Although she currently lives in Brisbane, Australia, MyDaily got the chance to catch up with Morton on her recent visit to the UK. She shared her tips on how to become a writer and spoke about overcoming the battle of getting her work published.
What can we expect from your new book, The Distant Hours?
The characters, setting, mystery are all new. Readers will know from The House at Riverton, that when they open the first page - it's like going down the rabbit hole. You disappear into the story and you don't want to come out until you close the last page. I think this offers that same experience of disappearing, in the story world.
There's a strong interest in the past vs. the present in many of your novels, particularly your latest work. Why is this important to you?
Yes, it's definitely important. It's an interest that I can't shake, I return to it again and again. I love history and how the past rubs up against the present. Things that happened in the past aren't really buried. Secrets and mysteries rear their head and revisit people in the present.
How much do you draw on your own personal experience as oppose to using your imagination?
I'm not sure what the proportion would be, certainly I use my imagination all the time but ideas do come from the real world too. Things that happen to me, things that I see, the people I speak to, news stories, music, concerts I go to, everything that happens in my personal life has a way of influencing what I'm writing. It used to freak me out a little, this idea that a book will be different depending on when you write it in your life, but now I really like that - it becomes a time capsule for that 12 month period of writing. In The Distant Hours, that idea of the lost letter came from a news story from a decade ago – I thought that would be great in a story but couldn't use it – so it appeared in this book.
When researching, you have previously said that "there is a danger of falling inside the research and never finding a way out again"? How do you stop yourself from doing that?
That's really hard because I love research. The sort of reading I do, researching people and places and houses, that's the sort of thing I do for pleasure. There is a real risk of me never coming out but as I'm researching I'm scribbling ideas and tying things together until all of a sudden, the characters and the storyline rise out of the research. It starts hazy, but they become clearer to me at a certain point. That's when I have to start because suddenly I want to go on this journey with them. I just know – it's a feeling.
How did you get started as an author?
I'm one of the few authors who didn't say they wanted to be an author when they were a child. I read voraciously, but never occurred to me that writers were real people. While I was doing my masters, my friend had a book published. She made an offhand comment that I would was the type of person who could finish a book. I had never thought about it but I sat down and started and that was it; it was that experience for me, I fell in love with it and I knew I would do it forever whether I was published or not.
Are there any tips you can share on how to get started?
There are so many different ways. Some people study creative writing but for me, reading is one of the best ways for learning how to write. As readers, we already have an intuitive feel for narrative. You get bored of a story because the pace has slowed. It's the same when writing. You know what feels good and it's an instinct you can acquire by reading a lot. Humans are natural story tellers. Intuitively we give a beginning, middle, and an end where we share the punchline. The hardest part is sticking with it and finishing the story.
How long did it take to get published?
It was a struggl., I wrote two full length novel manuscripts that weren't published before Riverton and it was disappointing that no one was interested. I just heard, "never mind write the next!" It's a year of your life, you feel so invested. I don't look back at those manuscripts now – they were like apprentice pieces but you have to make mistakes. If you just get beginning to end and finish it, that's a step on the way. When I had my first son, I dropped out of the world as I had known it before. I had this idea brewing about this house and these sisters and when my son was six months old, I started writing. It was somewhere to disappear to. I released myself from all the preconceived ideas of what was publishable. I just wrote what I love, and that was the one.
Do you know straight away who you want to write about? Or do the characters develop as you start to write?
Both. I knew I wanted twins in The Distant Hours and I knew that would work with the story I wanted to tell. As I continue to write, they get past being stick figures and require layers and bit by bit, they thread into the story. Sometimes they have an infuriating habit of not doing what I imagined they would do.
How long does it take you to write a novel?
It takes me about 10-12 months of actual writing, then there's the editing process, and before that the plotting and dreaming – I love that.
There have been so many film adaptations of fiction recently. How would you feel if one of your novels was made into a movie?
I think I'd be ok with it. It would depend on who was making it. A six-part British TV series would be perfect! Hypothetically speaking, you must need to learn to cut off though. The book is my piece of work, the film becomes somebody else's.