Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Beth Morrey

Beth Morrey‘s work has been published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies and shortlisted for the Grazia Orange First Chapter competition. She lives in London with her family and Polly the dog.

Morrey's debut novel is The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

My Q&A with the author:

How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

The very first draft of my book was called Why Keep a Dog. When I was first querying agents and getting nothing back, I started to reconsider the title, and decided it was obscure, misleading (too doggy) and also a bit dry. For my next round of queries, it evolved into The Love Story of Missy Carmichael, which I thought was nice because it’s not a love story in the traditional sense – it’s about different types of love, with my protagonist Missy at the centre. The title has poetry, rhythm and resonance, but it’s also not quite what you think, which is a good indicator of the book – I hope.

What's in a name?

I am obsessed with names, and spend ages thinking about them. When you find the right one, it can open up a whole character, make them real somehow. Missy is actually Millicent, an indicator of her suffragette heritage (i.e. Millicent Fawcett, an English political activist who co-founded Missy’s Cambridge college). Carmichael is Missy’s married name, and her husband Leo is at the centre of her love story. Leo is a lion of a character – huge and golden in her mind. Missy doesn’t get on with her daughter Melanie, and notes that her name comes from the Greek word meaning ‘blackness’. To let you in on a secret: Missy never gives a name to her formidable grandfather, Fa-Fa, but I always knew it. It’s Aldert.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

While my 42-year-old self is dazed and amazed at the idea of having a bestselling novel (in the UK), and being published in America, I suspect my teenage self would be nonchalant about the whole thing. When you’re young, you think you have the world at your feet – that everything will come easily. It’s only when you’re out in the world that you get corners knocked off, and realise how hard it all is. It’s like driving a car – when I was 17 it was nothing, but now I’m so plagued by neurosis I can’t even make the attempt.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

The beginning is much harder than the end. Starting out, I tend to waffle on, put far too much information in, not really knowing where I’m going. By the end I’m in control, in the rhythm of it, and much more focused. The first draft of Missy Carmichael is unrecognisable at the start, but the finish was always pretty much the same, once I’d dropped the superfluous final chapter. I often drop the final chapter – I like endings to be underdone.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There’s a lot of Missy in me, in that I’m a bit of a waspish old witch, sometimes socially awkward, and have a lot of doubts about myself as a mother. I’m also, like her, a Christmas fiend. So there are similarities. The main difference is hair. I have crap, straight, thin, mousy hair, and tend to give my characters nice big curls and colour.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

My background in television is a huge influence. For example, I developed a series called 100 Year Old Drivers, which made me think about old people very differently – what they were like, what they could achieve. They were all so vibrant, active and curious – which informed the character of Missy. Working in television you get used to being aware of the zeitgeist, how to turn it into an accessible story, so that’s helpful. I also had to churn out treatments, which got me used to writing as a day job. Increasingly, I’m finding I want to put in references to climate change in my writing – it feels important that it’s woven in somehow, that it permeates everything we do.
Visit Beth Morrey's website.

Coffee with a Canine: Beth Morrey & Polly.

The Page 69 Test: The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

My Book, The Movie: The Love Story of Missy Carmichael.

--Marshal Zeringue