Hello my Freaky Darlings,
Today we interrogate Lou Morgan. Lou’s first novel, “Blood and Feathers” was published by Solaris Books in 2012, and was shortlisted for both British Fantasy Awards for Best Newcomer and Best Fantasy Novel. The sequel, “Blood and Feathers: Rebellion” was released in the summer of 2013. Her short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Solaris, Jurassic Press and PS Publishing.
1. What drives you to write?
I like telling stories – I need to tell them, I suppose. I think it’s pretty much the same for anyone who writes, whether they’re doing it as a hobby or as a job. I like the “what if?” and the “why?” and the “if only…” and I never quite manage to switch them off.
Plus I was an only child growing up in a big old house. I think I just got into the habit of imagining people.
2. What attracted you to writing horror?
Most writers are, I guess, interested in people – and horror is a genre that allows us as readers and writers to examine people at both their best and their worst. Horror can be cathartic and thought-provoking… and often both together. Like most of the speculative subgenres, it’s at its best when it’s used to tip the world slightly sideways and show us something new about something familiar. More flippantly, I guess you could say that for someone like me, who’s scared of just about everything, it’s nice to be the one pulling the strings…
3. Who are your favourite horror writers?
I tend to pick and mix horror: my favourite short story is one of Robert Bloch’s, which I read in a children’s horror anthology when I was incredibly young. I also remember reading some really unsettling stories for children by Philippa Pearce – so while she’s not necessarily an author you would think of in that context, she was a huge part of my introduction to horror.
Lovecraft was another one I read very early on, and while he and his work come with a variety of complicated problems, you can’t deny his influence. I’m always a sucker (sorry) for a good vampire story, although I’m probably more at the Stoker than the Rice end of the spectrum!
It goes without saying that Stephen King’s name is right up there, as is Joe Hill’s: “Heart Shaped Box” was the first thing of his I read and it blew me away. A few of Michael Marshall Smith’s darker short stories are burned into the back of my skull and still bother me (in a good way). There’s also some absolutely brilliant teen horror around that I’ve loved – notably Will Hill’s “Department 19” series and Kendare Blake’s “Anna Dressed In Blood”. I grew up on the old Point Horror books, so it’s great to see properly scary teen fiction doing well.
4. Which horror novels do you think every horror fan should read?
Oh, I’m not sure that you can prescribe horror. What scares me might fall flat for you: it’s a very personal genre. I have to admit, until recently I hadn’t read “The Shining”. I don’t know why – it had just sort of fallen through the gaps. If there was one book I’d recommend to anyone who loves horror, that would be the one. I was doing some research a few weeks ago and decided to re-read the chapter that had really genuinely scared me – the topiary animals – on its own. My theory was that in isolation and without the atmospheric build-up, it couldn’t possibly be as frightening.
I made it three pages in before I had to go round the house turning all the lights on. And the radio – just for good measure.
5. Ebooks or paperback?
Given the choice, always a paperback. I’m hugely in the “books as objects” camp, I think, as even though I’ve got a Kindle, I don’t find myself using it very often. Seeing a percentage scrore isn’t quite as satisfying as watching the pages go by in a really solid book – and I love the times you pick up a book to reread it and find a relic of the last time you had it down from the shelf: a train ticket or a receipt tucked between the pages. It somehow feels so much more like you’re connected to the book, to the story and even to your own history.
6. What would make you pick up a novel by a new author?
It could be that I like the idea, it could be that I like the cover. Most often, it’s a recommendation by a friend whose taste I know overlaps with mine. Every now and again I’ll wander round a bookshop and randomly pick books off shelves, and then read the first page or two: I found a fantastic Italian noir in translation that way. It was completely outside my comfort zone and brutal as all hell, but I was totally gripped by it. (It was “At the End of A Dull Day”, by Massimo Carlotto, incidentally.) I am, however, a perverse creature and a huge amount of hype will see me digging my heels in and refusing to read a book!
7. Who is your favourite fictional character?
I’m a big fan of the slightly damaged, grouchy but noble Hero-With-A-Past. Sooner or later, it always comes back to Athos from “The Three Musketeers”.
8. Do you plot your stories or does it just unfold before your eyes?
It’s a combination of the two. I need some kind of guideline, or I start wandering all over the place and then get flustered because I’m lost… but conversely, having to plan things out in too much detail sucks the life out of a story for me. I think everyone’s process is slightly different: I know people who plot in intricate detail and I know people who throw themselves headlong at a project – and both of those work just as well. It all depends on the individual, I guess!
9. Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn’t plan?
Sometimes – and it’s nice when that happens as it’s usually a good sign you’ve invested in the character enough to give them an inner life. Not that it doesn’t come with challenges of its own…
10. Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?
I’m a big believer in playlists for novels (they start out usually being about thirty songs long and eventually get trimmed down: the playlists I wrote the “Blood and Feathers” books to are printed in the back of each book). I don’t tend to actually hear the music after the first forty or so listens, but it helps get my mind back into the right sort of place. For a short story, it’s usually just one song. In one case, it was one particular song over a hundred times in a row… that hurt by the time I was done.
11. Do you do a lot of research for your stories?
I do, funnily enough. Even if they’re not really the kind of thing that feels like it needs research, I like to have a poke around and see what I can come up with. It may well not end up on the page but it’s good to know it’s there – and sometimes it becomes part of an Easter-egg in the story. I did a lot of research on angels before I started “Blood and Feathers”, while “Her Heartbeat, An Echo”, the Egyptian mummy story I wrote for Jurassic’s “Book of the Dead” took quite a lot of thinking about the process of mummification and the way museums run major visiting exhibitions.
The most-researched story I’ve ever written was one about serial killers, which has yet to see the light of day. I spent a very long time filling a whole notebook with some very interesting (and when I say “interesting”, you can read that as “frightening”) people. But the kind of research I like best is the accidental stuff: the things you stumble on and store away because you just know that one day they’ll be useful.
12. Facebook or Twitter?
I love Twitter, but I’ve definitely tried to spend less time on there lately. I like it because it’s a virtual watercooler and a good place to hang out and chat or to keep up with the world in general, but it can be a very noisy place too!
13. What really pisses you off about writing?
How unpredictable it is. One day, words fly from your fingers like falling stars. You could write a short story in a day or two; finish a novel in a month… anything is possible because you are a genius! All the words are yours!
And then the next day, they’re not – and you spend four hours typing and deleting precisely twenty-four words over and over and over again. The same twenty-four words. For six hours. And then you give up and go and stare out of the window and hate everyone who’s ever finished a book, short story or – frankly – a shopping list.
Not that I have any experience of this, you understand. Not that I’m bitter or anything…