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Virtual Book Club: Margarita Morris introduces the Scarborough Rock, Book 3 of her trilogy

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Margarita Morris back to Virtual Book Club, my interview series which gives authors the opportunity to pitch their novels to your book club.

Margarita Morris is the author of five novels. Her bestselling Oranges for Christmas tells the story of a family trying to escape from communist East Berlin in 1961.

She recently published the third book in her Scarborough Fair trilogy. Spanning the late Victorian period to the present day, each book in the trilogy is a historical drama entwined with a contemporary thriller. The trilogy is set in Scarborough, a place Margarita knows and loves.

When she’s not writing, Margarita enjoys choral singing, swimming and yoga. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two sons.

Q: Welcome, Margarita. Perhaps you can start by telling us how you came to be a writer.

So many people answer this type of question by saying that they’ve been writing since they were five, or six, or ten, that it feels almost like a failure to admit that I didn’t start writing until I was forty! But I’m sure I’m not the only one out there, so I’ll own up. The fact is, it was always something that I’d wanted to do but didn’t properly acknowledge until I hit forty. I think I came to it when I was ready to tackle it. It’s important to remember that life isn’t a race.

Q: I was only ahead of you by a couple of years and I agree, absolutely. You generally write in the genre of young adult historical, although I know your books are enjoyed equally by adults. What can readers expect?

The Scarborough Fair trilogy combines historical dramas with contemporary thrillers. Each book has a modern-day crime-thriller story featuring the two teenage protagonists, Rose and Dan. Each book also interweaves a historical drama featuring members of Rose’s family. During the course of each book Rose discovers more of her family’s past and this shapes her reaction to the present.

An overriding theme for the trilogy is that of fate, fortune or chance. It seemed appropriate for the seaside/fairground setting. But the message of the trilogy is that we make our own luck in this world through our decisions and actions.

Scarborough Fair (set in 1899) tells the story of Rose’s great-great-grandmother, Scarborough Ball (set in the 1920s) is the story of Rose’s great-grandmother, and Scarborough Rock is set in the 1950s with Rose’s great-uncle. So at one level, the Scarborough Fair trilogy is also a family saga.

With the mixture of past and present I set out to create something that is richly layered and resonant. The world Rose lives in is coloured and influenced by the past and by her family’s history.

Q: We already know that the trilogy is set in Scarborough, on the North Yorkshire coast. How did you decide on its setting?

I decided on the setting even before I knew the details of the story. Scarborough is somewhere I know well from holidays there as a child. When our own children were young we often took them there for a traditional seaside holiday.

Scarborough is a place where different phases of history are all concurrently visible. What I mean by that, is that you can stand on the beach at the South Bay and see the medieval castle on the headland, the old fisherman’s cottages by the harbour, the Victorian Grand Hotel, Spa and Esplanade, the 1920s cinema (although sadly not for much longer) and the amusement arcades, dating from the sixties and seventies. Elsewhere in the town there’s an Edwardian park with a boating lake and Chinese pagoda.

(Editor’s note: Click here for an archive of vintage photos from Scarborough.)

It was this multi-layered history of Scarborough that made me want to write a time-slip novel set there. Although its history is much older, Scarborough first became popular in the Victorian period when wealthy Victorians flocked there to enjoy the health-giving properties of the seaside and the spa water. It seemed logical therefore to set the first book in the late Victorian period. After that, I was able to shift each book forward a generation, to the 1920s and the 1950s.

“Lady goes missing – presumed dead… This is the book’s central mystery. In the 1890s the cruel Henry plans to marry Alice for her money but when she resists, a whole horrifying sequence of events are set in motion. In the present day, Rose unwillingly travels to Scarborough to holiday with her Grandma and there discovers letters from the Victorian era, which expose this mystery… At times edgy, exciting and thriller like and at others classic historical fiction, this is perfect YA ficton that will be enjoyed equally by adults.” Taken from review on Amazon

Click here to look inside or buy 

Click here for Simon and Garfunkel’s version of Are You Going to Scarborough Fair? (which will now be my earworm for the day) 

Q: At what point in writing the book did you come up with its title?

I had the title Scarborough Fair before I had anything else. I actually tried to write this novel three or four times before I finally succeeded in finding the right story. So although the story changed, the title never did. Needless to say, a funfair features in both the Victorian and contemporary story-lines.

The title for Scarborough Ball was less obvious and it took me a while to come up with that one. I toyed with the idea of calling it Murder at the Grand Hotel, but thought that sounded too much like an Agatha Christie pastiche.

The third book had to be called Scarborough Rock. It’s set in the 1950s when rock ‘n’ roll was popular, and a lot of the action takes place on Scarborough’s prominent headland, the huge rock that juts out into the North Sea. The opening sentence is a homage to the opening sentence of Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

Q: Tell us a little about the major areas you had to research.

For Scarborough Fair the main area of research was Victorian lunatic asylums and the treatments they used, including the use of electricity for mental illness. There were a number of these institutions in Yorkshire, usually in huge Gothic buildings. My Scarborough asylum is fictional but its fate is based on the fate of a real hotel in Scarborough.

The Grand Hotel

Scarborough Ball utilises two main settings: the Futurist cinema and the Grand Hotel. Despite its illustrious past, the Grand Hotel is now run by a budget chain, so we stayed there one summer as a family. The opulent ballroom now houses Bingo night. How times have changed! The Futurist cinema is a huge Art Deco cinema on the sea-front. Sadly, its future has been in jeopardy for years. The last I heard was that the council were going to pull it down. In Scarborough Ball I propose an alternative option for this building, although that doesn’t work out too well either. One of the themes of the series is change, and that is depicted in the way buildings change over time.

Scarborough Rock tackles two major social issues of the 1950s: the stigma of unmarried mothers and the fact that homosexuality was illegal at that time in Britain. These two issues have devastating consequences for the characters.

Q: Do you believe that you write the book you want to read?

In the case of the Scarborough Fair trilogy, absolutely. I would snap up a book that offered multiple time-lines, mystery and drama, a page-turning plot, tragedy tinged with humour and a strong sense of place. I hope I’ve delivered on all those elements.

Q: How do you track your writing progress? Do you work to a set word-count?

I love the idea of writing 1,000 words a day but it rarely works out like that. I find it helpful to keep a writing diary where I make a note of my word count at the end of each week. Sometimes progress feels painfully slow and it’s helpful to look back at previous projects and see that they also hit a “slow patch” at around 30,000 or 40,000 words. I start off well, but then my pace slows down as the book progresses and I have to make more difficult decisions about plot and character. I usually find that the first draft is “done” by the time I’ve hit 60,000 words. At this stage the book is a long way from being finished, but the story has legs and stands up. I always under-write, so subsequent drafts push the word count up to around 80,000. It’s important to realise that word count is only one measure of a book’s progress.

“Scarborough Rock (think “Rock Around the Clock” era) is third in this enterprising and truly entertaining series {think: rereadable}. In the present day (2017), Rose and Dan are hoping to finally achieve at least some level of closure as hopefully sociopathic criminal “mastermind” Max faces trial. Of course, the ideal solution would be to turn back time, back to before Dan’s dad hooked up with criminals, before Rose’ s grandmother passed on, before Rose nearly died.
Turning back time Is also a thread in the 1957 component, a horrible era in which to “be different,” a bad time to be alone and without wise guidance or help, a time when some of the characters of that era suffer unbearable grief.
I am so thrilled with this series. YA it may be, nevertheless: I love it.” Review on Amazon

Click here to look inside or buy

Q: Absolutely. Do you use any writing software such as Scrivener, ByWord or Mars Edit?

I like writing in Scrivener. It’s particularly useful when writing stories with multiple POVs and timelines because of the ease with which you can move scenes around. Structure is such an import aspect of non-linear books and you need to make life as easy for yourself as possible.

I like editing by hand. I compile a Word document from Scrivener, print it out and then sit down in my favourite reading chair with the manuscript propped up on my lap and a red pen in my hand. Sitting in my reading chair helps me to put my reader’s hat on and I immediately see problems with the prose that I hadn’t noticed on the screen.

Q: I really like that idea. Have you ever found that a book you were reading was influencing your writing style?

All the time! I have to be careful with what I choose to read because the style will influence my own writing. Having said that, I often choose to re-read a favourite book precisely because I want to be influenced by the writer’s style or because I find certain writers to be very inspirational. Sarah Waters is one such writer.

Q: Are there any books on writing that you find particularly useful and would recommend?

Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell gives very sound advice with plenty of encouragement.

Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card has some surprising advice on characters and how much character development different genres actually need, or don’t.

Misery by Stephen King is a novel about a writer who is forced to write a book he doesn’t want to write, in less than ideal circumstances. Not only is it a brilliant thriller, it’s also a commentary on the creative process. It tackles various writer problems, such as self-doubt (he fears his work is trite and wants to write something more literary), and the difficulty of coming up with a meaningful plot that will satisfy his most ardent fan and harshest critic. The novel can be enjoyed as a page-turning thriller, or read metaphorically as a description of the agonies a writer goes through.

Q: I love On Writing by Stephen King, but I’ve never read Misery. Name your top five authors.

I’ve already mentioned Sarah Waters. Right now I would also add Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J. K. Rowling), Robert Harris, Helen Dunmore and Stephen King. A fairly eclectic mix.

Q: Where can we find out more about you and your work?





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