Phoebe MorganSep 05, 2021
From the Desk of Phoebe Morgan.
As I write this, I’m surrounded by boxes of books. I have FAR too many books – they are not easy to move, they are cumbersome to carry, they split the cardboard at the seams and they conjure up a wince on the face of my partner as he carries them diligently into our new house. But they are the most precious thing to me in the world, and as I sit and write, I can almost feel them scattered around me, alive and kicking, nestling into their new home.
Where would we be without stories? I have often asked myself this, and perhaps never more so than in times of distress. Visiting my grandmother in hospital this week, I brought her a notepad and pen so that she could attempt to make sense of the changing ward around her. Her eyesight is no longer very good so the writing was hard to make out, but that didn’t matter – what mattered was that she was able to escape into her imagination, as so many of us have done during this long, hard eighteen months of the COVID pandemic. Without stories, that would not be possible. Stories give us freedom. They give us respite. They are, without doubt, extremely important.
As a writer and an editor, I am privileged enough to spend my life surrounded by stories. My head is consumed by the narratives of others, so much so that I sometimes wonder how present I ever really am in the real world, with all these alternative realities jostling for space in my brain. I began writing myself back in 2014 aged twenty-four, whilst working several other jobs – I was a journalist on a local newspaper, I was a babysitter, I was a barmaid. And then secretly, in the evenings, I was a writer of fiction.
Writing for me was a secret for quite a long time. I remember a friend asking me about my having a literary agent (she had seen it online somewhere) and feeling so incredibly embarrassed and exposed – my secret was out! It could come back to bite me.
It didn’t – I was lucky. Seven years later, I am the author of four novels, and am currently wrangling with the edits for a fifth, and my writing is very much a public part of who I am in a professional sense. Yet still, on a personal level, I struggle with the idea of myself as a writer. Perhaps we all do – imposter syndrome is real, and it can be hard. I never introduce myself as a writer at parties, I never bring it up unless someone asks. Why is that, I wonder? I know stories are important, I know how much they mean to me and so many others, and so why do I feel afraid to acknowledge my own?
I know I’m not alone in feeling like this, many others feel similar. Why is that? Is it because we worry about bad reviews or ridicule? For me, I don’t think it’s necessarily that, being quite hardened to negative reviews due to my day job (I know everybody gets them sometimes!) Is it because we want writing to be a private space – is something lost in the telling? For me, even after four books, I don’t identify as a writer, perhaps because I have another job too, but I know there was a certain legitimacy that came once my books were actually published. I felt as though a goal had been achieved, and I don’t think I will ever feel the same desperation I felt at the very start of my writing career before I had a deal on the table. Through my writing, I have formed a supportive group of writerly friends, and while they sometimes discuss craft, I rarely join in – for me the craft is something I have to do alone. I think this is because with a full-time job my time is quite limited in terms of writing, so I worry that if I spend too much time second-guessing, the words will never come.
For me, writing is something I always do alone, without fanfare, sat at a desk or a table or in bed. Writing during the pandemic was one of the only things that got me through the winter lockdown – whole weekends were lost to book 5, and it gave my days a wonderful sense of structure and of purpose. Writing is the only time where hours seem to fly by on their own – I don’t even notice the time passing, which I don’t think happens at any other point of my day to day life. Writing lets us time travel, then. It swallows up time, it creates time if we need. It is, truly, a thing of pure magic.
In my day job, I’m often asked about how to write novels. There is no perfect way, of course, but my own strategy is to let the words take me where they will – not to worry too much about where they are headed (that, of course, comes later), but to trust in the tap, tap, tap of my fingers on the keyboard and allow the story to unfold as it wants to in my head. I have never plotted one of my novels out in its entirety – my mind just doesn’t work that way. Often, I will begin with a setting – in The Babysitter, my third book, we open in a villa in France, and in my latest, The Wild Girls, we’re in a luxury lodge in Botswana. Book two, The Girl Next Door, places the reader in a conservative little house with bay windows in Essex, and book one, The Doll House, starts with a small London flat in the tangle of streets between Finsbury Park and Crouch End. For me, places are the starting point, and the characters begin to populate them all on their own.
As an editor, too, I know that all authors have different approaches to the writing process, and this is mine alone. I find it fascinating how differently we all work, and really, it doesn’t matter how we get to the end of our stories – what matters is that we do work, we do write, we craft those stories that are bound into novels that then fill the boxes and the bookshelves in home after home after home, up and down the country, all across the globe.
Books are always worth the heavy lifting.
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