Lockdown Interviews: No12 Helen Morris interviewed by Joan Taylor-Rowan

Helen Morris (Solstice Shorts: Sixteen Stories about Time, Liberty Tales, Departures, Five by Five, No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book) interviewed by Joan Taylor-Rowan (London Lies, Five by Five, Stations)

Joan:          I love the specific details in your stories, the visual metaphors are so strong. What do you do to capture the visual detail in your stories – do you keep notebooks, diaries?

Helen:      I am no way that organised!  I do have a very strong visual memory to the point where I can recreate a scene and wind it backwards and forwards in my mind.  I am naturally quirky so see things aslant and if you send me a photo I’m always the person zooming in on the background detail not the thing you’re trying to show me.  I like the less trod path.  I do love metaphors!  They are the tangy brown sauce on the sausage of a story.

Joan:        In two of your stories , Simon le Bon Will Save Us and Telling the Bees, you write in the voices of young people – in the first a pair of wild teenagers, and in the second a much younger child. In both the voices are very strong and authentic. How do you manage this?

Helen:      Goodness me.  The wild teenagers were easy because I can remember those times so clearly.  Bunking off school to smoke Marlboro in the park.  Being insanely in love.  Obsessing over the Top 40.  So I just had to transport myself back and there it all was at my finger tips.  Molly the young girl (she’s not named in the story, but that’s her name) was much harder.  I didn’t want her to sound twee.  Or like an adult trying to put on a child’s voice.  She was based on my sons who lost a karate friend of theirs very young to leukaemia.  Watching them grieve was very powerful.  The ‘people should die in age order’ logic was a direct quote from my middle son who was eight.  And the youngest one who was six wouldn’t go to sleep because ‘Josh had died in his sleep’. But they still retained a very powerful connection with Josh and often talked about him as if he was still here.  I drew on that to bring that authentic voice to Molly.

Joan:        You are particularly strong on conveying emotions.  I am particularly thinking of the heartbreaking Telling the Bees. You convey grief and numbness, in a range of sensory ways, but unusual ways too. How do you achieve this?

Helen:      When I was growing up my family were respite foster carers for children with disabilities.  I got to meet some great people.  But many of them died very, very young.  And some of them having never experienced eating or sexual love or many of the things we take for granted.  I used to share a bedroom with them when they stayed and it had a profound effect.  I very much carry them all with me.  I am also MASSIVELY emotional myself as anyone who knows me will tell you.  A right proper drama queen.  I laugh very loudly and snortingly.  I do big snotty crying at the drop of a hat.  I am very passionate.  And I put the warrior in social justice warrior. I am also neurodiverse so I see and experience the world quite differently to neurotypical people.  So I think I often write in a way that is distant but parallel to real life but touches it enough for us to recognise the experiences and see them afresh.  So I lend you my brain for a bit.

Joan:        Classic question: what inspired these stories? They are all so different, a fantastical  LOL, a fable in Troll, a recollection of childhood in Simon Le Bon will Save Us ( a great title by the way). What were the sparks for these stories?

Helen:      Pretty much all of my stories start with me thinking ‘what if’.  What if a Twitter troll was a real troll?  What if I tried to write about a very short time period in real time (Memories).  Simon Le Bon was written for an 80s New Year’s Eve Party! So it was soundtracked as it was read which was glorious. It’s dedicated to my sisters who were massive Duran Duran fans.  The other stories again are ‘what ifs’.  What if the menopause was a trigger for something unexpected?  What if the internet developed into something we hadn’t foreseen?  They’re often quite twisted – just like me!

Joan:         Describe your writing process, are you what my college tutor refers to a s a “pantser” or a “planner”. Do you plan everything in advance or set off, and wing it… work by the seat of your pants?

Helen:      I am the biggest panster in the world!  I never plan anything.  Winging it all the way!  I squeeze my writing in between work, a family and a lot of swimming so if I tried to plan it would never happen.  Some stories I start and then stop and then have to come back to.  Some I write all in one go.  LOL I wrote without the sub plot and then I remembered Blake’s 7 always had two plots going on (one on the Liberator and one on whichever planet they were on) so I added a second!  I love Blake’s 7.  It was the first programme I really became obsessed with as a child.  The complexity of the themes were fantastic.  And not at all heroic and saccharine.  Dark and morally ambiguous.  Delicious.

Joan:        Which authors do you like to read. Which was the last book, or collection that knocked your socks off?

Helen:      I always come back to Louis Sachar’s Holes as the book that totally astonished me.  It is just like nothing I’ve ever read.  It’s got a beautiful symmetry and is hugely original.  It also has a grand redemption arc and the baddies get their come uppance (yeay!).  It’s very funny and hugely sad and air punchingly satisfying. I was also totally blown away by Watchmen by Moore, Gibbons and Higgins.  Again it’s a work of spectacular originality and the graphics are wonderful.  I am quite eclectic in what I read.  I do love Frankenstein and Moby Dick and I also love His Dark Materials.  A bit of a magpie.

Joan:         Now we’ve all been thrown into this sci-fi novel which is covid 19, do you think it will feed into your work, are you already imagining your post-covid stories? In fact are you able to write much at the moment? How do you find it is affecting your creative life?

Helen:      I’m not writing at the moment.  I used to try and write weighty and meaningful stories but I think what I actually enjoy most is funny stories where the world ends up as it should do.  There is always a lot of humour in times like this and that’s one of the ways we pull through, but it’s still too close to write anything and there is too much tragedy.
Joan:         Can we expect a novel, or are you in love with the short form. What is it about the short story that attracts you?

Helen:      I don’t think I have the attention span for a novel!  Also as a pantser I think novels are much harder work in many ways and you have to do research and serious writerly things and I’m just never going to do that!  Short stories are the perfect length for me.  You can cover the ground you need to but it’s never a huge chore or epic voyage.  I’m much more into the quick win! So I guess what attracts me is they’re low effort and high reward and that will frankly do for me!

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August for our eighth anniversary!

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

Videos from Departures Launch 2

Meant to upload these ages ago, but preparing for Solstice Shorts got in the way!

Here is the second half of the launch of Departures, with readings from

Gloria Sanders reads poems that link beautifully to the theme

Helen Morris teases withthe first page of her extraordinary take on departures – The Change

Liam Hogan a ‘chance’ meeting in the departures lounge, set by fate…

and Barbara Renel with her flash piece inspired by a painting.

Thanks once again to Brockley Brewery for hosting, much appreciated!

Videos from launch of Five by Five

Here, for your delectation, all in one place, are the videos from the launch of Five by Five.

(Also – if you are quick, we found 4 more damaged copies – nothing that makes the books unreadable, just not saleable. claim your FREE copy here – if you felt like doing us a review as a thank you we won’t say no!)

If watching these videos makes you sad you missed the event, you could always come to our next one, the launch of We/She!

Katy Darby reads from The Nuisance

Joan Taylor-Rowan reads from The Bet

Helen Morris reads Troll (video didn’t kick in immediately, with so pieced together from sound file and photos for first few secs.)

Cassandra Passarelli reads The Pineapple Seller

Five by five launches tonight

If you aren’t coming to Out of the Brew tonight for cocktails and stories in the garden, you’ll be needing this link, to buy the book.

If you are coming, see you at 7.30. Grab a drink and head into the garden where we will be setting up to read to you.

launch info for Five by Five

19th July at 7.30 we are launching Five by Five with four of the five authors (Joan Taylor-Rowan, Katy Darby, Cassandra Passarelli  and Helen Morris – Sarah James can’t make it), at Out of the Brew 306 New Cross Road, London SE14 6AF. FREE
In the garden if fine (It almost certainly will be)… there are rumours of themed cocktails.
Books for sale, authors to sign them. Everyone welcome

RSVP cherry at arachnepress dot com

Can’t wait? Word bookshop a few doors down from the cafe have stock in already owing to eagerness on their part and our distributors being super-efficient. Get down there and ask David for a copy.
(Reviewers copies available now – please ask)

Events in July in South London

 

Both our July venues are in New Cross, mid-distance between the stations – Amersham Arms is nearer New Cross, Out of the Brew is nearer New Cross Gate.

5th July Kate Foley is reading from A Gift of Rivers at regular feminist spoken word event,She Grrowls, upstairs at Amersham Arms, New Cross Road SE14 TICKETS here.

 

 

 

 

19th July at 7.30 we are launching Five by Five with four of the five authors (Joan Taylor-Rowan, Katy Darby, Cassandra Passarelli  and Helen Morris), at
Out of the Brew 306 New Cross Road, London SE14 6AF. FREE
in the garden if fine… there are rumours of themed cocktails.
books for sale, authors to sign them. Everyone welcome RSVP
Can’t wait? Word bookshop a few doors down from the cafe have stock in already owing to eagerness on their part and our distributors being super-efficient. Get down there and ask David for a copy.
(Reviewers copies available now – please ask)

 

Year of the woman

Today is International Women’s Day, in the centenary year of partial suffrage for women.

So an important day for women, but, you know, women are women every day, and there’s still plenty of work to be done, on all sorts of fronts, so celebrate and then roll up your sleeves…

Our small contribution is to do what we do anyway, but do more of it. We are publishing a number of books over the next nine months and most (not all) will be by women.

April
Kate Foley Poetry Collection: A Gift of Rivers

Kate is reading from the collection at Gay’s the Word on 5th April and we are investigating a launch in Amsterdam.

May
Cathy Bryant Poetry Collection: Erratics.

Cathy and Kate are taking part in a seminar on diversity and inclusivity in the poetry world at London Book Fair on 10th April at 17:30 at the ‘Poet’s Corner’

June
The final installment of The Naming of Brook Storyteller: Wolftalker arrives from Ghillian Potts.


Also in June we have the official launch of Dusk which will also kick off thinking about 2018’s Solstice Shorts festival, Dawn!

July Five by Five: 5 short stories each by Katy Darby, Joan Taylor-Rowan, Cassandra Passarelli, Sarah James, Helen Morris

August
We are teaming up with Liars’ League for our official #womensvote100 anthology, We/She featuring stories about women by women. Final line up yet to be finalised but expect stories from:
Carolyn Eden, Katy Darby, Elizabeth Hopkinson, Elisabeth Simon, Elizabeth Stott, Fiona Salter, Ilora Choudhury, J. A. Hopper, Arike Oke, Jennifer Rickard, Jenny Ramsay, Lucy Ribchester, Peng Shepherd, Rosalind Stopps, Joanne L. M. Williams, Swati Khurana, Uschi Gatward.

September
Vindication: an anthology of up to 10 poems each from
Sarah James, Sarah Lawson, Jill Sharp, Elinor Brooks, Adrienne Silcock and Anne Macaulay

November
We are commemorating the end of WWI with poetry and short story anthology An Outbreak of Peace.

 

final Liberty Tales tour date Greenstead – Video

The last of the Liberty Tales events: Greenstead Library

Stories and poems inspired by Magna Carta
Cliff Chapman reading David Guy‘s The King and the Light, and three poems by Jeremy Dixon, Carrie Cohen (aka Carolyn Eden) reading her own Free White Towel  and Sarah EvansBothered, Jim Cogan reading his own story, Lag and Helen Morris reading her story, The Poppies.

Final Liberty Tales outing -Greenstead, Colchester

Essex! We are headed your way again, meet us in Colchester.

Wednesday 25th January at 6pm the final planned Liberty Tales tour date! This is the one that was delayed from November.

Join Jim Cogan, Helen Morris and Carolyn Eden in person for stories of liberation – from prison, by war and leaving an abusive marriage;

and Sarah Evans, David Guy and Jeremy Dixon virtually as their work (voting, or not; more freedom than you can cope with;  the right to be who you are) is read by Carrie Cohen and Cliff Chapman.

Sarah, David and Helen are locals, so come and support them!

Greenstead Library, Hawthorn Avenue, Colchester, CO4 3QE

FREE but please phone Greenstead Library to reserve your place 01206 865758.

The Story Sessions: Childhood tales- recordings

BMAX Childhood

Having had so much background noise the videos were useless from this session for Brockley Max back in June, I thought we wouldn’t be able to share, but it turns out that the sound recordings whilst still a bit buzzy, are bearable to listen to.

So here they are! Whet your appetite for our next Session, on 18th January – Winter Tales

(WRITERS deadline for submission is TOMORROW 4/1/17 at 23.59 GMT)

 

Barbara Renel reads Blowhole

Liam Hogan reads Bulletproof Papoose

Kate Foley reads several poems from The Don’t Touch Garden

Carrie Cohen reads Helen MorrisSimon le Bon will Save Us.

Chukwude Onwere reads an extract from Courttia Newland‘s Sound Boys, published in Saboteur award-winning Being Dad (Tangent Books)