Interview: Lou Morgan, author of Blood and Feathers

I’m ecstatic to have the wonderful Lou Morgan on the blog today! Her first novel, Blood and Feathers, is out on the 31st, and she was kind enough to answer a few of my questions for me, so please give her a warm welcome!

Lou, your first novel, Blood and Feathers, will be out in about a week! Have you always wanted to be a writer? What made you finally take the plunge and write a novel?
I’ve been writing for years, one way and another, although it’s mostly been short stories. I was actually convinced that “Blood and Feathers” was three separate stories – none of which entirely seemed to work – to begin with, and it drove me absolutely crazy. It was only when I realised that these three things floating round in my head were actually one big thing that it all made sense.

Will you tell us a bit about Blood and Feathers?
I’d love to. The book starts with Alice. She’s not having a great day: she’s got caught in the rain, missed her bus… the kind of day we’ve all had where you can’t wait to get home and shut the door on the world. But when she does get home, she finds two men who claim to be angels waiting for her, and who tell her that everything about her life is a lie. And there’s Mallory, a disgraced angel with what we’ll call… “issues” and who’s far too dependent on both his hip-flask and his handgun, who takes her under his wing. Literally. As Alice tries to figure out her own history, she’s drawn into the war between the angels and the Fallen and is soon on the run – but when both sides seem to have a vested interest in her, who can she trust? And if the angels are so keen on protecting her, why do they want to send her to hell?

Why angels?
My background is in medieval literature and I’ve always been interested in the period: I love medieval art and architecture, and so much of that features angels in one form or another. I’m fascinated by the early depictions of angels because so often they’re in armour. We tend to think of them as being protectors and guardians, but to a medieval mind they’re warriors and I wondered how that would translate to the modern world. I was lucky enough to study texts like “Paradise Lost”, “The Screwtape Letters” and “Dr Faustus” at school and university, too, and I think books like that, talking about free will and good and evil and loss and hope… the big ideas… leave a mark.

Plus, y’know, angels are cool.

What do you love most about writing fantasy?
Fantasy is freedom; writing it means you have a whole new set of tools you can use to tell a story. “Blood and Feathers” is a book about angels and demons and battles… but it’s also about a young woman who’s never got over the death of her mother, and how that affects her identity – and fantasy allows you as a writer to address that in a different way to a literary novel, for instance.

One of the other wonderful things about writing fantasy is the community around you – both of writers and readers. It’s a tremendously supportive place, and I love being a part of it on both levels.

What are some of your biggest literary influences?
The short answer is “everything!” But there’s obviously a few influences I’m very aware of: the most important being Michael Marshall Smith for the strength of voice in his writing. Neil Gaiman, because “Sandman” is just such an extraordinary piece of work. And weirdly, or maybe not so weirdly, given I’m of the Buffy generation, Joss Whedon. I know that’s cheating a bit, but he’s still a writer, after all. He’s not afraid to explore quite dark themes and ideas but with humour, and he’s so good at voices: again, there’s the sense of his own in the background, but his characters are so strong. And as we all know, he’s absolutely merciless with them.

If you could read one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Georges Perec’s “Life: A User’s Manual”. It’s an extraordinary book set in an apartment building in Paris, and it tells the story of the building and its inhabitants, moving around the different rooms one at a time. It’s a book where the structure is as important as the story and there’s a running theme of puzzles and jigsaws. I was bewildered by it the first time I read it, but in the best possible way, and it’s become one of my favourite books.

Have you ever bought a book just for the cover alone?
Twice that I can remember. Once was the Flamingo edition of Thomas Wharton’s “Salamander”, which was a gorgeous blue and gold illustration of a ship on the sea, and a sky full of stars. I think it’s actually a detail from a 16th Century manuscript combined with another image by the designer.

The other time was the Subterranean Press collector’s edition of “The Club Dumas” by Arturo Perez Reverte. It’s one of my favourite books anyway, but this particular edition has a cover and illustrations by my friend Vincent Chong, who’s an amazing artist.

I also have a real weakness for children’s books with beautiful illustrations. I buy a lot for my little boy (who’s four) but half the time they’re just as much for me as they are for him!

What’s one of your favorite lines from a book?
Oh, that’s hard. There’s so many! One that struck me recently was in Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, because I’ve only just discovered the Dark Tower series. There’s a line towards the beginning of the “Way Station” section, when Roland is remembering his mother singing: “She did not sing it at bedtimes because all small boys born to the High Speech must face the dark alone,” It’s a powerful idea, so simply put, and it tells you so much about Roland and his world right from the start.

Quite possibly my favourite line of all time, though, is one of Shakespeare’s: “Presume not that I am the thing I was.” It’s from 2 Henry IV, right at the end of the play, when Falstaff approaches the newly-crowned Henry V. Falstaff and the (now) king, the then-Prince Hal, have history, and Harry dismisses him. We’ve seen Hal transform through the two plays, and this line in particular has incredible resonance.

What makes you put a book aside in frustration?
I’m a lot less patient than I used to be, I think, but I still try not to give up on books. If I can’t find a character I can actually invest in or at least care about, you might lose my attention. Lots of grammatical errors will make me grumpy, too, but beyond that I think a lot of it comes down to personal taste, and a book I couldn’t finish might be someone else’s favourite.

When you manage to find some free time, how do you like to spend it?
Free time. Umm. I wish I could say I do something terribly intelligent. I love archery, and shoot both recurve and longbow – although nowhere near as often as I’d like to, and it’s been a little while now. It’s the usual things, really – I like reading, and I like comics and films (especially anything of Christopher Nolan’s) and basically just hanging out with my family and friends.

I have to ask, how does one possibly prepare for a mutant squid attack?
Carefully. With lots of knives, a rocket launcher and a very big boat. Honestly, my friends have got so much mileage out of my fear of squid and octopi that it’s become a running joke. I’m forever being given things with tentacles on. It is, I grant you, an utterly ridiculous thing to be afraid of, so it’s probably entirely my own fault!

If someone were to visit you from across the pond for the first time, where would you take them?
Depends where they wanted to go. My natural inclination is always towards castles and cathedrals – but that’s because I’ll take any excuse to go and nose around a castle. I suspect I have some kind of “lost princess” complex. I spent thirteen years living in London, though, and it always amazes me how many of the really interesting bits of the city get ignored by visitors. I love the utterly mad alleyways that run through the City of London – more and more of which are disappearing as new buildings go up – but they’re often still following the medieval street layout, sometimes even Roman.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about upcoming projects or events (or anything at all!)?
Apart from “Blood and Feathers”, I’ve got a few short stories I’m really proud of coming out over the next few months. One’s in the Solaris Books “Magic” anthology, which is very exciting because the other people involved in that are incredible – Audrey Niffenegger is one of them, as well as Robert Shearman and Will Hill. I’ve also got a slightly creepy story in a circus anthology being published by PS Publishing later this year.

There’s a few other things too, which I can’t talk about yet Because I Am Mysterious… and of course, right now I’m working on the follow-up to “Blood and Feathers”, which will be out in August 2013 and is called “Blood and Feathers: Rebellion”. So you’ve not seen the last of the angels just yet…
Keep up with Lou: Website | Twitter | Solaris Author Page | Goodreads
Read my review of Blood and Feathers

About Blood and Feathers:
“What’s the first thing you think of when I say ‘angel’?” asked Mallory. Alice shrugged. “I don’t know… guns?”

Alice isn’t having the best of days. She was late for work, she missed her bus, and now she’s getting rained on. What she doesn’t know is that her day’s about to get worse: the epic, grand-scale kind of worse that comes from the arrival of two angels who claim everything about her life is a lie.

The war between the angels and the Fallen is escalating; the age-old balance is tipping, and innocent civilians are getting caught in the cross-fire. If the balance is to be restored, the angels must act – or risk the Fallen taking control. Forever.

That’s where Alice comes in. Hunted by the Fallen and guided by Mallory – a disgraced angel with a drinking problem and a whole load of secrets – Alice will learn the truth about her own history… and why the angels want to send her to hell.