As part of PWN's mission to raise the profile of writing in Preston and connect Preston Writers with each other and with figures in the profession, we're running a series of interviews with high-profile novelists writing across a variety of genres. So far our very own Faye L. Booth and Y.A horror writer Steve Feasey have come to talk to us. Today we have crime writer Roger (sometimes R. N.) Norris whose agreed to answer a few questions about his bumpy road to publication and a very special twitter project.
Roger's novel, A Vengeful Longing has just been announced as one of the top ten crime novels of 2008 by The Crime Squad, who described it as 'a novel about power, suffering, bitterness and the lengths that people will go for revenge. There is a darkness about A Vengeful Longing that leaves the reader repulsed yet fascinated. Strong and stirring.'
PWN: I usually start by asking writers to tell us a little bit about their background.
RNM: I was born in Manchester in 1960. So I guess that makes me old. Older than I used to be. I read classics at university. Good training for a crime writer. Oedipus Rex was the first whodunit, you see. I used to write stories as a kid all the time, but unlike most people I never stopped. Normal sensible people grow out of it. Most of my working life I’ve been a freelance copywriter. That has enabled me to work quite flexibly and free up time for my own writing.
PWN: 'Your own writing' has included three novels - all published successfully. Could you sum up your books for readers who might not be aware of your work?
RNM: My first novel, Taking Comfort, was a contemporary urban novel. A literary thriller, someone once described it. The central character witnesses a number of bad things happening and collects souvenirs from them. I’m now writing a series of books set in nineteenth century Russia, with Porfiry Petrovich – the detective from Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment – as the central character. I’ve published two so far, A Gentle Axe and A Vengeful Longing. The next one is more or less complete and is in the editing stage.
PWN: I think every not-yet published writer is interested in a writer's path to publication. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
RNM: It’s been a long hard slog, I can tell you that much! I was an unpublished writer for far longer than I’ve been a published author with a stack of unpublished novels behind me. My wife and I argue about the exact number. I had my current agent for nearly ten years before I managed to get a publishing deal. And I had had another agent before that. I met my US editor once and he said my story would be a great inspiration to other writers, but I’m not so sure. I suppose I’m living proof of how important it is to persevere.
PWN: So you'd say perseverance is as important as talent when it comes to getting recognition as a writer? Sounds like you've had some low points along the way...
RNM: I reached a very low point in my writing, just before I wrote Taking Comfort. My agent told me that my name was ‘meeting with resistance’. I thought I was coming to the end of the road, and I began to come to terms with the fact that I would never get published. But I was determined to try one last throw of the dice - a book I would write entirely on my own terms. That was Taking Comfort. At the same time, while that was being rejected, as it was, I tried a ‘second last throw of the dice’ – which was to write the most ambitious book I could think of, one that I sincerely doubted I would be able to pull off. That was the book that became A Gentle Axe.
PWN: And A Gentle Axe is now the novel you're taking to a new audience with a twitter project that has been picked up and reported in The Bookseller? PWN has had its own brush with twitter recently - can you tell us about the ways you're using this technology creatively, and how that has changed your experience of writing?
RNM: Tweeting my novel A Gentle Axe is really an experiment, though I’m not quite sure what I hope to discover or achieve with it. I’m always interested in new and different ways of communicating. With the twitterisation, I’m interested in the way the sense of the text changes when it is delivered in isolated sentences an hour apart, as opposed to being part of a continuous narrative.
In one sense, the words lose meaning, they become more enigmatic. But strangely, they seem to gain a kind of mysterious power, or presence. When you’re reading a book, you’re constantly moving from one sentence to the next. With this method of delivery, you’re forced to stop and consider each sentence as an autonomous unit. I’d be interested in hearing from readers.PWN: During all the ups and downs of the writing life, how important has networking with other writers (either on or off line) for your career and or sanity?
RNM: Essential for sanity. I look in on two writers’ websites, Writewords and Zoetrope. The main benefit has been realising that I am not alone, that there are other people engaged in this mad pursuit, who take it just as seriously as I do. These are great places to get feedback on your work too, and there are some excellent and very generous and supportive writers on both sites. Offline, I meet up now and then with some other historical crime writers, who all happen to live in the same part of North London as me. We’re meeting tomorrow night as it happens. We mostly moan about sales and publishers. That’s what writers do.
PWN: So after all that perseverance, hard slog and final throws of the dice, there's been more than a few successes for you. What's been the highlight of your career so far?
RNM: Nothing beats getting your first novel published. Though being shortlisted for the CWA Dagger for best crime novel for A Vengeful Longing was amazing. That would probably be it, I think. PWN: Any final words of wisdom or experience you'd like to impart to Preston writers?
RNM: Let go, but don’t give up.
To find out more about Roger, his work and the twitterature project, visit his blog here and his official website here. Roger is also active on myspace and you can read the serialisation of A Gentle Axe, for free, by following Roger on twitter: @rogernmorris.
The winner of Steve Feasey's novel is Samantha. Samantha, get in touch with us or Steve and we'll get the novel sent over.