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Author Interview: Beth Morrey

We’re so excited to announce that the next author in our interview series is Beth Morrey, whose stunning “coming-of-old” debut, Saving Missy, is published in the UK on Thursday next week.

Ahead of publication, this novel has been lauded in The GuardianThe Telegraph, The Times and The Bookseller, as well as in numerous 2020 round ups.

More recently, Beth was chosen as one of The Media Eye’s Rising Stars, where they said “Beth Morrey, a debut author, has written one of the most anticipated releases of 2020, with ten different publishers fighting for the acquisition.” , as well as being included in The Observer‘s “Best Debut Novelists of 2020“, following in the footsteps of bestselling Agency authors Gail Honeyman and Elizabeth Macneal.

The hype only rose when it was announced that the audiobook for Saving Missy will be narrated by Oscar-winning actress Dame Harriet Walter.

To date, the novel has sold into 16 territories worldwide.

Previously Creative Director at RDF Television, Beth now writes full time. She was previously shortlisted for the Grazia-Orange First Chapter award, and had her work published in the Cambridge and Oxford May Anthologies while at university.

Beth lives in London with her husband, two sons and a dog named Polly.

What inspired you to write?

I’ve always wanted to write a book, but with two children and a demanding job never had the opportunity. When I was on maternity leave with my second son, my husband suggested we put him in nursery two days a week so I could finally fulfill my ambition. While we waited for a nursery place, I pushed the pram and pulled our dog round our local park and started to plan my book. So, inspiration came from the park, the people I met there, and my dog.

What’s your favourite book/piece of literature?

In the ‘classics’, it’s probably Catch-22, by Joseph Heller. I love the combination of darkness and humour – one minute you’re laughing out loud, the next horror-struck. It has a kind of grim flippancy that I very much admire, and the best last line ever: ‘The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off’. Perfection.

From more recent literature, it’s The Girl with All the Gifts, by MR Carey. I adore that book; it feels like it was written just for me. I’m a big sci-fi fan, and Mike Carey has this ability to make his stories seem completely real and believable. The ending is bleak yet inevitable; just right. He knows exactly what he’s doing – as a reader, you’re a fish on the end of his line, and he’s drawing you in.

Where do most of your good ideas come to you?

When I’m running, in the shower, or – annoyingly – when I’m trying to get to sleep. Sometimes they come to me in dreams! The whole Fa-Fa chapter, at the beginning of Saving Missy, was based on a dream. It was quite violent, and wouldn’t leave me when I woke up. So I wrote it down.

Where do you write?

In cafés in Highbury, mostly. I like background buzz, to be able to tune into other people’s conversations, be idly aware of what’s going on around me. I’m not one of those writers who needs total silence. I can work at home, but there’s a danger I’ll put a wash on or try to paint the kitchen ceiling.

What is your writing process?

I go on a run or dog walk, to think and plan, then head to my café for 10am, where I write for around four hours. I might procrastinate a bit, trawl twitter, pat someone’s dog, but mostly I write pretty solidly. Sometimes it really flows, sometimes it stalls, but I’m pretty relaxed about just getting something down. At about 2pm I go home for lunch and then look at what I’ve done to decide if it’s brilliant, or complete crap. During that time, the dog comes to stare at me intently, so I have to take her out again. In the evenings, my sons like me to sit in their room while they go to sleep, so sometimes I write some more while drinking wine in the dark. That process tends to have varied outcomes.

More broadly, my writing process is Think Slow, Write Fast, Edit Slow. Although I plan very carefully, it’s mostly in my head and I don’t like to make too many notes in case it ruins the magic. I write instinctively, in an almost slapdash fashion, because I find surprising things happen that way. And then I edit minutely, over and over again.

Where did the idea come from for SAVING MISSY?

It came from lots of different places and things, layer upon layer of experiences and thoughts. For example, part of it came from an old BBC drama called ‘First and Last’, starring Joss Ackland as a retired man who walks from Land’s End to John O’Groats. There’s a really moving scene where he stumbles in the road as his wife secretly watches him. It made me think about the poignancy of old age and an enduring marriage. Separately, I was slightly obsessed with the 1956 Cambridge party where Sylvia Plath met Ted Hughes – my Director of Studies at university was there that night and used to talk about it; it sounded very dramatic. I started imagining another couple meeting at the same party, and wanted to find out what happened to them. Then I was intrigued by the mechanism of using a dog to bring friends to someone who was lonely – a way of pulling in all walks of life. All the threads came together over time.

How are you feeling in the run up to publication?

Panicky! When I dreamed of being an author, I vaguely thought that your book sat in bookshops a bit like a museum piece. You could go and look at it, and maybe stroke it or turn it to face outwards. I never imagined anyone would actually buy it. But now there’s this expectation that people will spend their money on the thing I wrote, and have opinions on it, and some readers won’t like it…*blows into paper bag*… It takes some getting used to. That said, the idea that I could walk into a bookshop, and actually see my book there with my name on the spine – that is a dream come true. I feel incredibly lucky, just with slightly heightened blood pressure.

How do you relax after a day of writing?

Writing IS relaxing! I feel calm and focused and happy when I’m doing it. But it can leave me a bit head-buzzy, so I usually watch something on Netflix with my husband. I love The Crown and Succession. I also like cooking, and if I feel stressed will sometimes make something elaborate like lamb curry or pretzels. My husband has definitely benefited from my new writing life.