R. N. Morris
Directeur de la collection Paper Planes et lauréat de plusieurs prix littéraires, Rupert Morgan met à contribution son talent dans des romans satiriques et humoristiques.
R. N. Morris, également connu sous le nom Roger Morris, est publié en France aux Éditions 10-18 et dans la collection Paper Planes chez Didier.
Sa première histoire a été publiée dans un magazine destiné aux adolescentes alors qu’il était encore étudiant à l’Université de Cambridge. Devenu journaliste free-lance, il publie occasionnellement des romans, dont Devil’s Drum en 2001, adapté sous forme d’opéra pour la London’s South Bank, Revenants en 2002, publié sous forme de roman graphique et Taking Comfort en 2006 (sous le nom de Roger Morris). En 2008, son roman l’Âme détournée (A Gentle Axe), premier tome d’une série dont le héros, Porﬁry Petrovitch, est le détective Pétersbourgeois du roman de Dostoïevski Crime et Châtiment, connaît un succès foudroyant. Il est suivi par Le temps de la vengeance (A Vengeful Longing), nommé en 2008 meilleur roman pour le « Duncan Lawrie Dagger » de l’Association des Écrivains de Thrillers (CWA), puis, sélectionné la même année pour le « New York Magazine Culture Awards », dans la catégorie des meilleurs thrillers. Les enfants perdus de l’empire (A Razor Wrapped in Silk) est sorti en 2010, suivi de The Cleansing Flames en 2011. Il a récemment écrit le livret de l’Opéra d’Ed Hughes, Cocteau dans les bas-fonds (Cocteau in The Under-world).
A l’automne 2011, son roman The Cleansing Flames a été sélectionné par la Crime Writers’ Association parmi les 6 ouvrages en lice pour le prestigieux Ellis Peters Historical Award.
Pour R. N. Morris, le détective est une métaphore de l’écrivain : un personnage isolé qui essaie de comprendre un monde en désordre et de construire une narration qui ait du sens, en persuadant les autres d’y croire. Pour la collection Paper Planes, R. N. Morris a crée un nouveau héros énigmatique : Silas Quinn. Il a récemment été contacté par Severn House afin de développer les aventures de Quinn pour une nouvelle collection de romans à paraître chez l’éditeur anglais.
Son site web : www.rogernmorris.co.uk
The paper planes project
What attracted you to the Paper planes project?
A number of things. First, it came at a very good time for me. I had just finished a novel and I didn’t want to go straight onto writing another long book. The opportunity to write a story for the series seemed too good to turn down. I liked the proposed length of the stories – a long short story. It seemed a great opportunity to try out some new ideas, and introduce some new characters.
In addition to this, there was the whole concept of the series, which appealed to me enormously. It would be a huge creative challenge to write something that would work for international readers who did not have English as a first language, but would also work in its own right, and would satisfy me as a writer. That was the task as I saw it. I hope I’ve succeeded!
Where and when do you write your stories?
I work in the loft, which we converted about ten years ago. My window looks out onto the garden and also overlooks a block of flats. Quite often I feel like the James Stewart character in Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But unfortunately, no matter how long I watch them, the residents of the flats never really provide me with any juicy story lines.
The room itself is very untidy, except for about five minutes after I have one of my annual clear ups. The loft tends to be a bit of a dumping ground, so I have to climb over boxes of junk to get to my desk. I have a bookcase very close to me, on which I keep all the research books that I need for my current work in progress. There are other book shelves around the room – many of which I built myself – to my own design. They’re on casters so we can move them out of the way to get to the storage cupboards behind them. My desk is from Ikea. I don’t have an office chair, just an ordinary dining chair. I did have an office chair that swivelled but it gave me a bad back.
As for when I write, I drop my son off at school at about 9.00 am and pick him up at about 3.10 pm. So my main writing time is between those hours. You’d be amazed how quickly it flies by. But it does encourage me to be disciplined, because I feel incredibly lucky to have that time and I don’t want to squander it. I don’t generally work in the evenings, though sometimes if I’m particularly driven then I will.
At the moment I’m working on the fourth of a series of historical crime novels set in St Petersburg in the nineteenth century. I’ve set myself a target of 1500 words a day, which is quite steep but I seem to be making it. It is exhausting though. I think it’s important to keep the momentum up. When I’ve completed the first draft I’m sure there will be a lot of serious editing, but I just want to get the bulk of the story down as quickly as possible so that I have something complete to work with.
What gave you the idea to write The Exsanguinist’?
These straightforward and apparently reasonable questions are always the hardest to answer. They’re often the most revealing too. For instance, if I were to answer « because I’ve long been fascinated with the idea of a killer who removes every drop of blood from his victims » that probably makes me sound like a dangerous madman. But, worryingly, it is true. I first tried my hand at the theme over twenty years ago. I wrote a story, in which the perpetrator turned out to be a kind of were-leech – a man who turns into a giant leech under certain circumstances. I forget the details. Don’t worry, The Exsanguinist is very different.
I suppose a killer who removes the blood from his victim is a killer to an extreme degree. Blood is the life force, after all. Draining it is an act of superfluous negativity and destruction. But then again, maybe the killer has a use for the blood ?
Obviously, in popular imagination, the creature that is most likely to drain blood from a victim is a vampire. Of course, vampires are very fashionable at the moment, thanks to Twilight and True Blood, not to mention the whole Buffy franchise. But my own fascination with vampires dates back to those Hammer Horror films starring Christopher Lee. With The Exsanguinist, I was interested in exploring an area where two genres overlap, the genres in question being « thriller » and « horror ». So I wanted this ambiguous atmosphere, where there is a play between a rational explanation for the crimes presented, and a supernatural one (the latter provided by the idea of the vampire). Usually I write crime novels that stick to their genre and I felt that this story would be an opportunity to try something a little different, to have some fun.
How did Oscar Wilde find his way into the mix?
I had this idea for the opening of the story, which was to set it in this fictional gentleman’s club called The Panther Club. I don’t know why I wanted to call it that, but I did. Giving it that name made me think that there should be a live panther there in the club, and that some members of the club should occasionally get inside the panther’s cage. That made me think of the famous Wilde quote about ‘feasting with panthers’. In fact, I was a bit vague about the quote, so I looked it up to check that I had the wording right. I then read the De Profundis letter in which it occurs. So my ideas were evolving all the time, by a process of associations. I was happy to go with that. In fact, it seemed natural, as if my subconscious was leading me towards the story I wanted to tell. Wilde’s importance to the story developed in that process.
I’m not entirely sure whether the fact that Wilde was going to be part of the story set the tone for the story, or whether the idea to involve Wilde arose because he fitted in with the tone of the story. Either way, he seemed to fit. The initial conversation at the club was written without consciously knowing that it would lead where it did. So I think it was just one of those happy accidents.
What do you make of Count Erdélyi – true vampire hunter or not?
I actually find this an incredibly difficult question to answer! I think he probably is a genuine vampire hunter. He is certainly sincere about it, and takes it very seriously. Whether he has ever tracked down any genuine vampires is another matter. But maybe the vampires are just a metaphor for something else that he is hunting down… But then again, isn’t everything a metaphor for something else? But I suppose one of the themes of the story is that people are not always what they seem to be. I did consciously try to create an air of ambiguity around the characters, Erdélyi included – shifting identities, reversing their moral polarity, that kind of thing. I think I was influenced in this, indirectly, by the Tales of Hoffman. I was very impressed by the atmosphere of those stories, the playful intrusion of the weird and the supernatural – but set against a kind of insistence on rationality – and I wanted to try and achieve something similar myself. So really, the ambiguity is everything and I’m not sure I feel comfortable being forced to commit myself!
Do you see him coming back in a future story?
That would be interesting. It’s always nice to have possibilities for the future. As a crime writer, I have been encouraged to think in terms of series. That seems to be what publishers want. I’m tempted by the idea of writing stories in a ‘casebook’ form, rather than a continuous novel. This has been a wonderful opportunity for me to try my hand at that. I suppose the question would be whether Quinn and Erdélyi would become some kind of double act, a kind of bizarre Holmes and Watson. I think possibly Quinn should have some adventures on his own, as should Erdélyi, and then circumstances should throw them together again. So maybe four cases in all… who knows!
Did you expect the story to end as it did?
As I said, I really did allow my subconscious to lead me on this one. So, the short answer is no. I didn’t really know how it was going to end when I started writing it. Of course, I had to get a grip and work things out as I went along. That’s not normally how I write my crime novels. With those, I put a lot of work into really nailing down the plot. I have been known to write the ending first. I certainly did that for my first two crime novels. I needed to know with those exactly where I was going. I think because I was new to crime writing and I needed to make myself feel as secure as I could in the story and the structure before starting to write. I needed to know that I had an end point to aim for. Many of my earlier, unpublished novels had unsatisfactory endings, mainly because I had started writing without working out what the ending would be. I only made the breakthrough to publication when I became one of those writers who plots everything out in advance. So I suppose it was a little strange for me to return to a less buttoned-down way of writing with this story. I decided to trust my subconscious. It was actually quite a liberating way to write.
The Mannequin and the Monkey
The story of The Mannequin and The Monkey is situated inside a big department store in the early years of the 20th century ‒ what made you want to use that as a subject?
I loved the idea of a place where you could buy almost anything, because it seemed that it would be a place where almost anything was possible. A place of dreams and wishes, almost. At the centre of it was the idea of this incredibly powerful personality, Blackley. He’s based on a real historical personage – William Whiteley, the founder of the great West London department store that bore his name. He too controlled every aspect of his employees’ lives. When I found out that he had been shot down and killed in his own store, I knew I had found the milieu for a murder story.
What attracts you about this period of history?
I think it is the fact that it is the eve of the First World War, the war in which everything changed. There’s a kind of innocence to that period, for me. I have the sense that people had no idea what was in store for them. How ghastly the century would become. It’s approximately 100 years ago. 100 years seems like an impossibly long time but actually it’s just about twice my own age. My grandparents would have been alive – and yet, so much has changed. Not just materially. The way we relate to and experience the world has changed fundamentally.
It features the detective Silas Quinn from your previous novella, The Exsanguinist, but the tone of this story is much less dark – almost comical, in fact. Were you expecting the story to come out that way, and if so, why did you decide to evolve in that direction?
Well, for me, The Exsanguinist is a comedy too, though admittedly a very dark one. I’m probably alone in looking upon detective fiction as a branch of surrealism. I think I just pushed that aspect a little further in this story. I think what happens is you start to relax a little with your characters, and have a bit more fun with them. But to answer your question, I don’t know if I’m ever sure how my stories will come out. There are definite – and deliberate – absurd elements in this story. In certain kinds of perhaps old-fashioned detective fiction, the logic of the puzzle over-rides any kind of plausibility, so that they do often seem absurd. If you push logic to its extreme, you can end up with something quite absurd – and joyous.
You are in the process of writing longer versions of this novella and The Exsanguinist for a British publisher – is it difficult coming back to a story you have already published, and are the books changing dramatically in the process?
In some respects, it’s easier, because I have the character in place, and the character is the important thing. Everything stems from the character. If you have an interesting central character, you can grow stories off him – or her. And that’s very much what I feel I have in Silas Quinn. But yes, the stories are evolving. The depth of research you have to do to sustain a full-length novel is far greater than for a novella. I need to build a fully-textured narrative over say 75,000 words, rather than 15,000. So I need more incident – and to create more incident I need more depth. I think the stories will end up feeling more substantial as a result. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I don’t know!
Who are your own favourite writers?
I find this question almost impossible to answer. But in order to write Silas Quinn I find myself reading a lot of the Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton, together with Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories – of course.