Lou Morgan Interview – Part One
Earlier this year Lou Morgan’s stellar urban fantasy début, Blood and Feathers, published by Solaris books, burst onto the scene and has been gaining non-stop praise ever since. With its unique blend of urban fantasy, mystery and action, Blood and Feathers is the sort of fantasy you have never seen before. Angels tote guns and swig booze and you can’t say “when hell freezes over”…because it already has. With a frozen hell and action-adventure angels, Morgan offers something dark, eerie, hilarious and utterly fantabulous.
“What’s the first thing you think of when I say ‘angel’?” asked Mallory. Alice shrugged. “I don’t know… guns?” Alice isn’t having the best of days. She was late for work, she missed her bus, and now she’s getting rained on. What she doesn’t know is that her day’s about to get worse: the epic, grand-scale kind of worse that comes from the arrival of two angels who claim everything about her life is a lie.
The war between the angels and the Fallen is escalating; the age-old balance is tipping, and innocent civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire. If the balance is to be restored, the angels must act – or risk the Fallen taking control. Forever.
That’s where Alice comes in. Hunted by the Fallen and guided by Mallory – a disgraced angel with a drinking problem and a whole load of secrets – Alice will learn the truth about her own history…and why the angels want to send her to hell.
What do the Fallen want from her? How does Mallory know so much about her past? What is it the angels are hiding – and can she trust either side?
Caught between the power plays of the angels and Lucifer himself, it isn’t just hell’s demons that Alice will have to defeat…”
On to the interview!
To get the ball rolling, who is Lou Morgan, and what’s she all about? What makes her tick? What makes her write? Who is she on a rainy Saturday afternoon in October?
On a rainy Saturday afternoon in October, she’s probably drinking tea and complaining that someone’s eaten the last of the cake. I suspect she’s actually rather hard to live with.
The short version is that I grew up in Wales, moved to London to study medieval literature at university and worked as, variously, a conference assistant, a PA, an office temp and a deli assistant (which also included being the world’s worst maker-of-cappuccinos. And believe me, I really was that bad).
In terms of what makes me write… I probably have a slightly skewed view of the world – I tend to look at things side-on and think “what if…?” The writing’s a part of that: it starts getting a bit cramped in my head if I don’t let some of the crazy out…
Blood and Feathers is your extremely well-received debut, published by Solaris in the UK: what’s it about and what did you aim to achieve when you set out to write the book that’s been described as “a hell of a ride, but heaven to read”?
Blood and Feathers is about angels. If you want to be really specific, it’s about angels and devils and family and fear and war and hope and love and despair and grief…and underneath it all, it’s a story about a young woman called Alice, who has never got over the death of her mother – and the journey she has to take to be able to move on with her life.
Between school and university, I got to read a lot of books like Paradise Lost and Dr Faustus and The Screwtape Letters which talk about morality and – in their own way – identity, and these are ideas I’m really interested in: they’re basically the things I like to come back to and pick at.
What is it about these topics—especially identity as it’s something I love to scratch my head over, too—that keeps you coming back to explore them? What pulls you in and how to you like to tackle them?
I don’t think I’ve ever actually made the deliberate decision to talk about them, but somehow, they seem to turn up in almost everything I write: it’s about the choices people make, and why they make them, and how that changes who they are and who they become. By happy accident, they’re themes which lend themselves to books about angels and good and evil, because the concept of free will is traditionally so important to the subject. They’re universal ideas, and whether you dress them with fantasy tropes or science fictional ones or literary ones (or all of the above) we can all relate to them on some level.
At the same time, I have an enormous weakness for a good action film (…things blow up… repeatedly! People slow-mo walk away from explosions…!) and I’ve always been fascinated by the portrayal of angels – a lot of which probably comes with the medieval background – and I realised that all these things could actually go hand in hand, and that I’d really like to read a story where they did.
Going back to the idea of action films, someone said that I’d come up with “post-Bourne” angels. I kind of like that.
When most people think of angels, they certainly won’t be thinking of them in terms of Mallory, and Gwyn and Vhnori and yet maybe hidden in the medieval literature that houses them, angels aren’t quite as Disney as everyone thinks: what is it about angels that really gets you interested and were there any specific sources of inspiration or information that made you go “yep, I can use this… this works—this is what angels really are?”
The thing about angels is that they’re not human. It sounds stupid when you say it out loud because it’s so obvious, but they’re not. They don’t have to be like us – and although we’re used to seeing them look like us, that’s not always been the case. One description of the Archangel Michael I came across was of his having emerald green wings, and being covered with saffron hairs, each of which contained a million faces and mouths and tongues. And I swear I’m not making this up. So even though I didn’t really fancy making Michael quite as… interesting in terms of his appearance, it brought home that angels should be “other”, can be inhuman (or possibly inhumane) and should be terrifying at times. We shouldn’t always be able to relate to them.
The key thing for mine was knowing that I wanted them to be martial. There’s a long tradition of angels being arranged into different choirs (which I took enormous liberties with) so I just worked this into their being soldiers answerable to generals – their Archangels. It’s the lower ranks – in this case, the Earthbounds – who are more approachable, more sympathetic to humans, maybe, because they’re among them so much. The Archangels are far more distant, making decisions with little regard for individuals.
What that means for the world of Blood and Feathers is that you can have an angel who’s a complete mess, who isn’t exactly “angelic”; who can be violent, who operates in shades of grey – then you get to look at the conflict that creates both for him and around him. In my case, that’s Mallory, and when you put that next to the very human story of someone who’s so completely lost in their own life, as Alice is, and you bind the two of them together, it can be a lot of fun.
You say you took liberties: how confident did you feel about doing so? Did you feel nervous at any point that your ideas might be too far-fetched/specific to your tastes/different, or that you took too much artistic licence, or did you think “hell to it, they’re my ideas and I’m keeping ’em!”? What’s your advice for writers who are uncertain about what’s “okay” or acceptable when rewriting or imagining someone everyone knows a little about?
In terms of the worldbuilding, I wasn’t too worried – if anything, I wanted to go the other way and come up with something that was mine and was different from other things. Building hell was fun (and there’s a phrase you’re not going to hear too often) and that’s the way it should be if you’re writing anything: you have to love what you’re doing… or why should anyone else?
The flip side of that was – largely down to the fact I was dealing with angels, and they automatically come with their own issues – I was twitchy about treading on people’s toes when it came to faith. I can’t and don’t claim to be particularly religious – but I have a huge amount of respect for people who do have faith, and I was aware that what I was doing could be seen as being pretty flippant with something that’s hugely important to a lot of people. Fiction is fiction, and that gives you enormous freedom…but there’s still a line and whether you choose to cross it or not, you need to know that it’s there.
Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview!