Saturday, 20 August 2011

Reincarnation from the other end of the telescope - Roz Morris

Hello! This is my first post here on Kindle Authors UK, so I thought I’d tell you a few things about myself.

I once volunteered for an experiment in ESP. I sat in a room and was told to close my eyes and think of nothing while someone in another room beamed thoughts at me. A researcher put wires on my head to record my brain patterns and see if any communication was taking place between us. To help me zone out he put a swirly mandala on the wall and played me white noise through headphones (thank you, SantaRosa OldSkool for the one below).

Honestly, I tried to think of nothing but it was just like an episode of The Avengers. Brainwashing, EEGs, far eastern symbols; and all in a leafy suburb of London.

With some difficulty, I locked in on the husky hiss in my headphones.

After a while I began to hear voices. Inside my head. Very faint, but definitely people talking.

Eureka, was this ESP? I heard the crackly whisper of a jingle, and then … was that Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer? It was Radio 1. Being picked up on the 30 metres of unshielded headphone cable from the white noise generator in the next room.

And so I went on for half an hour. Trying not to notice things that would obviously spoil the game, being sucked into imaginative diversions and then remembering I was meant to be relaxing. When my time was up, the researcher showed me my results unhappily. ‘This is what your brain waves should have looked like,’ he said, and pointed to sleepy undulations along the bottom of a graph. ‘And this is you.’ He showed me a frantic jagged line like a seismograph about to freak.

‘You know your equipment is picking up the BBC?’ I said.

‘No one else has heard it,’ he muttered, and I was out on my ear.

So hello, I’m Roz.

1. I simply can’t ‘think of nothing’.

2. When I was a child I wanted to be in The Avengers, getting up to peculiar derring-do in leafy parts of London.

3. At college I was in a band. So I know that long cables can pick up the radio.

4. I love using things for an unintended purpose, which is why I remember things like #3.

5. I can never resist an adventure to add to the writing diary, which is why I answered the advert to take part in the ESP experiment.

6. I like living in London because it’s the best place in England to find these sort of adventures. Although I have tried not to ruin anyone else’s experiments.

7. What this doesn’t tell you about me, but is relevant to my qualifications to be here, is that I’ve got nearly a dozen novels in print under names other than my own. I am the secret hand behind eight bestselling ghostwritten novels. I’ll tell you more about that some time - although I can’t reveal who I’ve pretended to be because I’d be shot.

But back to lighter matters.

In the spirit of using things for an unintended purpose, I wanted to write a novel about reincarnation, but turning the telescope the other way around. My Memories of a Future Life belongs to the new trend in literary fiction of mixing in a dash of genre to add imaginative spice - like Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife and Andrew Davidson’s The Gargoyle.

Yes, with my experiences of ESP I’m a mite sceptical about reincarnation - but only at face value. Deeper down, I find it a fascinating, powerful and genuine experience. As a storyteller, that’s a rich mine indeed.

Some people feel their past life explains how their life has turned out now. I thought, what would happen if someone looked at themselves in the future, to see what echoes they had left in the next soul down the line?

I threw into the mix a narrator who, like me, would never think she’d lived before. She’s a concert pianist who needs nothing more than her instrument to feel special, expressive and powerful. But when a mysterious injury forces her to stop, it’s like she’s no longer alive. She feels like all those people who die prematurely in a past century, perhaps on the scaffold, or in a Victorian alleyway at the hands of Jack the Ripper. Sceptical as she is, she needs a hope to cling to, that she turned out well in the end. So she goes on fast-forward, to check that she did.

With the phenomenon of regression to past lives, I always had this question: what’s really going on? It seemed there were two distinct sides. To external observers there’s a person putting you in a suggestible state and asking questions you feel you need to answer. As my narrator says: ‘On the outside there is a hypnotist, possibly planting suggestions, pulling strings. But you spend real hours and heartbeats in there and you don’t forget it.’

Inevitably this throws the real spotlight on the people - always the most interesting place for the novelist to look. What are they are really doing to each other? My Memories of a Future Life is a story of all this - how we hurt each other, heal each other, scare each other, beguile each other - a subject I've long been fascinated by, thanks to Peter Shaffer's plays The Royal Hunt of the Sun and Equus. Souls colliding, both through the centuries and right now. I guess another of its literary antecedents is Vertigo.

Alas, at the moment mainstream publishers are wary of cheeky, genre-bending novels. I’m not going to list all the editors who said they loved it and loved my writing, and if only the market was different they’d have taken it. That’s a refrain you’ll be familiar with from these pages - and my work with big names in mainstream publishing means I understand why this is happening. The market for new writers has narrowed - even if they’re really established writers in new guises. Many of those books that influenced my novel might not have been published today because of market pressures. But with the Kindle we can find our own readers - the people who love the same books that influenced us.

I’ve already published a book of my own successfully on the Kindle - Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. People seem to swear by it, and in a good way. Having had the secret seal of approval on My Memories of a Future Life, I thought it was high time to unleash it on Kindle.

You’ll notice the words ‘Episode 1 of 4’ on the cover. I’ve written the novel so it splits into four hefty parts, roughly 25,000 words an episode, the size of a novella each go. I’m going to publish it over four weeks starting 30 August. There was a time when a lot of popular fiction was serialised and I think the Kindle is the perfect medium - smaller reading chunks that fit better into your week, a new episode each Monday. The story-driven literary novel could be as much of an event as a serial like Lost.

Yes, it’s an experiment. But there was nothing wrong with it 150 years ago when another self-publisher did it - Charles Dickens.

Find out more at My Memories of a Future Life and follow it on Twitter @ByRozMorris. I also blog at Nail Your Novel and tweet as @DirtyWhiteCandy.


alberta ross said...

great post - all the best with this experiment - sound fascinating -I think bringing it out in parts may well reach those who haven't yet the habit of reading a long book in one go - so many have missed the early training for this yet will love reading if presented in such a way - most folk enjoy stories after all - well done for using imagination to try this - best of luck

Katherine Roberts said...

Welcome Roz. I am fascinated by the ESP. I am certain it does work... you only have to look at the way authors all suddenly seem to start writing about the same subject at the same time... or is that called a bandwagon?

I think those "market pressures" must have been keeping the kind of books I enjoy off the shelves, so I am delighted with the variety available on Kindle. I used to trawl second hand bookshops and charity shops in search of affordable interesting reading - and now I have a whole new e-store to explore! It's a great time to be a reader.

dirtywhitecandy said...

Alberta - lovely to see you here! I'm hoping that the episodes format will be popular, obviously - but it's the way we already get much of our TV drama. It seemed natural to try. Maybe in the future, as you say, people will naturally read like this - getting their week's Kindle episodes of a whole range of books.
Fingers crossed!
My agent told me this week he's watching this very carefully because it may be a great model for launching new authors in the ebook world.

Hello, Katherine! Funny you should think that about ESP, just what I was thinking...
I agree with you about older books - there were some eras when publishers were really adventurous and as a result we have Iain Banks, JG Ballard, Alisdair Gray... Times change of course but now with the Kindle, the edge-nudging writers can ride again.

Dan Holloway said...

Hi Roz! Lovely to see you and I adore the sound of Memories.

With what you say about the ESP experiment and pick-up I wonder if you're a fan of Tom McCarthy and whether you've been following what he's been saying at Edinburgh this week about transmission?

dirtywhitecandy said...

Dan, hello - and thank you! No, I don't know about Tom McCarthy and transmission but it sounds as though I should. Do you have a link?

Susan Price said...

Hello Roz, and a big welcome! Absolutely loved your post! And loved the idea of a visiting a future life. (Damn! Why didn't I think of that?)
Look forward to reading more of your posts!

dirtywhitecandy said...

Susan - thanks so much for inviting me and for having the idea of this group in the first place. It's sorely needed.
And glad you like the sound of my book. I do love to bend things...

Dan Holloway said...

Hi Roz - the main Edinburgh piece is at - there are all kinds of links from there. The two novels that'd be most relevant are "C", shortlisted for last year's Booker, and "Men In Space"