Ghostwriting Author Talk
Interview conducted by Emily Wootton.
Roz Morris is one of the guest speakers for the Surrey New Writers Festival, and will be giving an author talk on ghostwriting. In this interview, Roz talks about ghostwriting and many things, including writer’s block, research, and a horse named Val…
Q: Your book Ever Rest is coming out in just a couple of months now! The cover looks gorgeous, by the way. What can you tell us about the book?
I’m so pleased you like the look of it! Ever Rest is a story of music, mountains and mourning. A man dies in a climbing accident. Twenty years on, the people who were close to him can’t move on because his body was never retrieved from the glacier. They’re caught in ice too. And he was a rock star, so his music keeps him alive for the world. To his fans he is youth, first love, the voice that sang them through their darkest hours. It’s about lost loves, friendships, people who were bound together by a remarkable time that won’t let go of them. How will they eventually move on?
Q: How about the book that you’re working on, Four? (or at least I understand that may be a working title!)
Ah, that’s a big secret! I have a few files with ideas and a rough outline. I never talk about an idea in its early stages because I need to discover what it wants to become. I know there are certain kinds of character I want to write about, and they’re suggesting plot events. Thus, eventually, Four will be built.
Q: Has your writing process or schedule been quite different over the lockdown than it would normally be?
Actually, it’s been roughly the same. My writing is a life habit, a mindset. I always have an idea or two that I’m tending, adding to, thinking about, researching. It happens naturally in my brain. I’m always grappling with a creative problem or two.
The biggest change was in my teaching and speaking work. Some events became impossible. Others moved very successfully online and are continuing that way.
Q: Speaking of differences, how is ghostwriting a different process to your own writing?
Very different! With my own writing, I make all the decisions. What the book will be, what influences I’ll draw on, the style. Also, how long I’ll take to write it!
With a ghostwritten book, you’re part of a team. They direct how the book will be, what the deadlines are. It’s like any kind of craftsman job – you use your skill to give the client what they want. It’s very much their book, not yours.
Q: You’ve also done some story writing for Square Enix! That must have been an experience – what was that like?
A total blast. I wrote story excerpts and dialogue for a Lara Croft game. I watched videos and cut-scenes from games to capture the Lara mindset and tone, then I was ready. My ghostwriting experience helped. I find it quite easy to slip into a role.
Q: What type of research (if any) do you do before sitting down to write a first draft?
Research is always my starting point. It helps me create the world and the characters so I know where I’m going.
For Ever Rest, I needed a lot. Some was geographical – the terrain of the Himalaya, and especially the route up Everest. Then there was high-altitude mountaineering – both the technical facts and the mindset needed to climb.
Another important subject was music. Some of that was familiar because I was in a band at college. I still make music sometimes. The music for the book’s promo videos is a jamming session with me and a friend who builds string instruments out of driftwood.
Alongside that, there was emotional research. I was very interested in the lasting psychological effects of bereavement and loss, especially grief that’s impossible to resolve. What’s it like to lose somebody who was the transforming love of your life – and then never be allowed to let them go?
What do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
Persistence through the difficult times. We start a book on a blaze of inspiration. This is such an optimistic time – in our minds, the book will be brilliant. Then the honeymoon ends and the book doesn’t live up to the hopes you had. That’s the hard phase, to push through, the effort needed to make it work. And the faith that you can do it.
And on the flip side, what is the best part about writing?
I find there’s a moment when I recognise the deep truth I’ve been looking for. Often I’ll begin a book because an idea won’t let go. I write a lot of notes, working through my thoughts, questioning myself. Then one day, the mists will clear and I’ll see what it’s really about.
With Ever Rest, I began with the idea of a man in a glacier, coming back slowly. And the people who were waiting. Music seemed to fit with it, because of its way of preserving a piece of time. Breaths in amber. Gradually I saw that this was about loss, our younger selves, how we carry it all inside us, how we must accept who we are, and the rawest human relationships created by phenomenal times. Once I found that, the revision was joy because I understood what I was making. That’s one of the principles I teach – revision is re-vision.
Q: You are also a writing coach; what classes do you run and do you have any coming up?
My next course is a three-part masterclass in novel revision starting on 15 April at Jane Friedman’s site. You’ll be able to catch up later if you’ve missed any of the parts. Later in the summer I’m teaching a masterclass in back story, again at Jane Friedman’s.
And in September I’m teaching a course in self-publishing at the Romantic Novelists Association. In the early part of my career I worked in the editorial department of a publisher, so I learned all the publishing jobs. It’s been a huge advantage when I’ve published my own work. For more details, follow my newsletter.
Q: What advice would you give to your younger self about writing?
Find good people to advise you. You need the company of likeminded people who understand why writing matters so much to you, who help you prioritise it as you need to. You also need people to learn from. This might be a formal course, or other writers who beta-read your manuscripts. They’ll illuminate your blind spots, which we all have. And you also need people who’ll help you understand what your strengths are and push you when you could do better.
Also, be really patient. Learn to love rewriting. As I said above, your edits will get the very best out of your ideas and material. Don’t think of editing as correcting, it’s a creative process that helps you make a book you’ll be proud of.
Q: Writer’s block is a common curse for writers – do you have any advice to overcome it?
There are several kinds of writer’s block. Often, you’ll get stuck with the book you’re working on. Usually there’s a problem you haven’t yet solved. You’ve lost confidence, somehow, in what you’re writing. Take time to ask yourself what the problem might be. It’s usually because you’re forcing something – perhaps the next piece of plot you’re writing is contrived. Perhaps a character is doing something for a reason you can’t connect with. Stop and ask yourself what you’re unhappy about in the work. I’ve made a lot of breakthroughs that way.
Another kind of block is anxiety and panic. Life events can make writing and other work impossible. You might not be able to simply push through. On the other hand, you might find work is a welcome refuge, that it puts you right.
I find music is useful to realign me to a book I’m working on. I collect signature pieces of music that help me connect with the characters or their world.
Q: In your newsletter, Val the horse makes a guest appearance! Can you tell us more about him?
When I was a kid, I gobbled up pony books. I adored everything about horsey life – the gear, the adventures, the elemental beauty of these creatures. I guess I never shook that off. Val is the second horse I’ve owned. He’s an Irish hunter, sweet natured and an absolute worrywort. On any given ride, there will be something that sets his heart hammering – which you can feel under your seat. But he is incredibly trusting if I tell him everything’s okay. I’m reschooling him because he was never taught how to move properly with a rider, so he came to me with lots of muscular kinks and no steering. Together, we’re discovering how to move well together – like dance partners discovering poise and co-ordination. On good days, he can be a mind reader, which tells me that he is amazingly sensitive and attentive. He always features in my newsletter – partly because there are always adventures, and also because my subscribers love him.
Q: And finally, perhaps the hardest question… if you could be any animal, what would you be?
I don’t think I’d like to be any animal except for a human. I love what humans can do. Our creativity, curiosity, capacity for invention. I enjoy having a human brain. Having said that, I’d love to be an alien watching us from the stars. That would be an interesting perspective on our marvellous human brains.
So, while Roz is a ghostwriting guru, she’s talented in so many other ways, from novel writing to horse riding! Her positive comment on the human brain is a ray of optimism in the lockdown gloom – and we can all benefit from optimism right now.
Buy Roz’s book:
This book is used by award-winning authors and university creative writing departments.
Are you writing a novel? Do you want to make sure you finish? Will you get lost and fizzle out? Will you spend more time reading about how to write than actually getting the words down?
Most books on novel-writing will make you read hundreds of pages about character arcs, inciting incidents, heroes’ journeys. It’s great to know that – but while you’re reading about it you’re not writing your book.
And what these books don’t tell you is how to use this learning and get the job done.
Nail Your Novel is a writing buddy – and mentor – in a book.
In 10 easy steps it will tell you:
*how to shape your big idea and make a novel out of it
*how to do your research and how to use it
*how to organise your time
*how to plot and build characters
*when you’re going to hit problems and what to do about them
*how to write on the days you don’t feel inspired
*how to reread what you’ve written and polish it.
You’ve dreamed of writing a novel. Don’t procrastinate with another theory book. Don’t launch in, get stuck and throw your hard work in a drawer. Nail your novel.
Emily Wootton is a final year English Literature with Creative Writing undergraduate at the University of Surrey. She will be chairing Roz’s Ghostwriting session on the Sunday of our festival this year, and has written a Blackout poetry blog for our website.
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