We often hear about the hardest-working bands. Well, if you haven’t already had the pleasure of meeting her, let me introduce you to the world’s hardest-working author, Morgen Bailey, who performs the miracle of squeezing an extra hour into every day. Morgen is a prolific blogger, a creative writing tutor, the author of four and a half novels, and a general advocate of all things bookish. She has also manages to harness IT to her great advantage, something I have yet to get to grips with myself (note to self…)
In The Serial Dater’s Shopping List she poses the questions, 31 men in 31 days – what could possibly go wrong? What indeed?
So, Morgen, over to you.
Well, Isobel MacFarlane is a recently-turned-40 journalist who usually writes a technology column for a newspaper based in Northampton, England, but her somewhat-intimidating boss, William, has set her the task of meeting 31 men, via a local internet dating site, all within a month. Having an active, though fruitless, social life with her friend and ‘Health & Beauty’ colleague Donna, she knows what she wants in a man, so creates a shopping list of dos and don’ts, and starts ticking them off as she meets Mr Could Be Right Except For, Mr Not Bad, Mr Oh My Goodness and Mr Oh So Very Wrong. Follow the ups (there are a few) and downs (there are many) of the dating process and intertwined with her experiences, get to know her colleague and family, including her niece Lola who, apart from being an amazing storyteller, can eat ambidextrously whilst wearing a Princess glove puppet on her right hand, and Baby, William’s non-too-healthy African Grey parrot.
Why did you choose journalism as your main character’s profession?
That’s a very good question. Like most of my characters I pick them out the air (or they just form themselves). Back in October 2009 I planned to do my second NaNoWriMo and by the 30th October I thought it was time I decided what I was going to write about (I’m just as late a planner this year, for my sixth novel, a very dark crime) so I browsed a Word notes file on my computer and came across all these male characters. I could have just picked one but they were all so quirky that I wanted to include them. I then needed a woman to meet them all but she had to have a reason to meet so many in a short time (again that was my choice – perhaps writing in a month inspired me to set it in that timeframe) so a journalist popped into my brain. We have a local newspaper based here so that probably helped.
Also because I had to write 50,000+ words in a month (I ended up writing 117,540 with a day to spare!), I didn’t want anything too ‘heavy’. Of course that’s when the hard work starts, the editing process, and here we are three years later with the finished book.
Did you have any personal experience of internet dating to draw on?
<laughs> I’ve been there, done it. Whilst many of the characters are not from my direct experience (I’ve not had anyone fall asleep on me… or stand me up, actually), I did, again, write about what I know. The locations are also venues I’ve been to, although one has changed its name twice since I went there / started the book. It’s still what I’ve ended up calling it… for now.
Your plot requires a large supporting cast. Where did your ideas for them come from?
Isobel’s neice Lola is lovely, and so clever. I don’t have children myself but I have a family next door with a four-year old daughter. Whilst I didn’t base Lola on her (because I wrote the novel three years ago) she’s actually now what I imagined Lola to be.
I had a list of male characters, some as simple as ‘Cling film on his arm, just had tattoo done, hides from mum as still lives at home’ – we all know someone who should have moved out years ago (I left home when I was 24, my brother was mid-thirties – we had our cooking and washing done, we were on to too good a thing!) and I’d spotted someone once who’d had what looked like cling film over a new tattoo. These things get jotted down and many stick in your brain. The men that Izzy meets are definitely quirky, although she quite readily finds fault with many of them, and in most cases rightly so. They say clothes maketh the man and two of the most memorable are Nigel the day-glo cyclist, and Eddie the ‘colour-blind traffic light’. We also have Tim who eats a ‘platter for two’ as a snack, the complete opposite of ‘so thin he’s hidden behind a pillar’ Lawrence.
Of course there are more ‘normal’ characters but, just like life, no-one’s perfect.
You have interviewed over 500 authors. Do you find that sharing ideas helps with your own writing?
Definately! Most say that they don’t know where a lot of their writing comes from, that they just get an idea (however vague) and run with it, seeing ‘what happens’. I find that gives me the confidence to experiment.
Who are the authors who have most influenced you and why?
Kate Atkinson is one of my ‘who would you invite to dinner’ (the other two are Roald Dahl and my father, both deceased – and they knew each other ) and also who I’d love to interview for my blog, I’ve just not asked her yet. About five years ago I spotted a three-episode course on her first three books (two novels and a collection of short stories, the latter being my favourite of hers). She has a very distinctive writing style, very quirky (I’d love to know if Roald was an inspiration for her) and I like reading and writing books that’s aren’t ‘ordinary’. If I had to pick one it would be Roald Dahl. I love writing twist-in-the-tail short stories / flash fiction and apart from reading his books, I was an avid watcher of his Tales of the Unexpected TV series. I also grew up (in my teens) on Stephen King (and blame him for me wearing glasses as I’d read his books under the duvet with a torch) so I’ve always had a dark side (perhaps also why Izzy isn’t light and fluffy) although I’ve mellowed now to crime and humour. Other favourite authors include Alice Munro, Jane Rusbridge (who, like me, uses second-person viewpoint), Jane Wenham-Jones, Marika Cobbold and Trisha Ashley (who got me reading prologues!).
I hardly dare ask in case you put me to shame, but what is next on your shopping list?
Apart from my current NaNo novel, I’ve had my second-written book (a general / mystery novel written in between my first and second NaNos) returned from one of my beta readers so I plan to do final edits on it (then it’s off to another reader) and then it can go online. I also have a short story collection, three flash fiction collections and another writer’s block workbook to be final edited and go up. I’m very lucky, inspiration never stops.
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Based in Northamptonshire, England, Morgen Bailey (“Morgen with an E”) is a prolific blogger, podcaster, editor / critiquer, Chair of NWG (which runs the annual H.E. Bates Short Story Competition), Head Judge for the NLG Flash Fiction Competition. She is also a freelance author of numerous ‘dark and light’ short stories, novels, articles, and very occasional dabbler of poetry. Like her, her blog, http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com, is consumed by all things literary. She also recently created five online writing groups and an interview-only blog. Her debut novel is the chick lit eBook The Serial Dater’s Shopping List.