mark morris - news & views

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pausing for Breath

This last month has been mental! In fact, this entire past year has been mental. I'm sure I've written more words this year than I've written in each of my previous twenty years as a professional writer. I suddenly seem to have hit a stage in my career where I'm being commissioned for books and stories and scripts, and being asked to appear at various events to talk about writing horror and/or Doctor Who and/or Hellboy, all the time. I mean, don't get me wrong, I love it, and I find it hard to turn things down, because a) it's money in the bank, and b) the stuff I get offered always sounds so interesting and exciting, but I have to admit there are times when I don't know if I'm coming or going. It doesn't help that I still work two days a week in a bookstore in Leeds. Thing is, I've got so much writing work on that I could give it up. But it brings in a few extra shekels, and I'm superstitiously worried that if I do give it up, suddenly all my writing work will dry up, and I'll be left with nothing.

Anyway, the mental month began in Calgary, Canada, at the World Fantasy Awards. As mentioned before, I was a judge for this year's awards, and I was really looking forward to the Awards Banquet on Sunday to see all our months of toil and discussion finally pay off. I flew out to Canada with fellow Brits and good friends, Steve Volk, Rob Shearman and Graham Joyce, and what wonderful company they were! We didn't stop chatting and laughing and having fun the entire weekend. Once at the hotel, I caught up with plenty of other old friends - Steve Jones, Tony Richards, Ellen Datlow - and made lots of new ones. Special mention should go to fellow Convention attendees and Calgary residents Charles and Kris Prepolec for their friendliness and hospitality during our stay. They bought us drinks and meals and were thoroughly charming company. Lovely people.

At the Awards Banquet, I was particularly delighted to see Rob Shearman pick up the award for his brilliant collection Tiny Deaths. I was familiar with, and a huge admirer of, Rob's Doctor Who scripts for Big Finish and his TV episode Dalek, but I didn't realise he had written any prose until I saw a copy of Tiny Deaths in the bathroom of a friend's house in Manchester late last year. I ordered the book online, read it and thought it was one of the best short story collections I'd come across for years. I then got in touch with the publisher, Comma Books, and urged them to send copies to my fellow Fantasy Award judges. And to my delight, the other judges were as enthusiastic about the book as I was. In fact, one of them, Dennis McKiernan proclaimed it the best short story collection he'd ever read. It was some time after this that Rob and I, thrown together at various Doctor Who events during my 'promotional tour' for Ghosts of India met and quickly became good friends. So when the winner was announced I was doubly delighted. It honestly couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

During my stay in Calgary, and for the past four weeks since my return, I've been hard at work on my Torchwood novel, Bay of the Dead. I'm delighted to report that the book is finished and delivered now, and has been met with enthusiasm by BBC Books. Phew. As soon as the Beeb give the go-ahead, I'll stick a copy of the cover on my website. It's a beauty. Probably the goriest cover I've ever had.

Literally two days after finishing Bay of the Dead I had to get a synopsis in to...erm, well I'm not allowed to talk about that yet. I'd been given two weeks to deliver the synopsis, but the clash of deadlines meant that once the Torchwood book was delivered, I was left with only two days to write it. I therefore spent an incredibly tortuous, stressful couple of days trying to work out a long, complicated plot from beginning to end. I finally managed it, but I was reminded of a section from the book I'm currently reading, A Writer's Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook, which chronicles the ups and downs of Davies's writing experience on series four of Doctor Who. It's an incredible, unflinchingly honest book, and if you're even vaguely interested in the writing process I'd recommended it wholeheartedly. There are many sections which struck a chord with me in relation to my own writing experiences, but the one in particular I'm thinking about involved an email exchange between Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, soon to become Doctor Who's new show-runner. During the writing of his series four episode Silence in the Library Moffatt sent an email to Davies, asking, 'Do you ever feel like sticking your head out of the window and shouting at the top of your voice, "I DON'T KNOW WHAT I'M DOING!!!"? To which Davies replies, "ALL the time."

Which, to my mind, pretty much sums up what being a writer is all about.

I've recommended both Tiny Deaths and A Writer's Tale during this blog, but one other book I must mention is William Heaney's (actually a pseudonym for Graham Joyce) novel, Memoirs of a Master Forger. I read most of it in one sitting on the 9-hour overnight flight back from Calgary (I can never sleep on planes - too uncomfortable) and it's fantastic. I love Graham's writing anyway, but this is one of his best. It's poignant, moving, beautifully written and observed, and populated by wonderful characters. I'll be amazed if it doesn't win awards next year. I'll certainly be voting for it.

Some bad and good news to end on. Sadly Humdrumming, who in the past couple of years have published lovely new hardback editions of my first two novels, Toady and Stitch, have gone into receivership. They were planning to reissue my entire backlist, and also to publish a new short story collection from me next Spring, but unfortunately that won't now be happening. It's a real shame that they've gone under. For the couple of years they were around they produced some great-looking books. The good news, however, from my point of view is that the collection they were due to publish, Long Shadows, Nightmare Light has now been bought by Pete Crowther at PS Publishing. PS are currently buying so far in advance that the book probably won't be out for a couple of years, but I can happily wait. It's always a real honour to be published by PS. They are the creme de la creme of independant genre publishing.

Finally and belatedly, I just wanted to say - Obama!! Woo-hoo!! Like everyone else I've spoken to, I'm so happy with the election result. Who knows what the future will hold, but despite the current financial crisis, suddenly the world seems a more optimistic place. Personally I think it was the 'Vote Obama' badges which Steve Volk and I were wearing in Calgary which swung it.

Until next time...