Monday, March 31, 2008

Over to David.

I've decided to hand this plog post over almost entirely to David Isaak, author of the gloriously outrageous high concept thriller Shock and Awe.

Once again, David's been out Axe-spotting:

David writes:

A couple of pictures of the US paperback version of Axe at the biggest local bookstore, the Huntington Beach Barnes & Noble, which is a building about the size of the Pentagon.

Being in the New Mystery section is a good thing, an honor conferred on few paperbacks, but they only had one copy. On the other hand, they don't put you face-out in the New section if they only ordered one copy, so that implies they only had one copy left. That also seems like a good thing.

A young lady who worked in the store asked me, politely, what I was doing with the camera. "I know him," I said by way of explanation, pointing at your book, "he's from London. I'm going to send him the pictures." She seemed suitably impressed by one or more of those three facts, and stood by while I got on with my photos.

He was even kind enough to devote a whole post on his own blog to the paperback edition of The Gentle Axe. I share his frustrations with American amazon.

Nothing to do with me or my books (hey, come on, David!) his latest post on Oregon place names is hilarious.

All I can say is thank you David, for all your sterling work.

In the meantime, there was a review of A Vengeful Longing in The Telegraph on Saturday, alongside (well, just underneath) a review of my fellow NLHCW* Lee Jackson's The Mesmerist's Apprentice.

Apparently I have "a knack for showing the dark side of the city", which "bristles with depravity and deception, lunatic bureaucracy and melodrama..." Nice to have a knack for something.

*North London Historical Crime Writer

Saturday, March 29, 2008

I finally get down to some work.

Apologies to Rachael King and Paul Campbell, whose comments on an earlier version of this have been swallowed by blogger. Arrrgggggg!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


I know I haven't been around much lately. I'd like to say I've been working and maybe I have. I can't honestly say I've started writing the new book yet. Perhaps I'm mired in research. But every book I read leads me to another.

However, I think that what has really kept me quiet is a strange fear of blogging - blogophobia - that I seem to have developed. I can't explain it. I keep thinking of ideas for posts, but I haven't been able to carry them through to fruition. I admit to feeling apprehensive and anxious right now as I type this.

Perhaps I really am reading too much Dostoevsky, especially the early stories. One of the things that draws me to Dostoevsky is his skill in writing dreams. This is a subject that I really want to blog about - there are many examples that I could cite, including the magnificent Svidrigailov dream sequence towards the end of Crime and Punishment, as well as all of Raskolnikov's disordered dreams. Then there are the stories that have very strong dream content, and in which the lines between reality and unreality are blurred. It's such a great subject, but I don't feel that I could do it justice, not without a great deal of further thought and re-reading, tracking down all the great dreams in his work.

But I can't possibly devote any time to such a project, because I am supposed to be getting on with a new novel.

So I became paralysed, at least with respect to the blog.

What has drawn me back is the fact that today is the publication day for the US trade paperback of The Gentle Axe. I felt this was an event that needed marking here in some way. It's a strange, dreamlike event for me, as I am so distant from any bookshops, or bookstores as they are known in America, that stock the US paperback. I've been told that the publication will be promoted with an ad in The New Yorker, and others in Mystery Scene Magazine and Strand Magazine. There will also be radio advertising.

Of course, the best advertising is word of mouth, and the modern form of word of mouth is the internet. So I was delighted to get a notification for this wonderful review from RJ's 3rs reading den.

A spell-binding novel that will definitely keep you up late…reading! And you’ll want to share this one with friends and coworkers –it’s really that good!

I asked my US publicist if there was anything I could do to help promote the book (I promise I wasn't angling for a ticket to New York, honest). The word came back that they would love another 'Writer's Life' video. You have been warned.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Indulge me.

I had a couple more foreign editions arrive in the post today, the Romanian (Sicurea Blanda) and the Finnish (Murha Petrovskin Puistossa). I was overcome by the desire to lay out all the different editions of the book so far, including the original UK trade paperback, the special edition Goldsboro Books-exclusive hardback. This is what they looked like:

Still a few more editions to be published, including the German, the Russian (when oh when will they get round to publishing that?) and the French.

Here's the shelf shot:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Trends in book jackets:

Blood in the snow:

First there was this (published February 2007):

Then came this (published February 2008):

Figure with back to you:

Here's one sighting:

A couple of more recent examples:


Monday, March 10, 2008

Who'd have thought it?

I learnt today, through Vulpes Libris, that Harry Enfield lists Crime and Punishment as his favourite book. Of course, me being me, I am sorely tempted to send Mr Enfield a copy of A Gentle Axe. You may remember that I sent a copy to another devotee of Dostoevsky, Lorraine Kelly.

Who will be the next TV star to declare a passion for the master of Russian angst, I wonder? Feel free to leave some suggestions.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Quick Round-up...

... of review quotes so far.

“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.” Barry Forshaw,

"right from the start we are hooked by his storytelling panache… the pungently vivid recreation of pre-Soviet Russia is painted with a master's touch". Barry Forshaw, The Express

“Morris’s descriptions of the horrors of insanitary slum dwellings in St Petersburg are extraordinarily vivid, but the most striking feature of the novel is the way in which Porfiry’s sophisticated understanding of human nature compensates for the limited investigatory tools at his disposal.” Joan Smith, The Sunday Times

“… 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.” Andrew Taylor, The Spectator

“Morris's St Petersburg comes alive in intense imagery…” Carola Groom, The Financial Times

“… we get not only a narrative full of surprises, but a vivid picture of squalor and poverty a century and a half ago.” Gerald Kaufman, The Scotsman

“a dark masterpiece” Anne Brooke, Writewords.

“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.” Norman Price, Euro Crime

“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.” Adam Colclough, Shots Magazine

“… for all the homage, it’s important to emphasise that these novels really do work well in their own right. As history they transport the reader back to the St. Petersburg of the 1860’s, as crime they’re intriguing and intelligent and, last but definitely not least, as entertainment, they’re grrrrrrrreat!” Lizzy’s Literary Life

“This novel keeps you questioning and guessing until the end... Morris's brilliant writing will have you on the spot in St Petersburg in 1868 in your head and trying to control emotions that Porfiry Petrovich will not let get in the way of his investigation.” It’s a Crime…or a Mystery.

“He uses atmosphere to remarkable effect, and there is nothing overindulgent or surplus. There are layers in this novel that come back to haunt you… [a] vivid and satisfying read about power, suffering, bitterness and revenge.” Emily Gale, Vulpes Libris

Monday, March 03, 2008

Dreaming and writing.

When you ask a writer “Where do you get your ideas from?” you may as well ask “Where do you get your dreams from?”

Writing can perhaps be seen as a type of lucid dreaming that the dreamer bothers to record. In lucid dreaming, the dreamer seems to have some control over the dream content. We writers also like to believe we are in control of the material we produce. There’s more to it than that, of course. As writers, we actively seek out the dreams that fuel our fiction, sometimes even inducing them with our own preferred stimulant or ritual, or combination of multiples of the above.

The American writer and writing professor Louis Gallo shared his own particular method for dream inducement with me in an email: “I crave dreams and have studied them for years, mainly the symbolic and archetypal elements. So I try to induce them. I find this concoction to work: a glass of RED wine, a large greenish banana, a piece of ephedra (this is what gives the really vivid dreams) and about half a mg of Ativan, the latter for getting to sleep.”

In case you’re wondering about the banana, Louis explained that they are loaded with melatonin, which apparently leads to an increase in the frequency and vividness of dreams. This is a method for inducing sleeping dreams, which are then used to inform the writing of fiction. Louis’s amazing stories are rich with dream content. But to write, you have to be actually awake. For that activity I have a recipe of my own: a pot of espresso-strength black coffee, drunk fairly rapidly.

Having said that, I wrote my first (published) novel, Taking Comfort, largely without the aid of a coffee pot. At least I didn’t use coffee to kick start the process. I used to set the alarm for an insanely early hour and leap out of bed, dashing straight to the computer, my body still in pyjamas, my head still in dreams. I did not consciously try to incorporate them into the book I was writing; they would have had no place in it. But I was undoubtedly influenced by their spirit and mood. Somehow, this enabled me to access material that I do not think I would otherwise been able to get close to. It may also account for the book’s -- how can I describe it -- idiosyncratic style. The coffee would come later, to keep me awake to continue writing. As you can imagine I was in a state of heightened anxiety and nervousness throughout the writing of the book. Not to mention exhaustion.

Andrew Martin, a writer I greatly admire, once said that when you are writing you become hypnotised by the book you’re working on. This is true. But no matter how free-form, and free-fall it may seem, writing also has to have some involvement of the conscious mind in its creation. Doesn’t it?

This brings us into a debate that recurs regularly on writers’ forums all over the internet: to outline or not? That is to say, should we seek to pre-impose order on our fictive “dreams” or should we simply allow them to come to us, and follow wherever they lead us?

In many ways, I see this as a false dichotomy. If writing is a form of dreaming, or at least related to it, then what we are doing when we write is unlocking the content that is already within us. The story is already there. We just have to find it. And set it down as best we can. If you don’t write an outline, you will find yourself releasing the raw material, and then working and re-working it until you have imposed the shape it needs for it to work as a story. If you do write an outline, you will seek to pre-form its shape, though you may have to be prepared to modify your outline, depending on what material is provided to you. Either way, the content is there. You just have to find it.

For the record, I would describe myself as an outliner. But even when I am outlining -- which seems as though it ought to be a highly conscious and rationally-driven activity – even in the act of outlining itself I am summoning dreams, willing them to form, and, if they consent to do so, groping my way towards them, and mentally placing myself in their midst. It’s a work, primarily, of the imagination, though with whatever logical faculty I possess perched on imagination’s shoulder.

I cannot describe, analyse, or explain how the imagination works. I know only that the word is linked, etymologically, to the same root that provides us with the word magic. The best exposition of this magic that I have encountered comes from Jorge Luis Borges’ lecture "Nightmares" in ‘Seven Nights’. Borges recounts the following dream, or nightmare, as he terms it:

I remember a certain nightmare I had. It took place, I know, on the Calle Serrano, I think at the corner of Serrano and Soler. It did not look like Serrano and Soler -- the landscape was quite different -- but I knew that I was on the old Calle Serrano in the Palermo district. I met a friend, a friend I do not know; I saw him, and he was much changed. I had never seen his face before, but I knew his face could not be like that. He was much changed, and very sad. His face was marked by troubles, by illness, perhaps by guilt. He had his right hand inside his jacket. I couldn't see the hand, which he kept hidden over his heart. I embraced him and felt that I had to help him. "But, my poor Fulano, what has happened? How changed you are!" "Yes," he answered, "I am much changed." Slowly, he withdrew his hand. I could see that it was the claw of a bird.

I first read this many years ago and it astounded me. It still does. In Borges’ telling we feel the dread that the dreamer feels before the terrible hand is revealed, as well as the horror of the revelation. And yet, as Borges goes on to explain:

The strange thing is that from the beginning the man had his hand hidden. Without knowing it, I had paved the way for that invention: that the man had the claw of a bird and that I would see the terrible change, the terrible misfortune, that he was turning into a bird.

Borges comes to the conclusion that dreams are a form of aesthetic expression, perhaps the most ancient. He comments on their “strangely dramatic” form. So is the dreamer the dramatist? More than that, “We are… the theatre, the spectators, the actors, the story.”

I have a feeling this is a topic I may return to. In the meantime, the dream depository is still open for writing-related dreams.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

In yesterday's Express.

If you click on the image you should get an enlarged version which is easier to read:

I spotted a couple of good quotes: "right from the start we are hooked by his storytelling panache"

"the pungently vivid recreation of pre-Soviet Russia is painted with a master's touch".