Friday, March 31, 2006

People in bookshops.

At the risk of sounding like that clinically enthusiastic Paul Whitehouse character from the Fast Show, aren't people in bookshops brilliant?

I spent the morning visiting my local bookshops - Prospero's Books in Crouch End, the Muswell Hill bookshop, Highgate Bookshop and Ottakar's in Wood Green. A week away from the publication date, I wanted to introduce myself and encourage them, as far as I could, to get their orders in. I also had a 'local author' poster, produced with the help of some friends, that I wanted to share with them.

The poster shows a shot of the book cover, with the headline 'He takes the tube from Highgate. And takes comfort wherever he can.' It was designed especially for bookshops in the North London area.

Anyhow, I was pretty nervous about playing the part of my own rep. It's not something I feel entirely comfortable about, but I knew no one else was going to be doing this for me, so off I went.

I needn't have worried. Everyone was very friendly and keen to take a copy of the poster, which they assured me they would be able to use. (I think it went down particularly well in Highgate Bookshop, where we had a good old chat about the spooky bits of Highgate tube station.)

I tried not to be too pushy. After all, the area is crawling with writers, and I'm sure every one of them would like to have their books in the windows of the local independents. This was confirmed by Tim, the manager of the Muswell Hill Bookshop, who said he appreciated my 'softly softly' approach. The hunted look in his eye when he first came out of his office made me think that the words 'There's some author bloke to see you' were not ones he generally looked forward to hearing.

Anyhow my bumbling diffidence must have paid off. He said he was going to up his order of the books. Ben, the duty manager of Ottakar's in Wood Green, checked the system, found the book wasn't ordered and made a note to correct the oversight. When I thanked him, he said, 'Not at all. We always like to support our local authors.'

All the people I spoke to took my number and most said they would call me when they got the copies in, so that I could pop in and sign them. It seems weird that my name scrawled on a title page will be seen as adding value, but I was assured a number of times that it really would help.

One thing I was supposed to tell them was that the Ham & High article about the book will be coming out on the 7th - publication day! I think I remembered to mention it once, but after that it completely went out of my head.

So, yes, I did the interview with Harun this morning. What was great was that he had actually taken the trouble to read the book, which meant that he asked some great questions. There was a decidedly nervous edge to his voice when he asked me if the book was in any way autobiographical. And a definite note of relief when I reassured him that I'm nothing like Rob Saunders. Well, not much. Maybe just a little bit. Now, where did I put my briefcase?

Read Debra Broughton's review of Taking Comfort here.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Another review of Taking Comfort.

This one's by Debra Broughton.

She uses the word 'unputdownable'. I've dreamt of seeing that word in a review of one of my books.

My favourite bit of the review? Well, I'll confess I'm overjoyed with the whole thing but the opening sentence is especially gratifying.

"If the mark of a good book is that you can’t put it down, then Taking Comfort by Roger Morris is a really good book."

Call me shallow, but that's always been important to me. To write a book that will hook the reader and not let them go. I can't say how much it means to know that it worked for one reader at least.

Oh, I like this bit too:

"But just as it’s becoming too much, the tempo is raised and the story hurtles towards its conclusion (this is the part where I was outside arrivals 3, gasping at what I read, and not giving a damn about the people around me who had nothing better to do than watch me)."

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A review of Taking Comfort.

It's by Ian Hocking, for Spike Magazine.

Here are some of my favourite bits:

"The prose has an urgency that persists until the close. Morris is adept at repetition, and manages to harness the mesmeric quality of twisted, rehashed sounds without tiring the reader. He keeps us bound to his characters, even as he skips from one to the next. We are rapidly initiated to the worldview of a given character: the woman who sits beneath the lone tree in the foyer of the Diamond Life building, and who loves her compact; a police officer, who takes pride in his flak jacket; and the protagonist Rob, who finds security in the heft of the Di Beradino classic briefcase, and perhaps some comfort in the trophies he pilfers from those visited by trauma. In short, Morris can write, and write well."

"Is Macmillan New Writing the future, now? The shifting sands of publishing are capricious enough for the nay-sayers or the optimists to win. Any vaguely new method of publication (though its novelty is more apparent for the struggling writer than the reader) needs a dose of luck, and if Taking Comfort by Roger Morris is representative of the range, MNW have succeeded in loading the dice."

He does take me to task over a couple of things, which he describes as the book's 'shortcomings'. I'm not going to get into justifying my decisions at length here. But something that I wrote in the notes I provided for reading groups is relevant to one of Ian's criticisms, I feel:

...there is no single objective reality in the book. Everything is subjective. The decision to leave out the quotation marks seems to fit with this somehow. In places, the reader may not be sure what has actually been said and what is just being thought. Decisions like this do have an impact on the story. As Rob’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre, the reader is perhaps left wondering how much of what is presented is really happening. The plot has been described as odd but believable. It’s that tightrope that I set out to walk.

Read the full review here.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Letter to The New York Times about Taking Comfort.

Read it here. Okay, it's not about my book but it is about taking comfort.

The quote that stood out for me was "I agree that adults are loath to admit their own need of comfort objects." Hmm. Interesting.

It's from a collector of teddy bears. The objects my character Rob Saunders collects aren't quite as cuddly as teddy bears, but the urge is maybe the same.

I admit it. I've been googling again.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Another day in the life of a local author.

Had a good meeting this morning with Wendy and Bill from Hornsey Library. They are very keen for me to do a reading event there, and in fact we set the date. Tuesday 25th April, 7 – 8.30 pm. So if you’re in Crouch End that night, you know where to head.

The good thing is that they do a lot of work publicising the event, with posters and flyers in the library, as well as in local shops. They also put something in all the local papers and – get this - they invite all the local councillors. There’s not much time to get the publicity in place, but we should just about be able to do it.

Back home for a photo-shoot with the fastest photographer in the business, Mark from the Ham & High (or the Hampstead and Highgate Gazette for those of you from outside North London). I’m going to be interviewed by one of their journalists on Friday after he has had a chance to read the book. Must remember to mention my reading at the library. Wendy was very insistent about that and I promised her that I wouldn’t forget. What’s the betting I forget?

Anyhow, there was no messing about with Mark. Stand there. Hold your book. Bit higher. Look at the camera. Great.

He did actually take it a couple of different ways, inside the house and outside on the decking. He’s obviously a pro so I’m sure he got something they can use. It’s just, I think I might have forgotten to smile. Or rather, I think I may have attempted a smile, but I can’t be sure what it came out like. Probably a cross between a condemned man and a startled rabbit. I can do that look rather well.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Someone’s been busy.

Not that I check my amazon page that often, you understand, but I did happen to look at it earlier today. I probably clicked on the url by mistake or something. Anyhow, I noticed that some notes that I wrote about the book for reading groups have been added to my entry.

If anyone’s interested in what exactly was going on in my mind when I wrote the book, it’s as good a place to start as any. I’ve been told that other exciting things might be added in the future. Not sure what.

I suppose I’ll just have to keep popping over there to have a look.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

To read or not to read.

I’ve been giving some thought to which bit of my novel I should read when I do my public humiliation events. I mean bookshop readings.

The obvious choice is to read the beginning, I suppose. But that extract has been available through the Macmillan New Writing website for a while now. And there are difficulties in reading it aloud. Not least because of the embarrassing bits where the central character is eyeing up members of the opposite sex.

The other problem, from a reading out loud point of view, is how to distinguish the fragments of advertising copy that I use throughout the book, but which feature quite a bit in the opening section. These are indicated in the book by a different typeface, but I’m not sure how you actually convey a change of typeface when you’re reading out loud. I’d be grateful for any suggestions.

So I could pick a bit from the middle of the book, but the problem there is that the audience will have no real idea what’s going on. The book builds, as most books do. And every scene is informed by the preceding scenes.

I can get round it, I suppose, by doing a bit of preamble, but I have a terrible vision of a roomful of eyes glazing over.

Roomful? Who am I trying to kid?

I think I know, actually, which bit I’m going to do. But will it be long enough (or too long) for the time we’re allotted? Looks like I’m going to have to do a rehearsal. I may even film myself, though I have been advised against that (by Rachel, who else?).

“If you see yourself doing it, it might put you off completely,” was her view. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


I spent a large part of yesterday reading Mike Barnard’s book about Macmillan New Writing, Transparent Imprint. Naturally, I’m interested in what Mike has to say, as I am one of the authors he is publishing.

I suppose it’s unusual for a publisher to write a book about the founding of a new imprint. But then again, Macmillan New Writing is an unusual imprint. From day one it has attracted a lot of attention, not to mention criticism. Mike does a good job of answering it all, although I’m sure it was wearisome to him to have to devote so much of his book to the task. From the reader’s perspective, however, it is fascinating to see how the story snowballed.

Looking back now at the catalogue of opinion pieces that the scheme generated, you can’t help wondering what on earth they were all getting themselves worked up about.

I do remember being affected by all the coverage at the time I submitted my novel, last May. It was round about then that Robert McCrum wrote a piece in the Observer accusing Mike of abdicating his responsibility to the culture or something. Although I didn’t take that particular charge seriously, I did worry that the literary elite would be lining up to have their prejudices confirmed when the first books were released.

At the time, I never got to see the spirited reply that Mike sent to the paper, for the simple reason that the Observer refused to publish it. You could spin a story there, if you wanted to. (See my headline for this posting.)

I’m sure part of Mike’s motive in writing the book is to set the record straight. But I think he genuinely wants to share his experiences and learning with anyone who’s interested. As the title suggests, he’s very open about all aspects of the business, including financial details such as the costs of printing, distribution and marketing, and, of course, author royalties. A good read for publishing students then - hardly surprising considering that aside from his role at Macmillan UK (which is not confined to MNW), Mike is also a visiting professor of publishing at the University of the Arts in London.

In an ideal world, anyone who feels the urge to make a public pronouncement on Macmillan New Writing should at least take the trouble to read the book, as well as some of the actual books being published by MNW. I know, I know, we don’t live in an ideal world.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Yesterday was a good day.

First off, I got an email from Michael Allen, a.k.a. The Grumpy Old Bookman, warning me that he had posted a review of Taking Comfort. I’ll admit, the anticipation of this particular review had been causing me a certain amount of anxiety. In fact, I’d worked myself up into a right state about it.

I had become convinced that Grumpy would hate the book, and so I was bracing myself for a savaging. Well, I was right about one thing: the book is not entirely to his taste. He is very open in declaring this. But that said, he is good enough to put aside any issues of personal taste, and review the book on its merits. Fair play, Grumpy.

The second good thing was that I attended a conference at the London College of Communication on The Right To Publish. I was there for the last two panels, the first of which dealt with publishing new writers, and the second with the thorny issue of religious censorship.

Mike Barnard of Macmillan New Writing was on the first panel, and it was very interesting to hear what he had to say. It was also interesting to hear Maggie Hamand of Maia Press, a small independent press that has a very strong reputation. According to the Guardian, Maia aims to give “a home to excellent books that larger rivals might ignore”. A novelist herself, Maia was passionate and eloquent on the need not to be driven by the commercial imperative, but solely by the quality of the books.

The second panel was, to be honest, slightly one-sided. Perhaps not surprisingly, given that this was a conference of publishers, writers, publishing students, and general media types, everyone seemed to be in favour of freedom of expression and against religious bigotry and censorship. One of the panellists had been Salman Rushdie’s editor for Satanic Verses, so it was especially interesting to hear his contribution. But I felt that the panel would have been more representative if there had been at least one Muslim intellectual present who would have been able to contextualise the violent response those cartoons produced.

Quite a few of the panellists presumed to speak on behalf of moderate Muslims; I would have liked to have heard a moderate Muslim speak up for her or himself.

Anyhow, the main pleasure of the event was catching up with Mike, Sophie and Will from Macmillan New Writing, at the same time as meeting some of my fellow MNW authors, Peter Bourne, Lucy McCarrahar, Michael Fuchs and Brian Martin.

Finally, when I got home, I found an email from some friends with a photo of their new baby daughter attached. Congratulations Ed and Liz!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Writing News. (Or should that be writing lies?)

If you're a writer, you no doubt subscribe to that very fine publication Writing News. Turn to page 34 of the April issue, out now, and you'll find an interesting article by Adrian Magson about one of the Macmillan New Writing authors.

OK, yes, it's me. Sorry. Perhaps I should have mentioned that a little earlier.

I see that I repeated that claim about the unseemly speed at which the book was apparently written, though Adrian does make clear that I had been thinking about and planning it for a long time, as well as writing it as a screenplay (which if I remember correctly existed in a number of drafts) before biting the bullet and sitting down to write it through as a novel.

I checked with Rachel about how long it took me. "You did write it very quickly," she said. Then she scanned the article. "But I don't think it was that quick. Was it?"

The honest truth is, I can't remember how long it took me to write it, because I wasn't, at the time, paying much attention to the question. I do remember that I finished it on a laptop while we were on holiday in Norfolk (Wells-next-the-Sea). I got up at six even on holiday, but I had a bit longer to myself because the kids were actually lying in. If you call 7.30 a lie-in.

So have I lied to the world? Have I created a myth that's actually turning out to embarrass me? I mean, it can't actually be that good, can it, if I wrote it so quickly? Shades of Ernie Wise, with the plays what he wrote.

It seems to be a question people are fascinated by. And I'm sure Adrian asked it because he knows it's the sort of thing readers of Writing News want to know.

I suppose the answer I gave is as good as any, when the truth is, I honestly don't know.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

What I should be doing:

Visiting local bookshops.

Visiting local libraries.

Sending out my promotional postcards to everyone I know.

Emailing everyone else I know.

Spreading the word about my Goldsboro bookshop reading.

What I'm actually doing:

Hiding under the bed. Metaphorically, of course. But you know what I mean.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The good guys.

Yesterday lunchtime I yomped head-down through the drizzle over to Cecil Court and introduced myself to David and Dan of Goldsboro Books.

Goldsboro Books specialise in signed modern first editions. They are going to be stocking Taking Comfort, along with all the other MNW titles, so at some point I will need to pop in and sign some title pages. Not only that, on the 12th April they are hosting a party to launch the imprint. There have been rumours that we will be called upon to do readings.

So I thought I'd get the lie of the land, as well as giving them the chance to size me up.

The first thing that struck me was how tiny the shop was. I was a little worried that we wouldn't be able to fit the six MNW authors in there, let alone anyone who might come along to see us. But then I noticed the stairs down to a basement.

The floor space was almost entirely taken over by a couple of boxes of Jeffrey Archer, waiting to be unpacked. It felt like his ego was in there with us, leaving scant room for anyone else. And of course there was the challenge of those books, and of all the books around, immaculate, precious books, by proper writers. The whole shop seemed to be saying to me, "So, do you really think you deserve a place in here?"

I loitered shyly, and was on the point of bottling out, when I caught the eye of the guy behind the counter.

"Are you David?" I asked. I had exchanged emails with one David Headley, so my guess was this was he. I hadn't said that I was going to call in, however.

He smiled and confirmed he was. At the same time, he seemed to be looking at me in a strange way, as if he was trying to place my face.

"Hi, I'm Roger -"

"Roger Morris. Taking Comfort!" he got in quickly. "I recognised you from the photo." He then told me how much he had enjoyed the book and made the rather cryptic observation: "You can tell you work in marketing, though."

He was very enthusiastic about the books, all of which I think he'd read. (Goldsboro Books have even chosen one of the titles, Brian Martin's North, as their book of the month for April.) The quality of the production had impressed him enormously, particularly when compared to most modern hardbacks.

He introduced me to his partner, Dan, and we chatted and joked about books, book collecting, and Diva authors. David named names, which I can't possibly repeat here. However, I made a mental note never to be over-fussy about the crudites, or where my chair is positioned.

They were both wonderfully friendly and welcoming and what came through loud and clear was that these guys love books. They're collectors themselves, and sometimes can't bear to part with an edition. (David hinted intriguingly that before they had been collectors, they had both been training to be Roman Catholic priests. But that's another story, as David said.) To them, books will always be books, not 'units'.

They are the good guys.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Tricky thing, the alphabet.

I was sorting out my plog links this morning, as you do. I haven't got a clue how to use that nifty bit of trickery that adds links automatically, can't even remember what it's called. So all the links you see on the right have been painstakingly hand-glued by me and my team of cyber elves. The working conditions are not ideal. The process produces a lot of toxic fumes and we have to work in a confined 'link-box' - which is why I favour elves. They can move around the the cramped space with comparative ease. In fact, they seem to love it in there, the little blighters.

Anyhow, as I was conducting my link audit, I discovered something seriously amiss. I had given strict instructions that the links were to be added in alphabetical order, and unfortunately, my orders had not been followed to the letter. Things started to go wrong around the Ts, Us, Vs and Ws. For one thing, I found a rogue 'C' there - Jai Clare's The Cusp of Something. I won't bore you with the other anomalies. Suffice it to say that tiny heads have rolled.

Me being a writer, this kind of thing looks bad. A writer who doesn't know his alphabet doesn't exactly inspire confidence.

Thankfully, things have now been sorted out. I've even had the team add a new 'W' - Charlie Williams. Long overdue, let me tell you.

And whilst checking Dr Ian Hocking's link, listed as This Writing Life, I discovered that he's received his review copies of the first six MNW titles. Did I ever tell you what a great guy Ian is? Handsome, talented, generous - there just aren't enough adjectives to do him justice.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Grumpy Old Bookman on Macmillan New Writing.

Spotted this article in today's Grumpy Old Bookman.

You know, I don't think that Grumpy Old Bookman is half as grumpy as they say he is.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Things are hotting up.

Okay, I'm starting to get nervous now. It may be something to do with the almost daily emails from Macmillan New Writing about up and coming promotional events. All very exciting, for sure. But it seems I may be expected to read at some of them. And it seems they expect me to read from my own book. I was hoping I might be able to get away with a chapter or two from one of the Harry Potters. That always goes down well with my daughter Claire.

In about a month's time, on April 7 to be exact, Taking Comfort will be released. Released. What a word. It makes it sound like it's been imprisoned. Perhaps there's something in that. Imprisoned in my brain, or on my hard drive. Or maybe it's more appropriate to think of an animal being released into the wild.

I hope it's going to be okay out there. I hope it can learn to fend for itself. I'm sure there will be some vicious predators after its blood.

Right now, advanced copies of all six of the first Macmillan New Writing titles are being studiously ignored by potential reviewers. No, probably not ignored, actually, given all the hoohah that greeted the announcement of the imprint. My palms are sweaty as I type, thinking about the attention that will be focused on the books. Some people will be looking for their prejudices to be confirmed, no doubt. But the majority, I'm sure, will approach the books with open minds.

I dream of getting a review as good as this one:

King of The Road review. (Scroll down for the second book, King of the Road by Charlie Williams.)

It just so happens that this is the book I'm reading at the moment and I know (in the virtual sense) Charlie through a writers' website we both belong to. All I can say is, it couldn't happen to a nicer chap.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Jai Clare interviewed.

Apart from the postcard, the hardest form of writing is without doubt the short story. That's a fact. Don't argue.

That's why I am always in awe of writers who can do it - and do it to a consistently high standard.

One such writer is Jai Clare. Jai has an impressive string of short fiction publications in some highly prestigious mags. I'm particularly envious of her success in getting into the London Magazine not just once, but a number of times. She just happens to be in the next issue.

Here are some of her credits: "Agni", "Storyville", "In
Posse Review", "Pindeldyboz", "QWF", "Barcelona Review", "Paumanok Review", "Literary Potpourri", "Gator Springs Gazette", "The Pedestal Magazine", "Three Lobed Burning Eye", "Smokelong Quarterly", "The London Magazine", "Night Train", "Winedark Sea",
"Odyssey", "Redsin",and "Absinthe Literary Review". She was a "Zoetrope All-Story Extra" guest editor for the December/January 2000/2001 issue. Her work has also featured in the anthology "Foreign Affairs: Erotic Travel Tales" and the "Nine Muses Anthology".

As if all this wasn't enough, Jai's novel, "The Storyhouse", was longlisted for the 2005 Yeovil Literary Prize.

Anyhow, Jai has been interviewed on a very interesting site called Read it here, now!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

In honour of today.

This morning, Luke came running excitedly into the kitchen. "Mummy! Daddy! Just the guys I want to see!"

"What is it, Luke?"

"Happy World Book Day!"

We got a hug each in honour of the day, then he was away.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

My JR Hartley moment.

Some of you may not remember, or may have never seen, the TV ads for Yellow Pages featuring the gentle old cove who trudged endlessly round book shops asking for a copy of 'Fly Fishing' by JR Hartley.

"Still no luck, Dad?" sympathised his daughter, as he sank back wearily into his favourite armchair. Said daughter then presented him with the Yellow Pages, suggesting that he tried phoning around, rather than wearing out any more shoe leather and old bones.

Cut to Dad on phone, obviously ecstatic at finding a bookshop that had the title: "You do!" There was a bit of voice over I seem to remember, then back to the old fellow saying: "My name?" He enunciates clearly: "JR Hartley."

Okay, well, a similar, but actually quite different thing happened to me tonight on the way to Tottenham Court Road tube station. Every night I have to walk past the Waterstone's branch on Oxford Street. And every night I'm tempted to go in and ask them the question: "Hey, you bastards, are you going to stock my book or what?"

Up till now I've resisted it. But tonight, I finally gave in. Except I didn't put it quite like that.

I know from TGFAMNW (The Good Folk at Macmillan New Writing) that Waterstone's are taking the books. But I just wanted to be sure that my book was going to be in the branch nearest to my place of work. Some of my colleagues have expressed an interest in buying it. And besides, I will need to be able to go in there and mess with their displays so that my books are showing.

So I plucked up courage and approached the guy at the counter. I have to say, he gave me a funny look right from the start - as if he knew me! or knew what I was about.

"Would you be able to tell me if you were going to order a book? It's not out yet."

"Yes." The funny look got funnier. It was, I would say, an arch look.

"It's called Taking Comfort." Somehow, memories of JR Hartley prevented me from giving my name.

He went to the computer. "Taking Comfort by Roger Morris?"

"That's right."

"Yes, we'll be getting it. Are you Roger Morris?"

"Yes!" I couldn't really do anything about my amazement. There it was, his now, a gift for him to play with.

He gave a small but triumphant smile. "You'd be surprised how many authors we get in here asking about their books."

I suppose I'd better get used to having encounters with smart alec bookshop assistants.

Blinking website.

I'm having teething problems with my new website. First some text mysteriously dropped off, giving it what somebody described as an interesting fragmentary feel.

Now there's no visuals, just sound, on the video clip. All I can say is it was working fine last night.

Any kind soul who wants to road test it for me click here.

STOP PRESS: I think I've got to the bottom of the video mystery. You will need Windows media player to see the clips, methinks, and that mustn't be loaded on the mac I'm trying to view it on right now.