Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interview with Nicola Morgan

Today is WASTED day. Don't worry, I haven't had too much to drink, I promise. Nope, Nicola Morgan has dropped in to say hello, as part of her blog tour for her YA book WASTED.

Here's a little synopsis from Amazon:

Jack worships luck and decides his actions by the flip of a coin. No risk is too great if the coin demands it. Luck brings him Jess, a beautiful singer who will change his life. But Jack’s luck is running out, and soon the stakes are high. As chance and choice unravel, the risks of Jack’s game become terrifyingly clear. An evening of heady recklessness, and suddenly a life hangs in the balance, decided by the toss of a coin. In the end, it is the reader who must choose whether to spin that coin and determine: life or death.

Here's my interview with Nicola. Enjoy!

First of all, let me say that I LOVED everything about Wasted, especially (but by no means limited to!) the themes, the characters and the voice. The voice is very special, and I found it weirdly unsettling. Could you tell us a little bit about it, and how you chose to tell the story from that particular angle?
The voice is unsettling, isn’t it? It was the biggest risk I took in the book, because an unusual voice can fall flat on its face. I don’t know if other authors are the same, but I don’t exactly “choose” the voice – it’s the bit that just comes. Once I’ve written a couple of pages and get a feel for the voice, then I can control it, but if the voice isn’t right I can’t get stuck into the story at all. So, on the one hand for me voice is absolutely crucial, but on the other hand it starts by being outside my control. It feels as though that’s the inspiration but also the bit where I have to get “into the zone”. The choice that I made was to tell the story through a risky third-person, present tense, omniscient narrator. I needed it to be a godlike being looking down and being cynical and dispassionate about events on earth. If anyone thinks it’s a patronising voice, that’s deliberate in a way because the godlike narrator IS patronising to all of us mere mortals.

I don't mind admitting that WASTED has made me a little bit obsessed with the idea of chance, and why things happen, and how easily they could have NOT happened if things had been even slightly different. Is this an idea you've had for a long time? Is it something you think about a lot in your own life?
Yes and yes! I have been thinking like this for about 15 years, noticing things that easily might not have happened and things that could have been so much worse. We’ve all had incidents in our lives which very very easily might not have happened – for example our own births and conception – and these things fascinate me. Actually, because so many people are telling me that reading Wasted has started to make them obsess about such thoughts, I’m thinking about it even more. The book has changed me.

Now, the pigeon incident! As soon as I read that scene, I thought 'This MUST have happened to Nicola in real life!' It's just too weird. Without giving anything away, could you tell us about that scene and whether it was inspired by real life?
Yes again! Twice within a few months, a pigeon has smashed right through my study window while I’ve been in the room. I can tell you that it is VERY shocking – for a moment you think there’s been an explosion. Anyway, the second time was rather extraordinary because I was sitting there trying to think of something that could happen in Wasted which would make one of the characters be in a certain place a few minutes earlier or later. It needed to be a completely random, unpredictable event. And at that moment the pigeon smashed through the window. Well, I couldn’t not use it, could I?!

The ending is very clever indeed - I wish I'd thought of it! Did you plan to end the story that way all along? Or was it a flash of genius at the end there?
Thank you! I always knew there’d be the coin-flip ending. And I knew that someone’s life would be in the balance. I knew part of the situation. But I didn’t know who it would be or what would have put him/her in that situation. And what I really didn’t know until I wrote it, was exactly what difference the two endings would make to the various characters. What I really like about how it turns out is that although one is life and one is death, it’s much more complicated and subtle than that. The endings taught me a lot about life and grief and happiness, actually.

Did you usually plot your books before you start writing? Or are you more of a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of gal?
Definitely the latter! I can’t plot in advance for the life of me. I tend to have a few scenes strongly envisaged, and to know what I want the book to feel like; then it’s a matter of seeing where the characters take me. It’s more fun that way! (But scary…)

Jack and Jess are musical bods. Did you listen to any particular music when you were writing WASTED?
Each of my novels is written to a different small set of soundtracks, which I tend to play over and over. For Wasted, it was the Kaiser Chiefs, Counting Crows and Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. Oh and Mark Knopfler’s Get Lucky. The Passionflower Massacre (which I recommend to anyone who likes Wasted) was written to REM.

There's an awesome cat in WASTED (big up to Spike!)... Are you a cat person or a dog person, or (gasp!) BOTH?!
Both! We have a dog – soft yellow Labrador – at the moment, but I’ve had four cats, all black like Spike. I like cats and dogs equally and for different reasons. I love Spike, really love him. He’s warm and toasty, independent and has no hang-ups. I love how many people have noticed him and like him. He’s running a close second to Jess in the poll of favourite characters on my Wasted blog!

I have black cats too! They rule.
How much chance or luck do you think is involved in getting published?
The luck comes in two ways only: having the talent in the first place and stumbling upon a great idea for a story. If you “get lucky” by having a chance meeting that catapults you to publication more quickly than it would have done, this is not, in my view, simple luck. First, if your book isn’t good enough, no amount of lucky meetings will help; second, that sort of “luck” comes about through you making good decisions about behaviour, putting yourself in the right place, creating opportunities. So, actually, you don’t need any luck at all. Talent and hard work are all you need. And the right idea for a book. Put it this way, if you throw dice often enough you’ll get a double six – that’s not luck: it’s mechanics.

Lastly, and I'm scared to even ask this question... chocolate or cheese? *covers head with hands and runs away*
Hmm, tricky one, surprisingly! I am a big cheese lover – the stinkier the better, although actually I hate that one called Stinking Bishop. Gorgonzola is fab, mmm, all oozy and creamy. Would I completely destroy my reputation if I said that, if I HAD to live without one, chocolate would be the one that would have to go? I can’t believe I said that!!

Oh my God! I can't believe it! A renowned chocolate-lover choosing CHEESE! This has made me so happy. Thanks for answering my questions, Nicola. Dear readers, please go and buy WASTED immediately. You won't regret it.
GREAT questions, Cat - thank you!!


  1. Yay! Another person like me who isn't a plotter. It makes me joyous every time I hear that I am not a freak of nature or at least no more freaky than any other non-plotter!

  2. I am obsessing even more about chance in our lives since having read Wasted and I agree with Becky - it was brilliant to find out that Nicola wasn't a planner. And I'm not remotely gutted to find out Nicola chose cheese over chocolate. All the more for us chocoholics, I say!

    This is such a great interview. Thanks to both Cat and Nicola!

  3. Great interview Cat !
    I like what Nicola says about writing, it's very inspiring !
    Thanks to both of you !

  4. Brilliant interview! I really want to read this now. It sounds a bit different.

  5. I feel that admitting to the cheese thing I have betrayed the public chocolate-loving persona and revealed a dark secret about myself. I feel unmasked and naked, now!

    Thanks, Cat, for your great questions and to commenters for listening.

    And no, I'm not a planner but at the moment I terribly wish I was, because I am STUCK, and if I had a plan, I wouldn't be. Arghhhhhhhhh

  6. I'll unstick you, Nicola. If you don't write that next scene I'll have to get very stern with you.

    Lovely interview, by the way.

  7. It's official: CHEESE WINS! All is right with the world.

  8. Great interview! Thanks to you and Nicola. I love 'Wasted' - the voice is so unique and hypnotic.