S.J. Morgan Interview:
Questions asked by Poppy Nwosu.
Your #LoveOzYA debut novel is a beautiful quiet contemporary set in Adelaide, Australia (an Australian city which doesn’t see a lot of YA action normally!). It deals sensitively with themes of growing up, growing apart, and the differences between seeing what you want to see, and seeing what’s really there. I really loved it and found this to be a really moving and sweet story, at times almost walking on the edges of magical realism, with quite a fascinating mystery at its core!
Hi Poppy – thanks so much for inviting me and thanks also for your very neat sum-up of the book’s themes. It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the mystery element of the book but, actually, no, I didn’t set out to write a mystery as such. I knew I wanted Gabe to be a mysterious, enigmatic character though and once he started forming in my head, I knew I wanted to keep that air of mystery going.
At the start, I didn’t know if Gabe was going to be a good or an evil character – that part of the plot worked itself out as I was going. For me, the thing I love most about writing is following the twists and turns of instinct and imagination, so I prefer not to have a clear idea of where the story will go when I set out – I like just enough spark to set off the fireworks.
Gosh yes, it’s taken a very long time to reach this point -in fact, I thought it would never happen! I’ve been writing for over ten years so have quite a few full manuscripts sitting on my laptop. I had a few minor successes along the way though; a short story competition-win, a long-listing for a novel competition; a mentorship from the Australian Society of Authors. And whenever I went to workshops or author talks, they often mentioned these sorts of stepping stones along the way, so I desperately hoped that my small successes would gradually lead to something more. For me, the big moment came when I went to the Salisbury Writers’ Festival in 2016 and I had a five-minute pitch with Anna Solding from MidnightSun Publishing. I gave an awful speech to her that day, but she nevertheless took
my chapters away, and a few months later emailed me to ask for the complete manuscript. A very long time passed and I assumed it was a ‘no’ – but finally, almost a year after I’d pitched, I had a phone call from Anna saying they wanted to publish. It was an unforgettable moment and all I kept thinking was: ‘Thank God I didn’t give up!’
Oh gosh, that’s a tricky one. I cry more readily at films than books (usually it’s the music that gets to me). The last novel I cried about was Eva Hornung’s The Last Garden which is a beautiful, beautiful book - it warrants tears! And before that, I remember shedding a tear at Gail Jones’ Sixty Lights.
I have also been known to cry at my own work if I’m writing a particularly upsetting scene – but crying and typing don’t mix well so I try to avoid it.
It would be to learn to be patient and to trust the process. There’s a good reason why it takes so long to get published. I’m thankful now that my early work was rejected. It wasn’t ready, and I can see that now, looking back on the early drafts. I would also remind my younger self not to give up – ever. The day you give up on being published could be the day before you pitch to THE publisher who wants you, or the day before your manuscript lands on that elusive ‘right’ desk. Getting published requires hard work and (hopefully) a certain amount of talent, but luck and timing play a part too, so you have to keep spinning the wheel.
I’m so excited about the next book. It’s an adult thriller called ‘Hide’ and it’s set during the nineteen-eighties. It’s pretty dark and menacing – it’s about a guy called Alec who, in trying to help someone escape the influence of a local bikie gang, finds himself the new target. It’s set in Wales and in Australia and when I wrote it, I imagined much of it like a road movie, with 80s anthems forming the backdrop. I’m thrilled that it’s going to be on shelves next year (thank you, once again, MidnightSun Publishing!)
Thank you so much for your time S.J. MORGAN, I loved hearing about your journey and writing!