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Roz Morris on Why Writers Should Read

Roz Morris, Author

Roz Morris, Author

Today, I’m thrilled to be interviewing Roz Morris, author of a dozen published novels, most of which she ghostwrote for other authors. Eight of them made the bestseller lists, although she can’t tell you what they’re called. This year she published her first novel under her own name, My Memories of a Future Life.

Why do authors read? We all know why we should read more: to learn the rules, to understand the language better, to figure out which stories work and which don’t. But I wanted to get deeper than shoulds. Why do experienced, published authors actually read? Roz is about as experienced a novelist, not to mention blogger, as they come, so I hope this gives you an insight into a real author’s reading life, and how to improve your own.

Enjoy the interview!

First of all, Roz, what are you reading right now? Is it for pleasure or for “work”?

Pierre and Jean by Guy de Maupassant. In translation, I might add—my French can’t even cope with a restaurant menu. But I’m just as likely to be reading a Robert Harris thriller or a Marian Keyes novel as a lofty classic.

Is it for pleasure or for work? Most of my reading is prompted by something I’m working on, and I was led to Pierre and Jean by a novel I’m incubating. Although the research is proving to be a pleasure too.

Do you generally read more for pleasure or for your writing?

I try to make sure that every few books I read something just because I feel like it. But the more I delve into a subject for a novel the bigger my reading list becomes—and the more that directs what books I choose. Also, I’m a slow reader—good writing can keep me trapped in a book far longer than it should take to read it. So 80% of my reading is prompted by my writing because I get so absorbed.

Why should new writers read?

If they don’t read, how can they write? My impulse to write comes from reading. Once I’ve been in the grip of a good book, it gets me to go and write my own.

Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” What do you say?

Reading—the good and the bad—inspires you. It develops your palate for all the tricks that writers have invented over the years. You can learn from textbooks about the writing craft, but there’s no substitute for discovering for yourself how a writer pulls off a trick. Then that becomes part of your experience.

Also, I watch a lot of films to refill the story well. The disadvantage with books is, as Stephen King was probably addressing, that reading takes time—especially if, like me, you can be bamboozled by a beautiful sentence. But the average movie is ninety minutes to two hours. In that time you can get an entire story under your belt. I get a lot of my storytelling ideas from films.

Do you only read in your genre? Or do you read books in all kinds of genres?

I read a lot of genres—anything from Jane Austen to Jack Vance. But I recently read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto—a story about a siege in an embassy that turns into a garden of Eden. Although it had flaws it still haunts me.

My brain is usually wired to pick up on the odd and unusual, but my TBR pile includes Sue Cook’s Force of Nature—a study of a couple dealing with in vitro fertilization and donor embryos. I peeked at it and thought it was beautifully observed, so that’s my next read. I love being tempted to read outside my usual tastes by good writing.

When you were first starting out in fiction, did you have any books that you studied? Can you tell us how you studied them?

Interesting question—wonder if I can remember?! There weren’t nearly so many writing books around when I was first playing with the craft. I read Teach Yourself Creative Writing by Dianne Doubtfire and Story by Robert McKee. I also dipped into books on personality testing to play with character types.

Mainly, though, I learned my craft from knowing a lot of writers (and, reader, I married one). Before I ever dared try it ‘properly’ I loved discussing with them what I liked about novels I’d read, and what I didn’t like. So my education in writing came—as I have been describing—by reading other good fiction and getting a natural education from what I noticed. Now I write writing books, so perhaps I shouldn’t say that! Also I used to go to a writing group run by the literary agent Juri Gabriel. We used to critique each other’s work, and watching him guide this process was a terrific education.

Are there any authors who tremendously influenced your style?

I am a style sponge. Possibly this is why I can ghostwrite. I have to be very careful what I read while I’m writing, especially towards the final stages of an edit. When I was going through My Memories of a Future Life for the final polish, I didn’t dare read anything but Shakespeare and poetry. Not that I am imagining I attained such heights, but they were sufficiently far from prose to not colour my characterisation, while spurring me to do better.

There are two kinds of writer who are fatal for my style. The English satirists like Kingsley Amis—I love his spark but I can’t take a story seriously after an encounter with him. And Graham Greene—his quiet, disturbed introversion leaks into my work. You’ve heard of passive smoking? I get passive Graham Greene.

Should young writers seek out these influences for their own writing?

Everyone has to find their own muses. It’s essential to have a range of writers who make you raise your game. I’m always trying to improve my storytelling and my use of language, so I gather writers who will make me sweat for better words and imagery, and who seem to handle the reader effortlessly.

I recently read Heat by William Goldman—he’s the master of the twist, although by the time I got to the end I was a little dizzy with it. My muses change all the time as I discover writers who excite me in new ways.

Do you think reading is dying?

Not at all. Although we have ever more ways to be entertained, narratives will always be popular and there is a particular pleasure in living them through words on the page. There will always be children who will choose a book as company, even if they’re reading it on an electronic device. Novels wouldn’t have been around so long if a lot of people didn’t like them.

Worst novel you’ve ever read?

I usually have the sense not to start reading a novel I think I’m going to hate—unless I have a reason to study it. I tried Lord of the Rings and couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for homely hobbits—but I don’t think that makes it a bad book. Similarly, I couldn’t get very far in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

If I’m not getting on with a novel I ditch it, so there are very few bad books I’ve stayed with to the end. However, The Da Vinci Code definitely was bad—plodding, shriekingly obvious, and plain dumb. My husband told me off because I gave up before the characters even got out of the Louvre loos. He wagged his finger at me, picked it up, and started to read it and didn’t even get that far. Reading is so much a matter of taste.

I’m in awe of Martin Amis’s linguistic facility, but he’s so superior to his characters that I don’t enjoy time in his company. There may come a time, though, when I disregard that and appreciate him more. There are always books waiting to be grown into—and new treasures for us to discover as writers.

Thanks Roz! You can find Roz on her blog and follow her on Twitter at @dirtywhitecandy and @byrozmorris.

What are you reading right now? And why are you reading it, for pleasure or “work”?

Back to How to Conduct an Interview Like A Journalist.

PRACTICE

The only practice today is to go read something inspiring! If you don’t have anything inspiring, here are some free options:

Alternatively, you can go pick up Roz’s novel, My Memories of a Future Life. It’s excellent. Read for at least fifteen minutes. In the comments, post about what you found inspiring in your chosen novel.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

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  • Roz Morris

    Joe, this is such a creative blog and I tweet your posts all the time. Thank you so much for allowing me to burble on about books here – and for your lovely remarks about my novel.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      You are quite welcome, Roz. It really is my pleasure. Although I don’t know what burble means. Is it like babble? You English and your words ;)

      • Roz Morris

        Like babble, but generally taken with water – if being literal.
        You Americans are always having trouble with our vocab. Do you use the term ‘chuffed’?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Nope. I think you’ll have to make a list for us, Roz. You could blog about it. 100 Englishisms Americans should know.

          • Roz Morris

            I never know you don’t know them!

  • Roz Morris

    Joe, this is such a creative blog and I tweet your posts all the time. Thank you so much for allowing me to burble on about books here – and for your lovely remarks about my novel.

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      You are quite welcome, Roz. It really is my pleasure. Although I don’t know what burble means. Is it like babble? You English and your words ;)

      • Roz Morris

        Like babble, but generally taken with water – if being literal.
        You Americans are always having trouble with our vocab. Do you use the term ‘chuffed’?

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Nope. I think you’ll have to make a list for us, Roz. You could blog about it. 100 Englishisms Americans should know.

          • Roz Morris

            I never know you don’t know them!

  • joco

    The reason why writers should read your blog:
    You learn words like “gees” and “bamboozle” and “burble.” I love it! Thanks for introducing us to Roz. She even has a cool name!

    • Roz Morris

      Grinning like a loon, Tom. :)

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks Tom. Yes, I was surprised by all the different words the English use. “Passive smoking,” for instance, is, I presume, “second hand smoke.”

      • ByRozMorris

        ‘Second-hand smoke…’ why don’t we say that? Yes it is. Although ‘second-hand Graham Greene’ doesn’t sound quite as interesting.

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          No, it certainly doesn’t.

  • Anonymous

    The reason why writers should read your blog:
    You learn words like “gees” and “bamboozle” and “burble.” I love it! Thanks for introducing us to Roz. She even has a cool name!

    • Roz Morris

      Grinning like a loon, Tom. :)

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks Tom. Yes, I was surprised by all the different words the English use. “Passive smoking,” for instance, is, I presume, “second hand smoke.”

      • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

        ‘Second-hand smoke…’ why don’t we say that? Yes it is. Although ‘second-hand Graham Greene’ doesn’t sound quite as interesting.

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          No, it certainly doesn’t.

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    Okay, so now I have to ask, Roz, if you can’t claim the books you write as a ghostwriter, then why do them? It sort of feels like you’re selling your talent short. To be honest, the whole concept of ghostwriting is new to me. I’ve heard the term, but only recently realized that many writers do this kind of work. For me, writing professionally is only satisfying if I can lay claim to my own words.

    • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

      Great post, by the way. I love your thoughts on why reading is important for writers. Sometimes writers seem so solitary and independent that I wonder how they can write without attributing their inspiration to anything they read.

    • ByRozMorris

      Good question, Bethany – the short answer is that ghostwriting is a way to get paid for a fiction project, and to stretch your horizons as a writer. And it goes on a lot more than you think…

      • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

        Thanks for the response! I guess the concept at face-value feels foreign to me. It’s the antithesis of what most people have told me to do. I’m definitely interested in learning more about it. Great to hear from someone in the business that has garnered success from it, for sure.

        • http://jimwoodswrites.com/ Jim Woods

          Bethany, you read my mind with your question. Thanks Roz for the thoughtful answer.

  • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

    Okay, so now I have to ask, Roz, if you can’t claim the books you write as a ghostwriter, then why do them? It sort of feels like you’re selling your talent short. To be honest, the whole concept of ghostwriting is new to me. I’ve heard the term, but only recently realized that many writers do this kind of work. For me, writing professionally is only satisfying if I can lay claim to my own words.

    • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

      Great post, by the way. I love your thoughts on why reading is important for writers. Sometimes writers seem so solitary and independent that I wonder how they can write without attributing their inspiration to anything they read.

    • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

      Good question, Bethany – the short answer is that ghostwriting is a way to get paid for a fiction project, and to stretch your horizons as a writer. And it goes on a lot more than you think…

      • http://shewritesandrights.blogspot.com Bethany Suckrow

        Thanks for the response! I guess the concept at face-value feels foreign to me. It’s the antithesis of what most people have told me to do. I’m definitely interested in learning more about it. Great to hear from someone in the business that has garnered success from it, for sure.

        • http://jguitarnash.com Jim Woods

          Bethany, you read my mind with your question. Thanks Roz for the thoughtful answer.

  • http://augustmclaughlin.wordpress.com/ August McLaughlin

    Terrific interview. I love the “worst book you’ve read” question… And Roz’s thoughts on the importance of reading and reading for enjoyment. Thanks to both of you!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks, August.

  • http://augustmclaughlin.wordpress.com/ August McLaughlin

    Terrific interview. I love the “worst book you’ve read” question… And Roz’s thoughts on the importance of reading and reading for enjoyment. Thanks to both of you!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks, August.

  • Pingback: Finding your muse in a book – Joe Bunting asks me why writers should read « Nail Your Novel

  • http://jimwoodswrites.com/ Jim Woods

    Thanks to both Roz and Joe for a fantastic, informative interview! I agree with August, the “worst book you’ve read” question is great. I am a firm believer that you can learn from ANYTHING if you want to badly enough.

    • ByRozMorris

      That’s a good point, Jim – bad books do teach us. But it’s probably best to learn what to do as well as what not to do!

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        Agreed. Besides who wants to read too many bad books. Form an opinion on it, figure out why you don’t like it, and throw it away.

        • http://jimwoodswrites.com/ Jim Woods

          Absolutely!!

          • ByRozMorris

            yep!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      True, Jim. When I read bad books they always GREATLY improve my writing, forcing me to look at my own mistakes and how to avoid others’. Bad books help me figure out why I like good ones.

  • http://jguitarnash.com Jim Woods

    Thanks to both Roz and Joe for a fantastic, informative interview! I agree with August, the “worst book you’ve read” question is great. I am a firm believer that you can learn from ANYTHING if you want to badly enough.

    • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

      That’s a good point, Jim – bad books do teach us. But it’s probably best to learn what to do as well as what not to do!

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        Agreed. Besides who wants to read too many bad books. Form an opinion on it, figure out why you don’t like it, and throw it away.

        • http://jguitarnash.com Jim Woods

          Absolutely!!

          • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

            yep!

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      True, Jim. When I read bad books they always GREATLY improve my writing, forcing me to look at my own mistakes and how to avoid others’. Bad books help me figure out why I like good ones.

  • http://danholloway.wordpress.com Dan Holloway

    Fascinating, Roz – on the passive Graham Greene, do you find you have to be careful to read lots of different authors to avoid falling into their style? I know I struggle immensely with Murakami, and have to make myself break his works up so as not to speak like May Kasahara or Toru Watanabe in work meetings even.

    What am I reading right now? Three things – one is a history of Radiohead; one is book 3 of 1Q84 (talking of Murakami); and I’m re-reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, head and shoulders the best memoir I’ve ever read. All of them pleasure

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks for commenting, Dan. So your reading even affects your speaking?! That’s incredible. I have the same problem with writing. If I read Annie Dillard or Annie Proulx their voices infect my writing like a disease. Fortunately, they’re fairly beautiful diseases to catch. I like what Roz said about WHEN she reads them. It’s okay to read them and let them infect your voice. Just don’t do it as you’re writing the final draft.

      Wow, lots of rock. When I was 15, I read Please Kill Me: the uncensored oral history of rock. That was interesting. It talked about Patti Smith a bit. I’m sure her memoir would be excellent.

      • http://danholloway.wordpress.com Dan Holloway

        yes, *when* is the key. It’s so so hard with short story writing, though – I think then you just have to give in – or go on reading strike for while.

        It’s like Zelig, I think. I have a feelnig more of us are like that than we realise, and I think our online lives probably heighten it – a lot of our “chatting” now is written, which means it’s more likely to pick up the tics of what we’re reading (especially the rhythms of sentences – lots of forceful parataxis if we’re reading Bukowski, ending sentences with gentle, wistful questions if we’re reading Murakami), and I’d wager that carries through to what we say whereas when our chatting was all spoken, what we would mimic would be the accents and speech patterns of those around us

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Interesting. So the Odyssey and the Bible mimic the oral history of ancient civilization, and now, since our oral history is no longer oral but read through blogs and comments and “txts,” our literature will begin to mimic, subconsciously or not, these kinds of “oral” mediums?

          • ByRozMorris

            Great discussion here, guys. Dan, I’m entertaining the thought of you gentled by an overdose of Murakami. Your point about this being like picking up accents is spot on – it’s so obviously what happens when sensitive people get going in words. My husband’s a writer too and I can often tell who he’s on the phone to because of his speech rhythms.

          • eightcutsgallery

            Roz, absolutely. My wife is from Yorkshire and has lived in the south for the last 20 years, so I get the same. (this is posting from my twitter but tis me!)

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            I just realized I do this too. When I travel, I get what I call a “foreign voice.” I emphasize my letters and talk slow and have this strange lilt to my voice that’s not quite English. I was teaching English in Vietnam one time and all the students wanted me to talk normal to them so they could practice. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t not talk in my foreign voice. It was embarrassing for everyone.

  • http://danholloway.wordpress.com Dan Holloway

    Fascinating, Roz – on the passive Graham Greene, do you find you have to be careful to read lots of different authors to avoid falling into their style? I know I struggle immensely with Murakami, and have to make myself break his works up so as not to speak like May Kasahara or Toru Watanabe in work meetings even.

    What am I reading right now? Three things – one is a history of Radiohead; one is book 3 of 1Q84 (talking of Murakami); and I’m re-reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, head and shoulders the best memoir I’ve ever read. All of them pleasure

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Thanks for commenting, Dan. So your reading even affects your speaking?! That’s incredible. I have the same problem with writing. If I read Annie Dillard or Annie Proulx their voices infect my writing like a disease. Fortunately, they’re fairly beautiful diseases to catch. I like what Roz said about WHEN she reads them. It’s okay to read them and let them infect your voice. Just don’t do it as you’re writing the final draft.

      Wow, lots of rock. When I was 15, I read Please Kill Me: the uncensored oral history of rock. That was interesting. It talked about Patti Smith a bit. I’m sure her memoir would be excellent.

      • http://danholloway.wordpress.com Dan Holloway

        yes, *when* is the key. It’s so so hard with short story writing, though – I think then you just have to give in – or go on reading strike for while.

        It’s like Zelig, I think. I have a feelnig more of us are like that than we realise, and I think our online lives probably heighten it – a lot of our “chatting” now is written, which means it’s more likely to pick up the tics of what we’re reading (especially the rhythms of sentences – lots of forceful parataxis if we’re reading Bukowski, ending sentences with gentle, wistful questions if we’re reading Murakami), and I’d wager that carries through to what we say whereas when our chatting was all spoken, what we would mimic would be the accents and speech patterns of those around us

        • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

          Interesting. So the Odyssey and the Bible mimic the oral history of ancient civilization, and now, since our oral history is no longer oral but read through blogs and comments and “txts,” our literature will begin to mimic, subconsciously or not, these kinds of “oral” mediums?

          • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

            Great discussion here, guys. Dan, I’m entertaining the thought of you gentled by an overdose of Murakami. Your point about this being like picking up accents is spot on – it’s so obviously what happens when sensitive people get going in words. My husband’s a writer too and I can often tell who he’s on the phone to because of his speech rhythms.

          • http://twitter.com/agnieszkasshoes Agnieszka’s Shoes

            Roz, absolutely. My wife is from Yorkshire and has lived in the south for the last 20 years, so I get the same. (this is posting from my twitter but tis me!)

          • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

            I just realized I do this too. When I travel, I get what I call a “foreign voice.” I emphasize my letters and talk slow and have this strange lilt to my voice that’s not quite English. I was teaching English in Vietnam one time and all the students wanted me to talk normal to them so they could practice. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t not talk in my foreign voice. It was embarrassing for everyone.

  • http://stacygreenauthor.com/ Stacy Green

    Excellent guest post. Sometimes I find reading hard, because I get discouraged, either wondering how this person got published or by convincing myself I’ll never be that good. I’m getting a lot better, however, and try to read at least one book in my genre a month. Right now I’m reading Patricia Cornwell, and her writing is great for studying the craft. We can’t improve without writing and reading, as it’s all part of learning the skill.

    Your worst books are interesting. I dearly loved TLOTR movies but couldn’t get through the book. I always felt I must be lacking in intelligence or comprehension skills because I didn’t like it. And I agree about the Da Vinci Code. I stuck with it because of the historical elements, and that was about it.

    Thanks for sharing, Roz, and thanks to Joe for having her:)

    • ByRozMorris

      ‘Sometimes reading can be discouraging…’ – absolutely. I’ve put books down and felt I’m wasting my time even trying to compete. But this is what makes us raise our game. I come back and think ‘I won’t be beaten’.

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        Agreed. LOTR took me two or three attempts. So did at least a dozen other novels. I’m better for them, but they sure were hard.

  • http://stacygreenauthor.com/ Stacy Green

    Excellent guest post. Sometimes I find reading hard, because I get discouraged, either wondering how this person got published or by convincing myself I’ll never be that good. I’m getting a lot better, however, and try to read at least one book in my genre a month. Right now I’m reading Patricia Cornwell, and her writing is great for studying the craft. We can’t improve without writing and reading, as it’s all part of learning the skill.

    Your worst books are interesting. I dearly loved TLOTR movies but couldn’t get through the book. I always felt I must be lacking in intelligence or comprehension skills because I didn’t like it. And I agree about the Da Vinci Code. I stuck with it because of the historical elements, and that was about it.

    Thanks for sharing, Roz, and thanks to Joe for having her:)

    • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

      ‘Sometimes reading can be discouraging…’ – absolutely. I’ve put books down and felt I’m wasting my time even trying to compete. But this is what makes us raise our game. I come back and think ‘I won’t be beaten’.

      • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

        Agreed. LOTR took me two or three attempts. So did at least a dozen other novels. I’m better for them, but they sure were hard.

  • Eric Hanson

    Thanks for the interview Roz! I highly enjoyed it. I just hosted a few friends from the Peak District and they thought the way people speak here in the South (of the US) was hilarious. People in stores would say things like, “My oh my! Y’all just have the darn funniest ack-sayents. Shur wish I had an ack-sayent.”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Oh gosh.

      • ByRozMorris

        I don’t have an accent. Everyone else does, though.

  • http://twitter.com/EricIsHanson Eric Hanson

    Thanks for the interview Roz! I highly enjoyed it. I just hosted a few friends from the Peak District and they thought the way people speak here in the South (of the US) was hilarious. People in stores would say things like, “My oh my! Y’all just have the darn funniest ack-sayents. Shur wish I had an ack-sayent.”

    • http://joebunting.com Joe Bunting

      Oh gosh.

      • http://twitter.com/ByRozMorris Roz Morris fiction

        I don’t have an accent. Everyone else does, though.

  • chingyeh96

    I’ve read Hunger Games which is probably the most influential book you could ever write. But I’ll keep trying…

  • chingyeh96

    I’ve read Hunger Games which is probably the most influential book you could ever write. But I’ll keep trying…

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  • Aluenvey Weaver

    I’m reading Count Zero, and Mistborn. I was attracted to these, as I wanted to read these, as I’m a bizarre juxtaposition type of person.

  • http://www.akandrew.com/ A.K.Andrew

    Really interesting interview. I can’t imagine ghostwriting and not be able to say “I wrote that”. But Roz’s love of reading comes through so clearly. More kudos to her for dropping books when they don’t interest her. It’s not always easy to do. Excellent questions, which helped elicit such interesting responses. Thanks to you both:-)

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  • Gab @ Learnivore

    This is fantastic. I can’t even express how crucial being an avid reader has been to my writing! Thanks for sharing.