Posted by sibelhodge on Thursday, March 17, 2011 Under: Author Interviews
I’d like to welcome the inspiring horror author Morgan Gallagher onto my blog today…
Morgan Gallagher is in her late 40s, and should know better, about spending her writing life with vampires. However, she has no choice, as they refuse to go away and leave her alone. She lives in the Scottish Borders, with her husband and their six year old son. A full time carer for her husband who is severely disabled, Morgan also works as a volunteer for several charities and is passionate about the rights of babies, children and mothers. She has campaigned vigorously against child detention during immigration procedures. She and her husband home educate their son and attempt to keep a never ending stream of cats under control. The North Sea pounds their fishing village every winter, and every major storm, the entire family are to be found in the car parked on the headland admiring the view. Apart from the cats, that is, who are at home dreaming of summer.
Briefly describe your journey in writing your first book.
Well, the whole of my life, really! I’ve always incorporated lots from my everyday life and observations, into my creative thinking. It all travels along the same path into my subconscious, really. I started the first page of the novel, on the day I had a very difficult day with a psychotherapist I was seeing for a sustained writer’s block. I felt my mind was being bored into, by this other being, who wanted to see inside me and see how I ticked. Immediately after the session I wrote the scene where Dreyfuss first feeds from Joanne, and she resists. That’s how I felt that day. About a year before, Suzy Lamplugh had vanished into thin air in London, and there was a huge media fuss about how someone could literally disappear without trace in busy London, in plain view one moment, and gone the next. I was in and around London a great deal at that time, and it had always stuck in my head that the world around us was transient, if it could be stolen away from us, in a moment. This melded with the later scene of the blood taking, and became... what if the person, who took you, was a vampire? It just made sense to me, that people can be stolen, utterly, and completely and what if the person who did the taking, wasn’t human?
That was the genesis of the original idea. I’d already written quite dark stories on being female, and being lost and alone with a brutal partner. It had taken me some years to escape from a bad relationship of my own. As I moved on in life, and both worked on my writing, and in new jobs and situations, my sense of voice grew as did the narrative around Joanne. I always had the ending of book 2 to write up to, and the inkling of the beginning of book 3. So I was weaving in many more elements from my own life journey, as my understanding of the world, grew. There was a huge development when I did several years studying at University in the ‘90s, and my understanding of hegemony and patriarchy, and historical misogyny, grew. It allowed my work to develop a level of authenticity which, quite frankly, I wish I knew nothing about. Human beings are incredibly nasty to fellow humans beings, when survival and fighting for power are left unchecked. Often, the women, and the children, suffer most. Rape is a weapon of war, after all. All of that informed the overall arc of the Joanne and Dreyfuss’s story: a backdrop of human struggle. In particular, working with women seeking asylum from inhuman treatment and torture, and how we then treat them as a presumed civilised society – such as locking up babies and young children in detention centres and letting them go hungry to bed... It all became part of the background, to inform how I showed Joanne’s story. The story always came first, and always will, however.
This is a vampire world, and that is essential to everything. But it’s vampires as actual beings, not cardboard cut outs. Like people, my vampires have different personalities and aspects. All vampires start off being people, after all... how do you carry on being you, when you are suddenly vampire, and not human? How do you cope, if you were decent human being? It’s a thought that intrigued me from the very first, with vampires and horror. One of my vampires, in book 2, was a Nun, who dedicated her entire life to service of others, and of God. How do you carry on being you, if you wake vampire, and didn’t choose it? Would we all be nastier people, if we had power and wealth, and could get away with things? And how to cope with isolation and poverty, if you are simply vampire, but with no other skills? I just adore vampires, I guess, and play with them a lot. Vampires see into you, sometimes, better than you see yourself. There’s a thousand stories just there. So the novel came from a simple idea, and it grew as my life did.
What is your latest novel?
My first – Changeling. Part one of the Dreyfuss Trilogy.
What inspired you to write the book?
Getting it out of my head!
What’s your favourite part of writing a novel?
The easy bits. The one where the muse dumps a shed load of words into your head, and you get them out, with no effort whatsoever. When you can spend 12 hours writing, and not notice it. Stephen King described it as ‘jumping into the hole in the page’, where you are swallowed up by the page, and time and space disappear. Those are great days, when that happens.
Are there any aspects of writing you struggle with?
All the rest of it! When you’re in the hole, it’s magic. But those holes are few and far between, and for me, are not linear in terms of narrative. I end up with flashes of the novel, in bits, everywhere. I then have to slog through, one word after another, and join them up. That’s just sheer pain and effort. And sweat, loads of sweat.
Where do you get your ideas from?
The same little shop in Hoboken, New Jersey, that sends Harlan Ellison his ideas. Otherwise, from my imagination.
How long does it take to complete a novel?
Actual writing time, between 2 and 3 years. This includes a good 6-9 months of leaving it alone, from finishing it, to doing a very good edit. Thinking time between writing time, decades, when you add in writer’s block.
Did you query agents or traditional publishers before self-publishing?
I approached one agent, and waited 7 months for a reply. Then I thought, nope, this isn’t going to get anywhere. So, only briefly, is the answer.
How did you handle the rejection letters?
I’d never had a rejection letter, before I was first published, so I had a good immunisation against them. I had a fantasy short story published that was submitted for a competition, that was only submitted as someone begged for entries and I came up with something for them. I came first, and was published in a gaming magazine. I then came runner up in a radio story competition, and it was recorded and went out on air. This was in the 1980s.
A few years later, another short story of mine, this time horror, was submitted by Diana Wynne Jones, who was mentoring me at the time, to Pan for their horror anthology. It was rejected, finally, after an office argument, about it being too explicit to publish. They explained out that they had liked it, and wanted it, but couldn’t go ahead, which was very nice of them. So I’d known back then, that my horror work fell between stools in terms of publishing. I’d used that story in my submission to Oxford as a mature student, and they sent me on to UEA as it better suited my passions for film. There, I got the highest single score ever recorded in their creative writing undergraduate programme, which I undertook as a minor: 97%.
There was also all my non-fiction writing, and political work. My knack in making personal, the larger issues, and bringing it down to people and their stories. I’m always getting feedback as to how I have a way with words, and how my writings can bring alive a factual story. In fact, huge sections of my transcriptions of visits to Yarl’s Wood Detention Centre, were lifted in whole cloth and put directly into the play ‘Motherland’, which is produced and directed by Juliet Stevenson and debuted in the West End and is often put on for political events. Natasha Walters, the writer, wrote and asked permission to use my work in the main text. http://www.refugeewomen.com/motherland.html
So, I guess I’m saying, I always knew my writing was both of a good quality, and that it did the thing I wanted most: it touched people. But that in terms of publishing, it is problematic: I approach violence, and violence against women, in a completely open and honest manner, and detail it meticulously. Many people find this very challenging: they want it soft soaped and acceptable. They want horror that suggests, but ducks the issues.
Most horror writers are male, and women are often fodder in horror stories, and they die horribly but the reality is ducked. I don’t duck. The traditional vampire creeps into your bedroom at night, beds you against your will and sucks your soul, and free will from you. They change you to their image, and as a female consumer you are supposed to thrill to the darkness wooing you and tremble with hidden desires at the touch of the invader. You fall into it, and enjoy the overcoming- all the way back to Lucy Westerna and Mina Harker, this trope appears in vampire fiction. It’s described as romance and adventure. I don’t see it that way. I call it rape.
Finding someone to publish me was always going to be an issue. So I wasn’t at all upset by the rejection from the single agency I’d approached. I’d researched them thoroughly, and wanted them as they were the best in the UK for the sort of work I wanted to publish. But I wasn’t shocked, or rejected when they turned me down – they’d only read a synopsis and a sample. And it was my first attempt at that sort of submission and it wasn’t as good as it could have been: I’d do it better, now.
Rejection can come for many reasons – not the right fit, not the right time, not the right tone, not the right buying trends. I can’t control any of that, but I can try and make my writing as good as I can manage, for me. So rejection letters don’t burn my soul, just batter my ego and pride.
What’s your writing process?
Characters, places and situations. They come to me, hard sometimes, and ride me very hard. I have to make room for them in my head, and let them be, or they would take over my life. And slowly, from those flashes, I get to see the full narrative, and then have to work out how to stitch the quilt together.
What factors influenced your decision to self-publish?
I resisted it for some time. I’m of an age where vanity press was a real bugaboo for all aspiring writers. But a friend suggested I look at it afresh, and ask others for advice, which I did. And the more I looked around it, the more sense it made in the current market place. I was initially only looking to get an unabridged copy out, as any publishing house would ruthlessly edit out some of my scenes of violence against Joanne and I needed the whole story to appear somewhere, before that occurred. The whole cloth informs everything, and slashing it to conform, would ruin much of Joanne’s subsequent story. And women, who are my predominant audience, are far more intelligent and accepting than the average publisher would allow. Grown up women know what happens in the real world. So I thought I could get the ‘real’ story out, and perhaps find an agent without spending 4 years doing so. I very quickly realised that doing it independently, through Ethics Trading, was all I needed. I’m very grateful for Sarah Barnard at Ethics, who’d gone through enough herself, to set up a press that used the best of her own experience, and yet allowed writers to retain control. Of course, it’s not out yet, so I do hope I don’t end up with egg all over my face.
Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Find your own voice, and stick to it. Take on board genuine criticism and always work to be better: the more you write, the better you can be. But be yourself, and speak in your own voice. And if that’s light romance, or bug eyed monsters or erotica – go for it. Don’t compare yourself to others if you are truly speaking for yourself.
What's next in the pipeline?
There’s the first half of Lucifer’s Stepdaughter to stitch into the second half. The second half has been written since before most of Changeling. Then, I need to make sense of book 3 –Moonchild. It’s the most challenging, as it’s mostly making it up word by sodding word, at the moment, at least. No muses have flown in through the windows, for Moonchild! Just sweat, so far.
Do you think your books would translate well to the big screen? If so who would you like to see play your lead characters ?
Changeling is almost impossible on the big screen. It’s an interior space with a lot of very hard and tearing violence and assault, from a male to a female, and a great deal of internal head thoughts dialogue. It’s not the stuff of moving image. It would take a superb film maker to make Changeling, and make it accessible to the audience and deal with the narrative. Lucifer’s Stepdaughter would make a fantastic movie – with a huge range of movement across countries and times, and a central cast of very interesting characters, all trying to avoid a truth at the same time as they try and steal the Holy Grail from under the noses of the others. I don’t tend to see my characters as actors, but my husband always wanted Jason Carter for Dreyfuss. I can see either Helena Bonham Carter or Wynona Ryder as Violette, Lucifer’s Stepdaughter. I’d rather unknowns made the parts for themselves, but I’d not say ‘no’ to Viggo Mortenson as Dreyfuss. You need power as an actor, to be both attractive, and vile and over bearing and vicious and approachable and beautiful and frightening and vulnerable and arrogant all at the same time. Dreyfuss is a psychopath but he has his own story too: Mortenson could pull it off.
Tell me three random things about yourself.
I’m six foot tall in a family with no one else more than 5 foot 8. I used to do a lot of mediaeval re-enactment. I’m one of the central characters in a West End play. Quite odd to sit in the audience, and watch an actor play you!
What do you do when you’re not writing?
I’m a full time carer for my husband, who is severely disabled. I’m a director of a couple of UK charities and we home educate our son. Housework is a never ending battle of complete indifference versus the need to be able to find stuff when you want it and being able to have guests come in through the door.
Do you write in just one genre?
No, but my detailing human darkness is when my writing is at its best. I’d love to write science fiction, which is my first love, but I’m simply not very good at it. My fantasy is rather twee. My poetry is okay, and my non-fiction work is powerful and well honed. But when I write about human darkness and vampire lives... it’s all so much more potent.
Do you use Social Media for marketing your novels?
I’ve used social media for years as a personal space. It’s been quite tricksy to incorporate the fiction side, with my already established presences. I do to some extent, and have added twitter into the mix, which I’ve given up on before now. I don’t use them to markets my writing, as such. I use them to market me, I suppose, and with that, comes my writing. This is the first time I’ve used it to try and get people to buy my work – all my non-fiction work is done for free as part of political campaigning and awareness raising.
Who are your writing influences?
Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Stephen King, John Wyndham, James White, Tanith Lee, Minette Walters, Arthur C Clarke, James Herbert, LM Montgomery, The Brontes, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, J Michael Straczynski, Joss Whedon, Alan Moore, The Pinis... I could go on for some time....
If you weren’t writing, what would be your favourite job?
I’m a qualified teacher; Drama, Media and Film. I love teaching and would be a Film academic were it not for my dyslexia.
Which five people would you invite for dinner?
Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Stephen King, Joss Whedon and Jane Austin. I suspect we’d all have to agree not to swear in front of Miss Austen.
Describe your latest novel in fifteen words or fewer.
How much can a human survive, before they are in danger of losing their humanity?
What are you reading at the moment?
Nothing, I fall into books so completely, I have to ration myself.
What three things would you add to your bucket list of things to do.
Win the lottery, build a home, travel the world.
Do you write full time? If not, how do you balance writing with another job?
I manage about 60 hours a week, in between everything else, in small snatches. At the moment there isn’t much fiction in my work load. After Changeling is launched fully, I can spend more time on Lucifer’s Stepdaughter. (I just asked my hubby if I spent about 60 hours a week on the computer. His answer was “Have you cut down?” Go figger.)
Do your characters talk to you?
Only if the gaffa tape slips off. They sometimes manage amazing feats of escape, and it’s quite difficult to hammer them back down again. But I need to eat, sleep and interact with other human beings. So they have to shut up.
Have you ever used a friend or foe as a character?
As the kernel of a character, yes. Perhaps the name, or a part of a personality. Never a whole person, transposed to an entire character. Friends and acquaintances, yes. Foes, no. I’d never give a foe that sort of attention.
Surely, death would be easier...
It was a thought Joanne had resisted from the beginning.When he took her, that fateful night in London, and locked her up in cell; she had fought against him at every turn.Now, as the weeks turned to months, and she began to suspect his boasting about being a vampire was true... she doubted she could ever escape him. Can she keep fighting, or will he win?
How long can she stay human?
Connect with Morgan
Many thanks for your time, Morgan. Being one of the characters in a play is pretty impressive! And I can't believe you manage to cram so much in.
Good luck with Changeling!
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