Lou Morgan Interview – Part Two
This is part two of our interview with Lou Morgan author of the début fantasy novel Blood and Feathers. If you missed part one, you can read it here. Now back to our interview!
To describe Blood and Feathers, “Alice in Wonderland goes to Hell” has been suggested: is this what readers can expect and do you feel that this sums up the dark, eerie world within its pages?
I think that’s a pretty fair description. There’s certainly parallels: Alice falls down a rabbit hole – both metaphorically, in that she gets dragged into a world she didn’t realise existed, and literally… only this particular rabbit hole is actually a giant throat – complete with teeth – which leads straight to hell. I liked the idea of hell not entirely making sense – or at least, not to someone who isn’t a Fallen angel, anyway – so the Cheshire Cat’s statement that “We’re all mad here” kind of holds true for my Alice too.
I’ve been reading horror stories of one kind or another as long as I can remember – although if I’m honest, I prefer the “slightly unsettling” fantasy/horror crossover end of the spectrum to full-out gore or “this will stop you from sleeping ever again”, so it’s probably where I feel most at home writing, too. When you think about it, the idea of hell should be kind of scary, and so should the Fallen…and if you take the next logical step on from that, angels certainly should be too.
With your background in medieval literature, was historical fantasy ever a consideration? Did you ever see a Faust-era story surrounding angels, or imagine a different take on angels at different stages of their prevalence in culture/religion throughout history? What was it about urban fantasy?
In this instance, no. The setting was always going to be contemporary: I wanted to have angels walking around in a world which was recognisably ours. Mallory, for instance, would have been a very different character if he’d been set in another time (his Colt would have been a bit of a problem for a start…). Besides, given the amount of angel research I did, a load more looking at period detail would probably have killed me!
Implying that there was a lot of research! How do you keep your information organised and straight? How did you go about the research? Was the Internet useful, or did it prove difficult to navigate when looking for specific, detailed information?
My notebook. I have a notebook with literally every piece of research in it. If I’d lost that, I’d have been screwed! It was where I laid out everything from the angelic choirs to how hell worked, what it meant to be one of the Fallen, Alice’s entire history… things like that.
When it came to the angels, I have a fantastic reference book which lists the names and attributes of more angels than you ever imagined possible. I have no idea how it was compiled, but I’m immensely grateful that someone else did it. That was really my first port of call for everything, as well as a book on Enochian.
The internet really came in useful when I was looking for other versions of Hell – ones besides Milton and Dante’s – and when I was thinking about the angelic sigils. I’d already decided that every angel was going to belong to a choir, and who went where, but I wanted them to have some kind of badge or emblem – almost like a military unit – which would immediately identify them. I’d found one or two in my general research, but tracking down a couple of them was pretty hard. I think Zadkiel’s was the trickiest – and I went to some very peculiar corners of the internet trying to check that one.
Other deeply joyful internet memories were looking at photos of electrical burns (Long story. Gross one. My advice? Don’t play near pylons, kids), researching cold-branding (ouch) and watching a lot of Youtube videos of – to give the full name – Colt M11911A pistols being fired or broken down and reassembled. There’s a genuinely alarming number of those.
When did you start writing for the very first time—and then when did you start writing in earnest? What made you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard? What made you want to face down a blank page and fill it?
An absolute refusal to grow up, I think. I spent a lot of my time making up stories and making-believe when I was little, and I never really stopped. I couldn’t tell you when I first decided I wanted to make things up and write them down, because it’s just inbuilt. I probably started to think about it more consciously when I was in my teens and was reading books which really affected me, but I’ve always been tinkering with stories: I just want to tell them. It’s the best kind of addiction, and it’s why I can’t quite believe I get to call it a job…
What books did affect you as a teen and what did you take from them that you can apply to how you write or consider books now? Are there authors or titles in particular that you devoured and couldn’t live without?
In my teens? Oh, so long ago! Michael Marshall Smith, obviously. Only Forward blew my mind when I found it in the library because of the strength of the voice behind it. I read a lot of vampire stories in my early teens – so people like Stoker and Anne Rice…anything I could get my hands on. Before that (and to my mother’s disgust) I’d been very into Point Horror and Christopher Pike books, too – so there was definitely a horror theme! I remember absolutely loving Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising – which is still one of my favourites – and Lud in the Mist as well as discovering The Three Musketeers, Terry Pratchett and reading both Marlowe’s Dr Faustus and Milton’s Paradise Lost for the first time.
Actually, when you look at that list, in hindsight it makes quite a lot of sense…
What kind of writer are you: do you garden and rely on planning only to keep things in order, or do you, like an architect, blueprint the whole thing and lay the wiring for the electrics before you even start?
Somewhere in the middle. I like to work out an overall plan which just keeps things on track (a bit like a beat-sheet) and shows me roughly where I need to be at any given point, but beyond that I’m pretty relaxed. I’ve usually got a notebook lying around where I put down any bits of dialogue or plot points when I come up with them (more often than not, at the most inconvenient times imaginable…) and from there I just get on with it! Planning everything in too much detail makes me get restless: I like to find things along the way. The fact you can be surprised by something you are pulling out of your own head is still the most astonishing thing, and it’s fantastic. On the days when everything clicks, it feels like you’re not so much writing a story as uncovering it: it was there all along, just waiting for someone to come looking for it…
Who did you find easiest to write as regards to PoV? What made s/he come so easily to you? Who was the hardest to write? Who do you wish, with retrospect, could have had more screen-time?
Mallory was probably the easiest. I felt like I understood how his mind worked, and that probably says rather a lot about me – not all of it good. Vin was a lot of fun to write, too – I liked spending time with him!
The most difficult character was Lucifer – and bizarrely, he’s the one who could have possibly had more exposure. He’s difficult for a couple of reasons: firstly, he’s Lucifer – his reputation precedes him by quite a distance. Secondly, he’s kind of already been done, and it’s very difficult to pick your way through all the Other Lucifers. At the same time, however, he’s an important part of the story…which is why he’s not actually in it that much. The problem is, you give Lucifer an inch and he’ll take a mile – and I didn’t want this story to become The Lucifer Show. Blood and Feathers was about Alice, and her journey – not his – so in his box he stayed. But Lucifer’s a tricky one, so you never know: you might see more of him yet…
You’ve secured a deal for the second book Blood and Feathers: Rebellion. What can readers expect from the sequel? More badass Mallory, I hope–and more witty, wonderful Alice! Where can readers expect the story to go?
I’ve actually just finished the first draft of Blood and Feathers: Rebellion, and I’m – predictably, perhaps – very excited about it. It’s set six months after Blood and Feathers, which means that Alice has had to find a way to adjust to the new normal of her life, whatever that means. It also means that things have changed – and if the first book was about Alice realising who she really was, the second one is about her coming to terms with it and deciding what she stands for. There are consequences for other people, too, and events triggered in hell play out on a wider stage. There are new angels of all stripes, and you’ll learn a lot more about Mallory… including what’s in all those notebooks he keeps.
Is there anything else on the horizon after Rebellion?
At the moment, my priority is working on that: the first draft might be done, but it won’t be the last one.
There’s a short story of mine which, hopefully, should see the light of day in the first half of 2013 – but at the moment I can’t say much more about it than that! I’m extremely proud of it, though, as it was tremendous fun to write.
Once Rebellion‘s gone off to my editor at Solaris, there’s a new idea I want to find some time to work on: it’s something much more YA-ish that’s been knocking around in my head for a while.
No rest for the wicked, right? I still wouldn’t change it for the world.
Blood and Feathers is available now from any bookshop with sense, and with Rebellion upcoming, what are you waiting for? Read it and experience angels and hell as you’ve never seen them before.