Friday, September 25, 2009

Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan has written a number of critically acclaimed books for teens, including the Scottish Arts Council Award-winning Fleshmarket, Mondays Are Red, Chicken Friend, The Leaving Home Survival Guide and Sleepwalking, winner of the 2005 Scottish Arts Council Children's Book of the Year Award.

The Scotsman review of Deathwatch, her newly released YA novel, suggested the novel would appeal to readers "who find Twilight and its ilk too wimpy."

I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
There are three books by my bed just now, but I admit I'm not reading them all. One is there because I've just finished it and can't let it go; one is there because I'm reading it; and one is there because it's short stories and I keep it there for those moments when I just fancy a snack instead of a full meal.

Talking of meals, the book I've just finished is Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. Bit of a confession here: I didn't start it because I wanted to but because I thought I ought to. It was the YA book that "everyone was talking about" and a) I'm a YA author and feel I should be au fait with what's going on and b) it was being spoken of as a boundary-pusher and I was doing a talk about pushing boundaries in teenage fiction. I didn't expect to like it: though I do have a tendency to like the dark side of writing, this was supposed to be seriously shocking, and a couple of reviewers had said it was gratuitously shocking and unforgivably bleak. I thought it was utterly amazing. Never gratuitous and never bleak - though so many people have condemned the depressing ending that I'm wondering if either I missed something or I'm a heartless beast! If I tell you what boundaries it pushes and what taboos it breaks, it will put you off, so I won't. But Lanagan conjures up (and never was the word "conjures" used more aptly - she's a magician, surely?) a blood-dark Bruegelian landscape oozing richness and an extraordinary imaginary world that that you can almost smell; she deals with magic in a way that makes even this rationalist believe; and she weaves a splinteringly gripping story around very human (sometimes horribly human) characters.

The one I'm reading is Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter. I don't know why I never read this in 1984 when it was published, as it was exactly the sort of ground-breaking stuff I loved, but anyway it passed me by then. I'm loving it now. Haven't a clue where it's going but I'm very happy to be carried along. I bet Carter never plotted it in advance - it looks as though she just kept adding on more and more characters and more and more episodes, each more fantastic than the last. She must have had a ball writing that book! I envy her the freedom of freeform fiction - sometimes it feels that YA is constrained by the boundaries that adult gate-keepers put on it, (though presumably not if you're Margo Lanagan!).

And the short story collection is Tania Hershman's The White Road, published by small press Salt Publishing. It shattered my pre-conception that "I can't get into short stories." Some of it is flash fiction, which is quite new to me, and I'm loving it. And flash fiction really suits the modern need for short and snappy reading experiences. If you only want to read one, read the first story, the eponymous one. It will sear your mind and you won't forget it.
Learn more about the author and her work at Nicola Morgan's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue