JW Hicks, author of Rats, reviews My Memories of a Future Life and interviews the author, Roz Morris.
Review - My Memories of a Future Life
Yes, it’s the characters drawn with such exquisite care by Roz Morris, that make this book unputdownable. There’s Carole, the classical pianist imprisoned in a world of pain caused by RSI; Jerry, subject to such violent panic attacks he’d once been hospitalised for a suspected heart attack, and there’s Gene, of course – the mysterious face-from-the-past; the puzzle that Carol wants so desperately to solve. All of them live, and breathe and burrow deep into your consciousness.
Carol and Jerry, failed failed by conventual healers turn to alternative therapy. Jerry to a showman healer who performs past-life regressions, promising to reveal the trauma that causes present-day pain, and Carol to the aforesaid Gene, a genuine practitioner of the hypnotic arts.
While Jerry is regressed to the Victorian era into the body of a Ripper victim, Carol is sent forward in time, incarnated as Andreq, a male soothesayer, – soother and healer – who lives in an underwater dome. Andreq is one of the privileged, an elite of future-day Earth.
Discovering Jerry has been duped, Carol must consider if Gene is all he says he is.
Will the sessions with Gene, experiencing Andreq’s life, help her play again? Are they real, or merely fictions created by Gene?
Finally, Carol comes to see the parallels between her life an Andreq’s. In the process she comes to understand more about herself, discovers the origin of her pain, and begins to see the possibility of a rosier future.
My verdict? My Memories of a Future Life is a truly satisfying book and well worth reading.
In your search for Quirk you need look no further than this splendid novel.
JW interviews Roz Morris, the author
Do you finish one book before you start another? Do you have an ideas book open ready to jot down new thoughts?
With my novels, I have a principal book I’m working on, and others in chrysalis. I get a notion for a novel and brainstorm on a text file, then add other haphazard ideas until it becomes substantial enough for coherent research. I also have a stack of notebooks where I put fragments with no intended destination - overheard conversations, characters, quirky happenings etc. I’ve been keeping them for about 20 years and have completely forgotten what’s in them, so I can open one at random and find a surprise.
Is your writing plot driven or character led?
All my novels start as situations that strike me as poetic metaphors . With My Memories of a Future Life, I thought ‘what if someone was taken by hypnosis to another life, but the future instead of the past?’ Then I question who would do this and why. The characters emerge and show me why I find it so resonant, although I have to interrogate them pretty hard. I sometimes feel the idea is playing with me until I guess the right questions. With My Memories of a Future Life, the question I was seeking was despair - if something destroys the way you live, can you see a future? This process involves a lot of notes. With Ever Rest, my current work, I had 27 files on my computer with characters, background, research and other workings before I figured out what it should be.
As a ghost writer, did you find it difficult to adapt your writing style to new assignments?
Not really. I’m a style sponge. When I look over a draft, I can tell what I was reading at the time because of the ideas and phrasing. Graham Greene, for instance, colours my entire style. So adopting a client’s voice was simply a matter of tuning my ear to the things they noticed, the way they expressed themselves and what their readers wanted. Quite good training for writing dialogue, actually.
What you call ‘strange’ I call ‘quirky.’ I write odd, quirky stories and look for quirky reading matter. It was the title My Memories of a Future Life that drew me to your book. How important are titles, do you think?
Oh I love the quirky - as you probably guessed! Titles are so important - like covers. I love titles that vibrate with enigma and mystery. I’m also an editor, and I often find my writers’ titles aren’t striking enough. They’ll choose something that makes sense once you know the book, but won’t grab a reader’s attention. The shortest things we write about our books often take the longest to get right - sales blurbs, titles.
What is your favourite genre? Have you a favourite author? Are you haunted by a book you once read?
I am haunted by so many books. I’d better limit it to five, but will always lament that I didn’t tell you about more.
Santa Evita by Tomas Eloy Martinez - a soldier who has to guard the corpse of Eva Peron. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald - a visceral, vulnerable memoir of bereavement, woven into a story about training a hawk. And anything by the troubled, brilliant Gavin Maxwell. That doesn’t really count as two choices because I like Maxwell and Macdonald for similar reasons.
The Eclipse of the Century by Jan Mark - about a man who apparently glimpses the afterlife while dying in a crash, then discovers it’s a place that really exists. As a literary sibling to that I’ll add The Bridge by Iain Banks, where a man in a coma inhabits a mind-world set on a gigantic version of the Forth Bridge in Scotland, while he struggles his way back to life. And The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier, an inventive vision of how we are kept alive by those who remember us.
No, I can’t leave the library now. I haven’t mentioned Ray Bradbury (the man who described himself as a collector of metaphors rather than a science fiction writer) and Donna Tartt simply because of The Secret History ... no let me have one more.... Brideshead Revisited and Memoirs of a Foxhunting Man... Any Human Heart...
I was very taken with Gene. Have you a favourite character in Future Life, or in any other of your books?
Oh I love Gene. A lot of people ask me where he came from and I don’t know. He simply grew as a necessary force. I recently made an audiobook of Future Life and my narrator emailed me to tell me she was having dreams about him. She told me them, and very disturbing they were, too. I get regular requests to write a sequel, preferably about him.
Having said all that, he was difficult to write. It would take a long time to get him talking, but once he started, he would surprise me. I have a character in Ever Rest who’s similarly difficult. I have to wait for him to wake up and take part, but when he does it’s like I discovered a new colour. He’s not pleasant, either.
My other favourite character is Pea, the horse in Lifeform Three. He’s drawn from my 17.2-hand Irish hunter, who in real life is called Byron. That may make you wonder how big I am - I’m actually a light-boned 5 foot six, so when I ride him I look like a crane fly who stole a warhorse. He’s far too big for me but after 19 years of adventures we look after each other. Arthritis nearly killed him a few years ago - ironically while I was drafting Lifeform Three - but I coaxed him back to fitness and now we strut about the countryside again. I always wanted to write a book that would celebrate horses, but in an unusual way, and I finally found it with the Lost Lands in Lifeform Three. So Pea is special to me.
Is there a special place where you write? And have you a strict timetable for writing?
I write in my study, at a giant desk I salvaged from a dining room table. My mother-in-law’s neighbour was throwing it out. It was a horrid tarnished mid-wood colour, so I painted it dusky lilac, with black legs to match my black bookshelves. I have special objects on my desk: a wooden stationery box given to me one birthday by a friend who died that same year in a car crash; a pheasant tail feather I found in Byron’s stable; the bottom half of a smashed perfume bottle, which looks like a post-apocalyptic skyscraper and still gives off a faint aura of Givenchy’s Organza. These fixtures give the desk a geography, zones where I can stack the notes for each book. I don’t ever open my window as a gust of wind could cause literary apocalypse.
As for time, I write whenever I can, depending on freelance editing work. I log my progress, but in terms of hours spent, not wordcounts. A session on a book might involve thinking into a textfile, or research, but the understanding gained is just as useful as words in the manuscript.
Do you ever have those depressing times when there are no new ideas in your head and all the words have drained away? If so what do you do about it?
Yes - when I finish a book I get anxious. Not about whether it’s finished, because I know when it’s complete. But I see the late-stage revisions as a process of dress rehearsals. The final, perfect draft is the performance, when all is running well. Leaving it and moving on scares me. I can’t imagine feeling as certain anywhere else or starting the battle again.
I try to forestall this by getting another idea well advanced, but once I’m polishing I can’t spare the heart for anything else.
What gives the best buzz, being hit by an idea, feeling the power-flow of in-the-zone writing, or plumping down that final full stop?
All of them! But I am rather over-excitable, or so my husband says. He’s a writer too, so fortunately he understands.
Are there any words that you use too often? Are there words that you love to use?
I’m sure I use the word ‘x-ray’ too often, because I love it as a device that allows you to view the hidden - both in actuality and poetically.
My Memories of a Future Life appears as part of an extraordinary boxset - Outside the Box: Women Write Women. Pre-order now from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or find out more by visiting: www.womenwritewomen.com
Roz Morris published nearly a dozen novels and achieved sales of more than 4 million copies - and nobody saw her name because she was a ghostwriter. She is now proudly selfpublishing as herself with two acclaimed literary novels My Memories of a Future Life and Lifeform Three. She has also been a writing coach, editor and mentor for more than 20 years with award-winning authors among her clients. She has a book series for writers, Nail Your Novel (and a blog http://www.nailyournovel.com), and teaches creative writing masterclasses for The Guardian newspaper in London. Find her books here http://rozmorris.wordpress.com/my-books/
If you remember my introductory page, I promised a review Of CJ Cherryh’s Chanur series, but when the opportunity arose to interview Roz Morris, I jumped at the chance. Cherryh’s coming next, promise.