly made a change to be on the other side of the desk (near the radiator too, much appreciated).
And Morgen, just to finish up, could you please complete the following?
My earliest memory – oh gosh. This is a tough one. I remember getting a dog (an Alsatian/Lassie-cross called Dinah), two guinea pigs (Starsky & Hutch) and my mum hurting her leg which were both pre-eleven because we moved house then but I remember very little else. I think it’s because I had such an ordinary childhood that only certain events stick in my sponge of a brain.
At school I was – usually alone. Certainly in secondary school (the two friends I’d made at first day registration were together in a different class). It’s probably why I don’t mind it now. I certainly take after my father rather than mother – she hates being alone and is a great gardener. I don’t garden, I deforest. 🙂
When I was a child I wanted to I relax by – probably reading. I don’t remember going outside much so it would have been a great way to spend my time. Now it’s going to the cinema or reading. They’re the only times I sit still and do ‘nothing’, although my editor’s brain is still switched on and I can’t help analysis either/both. Walking my dog is also therapeutic, although I’m usually reading/writing/editing as I walk (a trick I mastered out of necessity as every minute in my life counts).
It’s not fashionable but – I wear men’s shoes often than women’s but mainly because I’m an eight and a half (42/43) so there’s very little choice (trainers, loafers or boots) despite me living in a town that used to be renowned for its shoes (and why our football team is the Cobblers). Oh, and I don’t ‘do’ pink. I’ve never been a girlie girl, probably because I grew up with an older brother and no sisters, but I’m eternally grateful to him for my love of technology.
If only I could compete – with JK Rowling in book sales, and quiz champions for their brilliant memories. I love the film ‘Limitless’ for that very reason. It’s the film (as well as my favourite, ‘Stranger than Fiction’) that I wish I’d written.
In the movie of my life I’d be played – by Daryl Hannah or Steffi Graf. I’ve been told I look like them so definitely a compliment.
I’m always being asked – for help. I’ve just had a phone call from one of my writers’ husbands who needed to retitle a blog post. In a ten-minute conversation, I also helped him create a new page and add links.
I’m always being told – that people don’t know how I fit everything in. I do; it’s called not having a life outside writing. I gave up my job in March 2012 and while I despair at my sad bank balance, I’m living the dream.
Full website links:
Main blog: http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com
Interview-only (WordPress): http://morgensauthorinterviews.wordpress.com
Interview-only (Blogspot): http://morgensauthorinterviews.blogspot.co.uk
Online writing groups (blogs/Facebook):
- http://nonfictionwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/335526669896374
- http://novelwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/508696639153189
- http://poetrywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/388850977875934
- http://scriptwritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/319941328108017
- http://shortstorywritinggroup.wordpress.com / http://www.facebook.com/groups/544072635605445
Synopsis of novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List
31 men in 31 days – what could possibly go wrong?
Isobel MacFarlane is a recently-turned-40 journalist who usually writes a technology column for a newspaper based in Northampton, England, but her somewhat-intimidating boss, William, has set her the task of meeting 31 men, via a local internet dating site, all within a month. Having an active, though fruitless, social life with her friend and ‘Health & Beauty’ colleague Donna, she knows what she wants in a man, so creates a shopping list of dos and don’ts, and starts ticking them off as she meets Mr Could Be Right Except For, Mr Not Bad, Mr Oh My Goodness and Mr Oh So Very Wrong. Follow the ups (there are a few) and downs (there are many) of the dating process and intertwined with her experiences, get to know her colleague and family, including her niece Lola who, apart from being an amazing storyteller, can eat ambidextrously whilst wearing a Princess glove puppet on her right hand, and Baby, William’s non-too-healthy African Grey parrot.
Extract from novel The Serial Dater’s Shopping List
I shake my head, attempt a smile and watch him clear the plate. Finally, he picks up the chicken bones and I expect him to eat them whole, but he just licks them clean and drops them back on the plate. He issues another belch, this time apologising as he realises it was loud enough to draw attention to himself, as if the devouring of an African family’s monthly intake wasn’t bad enough. Throughout the whole episode, there’s not been a word of proper chat between us. He’s been too busy eating and I’ve been concentrating on keeping my hotpot down.
As the last morsel of food disappears into the black hole, the waitress heads for our table, I assume to clear the platter away, but she’s holding a plate above her left shoulder. I’m relieved it’s not big enough to be another meal for two, although I wouldn’t put it past him, but more like a standard sized dinner plate. I will it to be nothing I would normally eat, but am sorely disappointed as laid before me is a double helping of, the waitress announces, “homemade Banoffee pie”. I could cry.
I smile less than half-heartedly at the waitress who looks sympathetically at me before retreating to the kitchen, I assume to gossip about Table 14. At the thought of the beautiful dessert being dismembered in such a way, I look at Tim’s eyebrows. I can’t bear to look any further down as his nose is running and it’s close to meeting the barbecue sauce on his upper lip. I’ve finally had enough and blurt out, “I’m sorry, but I’ve just remembered I’ve left my oven on.” But then I recall Duncan’s battle to lose weight and feel guilty, until Tim’s mouth gapes open revealing a mixture of toffee syrup and pastry, which threaten to spill over the edge like a coin cascade at a fair, and I can’t bear to look at him anymore.
As I get up to leave, he splutters a, “so, do you want to meet again?” and I don’t know what to say without hurting his feelings. I mumble a non-committal, “I’ll message you” and almost do a Usain-Bolt-sprint down the stairs.
Thank you, Helen.
Morgen, it was great to have you drop by. You are so inspiring – you are living your dream by making it happen. And I have to reiterate – I don’t know how you fit in everything you do.
Thank you again.
Helen Ross writes interviews Morgen Bailey 19 March 2014