Friday, February 29, 2008

Light Reading launch.

Last night I went to the launch party of Light Reading by Aliya Whiteley (check out the cool trailer on her website). I really enjoyed Aliya's sharp and quirky first novel, Three Things About Me. Aliya told me that, despite its title, Light Reading is even darker than Three Things. Should be a great read.

It was an unexpected joy to see Mike Barnard there, the man who came up with the idea of Macmillan New Writing (publishers of my first novel, Taking Comfort), and fairy godfather to all the Macmillan New Writers. Also good to catch up with Will and Sophie from MNW, as well as a number of MNW authors and their entourages: Matt Curran with Sarah and David, Len Tyler with Anne and (very briefly) Cate Sweeney. Not an MNW writer, but a writer who has been very supportive of MNW (he wrote an early review of Taking Comfort), Ian Hocking was also in attendance. I've corresponded with Ian by email and I look in on his excellent blog regularly, but never met him in the flesh before. To be honest, I didn't recognise him at first, because he doesn't have a beard on his blog, and he does everywhere else. Anyhow, it was good to finally meet. We talked about things Russian, as we are both researching books set in St Petersburg.

The party was held at Goldsboro Books, London's loveliest and best bookshop, run by London's friendliest booksellers David Headley and Daniel Gedeon.

I spotted copies of A Vengeful Longing waiting for me to sign, and there seemed to be copies of the limited edition hardback of A Gentle Axe still available. Signed, of course.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

You ain't seen me.

I'm not here. I'm busy. Working. Writing. Well, nearly. Researching. Found a book of first hand accounts of life in tsarist Russia, all by women, called Russia Through Women's Eyes. One of the writers, Ekaterina Slanskaia, was a doctor, though there was only a brief period in which women were allowed to study medicine in tsarist Russia. They had to have the permission of either their father or husband, so many women entered into 'fictitious marriages' with a man who would be willing to grant permission.

So, I shouldn't be here. I've got things to do. I just wanted to share another review. Ah yes, me and my reviews. This is the official amazon review and it's by Barry Forshaw, the editor of Crime Time magazine and a book reviewer for many papers. Here's his verdict:
A Vengeful Longing confirms what RN Morris’ previous novel, A Gentle Axe, suggested – that here is major talent in the increasingly overcrowded historical crime field. On the evidence here, Morris is writing novels that rival the very best in the genre in terms of atmosphere, plausible historical detail and exemplary plotting. Two people – a mother and son -- are murdered; a box of chocolates delivered by woman's husband contains an agonising poison. The detectives investigating the killing (in which the doctor husband is, of course, the prime suspect – and seems to telegraph his guilt when interviewed) are the novice Virginsky and the experienced Porfiry Petrovich – the later, of course, the protagonist in Morris’ previous books -- And the policeman in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, no less. Morris audaciously utilised Petrovich in his previous novel. That gamble (cheeky though it was) has paid off handsomely there – and does so once again in A Vengeful Longing.

19th-century Russia is once again evoked with total authority, and the murder investigation has the compulsiveness of modern crime fiction – with the added frisson of a brilliantly conjured period setting. The continuation of characters created by other authors is nothing new, but few have the chutzpah of RN Morris – or the skill to pull off (not once, but twice – and more, we are told) this daring trick. --Barry Forshaw

Monday, February 25, 2008

Essential and non-essential writing.

There's the stuff I have to write because I am compelled to write it. Because I can't and won't rest until I have written it. And yet, and yet, this -- the most psychically and spiritually essential work imaginable -- is the work I postpone, the work I resist. I know it will cost me a great deal of labour, pain even; it will be hard to get right; I may not be capable of getting it right; it may take me to the limits of my capabilities as a writer and find me wanting. So it grows inside me, like a... well, you know what like. One day, maybe, if I don't lose my wits or die in the meantime, I may be able to get it out. But I can't yet.

Then there's the stuff I have to write because I'm obliged to write it. As in contractually obliged. Don't get me wrong. I want to write it too. And maybe this work will somehow, indirectly, slyly, enable me to get out the stuff I mentioned above. I don't know. Maybe the books I am writing about nineteenth century St Petersburg are autobiographical after all. Maybe we can only ever write about ourselves. In that case, am I Porfiry? Or am I Virginsky? Or am I the murderer? I'm a great believer in genre fiction. I believe it can do anything it is asked to do. I'm a great believer, too, in the entertainment principle in writing. That there's nothing wrong with writing you want to read. As opposed to writing you feel you ought to read.

Then there's the stuff I have to write because I want to write it because I think it's a great opportunity because you just don't get opportunities like this coming along very often, if at all. In that category is a project (or two) that I'm working on in collaboration with the composer Ed Hughes. Ed and I have worked together before on a short piece of musical theatre called The Devil's Drum. Now Ed, perhaps rashly, has asked me to provide the libretto for a full scale opera, which is scheduled for performance in spring 2009. Things have been and remain uncertain in terms of the commissioning of this piece - but we are proceeding on the basis that it will go ahead. I'm also working with Ed on another project, involving music and narrative, which at the moment is in a more speculative phase.

Then there's the stuff I don't have to write at all and which only serves to get in the way of all the above categories of stuff. Stuff like, uh, this blog post. Oops. I really do have something else I should be doing!

Plug plag pliggity plog

Just wanted to share a review that appeared in the Sunday Times at the weekend. From Joan Smith. "Extraordinarily vivid" is perhaps the pull-out quote, though I was very pleased by the whole thing, especially the way she held my Porfiry up to the original and did not seem to find it lacking.

Link plink linkety splink.

Friday, February 22, 2008

What am I doing? What should I be doing?

The dream article is taking shape in my head. However, I am wondering if it will ever progress beyond there.

On Thursday I drove to Cambridge with Frank Tallis, who happens to be a clinical psychologist and an expert in Freud. He's also an exceptionally good crime writer.

We had a lunch appointment with a reading group based at Heffers, the number one bookshop in Cambridge. There was plenty of time to chat in the car.

I mentioned to Frank the almost incapacitating sense I have of feeling I need to do something to promote my books, whilst not being sure what exactly I should be doing. This has perhaps led me to coming up with ideas for articles, pitching them to the Guardian, occasionally posting them at the Rap Sheet, and of course feeding the plog.

Frank had a clinical term for the state I was in, which has been induced and studied in lab rats apparently: learned helplessness*. If you create an environment in which lab rats receive no rewards or deprivations for their actions, in other words where nothing they do makes any difference, they reach a state that is analogous to depression in humans. Frank reckons that this is the state that we writers exist in.

He told me he used to write articles, and got the idea he might be able to turn it into a bit of a sideline, which might help to get his name about, which might lead to a few more sales. But he gave it up as a waste of time. I could see his point. After a while, it seems that you are spending all your time and energy trying to produce the articles, when what you should be doing is writing your books.

Frank was unequivocal. The only thing we writers can do is make our books, or stories, as good as they can be. Work on our writing. That is the only thing that is within our power or control. And that is the only thing we can influence that will surely make a difference.

So I felt chastened.

On Monday, after the kids have gone back to school, I am going to turn over a new leaf. No more pitching ideas for articles. No more cat videos. I'm going to get down to some serious work on the next book. Frank also had some stern words about using the research as an excuse to put off writing.

In the meantime, my spirits were lifted by a review of A Vengeful Longing by Andrew Taylor, author of The American Boy, in The Spectator.

Here's a quote:

The result is a book that satisfies on more than one level — as a story of investigation and also as a historical novel crammed with sharply individualised characters. Morris has clearly done his research, and he also has an unusual ability to enter imaginatively into another time and place. The novel is well written too, and constantly nudges against the genre envelope of crime fiction.

It always amazes me when people I don't know respond positively to my work. Equally, perhaps more gratifying, is when friends like my stuff too, especially when they also happen to be writers whose work I respect and enjoy. So I was deeply chuffed to have my writewords buddy and fellow crime writer, Anne Brooke describe AVL as a "dark masterpiece" in a review she was kind enough to post on both writewords and amazon.

All I ever get from my guardian articles are weird and charmless comments. I should stick to the novel writing.

*My thanks to Ania Vesenny for reminding me of the correct term.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A dream review.

The Dream Depository is still open. So if you have any dreams to add, please do. And thanks to everyone who has left dreams so far.

I've had some fascinating correspondence with the American writer and writing professor, Louis Gallo, who has interesting ideas about dreams and writing. He's recommended a method for inducing dreams, which I will reveal soon. All I can say now is that it involves bananas. He's also sent me a couple of his amazing short stories, in which dreams feaature.

In the meantime, Crime Fiction Reader drew my attention to Norman Price's review of A Vengeful Longing which has appeared on Euro Crime.

This is an excellent, very enjoyable, historical crime mystery which captures both the feel and atmosphere of 19th century Russia as a decaying Kafka-esque empire waiting for a revolution.

For those of you wondering whether you should read Crime and Punishment before either A Gentle Axe or A Vengeful Longing, this is what Norm has to say:

I, like probably many readers of modern crime fiction, have never read Dostoevsky, but I am sure the Roger Morris series will encourage many to try the Russian classic CRIME AND PUNISHMENT as a result of enjoying these reincarnations of Porfiry Petrovich.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The (writers') Dream Depository.

In my dream I had been called into the offices of my publisher, Faber and Faber, to have a meeting with my editor, Walter Donohue. Walter began the meeting by saying, “This isn’t about your book. I have something to tell you. You don’t know it but you have secretly been recruited into the police ...” He showed me my badge and all the paperwork that went with it. He revealed that he had been working for the police himself for a long time. Indeed, his true role was as a recruiting sergeant--his work as a crime-fiction editor at Faber was really a front, a means of discovering writers who had potential to become detectives in the service of the police. It was then that I noticed he was wearing a jacket with the word “Policeman” on it. I was given a similar jacket to wear. I was also given the folder for my first case and told to get on it. It is perhaps significant that my new occupation was presented to me as a fait accompli--I was not given a choice in the matter.

I was now a policeman.

My dreaming self then telephoned my cousin, who is in real life a police inspector in Manchester, to tell him that I had joined the force. He was incredulous. Wounded by his incredulity, I woke.

Please leave your dreams as a comment.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Two quickies.

The first, a write-up about our Hampstead event in Crime Time magazine.

The second, an interview I did with Nik Perring on his blog. Cheers Nik! You're a true gent!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two more reviews...

The first is by Carola Groom in the Financial Times. "Morris’s St Petersburg comes alive in intense imagery, yet beneath the over-dressing there is a stench of decay," she reckons. She also uses the word "entertaining", which has to be good, right?

The next is by Adam Colclough in Shots Magazine. You have to scroll down the list of titles on the left until you find A VENGEFUL LONGING. What the hell, to save you the effort, I'll quote the whole review. It's short. And sweet.

During a swelteringly hot St Petersburg summer the wife and son of a doctor fall victim to a horrific case of poisoning. Even to Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator created by Dostoevsky and revived by Morris in A Gentle Axe, it seems like an open and shut case, and then further, seemingly unconnected killings take place plunging Porfiry and his new assistant into a deadly maze of cruelty and violence.

Novels that resurrect legendary characters and insert them into new plots can sometimes be disappointing, that, thankfully is not true of A Vengeful Longing. Throughout the book Morris demonstrates a facility for handling characterisation and atmospherics that would shame many ‘literary’ writers and his ability to create and sustain a complex and compelling plot is the equal of any other writer currently at work in the genre.

By far the best feature of this and Morris’s previous novel is the meticulous way he recreates nineteenth century St Petersburg, revealing it as a dusty, dangerous, place where glittering opulence and grinding poverty exist side by side and deadly tensions simmer constantly below the surface of everyday life; long may he and Porfiry Petrovich continue to lead us down its mean streets.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Photos from Hampstead.

My thanks to Clive Bremner for taking the shots:

From left to right: Andrew Martin, Lee Jackson, me, Frank Tallis. Lee jokes about just liking to kill people. At least, we all took it as a joke.

From left to right: Lee Jackson, Andrew Martin, me, Barry Forshaw. Frank, the master of the locked room mystery, manages to disappear from the panel without anyone noticing.

From left to right: Lee Jackson, Andrew Martin, me, Frank Tallis, Barry Forshaw. See, there was an audience.

From left to right: me, Frank Tallis, Barry Forshaw. I'm not confused, I'm just deep in thought. Honest.

I wrote a bit more about the event over at the Rap Sheet.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Out today.

Yes, today is officially the publication day for A Vengeful Longing, though it has been making discreet appearances in bookshops for about a week now.

I marked the occasion by making a nuisance of myself at Prospero's Books in Crouch End. They had some stock for me to sign and actually said they had put in another order as it had sold quite well so far. That's great news, of course, though I have a feeling I know every person who has bought a copy!

Tonight I'll be making an appearance at Waterstones in Hampstead, alongside my fellow historical crime novelists Lee Jackson, Andrew Martin and Frank Tallis. We'll be discussing 'Gaslit Vices' with Barry Forshaw, author of The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction.

So basically I've been spending most of the day preparing for that. Otherwise known as working myself up into a right state. Fortunately, one of the panellists (Frank Tallis) is a clinical psychologist, so hopefully he will be able to calm me down if the nerves get too much.

I haven't got much work done today. Mainly because the cat took up a new position actually lying on my arm as I tried to type. My hand was over the keyboard, the cat jumped up, pointed her bottom at my face, then settled down over the arm that was attached to the hand attempting to type.

Other than that, it's been strangely quiet.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Look what came in the post today!

Makes a nice matching pair (see the little man run!):

The key to bookshelf standout is a good spine.

Something else came in the post today, but I'm not going to take a photo and post it here. It was the payment advice for the first part of my next advance. Better get on with some work now.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Prologue to the Present.

My thanks to crimeficreader for alerting me to this in an email. It seems that someone is going to be presenting a paper about A Gentle Axe to an academic conference at the University of Newcastle in April. The conference is entitled 'The Literary Art of Murder'. The particular session in which my book will be discussed is:

A) Prologue to the Present: The Powers of the Past in the British Mystery Novels of Morris, Stott, Grimes, Blyton, and Rowling (Percy G5)
Chair: TBA
• “‘Einstein’s Fabric of Spacetime: On the Edge of Coincidence in Rebecca Stott’s Ghostwalk” – Dorothy Roberts (Independent Scholar)
• “R, M, Morris’s The Gentle Ax: Dostoyevsky’s Pytor Petrovich a Century Later” – Carmen Burton (Palm Beach Community College)
• “Persistent Popularity: The Evolution of the Children’s Mystery Story from Enid Blyton to Nancy Drew to Harry Potter”– Mary Willingham (Mercer University)
• “Signs of the Times: Martha Grimes’ Detective Novels and the Connections to Historic British Pub Signs” – Sara Ann Murray (Independent Scholar)

Well, apart from the fact that I am R.N. Morris, and the detective's name is Porfiry not Pytor (and there is an 'e' on the end of Axe), I am extremely flattered to be mentioned almost in the same breath as Enid Blyton, who was the staple of my childhood reading. Just flattered to be there at all, really.

Here's the link, if you think the event might be your cup of tea. I'd love to be a fly on the wall!

Friday, February 01, 2008

Dickensian rabble in Hampstead.

The following article appeared in this week's Ham & High. (For those of you who don't know it, the Ham & High is the local paper for, uh, where was it now? - ah yes, Hampstead and Highgate. It has a pretty good books page, presumably because so many authors live in Hampstead and Highgate.)

That's Frank Tallis that is. All I can say, having met Frank, is that it must have been a very tall photographer.

The week's other big news (if you happen to be me) is that my new book, A Vengeful Longing, now seems to be in the shops. It was in my local bookshop, Prospero's, anyhow.

It was actually the first time I have held the finished product in my hands. It looked pretty good. There's embossed lettering again.

Hmmm. Wonder what happened to my author copies? Weird seeing your book for the first time in a bookshop.

It seems to be available to buy on amazon now too. Gone from pre-ordering to add to basket. (Hint hint.)