R.N. Morris‘ crime suspense series features Detective Porfiry Petrovich, first revealed to readers over 140 years ago by the pen of Fyodor Dostoevsky. A secondary character in CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, Porfiry sparked a curiosity in Morris that hasn’t yet let go, so far yielding two successful and acclaimed books – THE GENTLE AXE and A VENGEFUL LONGING. A little bird told me, it doesn’t end there…
Oh, and for a giggle, don’t miss out on the link about the cat.
We’d like to thank him for taking the time to be part of our “5 Minutes Alone” interview series.
AuthorScoop: What was your very first publication credit?
Roger: The first place that published me was a magazine aimed at teenage girls, called Look Now. I doubt it’s still going. I was a college student at the time. In other words, it was a long time ago. They paid me £75 I seem to remember, for a short story about a girl who was nervous about bringing her boyfriend home to meet her parents because he had dyed green hair (this was in the first punk era) and her mum was very conservative. I followed that up with a story in another teenage girls’ mag, called 19. Then I had a third, sold again to Look Now. I don’t know how I managed to crack the teenage girl market, perhaps because I was a teenage-ish guy. But I was basically writing stories from the girl’s point of view, which was fun. It amazed me that I got away with it. And taught me that writing really is a leap of faith. Women’s magazines were the only places in the UK I knew of where you could sell short stories for money. I wanted to be a writer, I wanted to make money from my writing, so I had to learn how to write for the women’s market. The fact that I aimed my stories at the younger end of that market is really more to do with my age at the time. I did try and write some things for older readership mags, but I think being a callow youth played against me there!
AuthorScoop: Tell us about your latest release.
Roger: My most recent book is a historical crime novel called A Vengeful Longing. It’s the second in a series of books I’m writing featuring the detective Porfiry Petrovich. You may recognise the name. I’ve shamelessly purloined him from Dostoevsky’s great novel, Crime and Punishment. I thought he was such an intriguing character. But he’s really a secondary character in C&P, Raskolnikov’s nemesis of course. He only features directly in a couple of chapters. I wanted more of him. So, I thought the best way to get that would be to write a novel with him as the main character. That was how I came to write A Gentle Axe, my first Porfiry Petrovich novel. The publishers wanted me to turn it into a series. So I did! The books are set in St Petersburg, Russia, in the 1860s. I find it a fascinating time. There are so many tensions at play. For me, Porfiry is essentially a decent man. Solving the crime is the first step in saving the criminal. What makes that
especially interesting is that he is working within the tsarist state, enforcing the tsar’s laws – so you could say he is a just man in the service of an unjust regime. In A Vengeful Longing the crimes of the state are represented by a cholera epidemic that’s out of control at the height of a stifling summer. A series of apparently unconnected murders take place against this background. Even Porfiry is too hot and bothered to find the connections at first.
AuthorScoop: Aside from your own hard work, who else do you feel has contributed to your success?
Roger: My wife Rachel has been an incredible support. Basically, she never nagged me to go out and get a proper job. She’s put up with me being a precarious freelancer, working as few days as I can get away with, so that I can steal as much time as possible for my writing. We could have been a lot better off if I’d given up on my writing dreams several decades ago. She never tried to change me, in other words. You can’t ask for more than that. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been less lucky with my cat. My cat has done nothing but prevent me from working.
AuthorScoop: At what time of day or night do you do your best writing?
Roger: I think I’m a morning person. I wrote my first published novel, Taking Comfort, largely in the early hours of the morning, setting my alarm for 6 a.m. – sometimes earlier – then going straight to work, just stepping out of my dreams up to the PC. It gave the work a slightly hallucinatory feel, I think. Getting up early really kick-started my day. I would get a solid hour of writing done before anyone else was up. Then the kids would start to stir, and I would go down to get them breakfast, and a cup of tea for Rachel. She is not a morning person. Having that base of words in hand for the day gave me something to build on when I came back to it later. I don’t do that any more, but I do like to start working as soon as possible, and the morning hours are always the most productive. Having said that, I am slightly obsessive. I lose track of time when I’m working, and find it hard to stop when things are going well. These days, I have to remember to go and get the kids in the afternoon. Sometimes I have to set an alarm to make sure I remember.
AuthorScoop: Finally, what advice would you give to new or unpublished writers?
Roger: Stick at it. I’ve heard it said that the only difference between a published author and an unpublished author is perseverance. That’s certainly true in my case. I know it does happen that fantastically clever people sit down to write a book, and get published straight away with their first effort. But it wasn’t like that for me. I was an unpublished writer for a lot longer than I’ve been a published one. So I know how it feels. I really do. We’re talking decades of rejection and disappointment. I have a slight disagreement with my wife about exactly how many unpublished novels I have. Let’s just say I lost count at seven. My reaction to rejection has always been, ‘OK, you didn’t like that one, I’ll write something better.’ I did reach the point where it looked like I would never get published. I remember having a conversation with my agent over coffee where he told me that my name was ‘starting to meet with resistance’. In other words, editors were saying to him, ‘Yeah, yeah, we know him. Haven’t you got anybody else?’ That was a depressing moment. But actually it galvanised me more than anything. I decided to stake everything on one final, mad throw of the dice. It was time to write the idea that had been obsessing me for years – a detective novel drawn from Dostoevsky. I knew it would be difficult, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to pull it off. And I also knew that if I did do it, it was bound to get some attention, if only for the hubris. I was very scared that Dostoevsky-purists would tear me apart. But I realised that I wanted to write it very much. Also, I knew that I had to play for high stakes. I had to take the most ambitious idea I had, and go for it.
Actually, it was a double roll of the dice, because at the same time, almost, I wrote, very quickly, another book that had been obsessing me – Taking Comfort. And I wrote it in exactly the way I wanted. I thought, Sod the bastards. I didn’t give up, but I did let go, if you see what I mean. There’s no point double-guessing what editors might or might not be looking for. You’ve got to write out the stories that won’t let you go – that are important to you. I think the conviction that arises from that comes through in the writing and editors react to it. So, don’t give up, let go. That’s my advice.