In the run up to Halloween, Stripes Publishing is celebrating the conclusion of their first year of the Red Eye series with a blog tour. I’ve read and enjoyed all of the Red Eye books this year and I was really stoked to get the chance to interview the wonderful Lou Morgan. I adored Lou’s first series Blood and Feathers from Solaris and her Red Eye title Sleepless was my favourite of the run. And in addition to being a fabulous writer, she’s also just a really good egg, so it is always great to have her visit A Fantastical Librarian. If you haven’t checked out Sleepless or the other Red Eye titles I highly recommend you do so. In the meantime, enjoy this interview!
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Lou Morgan?
Not as interesting as you’d imagine! Mostly, she reads, writes YA and short stories, dabbles in theatre, runs a bit, reads manuscripts for the Bath Novel Award and eats a lot of biscuits.
The main character in Sleepless is Izzy, a relative newcomer to the group – which is why she’s our way in – but she is surrounded by a circle of friends who go to the same (fictional) school and live in or around the Barbican in central London. There’s Grey, who immediately takes a liking to Izzy because they share a love of old horror films. Then there’s Tigs – short for Antigone – and Juliet, Kara, Noah, and Dom and Mia – the twins. All of them except Noah, who’s at their exclusive school on a scholarship, come from wealthy families and all of them are under enormous pressure to succeed academically. Some of them are relatively easy-going, some of them are incredibly competitive, some of them have problems besides school that they aren’t talking about… but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re desperate to pass their exams. Desperate enough to try anything in order to make that happen.
What gave you the idea of sleep deprivation as the starting point of your horror story?
Everyone’s had that run of a couple of nights’ bad sleep, haven’t they? By the end of it – even if it’s only been two or three days – you feel like you’re trapped somewhere between being awake and asleep all the time, and things can start to seem a little unreal. You can’t necessarily trust your judgment, and when you close your eyes for a second, you can never be quite sure how long that “second” actually was. It doesn’t take long before you start getting fraught and paranoid, and the longer it all goes on, the worse you feel. That’s a pretty fun point to be starting from for a horror!
I didn’t want to tell a supernatural story: I wanted the real horror to come from the fact that they had done this to themselves, and that there was no possible way of running away from it. I’m always interested in the way the brain works, and how sometimes we don’t have anywhere near as much control over what goes on inside our heads as we think we do.
What made you choose the Barbican as its setting?
I lived in the Barbican for a couple of years, and it always struck me as the perfect setting for a horror story. Part of that is because it feels terrifically safe – and the whole point of horror is to make the safe feel like it isn’t. I liked the idea of turning the Barbican’s big enclosing walls (which, obviously, are meant to feel like the walls of a protective fortress) into something more like a prison. It’s also notoriously difficult to find your way around if you don’t know the layout well: there are lots of different levels and a lake in the middle, as well as walkways that lead to locked doors and gates. It’s a little like being in an Escher painting. But despite that – or maybe because of it – I’ve always loved it, so when I had the chance to write it into a book I couldn’t possibly let that go.
In honour of Halloween, a couple of spooky questions: Do you believe in ghosts?
I don’t think I do – not in the stereotypical haunting kind of way, at least. I suppose I believe that people and events can leave an emotional mark on a place, and sometimes we can pick up on it… but more often than not, it’s our own baggage that we’re responding to. People tend to be the haunted part of the equation, not places.
What is your favourite (or most frightening) monster?
Vampires are my favourite, most likely because they were really the monster I fell in love with first. Bodysnatchers of any type, though: they’re the ones that scare me. Isn’t there something tremendously frightening about the idea that you could be talking to the person you love most in the world, and halfway through the conversation, realise that they’re not quite… them?
What’s the most frightening place you’ve ever been?
A set of caves somewhere in west Wales when I was about 11: I was on some kind of school weekend trip, and we were taken caving as a group. I vividly remember a point, midway through the cave system, where we had to slide down a shelf between two huge rock faces. It was easily wide enough for the adult guides to fit through, so there wasn’t any real danger of a skinny 11-year old getting stuck, but standing there just looking at it, waiting for your turn and watching everyone ahead of you disappear into it was utterly terrifying. A few years later, I read a horror story that was to do with caving, and I remember closing the book and thinking “Yep.”
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
Not many for the time being: I’m focusing on the actual writing part of the job at the moment, and I’m involved in a few non-writing things too which take up a fair amount of time. I do still pop up occasionally, though. It’s not that easy to get rid of me…
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Theatre. I love theatre, both as an audience member and from a backstage perspective. It’s the closest thing there is to real magic, I think.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m hopelessly out of touch with new books at the moment – so rather than recommend those, here’s a few I’ve really enjoyed this year. Charlie Fletcher’s follow up to The Oversight – The Paradox – is absolutely fantastic, and I’m a huge fan of the series (and especially Mr Sharp). I finally got round to reading A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel, too, which is a great big brick of a book and one I was very, very sad to finish – and being set amid the very real horror of the French Revolution, it was incredibly dark at times. I adored Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which is one of those books I want to run up and down the road pushing copies of into strangers’ hands.
Oh, and if you haven’t read and loved Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, I’m not entirely sure we can be friends.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I used to work in my college library when I was at university, so if I had the energy I’d be shelving by Dewey. Old habits die hard. As it is, though, I’m plain old boring alphabetical – which does make for some interesting shelf partners in my house…
Bio: Lou Morgan is an award-nominated adult and YA author. Her first novel, Blood and Feathers – an adult urban fantasy – was published by Solaris Books in 2012 and the follow-up, Blood and Feathers: Rebellion, was released in the summer of 2013.
Her first YA novel, Sleepless, is published by Stripes / Little Tiger Press as part of their Red Eye horror series.
She has appeared at the Bath Children’s Literature Festival and the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and has been nominated for three British Fantasy Awards (Best Newcomer and twice for Best Fantasy Novel). Her short stories have appeared in anthologies from Solaris Books, PS Publishing and Jurassic, amongst others. She has also written genre novel-related features for magazines including Future Publishing’s SFX and is a long- and shortlist reader for the Bath Novel Award.
Born in Wales and a graduate of University College London, she now lives in Bath with her family.
She is represented by Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group / UTA.