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Hello! Welcome to my newsletter for April/May 2021. In this issue:
No, this isn't a post-lockdown jaunt to a country house. It is a pilgrimage. To the place where my grandmother died.
I never knew her. She was a tragic, troubled figure and my cousins and I are trying to piece together her life story. I have discovered she spent time in this psychiatric hospital in south London, which is not close to her home... but is almost on my doorstep.
I have passed the entrance to Springfield Hospital nearly every day for 29 years. I've often wondered if there might be an interesting building in its grounds, especially when this sign appeared.
Then I saw the name Springfield Hospital on my grandmother's death certificate. That Springfield Hospital. The Springfield Hospital I see every day. And it might not be there for much longer.
Not a moment to waste.
The hospital is still in use, in new blocks. The Victorian wards stand behind, abandoned, pecked at by cranes. Garden walls, thick as gun emplacements, are sundered by jagged cracks. There are rows of greenhouses. Apparently patients were encouraged to garden. Perhaps my grandmother did this, when she was here in the early 1960s.
Lights were on in the upper storeys. I peered through a window whose frame was speckled with rust. I saw a dark space and my own reflection.
Beside a drainpipe, I found a heap of pillows. Startling, strange and unexpectedly intimate.
I was considering the pillows when a voice called out. A security guard.
Maybe if I tugged his heartstrings he'd show me around. 'My grandmother died here in the 1960s,' I told him. It worked for a similar situation in Not Quite Lost.
The guard gave me a stony, suspicious look. 'This is private property.'
'Sorry! Is there someone I can talk to?'
He noticed my camera. 'You can't take pictures here.'
I put my camera away quietly, hoping he wouldn't enforce the point. 'I have a family connection here that I never knew about,' I said, in case he did.
'You can't take pictures here,' he said again, 'because of the CCTV.'
I understood he had to do his job, but I didn't understand that reasoning.
He walked me to the gate.
At home, I found the developer's website with a video of the interior. A vaulted entrance hall, painted a chilly blue. Long corridors and a chapel, littered with fallen plaster. A ward full of slanted light, marked for conversion into an apartment, the outlines of rooms chalked on the floor. Dining area. Lounge.
My pictures are less dramatic, but I'm glad I went there, stood in the grounds, before its old purpose is tidied away.
I never knew my grandmother, but this place did.
Editing... As well as the medical magazine this month, I've also edited the Alliance of Independent Authors quarterly journal.
Mentoring... Georgia and I are pinning down the outline of her novel. It becomes more substantial with every session. I've started advising a life coach who's writing a book series. I've also had interesting enquiries from two fiction writers - one with a modern contemporary bildungsroman, the other with a literary supernatural thriller.
Teaching... I've had good mileage on Zoom this month. I delivered a three-part masterclass in self-editing for Jane Friedman. If you're quick, you can still get the recordings and course materials until 9 May - find out more here. I also gave a talk on ghostwriting at the Surrey New Writers Festival. There isn't a replay link, but you can learn about ghostwriting in my professional course (published by Jane Friedman).
That Dave Morris
In the Q&A at the Surrey New Writers Festival, I had a surprising question: 'You mentioned your husband writes games. Is he Dave Morris?'
Why yes, he is. (Here is Dave's wiki page.)
There followed some minutes of goshing. Several students (and some of the staff) have been playing one of Dave's 1980s series, Blood Sword.
And while we're at it, I'm excited to tell you that another of Dave's series has been adopted by an academic institution. His Fabled Lands gamebooks are shaping young minds at St Eanswythe's School in Kent as part of the literacy syllabus. This statement was spotted on the school's website.
'So real and heart-wrenching...'
Ever Rest ... is getting advance reviews.
Here's the routine I follow when I spot a new review on Goodreads.
1 Gasp, read it fast. Is it okay? The book is still a tender spot for me. I spent so long in secret battle with it. If I could read the review through closed eyes, I would.
2 Once reassured that all is well, read again, properly.
I want to quote them all. Thank you, everyone.
See them here.
'The chill of the mountain, the throb of rock music...'
Jessica Bell at Vine Leaves Press has been making videos for the launch. We needed a short snatch of music. She had a library of royalty-free tracks, but nothing with the right vibe.
'Can you find something?' she said.
As it happens, I could.
Born in fire - music for Ever Rest
You might remember my sculptor/artist/musician friend Michael Fairfax from a recent newsletter (look at this link and click on 'Sun-burnings and the birth of the universe').
One of Michael's signature materials is charred wood, which he uses to make sculptures, carvings and musical instruments.
Here's one he made recently.
Hendrix, eat your heart out.
The last time I visited Michael, he'd been playing with fire as usual. The result was this bass. Note the hand on the end of the headstock.
In my teens and 20s, I used to compose and play. Give me some gear and a musical friend and I'm happy for hours.
First, we built a percussion track from found sounds. The scrape of an opening drawer. The riffle of book pages. Layer on layer until the room was filled with rhythm.
Michael began to play. The instrument had a hoarse, soot-throated twang. I sang a melody line, an off-the-cuff lyric about an endless, searching journey. It didn't always make literal sense, but it fitted the instrument's soul.
It also fitted with the graphics and mood for Ever Rest. I clipped a piece as the vocal is finishing and Michael's instrument takes the lead. I never dreamed that we'd use it for anything, and I love that we used it for this.
Here's the video. Your browser might warn you it's a threat to your machine and ask you to load it in an additional window. If it does, fear not.
We mean you no harm.
Coming up
30 May I'm back at Pop-Up Submissions, critiquing first pages with literary agent Peter Cox. You can find previous editions on my blog here. If you’ve got a manuscript you’d like critiqued, apply here.
28 July I'll be reprising my back story course at Jane Friedman's webinar series.
September I'll be teaching a month-long course in self-publishing to members of the Romantic Novelists' Association. Non-members are also welcome. Book here.
On the blog
On my blog this month I ran an interview in the 'How I made my career' series, with writing coach, novelist and memoirist Gina Troisi. My writing craft post was inspired by a letter from a reader of Lifeform Three - 'A world in a word... 3 ways your vocabulary can increase reader belief'.
I also had an interview in advance of my session at the Surrey New Writers Festival - about ghostwriting, researching a novel, overcoming writer's block, writing during lockdown and training a horse.
Which brings us neatly to...
A little horse
.... who is now a much bigger horse.
I had Val checked by the physio this month. She's thrilled with his development. I've suddenly realised how much he's changed, seeing these pictures. Forgive the angle in the most recent pic. Dave took it standing on a bank. I look enormous. Val looks Dachsund.
The physio suggested new stretches and exercises. They were a challenge.
They should not be, according to my instructor. 'Simple,' she says. 'Just tell the horse 'put THAT leg THERE'.
Ah, but Val takes his work extremely seriously. If I ask for something very new, he gets flustered. Last week, he got confused as I worked him in hand, pulled away, then realised I wasn't beside him, then fled around the ring bucking and leaping, wondering what to do. (Idiot.) It took a while to catch him. I reassured him with work he was sure of. Next session, I asked for the new move again. A moment of anxiety, then he tried it and all was well.
It was the same with the physio's new stretches, which require him to pick up his feet from an unfamiliar angle. For two weeks, I would patiently tap the foot I want him to lift. He would lift the wrong one. I continued to tap the other foot and he shuffled worriedly around the stable, unable to work it out. I followed, waited for him to stand still, tapped the foot I wanted again. Now, suddenly, he's got it. And every time, I grin like a loon.
Til next time
R xxx
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June 3rd. Rather excited
Copyright © 2021 Roz Morris, All rights reserved.

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