Today I am thrilled to welcome Margarita Morris to my blog, not least because she sets novels in my home town, Scarborough, and (from her writing) appears to be entranced by the place as much as I am.
Margarita Morris is an indie author. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two sons. When she’s not writing, she enjoys swimming, yoga and singing with a local chamber choir. To date she has published four novels. Oranges for Christmas is a Cold War historical thriller about a family separated by the Berlin Wall. Set in 1961, it tells the story of Sabine in East Berlin and her brother, Dieter, in West Berlin and Sabine’s attempts to escape the East German secret police. The Sleeping Angel is a Young Adult mystery/thriller set in 1870, 1970 and the present day. Set in and around Highgate Cemetery it intertwines a Victorian mystery, a vampire hunt and a murder. Scarborough Fair and its sequel, Scarborough Ball, are mystery/thrillers set in the seaside town of Scarborough, England. Scarborough Fair combines a Victorian mystery with a modern day crime story. Scarborough Ball continues the modern day story but moves the historical story on a generation to the 1920s, the age of cinema, flappers and wild parties.
What are you currently working on?
This year, 2016, has seen the publication of Scarborough Fair and the completion of Scarborough Ball which is up for pre-order and will be released on 16 December 2016. It’s taken me around 20 months to write and publish both books. I’m not entirely sure what my next project will be. I have a few ideas lined up which is a good position to be in. I intend to take a little time to play around with those ideas and see what takes root.
What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
I like books that have a strong sense of place, for example Berlin, Highgate Cemetery and Scarborough. Scarborough is the quintessential Victorian, British seaside town and as a family we’ve had many wonderful holidays there. You can stand on the beach in Scarborough and see the medieval castle on the headland, the Victorian hotels and spa buildings, the old 1920’s Art Deco cinema and the modern amusement arcades all at once. It was this sense of layers of history in one place that inspired me to set a dual-time story in Scarborough.
How would you describe your writing process?
I do a lot of rewriting. It takes me a few months to hit 60,000 words, at which point the story is essentially in place. I take quite a few wrong turns along the way and quickly build up an outtakes file. Once the plot is sorted, I then add in more layers and bring the scenes to life which substantially increases the word count. My husband is my first reader and he always provides constructive feedback. After he’s read it, I do a major rewrite and another edit and polish. Then it goes to the proof readers for final checking.
What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
So far all my books have been set in places that I’ve visited. I went to Berlin (including East Berlin) in 1987 before the Berlin Wall came down so I have first-hand experience of Communist East Germany, although fortunately I wasn’t interrogated by the Stasi. I took my family to Berlin in 2013 and we visited the Berlin Wall Memorial site at Bernauer Strasse, the former Stasi headquarters and the former remand prison.
For The Sleeping Angel I booked myself on a tour of Highgate Cemetery and also spent time just wandering around the streets of Highgate and Hampstead Heath, soaking up the atmosphere. As for Scarborough, we’ve had lots of holidays there.
But most of my research comes from reading books. For Oranges for Christmas I did a lot of research into the building of the wall, life in communist countries and the methods people used to try and escape from East Berlin. Whilst writing The Sleeping Angel I learned about spiritualism, Victorian burial practices, the work of Christina Rossetti at Highgate Penitentiary and the events surrounding the so-called Highgate Vampire in 1970. Scarborough Fair saw me exploring the world of Victorian lunatic asylums and for Scarborough Ball I learned about early cinema and popular dance tunes of the period.
Maps often play an important part in my research. For Oranges for Christmas I invested in a huge fold-out map of Berlin and marked the outline of the wall in highlighter pen. Otherwise Google Maps works just fine.
If you are indie published, why did you choose this route? What are your five tips for would-be indie authors? What are the pros & cons to indie publishing?
I chose indie publishing because I was frustrated with the slow process of submitting to agents and then not hearing from them for ages. I actually wrote The Sleeping Angel before Oranges for Christmas and a couple of agents were interested in it, but it got no further. So I put it in a drawer and moved on to Oranges for Christmas. It was whilst writing Oranges for Christmas that I started to hear about indie publishing and by the time I had finished the novel, I decided I wouldn’t bother submitting it to agents. I’d lost faith in them and was keen to try this new route.
There’s a lot to learn when it comes to indie publishing, but that’s something I enjoy.
The pros and cons of indie publishing are two sides of the same coin. Yes, you have to do a lot of work yourself, but on the other hand it puts you firmly in control of your own creative process. Here are five key tips:
- Make the effort to learn about the industry. There are some excellent resources out there. One of the best is The Creative Penn website and podcast by Joanna Penn. Another excellent podcast is The Self Publishing Formula with Mark Dawson and James Blatch. I listen to podcasts whilst I’m doing the ironing or cooking.
- Make sure your work is edited and proof read. You don’t want to look like an amateur.
- Get a professional cover. I tried designing my own first covers for Oranges for Christmas and The Sleeping Angel. They weren’t terrible (I hope) but they certainly weren’t brilliant. Since then I’ve had all my covers professionally designed and I love them.
- Connect with other indie authors through your website (WordPress is recommended) and social media.
- Be prepared to pay for marketing and advertising. You can get a big sales boost if you advertise a sale on a site like Bookbub or EReaderNewsToday. Unfortunately Bookbub is very difficult to get on, but I keep trying.
How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
My author website is margaritamorris.com. Here you can find out about all my books and read my blog.
I also run the good writer where I blog about grammar tips, self publishing and creative writing.
You can find me on social media:
Oranges for Christmas
The Sleeping Angel