Author Alex Morgan on writing her debut novel, Tandem
PUBLISHED: 00:05 30 September 2014
North west author Alex Morgan took eight years to get her first book published but it was worth the wait. She spoke to Barbara Waite
When she was in in her first year at primary school Alex Morgan’s teacher told her mum she was going to be a writer. It’s taken a while but, after years of trying, the Cockermouth writer has achieved her ambition and her debut novel has been an instant success, winning her a top award.
Alex was inspired by her teacher’s words and she has early memories of sitting at the dining table with a set of coloured pens writing stories. Ever since, her dream has been to write a book.
It took this avid reader - she loves authors as diverse as Jane Austen and Hilary Mantel - eight years of trying for Tandem to be published. Alex, a journalist for 30 years as well as bringing up a family with her husband, Trevor, made her first attempts at a novel 16 years ago. ‘My first two manuscripts were awful,’ she said, ‘but they taught me a lot – as did studying for a Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University. I firmly believe the only way to learn to write a novel is to write one, realise it’s dreadful, throw it away and start again.’
Now living in Cockermouth, where she can indulge her hobbies of running in the fells, riding her tandem, and drinking fizzy wine, her first novel is inspired by her own childhood.
It is set in Scotland where she grew up until she was ten, and tells the story of Paula, who abandons her London life and runs away in the hope of escaping a painful loss – but finds herself involved in the tangled world of Sanders, a complicated 12-year-old who lives in the seaside village.
‘The idea didn’t come from any one place. I just wanted to write something I would enjoy myself. When I’m reading a book, I have to care about the characters, to really want things to work out for them. Also the writer needs to have a very light touch – to write clearly and simply without drawing attention to themselves.’
She accepts there is something of her in the book. ‘There was the idea of travelling into the unknown with your life in boxes in the back of a van – something that happened to me and my husband when we first set up home together,’ she added.
Several of her old friends are in the book too, including a couple called Kyoko and Felice, who were forced apart by circumstances in real life. ‘In Tandem, they get the happy ending I feel they deserved. I’m beginning to suspect that, for me, part of the appeal of being a novelist is that it gives you the power to fix things for your characters.’
Finishing the book was hard work, but getting it into print was no easy task either. It went through countless drafts and was sent out about 30 times to agents, publishers and competitions. Alex adds: ‘I’ve had some deafening silences, some standard one-line rejections and some lovely, encouraging feedback.
‘You have got to accept that your work can always be improved. I was never tempted to self-publish. Having a publisher says that what I’d done was good enough was an essential part of the process.’
The international competition run by publishers Hookline which she won is unique as it’s chosen by readers’ groups. ‘I never expected to win and I cried when I heard. It’s particularly special that my book for chosen for publication by real readers,’ she added.
Work is progressing on her second novel which combines two of her loves - journalism and historic houses. When not writing, Alex also fits in being Interpretation and Communications Manager for the National Trust at Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth.
Tandem is a quirky tale of love and friendship, which shows that life can never be simply black and white. It is published by Hookline, price £8.99. For more about Alex visit her website alexmorgan.org.uk