Lara Morgan: Author of the YA series The Rose Black Chronicles

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image-laramorgan200Lara Morgan is the author of the new young adults series, The Rosie Black Chronicles. The first book, Genesis, will be released in October 2010.

Lara started writing at the age of seven – when she plagiarised a version of Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree. Since then she has worked in the arts as a project officer, worked in newspapers as a production manager and an editor, and written a weekly TV column for a local paper.

In 2003 she won the Australian Women’s Weekly Short Story Contest, which led to an invitation to write a story for Girls’ Night In, published by Penguin in 2004. In 2007 she published her first book, Awakening, the first in a fantasy trilogy, with Pan Macmillan.

Click play to listen. Running time: 23.05

Genesis

Transcript

* Please note these transcripts have been edited for readability

Valerie
Thanks for joining us today, Lara.

Lara
No problem. It’s great to be here.

Valerie
Tell us when did you decide you wanted to become a full time writer? What prompted that decision?

Lara
Well, I’ve always been involved in writing. I’ve always loved English, and loved stories, and things like that.

In late ’96, early ’97 I went overseas and when I came back I had this really weird thing where I just woke up one morning and thought, “Well, I’m just going to write a book.”

Valerie
Wow.

Lara
As you do, because books are really easy to write.

Valerie
Yeah, of course.

Lara
It sort of went on from there, but that was sort of the first conscious thought that I really wanted to write something and get something published.

Valerie
Wow, and so before that had you had an interest in writing, or…?

Lara
Yes. I’ve always been interested in writing. I did a Bachelor of Arts, which had a creative writing unit in it. I wrote lots of stories when I was in primary school and high school. I had, like, a book that I used to write really bad poetry in, and things like that, as we do when we’re teenagers.

Valerie
That was in the late ‘90s. What did you do then when you woke up and thought, “I want to write a book.”? What was your next steps to make that happen?

Lara
Well, I just started thinking about a novel I had mind over about ten years I developed this fantasy novel, working off and on, off and on, and it really changed a lot over that period of time. It was after work and on weekends, things like that. I just feeling it out as I went really.

Valerie
Then you won in 2003 the Australian Women’s Weekly Short Story Contest, which is very highly contested. Were you surprised? Had you entered many short story contests before that?

Lara
I had not. I had not entered many short story competitions before that. It was actually on a suggestion off my sister, who was reading Women’s Weekly and saw the competition and say, “Look, you should enter this. You should enter this.” She harassed me, so I did it. To my absolute shock I won. I remember getting the phone call when I was actually at work and just sitting there just in total disbelief.

Valerie
Wow.

Lara
It was quite surreal.

Valerie
Did you write a short story specifically for the contest? Or, did you submit one that was already…?

Lara
No, I wrote one specifically for it, because I write mostly fantasy sort of stuff. I thought, “Well, I don’t think fantasy is really appropriate for Women’s Weekly readership. I wrote more of a cotemporary fiction mystery crime sort of story specifically for it, and that’s what I sent up for a consult.

Valerie
Tell us why you’re so interested in fantasy.

Lara
You know it’s been for me, it’s always been kind of my life. My favorite books growing up were things like The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and The Hobbit. When I was young I had very vivid memories of my mom actually reading me Lord of the Rings. She’d read a chapter every night to myself and my siblings. I think that had a huge impact on me. I just loved the idea of alternate worlds and escaping from reality, and having things that you just don’t get in normal life.

Valerie
Then in 2007 you published your first book, Awakening.

Lara
End of 2008.

Valerie
End of 2008, Awakening. Tell us about the seed of the idea that eventually became Awakening, and how it eventually became a book.

Lara
Well, that was a very long process because that’s the first book I’d written. That’s the one that took ten years. It started out, it was just going to be a sort of parallel universe story.

Valerie
Right.

Lara
But then it just totally became a whole different world. I spent a lot of time building a world, and filling out the story of these two twins, Shaan and Tallis. Over the years it really developed. It was a lot of fun.

Then I got an agent in late 2007, and she sold it off in early 2008.

Valerie
Do you remember when you were told that news?

Lara
I absolutely remember. I remember when I got my agent, because she had gone to Europe with my then boyfriend/husband, and we were in Sparta- no, not in Sparta, Callamartis, sorry. We had a horrendous bus trip and I checked the email and there was an email from Clare Forster, who’s my agent, saying she would love to be my agent. I remember the exact time.

Then I was staying at a friend’s house when she rang me up and said, “I’ve got some great news for you…” “What?” And, she’d sold it, which was just fantastic news.

Valerie
How soon after she became your agent did she sell it?

Lara
Gosh, it was a few months. It wasn’t actually that long.

Valerie
Right.

Lara
She did sell it quite fast. Maybe it was four, four to six months. It’s hard to remember sometimes the details.

Valerie
What’s it like? You had a gestation period of ten years, kind of thing. Don’t you get sick of it?

Lara
Well, no. I think it’s harder, because I was doing it over such a long period time. I wasn’t writing all the time in that ten years, and sometimes where I just didn’t write at all. Because I had no deadlines, I had not really any clear idea of where I was going. It was a very long process where there was very little pressure on me, because it was just me in my own little world doodling along.

Now I have contracts and deadlines. It’s more intense being that I have to get it done. Sometimes it can be a period of time where I just think, “I just want to get it done and get it over with.” But, I still enjoy it once it’s actually done.

Valerie
In that time what did you do to hone your craft? What did you do to improve your writing?

Lara
I think the best way to improve your writing is just to write.

Valerie
Yeah.

Lara
Well, because I was living in Geraldton, which is fairly remote I did whatever writing workshops came up at the time. So one was with Gabriel Lord, he came to visit Geraldton and I went to that. Just research on the internet and reading a lot of how-to writer’s books, like Ursula Le Guin’s book, and other various, Strunk & White, which is just a bible for anyone who wants to write about structure.

And, just trying to edit myself and doing the best I can. I think that’s all you can do when you don’t have any other direction. You’ve just got to keep writing, it’s the only way to get better.

Valerie
Sure.

You were talking about it took that time to build that world. When you are world-building what do you do to find the elements of the world to make it believable?

Lara
There’s a lot sitting around thinking, and staring into space. I also do research things on the fantasy series. I have a lot of history. For the fantasy series when I was writing it, it was quite strongly influenced by ancient Greece and ancient Rome, and those sorts of cultures. I read books about it. I visited Greece, and I had seen Pompeii. Just trying to imagine myself in the setting, and pick up little details that will ground the reader in a reality, and sort of the little details of how people lived, and thinking about how people lived in a pre-industrial time was really important.

It’s kind of fun. And, keep lots of notes and a ridiculous amount of files.

Valerie
Yes.

Now you’re releasing in October 2010 the first book in a new young adult series, The Rosie Black Chronicles, and that book is called Genesis. They’re set 500 years in the future. Tell us a little bit about the Rosie Black Chronicles and how they started coming into your head.

Lara
I’ve always had a keen interest in sci-fi. Star Wars had a huge influence on me when I was kid. I love all of those space shows and things. I don’t read a lot of hard sci-fi, but I love to watch it, and space adventure stuff. I always loved it. After spending so much time writing fantasy I wanted to do something really different, that was just totally separate to that sort of world, and sit it in the real world and inverted commas.

Valerie
Kind of.

Lara
Yeah. But, I wanted to set it in the future so I could have the spaceships and the technology that would terraform Mars, that there would be a colony up there. I always wanted it to be an adult, because that was also very different to what I had already been writing.

It was process of fitting everything in. I just wanted to do something really different. I love space opera. I love futuristic stuff.

I’m also very interested in climate change. And, worry about what’s happening to our planet, so that was impetuous. The novel and the world I built around it, because I wanted to explore what would happen if a lot of the bad things that we think are going to happen actually do happen. What’s our world going to be like then?

Valerie
Where did you get the idea for Rosie?

Lara
That’s a hard question, because characters really just sort of come to me. It’s sort of an organic process where I just sort of start thinking, “Who am I going to have?” and they just sort of appear.

Rosie was someone who was a niece of a character already created in a short story that has never been published, who’s aunt is Esmeralda Black, who’s actually in the book as well. I wrote a short story about Esmeralda. I began thinking about, “Who’s Esmeralda and who’s her family?” Then I realized, “Well, she has a niece called Rosie,” and who Rosie is. I really got interested in who Rosie was and what her story is and being a teenager in this world and what it’s like, and wanted to write about her.

Valerie
This book is for young adults, as you mentioned. What do you do to get into the mindset of writing for a young adult when you’ve been writing for adults for so long?

Lara
I actually don’t find it very difficult because I have very clear memories of my teenage years. I think as with most writers I was not one of the popular crowd, being a fringe-dweller. So, it’s very clear memories of what it’s like to be a teenager and being on the outside, and the angst, and the insecurities, and the things that go with it. So, I could draw on that. So, it’s not very difficult to get into a mind, to regress if you like.

It’s actually a lot of fun, because with adults you have to consider so many other things. And, all of these issues that they’ve already got. With teenagers it’s kind of a more fresh approach that was actually really good.

Valerie
Do you prefer it?

Lara
I don’t know. At the moment I do, because that’s what I’m working on. If you ask me once I’m working on the third book in the Twin Sister Saranthium I might say, “Well, that’s what I like doing now.

Valerie
Yes.

With the Twin Sister Saranthium series, you’ve had two novels in that series so far. Are you writing another one then?

Lara
Yes, there is a third one, but I don’t have a publication date for that one yet. It will be the last book of the series. I made it as a trilogy, so that will tie up it all.

Valerie
Is that the same as the Rosie Black Chronicles?

Lara
Rosie is quite different. I’ve always had in mind when I’m writing Rosie that it’s more of separate stories about her growing up, whereas the twins is one sort of one great big story, just like sort of a big book broken up. Rosie is more of an episodic story. I mean it follows story arc, like a major story, I have to go through the whole lot. But, each book is a separate sort of adventure in her life.

So at the moment, I’ve got three books contracted but I certainly have ideas for more. So, we’ll just see how it goes.

Valerie
Right. It’s going to keep you busy for a while?

Lara
Yes.

Valerie
Tell us then where do you write? When you’re writing what’s your writing routine? Do you have a particular ritual, or structure to your day?

Lara
Yeah. I try to. I not as organized as I would like to be. I have to have a cup of tea when I start.

Valerie
Do you know how many authors tell me that?

Lara
Probably just about every single one. Tell me about sitting there with a warm cup of tea in your hand… it’s like turning it into the space that you need to be in when you’re creating… yeah. That’s definitely my only ritual. Because my husband is a teacher, I usually start working when we goes to work and finish when he comes home.

It doesn’t always work out. Sometimes I spend a lot of time just staring in frustration at the computer. I’m banging my head on the desk. I think that’s just par for the course when you’re creating something.

Valerie
Where are you based? Do you have to sit at home, or can you do it in cafés, or when you’re traveling?

Lara
No, I really need to be on my on to actually write. Editing is a bit different. I can do that in a hotel room. But, I really need to- if I’m creating a story I work much better if I’m able to have my own space and sit in front of my computer and write. I’m not the kind of person who can write in a café because I just get too distracted, eavesdropping in other people’s conversations.

Valerie
Do you have a target word count? Or, how does that work for you?

Lara
I try to say I’m going to try to write 2,000 words a day.

Valerie
Right, 2,000?

Lara
2,000 words, yeah. It doesn’t always work. Sometimes I write more, but that’s a really good day. If I write 4,000 words it’s a really good day.

Once I did try to write 10,000 words in a day.

Valerie
Oh, my God!

Lara
I actually succeeded much to my absolute surprise.

It’s a good exercise if you’ve got a bit of writer’s block. Basically you just sit down, have an idea the day before what you’re going to write, sit down and just start typing, don’t look back. Even ignore the spelling errors it’s the only way to do it.

I’ve only done that once, because it’s actually quite exhausting.

Valerie
Were they 10,000 useable words?

Lara
Well, I’m editing it at the moment, so I’m hopeful, but I’m really sure that there will be several thousand that will just get dumped. But, it’s a good way to try and clear your mind and get to what you’re trying to say.

Valerie
Yeah, sure.

Lara
Yeah.

Valerie
Writers approach their stories in very different ways. Are you the kind of writer who has a very clear plot already, and you fill in the blanks? Or, do you have no idea where you’re going and you just start writing?

Lara
Yeah, no. I’m not a meticulous planner. I draw out what I call a plot arc. I have a great big line on a piece of paper starting at one end and going upwards. I write, “This is where the story starts.” “This is where I see it ending.” “This is the middle, climatic part,” and a few points in between. Most of it is very much a work in progress.

So, I have a basic storyline that can give me some sort of light in the dark if you want.  Otherwise I sort of figure it out as I go towards that end point, because otherwise I find I get too caught up in what I’ve already written and it stymies my imagination a bit.

Valerie
Your first novel took ten years. Obviously you’ve become, you’ve shortened that time frame now, these days. What is your estimate from beginning to end of your first draft these days?

Lara
Writing the second Twins book took me ten months to my first draft. Rosie Black: Genesis really probably only took about six, because it’s a much shorter book, and it’s not as complicated.

It really depends on the type of book I’m writing. A book a year is really probably what I can produce, the same for many people I think.

Valerie
You’re writing full time then? Do you do other things?

Lara
No, I do write full time. I gave my day job in mid-2007. Luckily I have a supportive husband and we’re in a financial position where we could do that. It’s an absolute godsend because I don’t know how people get their deadlines and everything done if they day job still.

Valerie
Yeah. Was that a scary decision to go and take the plunge?

Lara
It wasn’t actually because I was at a period of time in the job that I was in that I really needed to leave, so it was an absolute relief to leave.

Valerie
Right.

Lara
And to say, “All have to do now is just write.” It was a wonderful feeling.

Valerie
What is the most rewarding thing about the whole writing process? What helps you get out of bed everyday?

Lara
I think it’s that moment when you finally find yourself caught up in the world and everything is just coming together. There’s this wonderful sense of peace and tranquility as the words are just coming out, and you’re actually producing something at the end of the day to look back and go, “I actually have written something that’s actually not bad,” and the words all seem to be in the right order, which is not something you can really beat. It’s just this wonderful satisfaction of feeling that you’ve produced something.

Valerie
That’s the word, isn’t it? Satisfaction?

Finally, what’s your advice to budding authors who are listening to this and thinking they want to win their short story competition, or they want to write their first novel?

Lara
I definitely think, because I’ve met people who say, “I really want to write, and I’m writing this book. I keep writing the first chapter over and over again. It’s not good enough.” I think something that people really have to do is allow themselves to write badly in the first draft and just get it finished, because unless you’re a very experienced writer and you write that way constantly going over what you’re doing you get so bogged down that you never finish anything. If you don’t finish anything, of course you’re never going to get published. It’s really important to just finish something and then fix it in the rewrite.

And, also not to put too much pressure on yourself because writing is such a long process and it’s not something that you just do overnight.

And, be persistent because if you give up you’ll never get there. It took me ten years. I think most people actually do get published are the ones who are just totally dogged and just don’t give up, which is really hard when you keep getting rejected. You just have to keep going and believe that you can do it, otherwise you’re never going to make it.

Valerie
Did you get many rejections when you were starting out?

Lara
I did. I really struggled to get any short stories published, which is why it was it was such a shock when I actually won a short story competition, because I tried to do the traditional route where you write short stories and send them in to magazines and get all these rejections.

Maybe I’m just more of a natural novel writer. I don’t know.

Yeah, it is a bit hard and you sort of have to give yourself a week or so to get over it, and put it aside and keep going. And it doesn’t stop too. They still publish writers who write books. People just don’t want to publish them for a variety of reasons.

Valerie
What would your advice be to continue that motivation then?

Lara
You meet people around you who are supportive. If someone is going to run you down all the time, then dump them. Try to develop networks. I mean coming from a regional area that can be very difficult, which is why the internet is such a godsend to me. I meet people online, people I talk to online understand what I’m going through, and how difficult it can be. They don’t need to be published writers, they just need to be people who are as committed to their writing as you are. You can complain to each other that no one understands, and you know what they mean. That’s really important.

Valerie
Yeah, networks are vital.

Lara
Definitely, yeah.

Valerie
On that note thank you very much for your time today, Lara.

Lara
Thank you very much. It’s been fun.


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