Episode 81: On Nailing Your Novel, Finding Blind Spots & Artistic Integrity with Roz Morris (Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast)
Episode 81: Welcome to the Equestrian Author Spotlight podcast! In each episode, you’ll hear inspirational stories from horse book authors including writing advice and marketing tips to help you write your own horse book. If you are an author, aspire to be an author, or simply love horse books, then you are in the right place!
In this week's episode, you'll meet Roz Morris. She's a writer, journalist, fiction editor and the author of the Nail Your Novel series for writers. You'll learn ...
Watch Roz's Interview on YouTube!
Or listen to the audio only version.
About Roz Morris
Roz Morris writes fiction and essays about unconventional ways we can be haunted and how we seek people and places we belong with. Her work has been profiled by The Guardian, Literature Works, the Potomac Review, Foreword Reviews, Rain Taxi and BBC Radio.
Her fiction has sold more than 4 million copies worldwide, although you won't have seen her name on the covers - she began her career in secret, ghostwriting fiction for big-name authors.
Now she's coming out of the shadows. Her own novels have been described as 'profound tales and compelling page-turners', with fine-honed language, unforgettable characters, and gripping, unusual storylines. Plaudits include a top-ranked title in the American Library Journal programme, a long-listing for an international award alongside Neil Gaiman and a finalist position in the People's Book Prize 2017. Her latest novel, Ever Rest, has been praised by reviewers as ‘so real, I wish it was true’, and ‘one of the best books to appear in Britain this year’.
She is a writer, journalist, fiction editor and the author of the Nail Your Novel series for writers. She teaches creative writing master classes for The Guardian newspaper in London. And she’s been a story consultant for a variety of media, including film and video games.
Roz Morris Interview Excerpt
Carly: Tell us how your love affair with horses began.
Roz: I grew up in a house that had two stables and a coach house, from the Edwardian era. The coach house had been converted into a garage and we used the stables as sheds, but the hay racks were still there and the double doors, and I’d look at them and imagine what life was like having horses there.
Then some people moved into the house next door who had ponies, and I began to be more smitten with them. They seemed to have such fun, and so much cool gear like saddles, bridles, rugs. I adored everything about it - their barn stacked with hay, the bins of feed. My parents couldn’t afford to get me riding lessons - and I think they didn’t want me to start an expensive hobby - but I was desperate to ride. The neighbours tried to give me lessons, which always went wrong because I couldn’t stay on.
Meanwhile, I discovered pony books. Series by Mary Gervaise, the Pullein-Thompson sisters, Ruby Ferguson. I inhaled them, absolutely adored them. The kids in these books built their lives around horses. They went off into the woods and had adventures. They built relationships with these animals that were as deep as human friendships. So I had an imaginative life with horses as well as occasional disastrous adventures in real life, which didn’t go nearly as well as I hoped they would.
Then I left school, went to college in London, forgot all about horses until I saw, one day on the Tube, a woman wearing jodhpurs and long boots. They were marked from a saddle and with the grease from the horse’s sides. I stared and I thought, I’ve got to learn to do this properly. I found a riding school nearby and started lessons. Then I found a stables where people owned horses and kept them on working livery and finally it was possible to realise my dream - to have a horse of my own.
Carly: Your website mentions that you have more than 4 million copies sold as a ghostwriter. Now you are publishing under your own name! Talk to us about the ghostwriting work you’ve done and how the transition to writing under your own name began?
Roz: I used to write novels for other people! I can’t tell you who, but you’ll definitely have seen them. It was a fantastic apprenticeship in writing publishable books and it also meant I was able to mentor upcoming novelists because I learned so much. Meanwhile I was hoping to get a publishing deal for my own work.
Carly: Talk to us about writing across genre and the types of books you are writing under your own name.
Roz: Because I wrote so much for other people, and for very commercial genres, the books I write for me have to be all the more true, and from my soul. I love odd ideas that carry a lot of poetic freight. My first novel was called My Memories of a Future Life, about someone going to another life through hypnosis. But instead of going to the past, she’s going to the future - her next life, who of course is feeling trembles from her life right now, where she’s in bad trouble.
I’m releasing a novel in June which also started with a curious idea - a man who’s fallen into a glacier and died, and everyone who knew him is waiting for his body to come back, over decades. They’re caught in ice too, effectively. It’s about lost loves, friendships, people who were bound together by a remarkable time that won’t let go of them. It’s called Ever Rest.
Carly: Your second novel was inspired by your Irish Hunter. Talk to us about the book and the horse that inspired it.
Roz: The novel is called Lifeform Three and it’s about the last remaining piece of countryside in an overbuilt world.
It was inspired by my first horse. A 17.2-hand dark bay called Byron. I had him for 23 years. With him, I had the horsey adventures I’d always yearned for as a kid - long rides exploring the woods and downs in Surrey, riding to shows. He developed arthritis when he was 18 and I kept him going with regular exercise. In his late 20s he developed a heart condition so I took him for hacks in hand - I took him running with me, this huge horse. He’d trot beside me as I ran. I became infamous in our neighbourhood, ‘the lady who runs with her horse’ - once they realised I intended to be beside him and hadn’t fallen off! Finally at age 30 the arthritis got too much for him.
Anyway, I had long wanted to write a story to explore the unique bond between a horse and a human. And I was harking back to the pony books I loved when I was a kid… I wanted to make my own take on that.
Carly: You mentioned that it's set in the future. Why did you decide to write it that way?
Roz: I also wanted to pay tribute to the amazing countryside I was able to experience because of him. The area I ride in is National Trust land, with beautiful old houses like Downton Abbey. Some have been pulled down, but some remain, and I’m always aware of how many people have passed through the place before me, treading these same paths that have been there for centuries. I began to wonder what we’d make of it in the future, how we’d use it, whether we’d even care about it - and that set off a little light in my brain. I thought of a place that was the last remaining country estate, with valleys and woods and hills, at a time when all those things have disappeared from the rest of the world. I thought about whether we’d still ride horses and still have these rewarding, trusting relationships with these animals.
So I wrote about an artificial human who works in a theme park where you go to see fields and woods and animals, whose mind is wiped to make him obedient and efficient, but he has breakthrough memories of a tantalising time when he used to ride a horse.
It’s called Lifeform Three, which is what they call horses because no one really knows them as horses any more, they exist just as wild ornaments for visitors to look at. Cows are Lifeform Four. The character is haunted by his memories and starts to train another horse. It’s the most important thing in his whole world, but at any moment his memory might be wiped and permanently taken away from him.
Carly: Is there a message in this particular book you hope readers will grasp?
Roz: The individual against society - the person who doesn’t fit and can’t go along with the crowd, doesn’t just want to be a programmed drone. The incredible trust and harmony that can build up with a horse - obviously, everyone here will get that. The simple joy of an animal moving with you, your minds and hearts in the same place. The countryside we might lose if we don’t look after it and instead cover it with cities.
Carly: You also teach other authors to write and publish. You host a writing blog and have written a book series called Nail Your Novel. Tell us about your services.
Roz: I offer editing and mentoring - helping people to write the stories their hearts are aching to tell. Sometimes I work on completed manuscripts, developmentally editing. Sometimes I help people earlier in the process, to create a novel from ideas, especially if they’re not sure where to go with it or what to include, or how to get a plot out of their characters. Often people know what they don’t want to do but not what they do want! Memoirs and non-fiction too.
Carly: How do you reach your readers?
Roz: Through my blog and most of all my newsletter. I also end every issue of my newsletter with updates about my horse, and sometimes when I meet readers in real life they tell me ‘I love your horse!’
Carly: Do you have a special time for your creativity? How is your day structured?
Roz: My brain works non-stop on ideas. So really it’s a question of scheduling time for other things - exercise and my horse (I have another now - Val, another Irish hunter). I like to ride in the morning, when I can give Val my whole mind…. and maybe also go for a run, then come home and do my writing and editing work.
Carly: Which do you prefer independent or traditional publishing?
Roz: I would like to have had the marketing support of a publisher, and their contacts in the press, for instance, but I’m pretty independent minded. I’ve worked in publishing all my life - first in a book publisher, and now I freelance for magazines. So I know all the editorial jobs as second nature and I like having the control.
Carly: What do you wish you had known when you started out on your author journey?
Roz: That you don’t need a publishing deal to have credibility as an author. Your credibility comes from the responses of your readers, who value your work, enjoy it, respond to it. And also from the work you know you’ve done, to write and research the book properly, to finish it professionally.
Carly: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
Roz: Find good people to advise you! You need people to beta-read your manuscripts and will be in tune with the kind of writer you want to be. Also, be really patient! Learn to love rewriting - you can rarely get a book right on the first attempt, but your edits will get the very best out of your ideas and material. Don’t think of it as correcting, it’s a creative process that helps you reach your potential.
If you’re thinking of self-publishing, learn as much about it as possible. You’re going to be making a lot of decisions and they have to be good ones. And learn which marketing decisions are right for your kind of book - one size doesn’t fit all. If you’re a genre writer, you might want to put a book in Kindle Unlimited for a while, but that might not be a good move if your books are more thoughtful and literary like mine are, because those readers don’t tend to use Kindle Unlimited.
Carly: What is the hardest part about being an author?
Roz: The long period of muddle while I’m working out what to do with a story, how to make it a good novel! Writing a book that lives up to the hopes you had for it. There are long periods of self-doubt and you have to push through. Most writers develop a process and you have to trust your process. If you show up and do the work, eventually your process will get you to the end.
Carly: What is the best part about being an author?
Roz: When a person tells you they loved your book - perhaps a novel took them on an unforgettable journey, or a book on writing helped them do something they’ve always dreamed of. That connection … with the mind of a stranger … who perhaps learned something they valued from your words, or took an emotional trip through your stories that stayed with them.
Carly: Has anything happened or bloomed for you since becoming an author or coach that you wouldn’t have expected?
Roz: When I started self-publishing, I thought it would be temporary until I found a publisher. I didn’t expect that it would turn out to be the best way for me to publish, rather than a stop-gap.
Carly: What are you curious about right now? What’s next?
Roz: I have an idea for my fourth novel, but I don’t have time to give it proper attention because I’m launching my third novel. That’s a full-time job - finding places to publicise it, finding reviewers etc.
Connect with Roz Morris
Books by Roz Morris
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About Your Host Carly Kade
Carly Kade is an award-winning author, horse owner, creativity coach, and the host of the Equestrian Author Spotlight Podcast. She helps fellow writers start, grow, and expand their author careers. Creative writing makes her spurs jingle!
Carly's In the Reins equestrian romance book series was written with horse lovers in mind, no matter which discipline they ride. The horses are as vital to moving the story forward as the human characters are.
These books are perfect for poolside reading, taking to the beach, or settling down with after a day of horseback riding.
Books by Carly Kade
Carly Kade writes for anyone who loves horses, handsome cowboys and a great romance. Creative writing about horses makes her spurs jingle!