Saturday, July 2, 2011

[Interview] Wilf Morgan

Wilf Morgan lives in Nottingham in the United Kingdom.

His books include a novella, That Time in Honduras (Eighty8Tales Press, 2009) as well as the novels, The Assassin’s Wedding (Eighty8Tales Press, 2008); The Cotton Keeper (Eighty8Tales Press, 2007) and Lost Angels (Eighty8Tales Press, 2006).

He is also the author of Dead Heroes, a free online serial that he publishes through the Eighty8Tales website.

In this interview, Wilf Morgan talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

Although I can’t remember when I actually started writing, I do remember some of my first stories being Star Wars tales featuring the figures and toys I owned at the time ...! There was one about Han Solo and Luke Skywalker flying the Millenium Falcon to the end of the universe where the stars stopped or something. And another about Luke and Darth Vader crashing on a deserted planet and being stuck together (I think Darth had actually hit his head and gotten amnesia so forgetting he was the baddie). Random stuff like that! So, yeah, pretty young, I think is the answer ...!

I decided from a very young age that I wanted to become a published writer – but the problem with that is you go through years thinking it’s really easy. All you have to do is write a full-length book. So I did this, expanding on a story I’d done in class called "The Year 2200". It was very long and written on various different types and styles of paper (this was the early 80’s – no home word processing yet!). And it was also a total Star Wars clone! (no pun intended). By the time I finished it, I was 10 or 11 – and I realised it was nowhere near good enough to be published. So I 'archived' it (in the attic) and started again on something else.

A few twists and turns aside, I’ve pretty much gone through that entire cycle several times until I got to what I consider my first 'proper' book in my mid-20s – Lost Angels. Unable to get it published (through the long and difficult 'sending to Literary Agents' process), I printed it myself (initially via Lulu.com) and sold it myself. I did the same with The Cotton Keeper, That Time in Honduras and my most recent printed work The Assassin’s Wedding.

This all ended up becoming a full-fledged self-publishing venture called Eighty8Tales Press behind which I put most of my ‘publishing’ efforts. I would still like to be published by a big publishing house but I’m happy doing self-pub for the time being. (It’s fun doing my own covers!)

How would you describe the writing you are doing?

My current work Dead Heroes is generally described as a thriller. But it has some extra-genre dimension to it that makes it harder to classify if you’re wanting to be more accurate.

Because I initially was a big sci-fi fan, all I wanted to write was science-fiction. I soon found that this limited the number of agents who I could send work to and so I expanded into crime (the genre, not the activity!) and general thrillers. So Lost Angels and The Assassin’s Wedding are in the same boat as Dead Heroes – they’re all thrillers ‘but’…

Dead Heroes is basically a modern-day Robin Hood story. Being from Nottingham, I’ve always wanted to do a Robin Hood story but since there are, like, a thousand of these (and mostly quite similar), I had to wait until I had a really good idea in order to make it worth doing – and, hopefully, unique.

Without giving away too much of the plot, it basically deals with Robin Hood and The Sheriff of Nottingham landing on modern-day Nottingham and continuing their centuries-long battle against each other. Ultimately, Nottingham – and perhaps the rest of the country – find themselves both prize and casualty in this war. On the one hand, it’s just this personal battle between these two individuals, whereas on the other hand, the battle contains concepts and ideals that affect everyone on the planet.

I try hard to balance the high concepts with some good old fashioned action (car chases and gun battles being the currency of choice!).

Who is your target audience?

I’m not entirely sure who my target audience is with any of my stuff – another obstacle to selling myself to literary agents!

Dead Heroes – like my other works – are simply meant as stories to be enjoyed by anyone who likes to get lost in a good yarn. I like to include some kind of concept or question to spice up the proceedings (in Dead Heroes that includes things like: what is the true nature of freedom, how much freedom would you be willing to sacrifice for less crime, etc). And I also like action and drama.

So, I suppose, anyone who likes thinking about some interesting ideas that might touch on their lives but also get swept into a good tale at the same time – that’s my target audience!

Which authors influenced you most?

I have very little influence from any authors – that’s not to say I don’t like any. I get inspired by certain people’s approach but not necessarily their style.

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

Only as mentioned previously – I originally moved away from sci-fi out of what I saw as necessity for improving my chances of finding a literary agent. In the end, this proved a fortuitous move as it opened the path to this more ‘genreless’ type of story I like to tell. Now, although this has probably actually harmed my saleability, it has made me tell more interesting stories, I believe.

But with the advent of affordable self-publishing, this is fine as it still gives me the ability to get my stuff out there.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The main challenges for me are simply forcing myself to write something every day. With all the other demands on my time – looking after kids, housework, day job – it’s all too easy to flop down in front of the TV at the end of the day and switch my brain off!

Related to that, I’d say forcing myself to write when what comes out is rubbish! You always want your stuff to be perfect and sometimes it’s just total trash. But if you force yourself through and keep churning out the trash, you can go back to it and make it better later. If you stop and produce nothing, you’ve just got the same problem facing you next time! Always a million times easier to write rubbish and brush it up than to write nothing and just get stuck.

Do you write everyday?

Dead Heroes has been good for me because it’s a weekly serial – so I’ve had to get into the habit of writing most days. Sessions are pretty much "power through, go back and re-write and enhance". It’s the same as when I’m writing a full novel except the cycles are extremely compressed with much less procrastinating!

A writing session usually ends when I have to go to bed!

How many books have you written so far?

I’ve written four books so far, not including Dead Heroes. They’re all under the Eighty8Tales banner. They are;
  • That Time in Honduras (2009) – A novella and prequel to The Assassin’s Wedding. It’s part action thriller, part love story and leads the reader right up to the start of The Assassin’s Wedding novel. It’s a story of love and revenge. Also, some pigs.
  • The Assassin’s Wedding (2008) – A darkly humourous thriller about an assassin, Mike Shepard, who – against his own rules – falls in love and proposes. The story tells of the week leading to the wedding as Mike wrestles with whether he should come clean to his fiancée about his vocation. The week is made harder by missing persons, another assassin and a private eye with a penchant for flavoured vodka. Sometimes, Mike reflects, it’s all you can do to survive the happiest day of your life.
  • The Cotton Keeper (2007) – A novella set in Sierra Leone in 1999 – the last days of the civil war. Femi is a young chimpanzee who is tired of hunting for food to feed his starving tribe. He embarks on a mission to find the mythical Cotton Keeper in the hope she will use her great wisdom to lead him to a place where he can live in well-fed and selfish isolation. Things never go so easy, though, as Femi comes into contact with the dreaded ‘Big-Walkers’ and their baffling conflict…
  • Lost Angels (2006) – This is a dark and gritty crime thriller set in a fictional town called Lost Angels. Daniel, looking for somewhere to escape the hell his life had become, finds the off-the-map town. It’s run by a violent mix of criminals and politicians. Daniel rises through the ranks in a self-appointed mission to save the town from the corruption that oppresses its inhabitants – all the while ignoring the corruption in his own soul that led him to Lost Angels in the first place…
What is your latest book about?

Dead Heroes is a fixed-length serial updating weekly. It tells the story of Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham arriving in modern-day Nottingham. They continue their centuries-long battle, each fighting to save us from the apparent tyranny of the other. It’s a battle of law and order versus freedom. Unfortunately, it appears that the very people each side hopes to save are also the ones they are willing to roll over in their quest for victory.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Probably the most difficult obstacle in writing this book is simply the fact that it’s about Robin Hood – this is a topic that has been done to death and back. How on earth do you find an original angle?

I’m a firm believer that there’s always a way to achieve any particular creative angle, you just have to procrastinate long enough to come up with it! In the end, I think I have done just that but only reactions and comments from readers will tell me if I was right.

Without giving too much away, I tried to look at ways the original Robin Hood ideas could be extrapolated through the filter of modern-day concerns. In the end, the clash between freedom (Robin Hood’s eternal calling card) and controlled law and order (and extrapolation of much of The Sheriff’s traditional antics) seemed to offer a good deal of drama as well as topical relevance. Exactly what freedoms are we willing to give up in order to live in a safe, crime-free society?

What sets the book apart from other things you've written?

This is the first time I’ve used characters and situations that I have not made up. It’s almost like writing fan-fiction except I’ve tried to take the originals and build new issues on top of the existing ones in order to give it its edge. But the fact I’ve had pre-existing concepts to start with makes things very different and a lot of fun!

What will your next book be about?

I haven’t decided yet – I have a few ideas.

I might do a short story collection.

I’m keen to write another story set in Sierra Leone as that is where my family is from. It certainly won’t be examining the violence and misery of the civil war, though. I touched on that with the Cotton Keeper but there are also many more brilliant books on this topic than I could ever write. But setting something fun and entertaining in Sierra Leone might be something a little more interesting and new.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Writing four books!

Actually, I’d say producing some significant piece of work every year since 2006. It certainly keeps me busy and it always helps people take you seriously as a ‘new’ writer if they see you’ve actually got a body of work behind you.

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