Roz Morris is back!—smarter, wittier, more profound than ever. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better. . .please pull up a chair and join us for the seventh (yes, one, two, three, four, five, six—the seventh!) Roz Morris interview:
V: Welcome back, Roz! It’s as though you never left!
R: Great to be sitting in our spliced study again. Like two worlds joined. Or has someone hypnotised us into thinking we are? Excuse me, I’m just going to prod you to see if you’re real. Hold still and don’t squirm.
V: If you want the wine bottle, my dear, all you need do is ask.
R: Spirits, please, for this book.
V: Such a quick wit! [Laughing] So, you’ve written a very beautiful, disturbing novel on reincarnation and past-life regression—My Memories of a Future Life—with a couple of major plot twists. It’s not necessarily for those who believe in past-life regression, and it’s not necessarily for those who don’t. What inspired you to write this story?
R: Gosh, thank you very much. I’ve always been rather fascinated by the phenomenon of past-life regression. I first heard about it when I was a darkly brooding teenager, with black hair instead of red, and the romantic half of me wanted it to be true. But the scientific half could see that there were many reasons why it probably wasn’t. It’s a situation where somebody is put in a highly suggestible state and is being asked questions like ‘tell me where you are and what year it is’. Nevertheless, what grabbed me was the profound experiences people seemed to have. However you explained it, these experiences seemed to be real.
V: Did you try it? Have yourself regressed?
R: No. Possibly because I did so much research—including talking to several people who had done it to others, as well as those who had experienced it. After that I was so used to questioning what was going on that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief to trust a hypnotist. And I’m a bit of a control freak anyway—I’d probably try to hypnotise them instead.
Also, my main hypnotist character, Gene Winter, had developed into rather a disturbing presence. He’s quite introverted but also ferally, frighteningly gifted at coaxing people into trances. His hold over the main character, Carol, is one of the main fascinations of the novel. If someone like him really existed I did not want to be locked in a room with him! People ask me if he’s based on anyone, but he isn’t. I don’t know where he came from, except from the story.
V: So you were really captured by the inexplicable aspects of it. . .
R: Totally. Fiction thrives on questions and the need for answers even if we don’t find them. I knew there was a powerful story lurking in the idea. One day I thought, what if instead of going to the past, someone would go to a future life? Who would do that? Why would they do it? What would they find? Who might be guiding them? And what would their role be?
There is a tradition of reincarnation stories—that what’s happened in your past life carries over to this one. If you die a violent death or otherwise come to a bad end, that can leave scars. I read reports that when people who have back or neck pain are regressed to a former life, they tell a story about having been beheaded.
V: I remember when Stevie Nicks was saying she couldn’t bend her head back because she’d been strangled or something in a past life. Then a few years ago I saw a snippet of a reunion concert Fleetwood Mac held in which she was flinging her head clear over backward every other line she sang, and I thought, She looks like she’s making a point.
R: Or is very proud of her nostrils.
R: I didn’t know that about her, but I’ve already got books about her lined up for another novel. She’s a character who definitely needs a fictional workout. . .one day.
V: You’re writing a novel about Stevie Nicks? Wow, how serendipitous is that?
R: Not about Stevie Nicks. But there is a rock stars novel bubbling in my study somewhere. I guess I can’t leave music alone.
V: But My Memories of a Future Life isn’t a simple story of ‘who I was in a past life’. It’s quite a bit more complex than that.
R: I rolled the idea around for a while until I found what really haunted me about it. Who would go to the future? It might be someone who was finding it hard to find her way in her life now. She’s fast-forwarding because she cannot see a future.
V: Oh, fascinating angle on despair! How did you come to choose music as your protagonist’s career?
R: Because music is such an all-consuming life. Carol, the narrator, is a concert pianist who can’t play because of a mysterious injury— and she’s bereft. That’s how she ends up involved with these fringe healers.
And also playing a piece of classical music is like channelling the spirit of the composer. The language of a musical score is dictatorial and precise, to the extent that it tells you how to feel as you’re playing it. Amoroso, play it lovingly. Appassionata, passionately. When I realised that I knew the two elements of regression and music would strike sparks off each other.
V: Yes—dictatorial and at the same time so dependent upon intuition. I love that scene in which the self-taught pianist channels the music of Carol’s ‘future self’. I love that this is a character Carol realizes is intensely talented, although the people around them can’t see past their own agendas to understand the value of what’s really happening. Tell me about how you envisioned these ‘fringe healers’ with whom Carol becomes entangled.
R: I was interested in who goes to fringe healers, who finds them helpful, who the charlatans are and how they maintain their cliques—a complex alchemy of collusion and politics. So I created this character you’ve mentioned, Willa Barry, a self-taught musician of breathtaking talent who channels spirits and improvises exquisite music. She plays strangely altered instruments such as a left-handed violin.
I had a friend who goes to mediums, and he took me to a meeting in a big house in London where a woman claimed to be talking to dead spirits. It was the classic cold-reading technique—the medium would say something vague like, ‘I can see a lady with a black dog,’ and watch carefully for someone in the audience who gave a genuinely shocked response. Then she’d talk to them, worm information out of them until she’d found there was someone they were worried about or who had recently died, and she’d serve it back to them, claiming she’d had a message from beyond the grave. It was always something banal like, ‘your sister has forgiven you for taking the gold watch that belonged to Aunt Edna’. It was so transparent, so dreary but also heartbreaking because the punters didn’t look like they’d been helped.
V: You know, I just last night finished the first really interesting modern mainstream novel I’ve read in years, John Harwood’s The Seance. Are you familiar with it? It’s a ghost story all about this, only set in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
R: No, I haven’t heard of that. Gosh. Wonder what he does with it? (Quickly scribbles on the TBR list. . .)
V: You have to read the epigraph, in which an actual nineteenth-century ‘medium’ explains how to create a ghost in a dark room. He’s written another too, The Ghost Writer, which it seems, frankly, impossible for you not to read.
I’ve never attended a seance, but I’ve certainly dabbled in the metaphysical, including past-life regression.In fact, I also play a left-handed violin—not well—although I’m right-handed.
R: Victoria, whenever we talk I end up wanting to read your autobiography. Ditto when I read your excellent writing books. Promise you’ll write it someday? and who were you in your past lives? (Since I’m clearly never going to find mine. . .)
V: [Laughing] Thank you! Yes, it will be my magnum opus. I almost never meet anyone whose childhood was as strange as mine, although I’m afraid in my past lives I was nobody you would have heard of, just ordinary shmucks caught—as we all are—in this mortal coil. Metaphysical was huge when I was in my twenties in the 1980s. And yet, as you say, it’s sometimes not all it’s cracked up to be.
R: There was something else that bothered me about that meeting—I was intensely disappointed with the people. They had little sense of wonder about what they were apparently contacting or dealing with, or what it might suggest. And they certainly had no sense of wonder about what we humans can do while we’re all still alive. Again, music fitted beautifully into this world in my story because it’s entirely man-made but incredibly transforming—if there was ever any evidence for man being touched by the infinite, music must be it.
In the scene you’re talking about, the spiritual community listen to her play and then go back to arguing about whether a channeller should use a wooden bowl in a purification ritual or a metal one. They were in the presence of the truly remarkable and couldn’t see it.
V: Wonderful, your take on the awe-inspiring aspects of such things, the effort to reach the other side. The sense that, if it is possible, it certainly deserves more sincere humility among its practitioners than it often gets. More honest fear, too. It’s like playing chicken with a tidal wave.
R: Excellent simile—and absolutely right! I realise this approach will probably get me nailed to a few walls, in voodoo dummy form. But I wanted to do something more profound than take pot-shots at soulless cheats or people who have wild beliefs. Carol is looking for meaning and truth, and I was interested in what we believe in and what we invent, whether that matters, what answers we find and what we do to each other with it.
As well as this, I’m interested in the medical aspects of incurable pain. I’ve worked on a medical magazine for many years, and I’ve learned a lot about chronic conditions. For certain kinds of pain, like a broken bone, the cure is easy—patch it up, dose it with drugs and you’re done. For others—like these eternally agonising necks—nothing works, and nothing explains it. It’s as if there’s a mysterious rebellion in the body and mind, and of course it drives people to desperate places. Carol is one of those—there is no explanation for her condition, at least not when she’s looked at by all the scanners and x-rays and doctors. So she has to find her own answers.
V: And this is where we arrive at the profound purpose of all great storytelling: to explore the deeper meaning of life, to learn the answers that have no names. Writing is the eternal search to give such things their true names.
R: Absolutely. They’re the questions that can’t be answered in facts or essays. Analysis and theories diminish them. The only way to explore them is by leading the reader through an experience—or in other words, a story.
Roz Morris is the ghostwriter of eleven books, eight of them bestsellers, and author of Nail Your Novel: Why Writers Abandon Books and How You Can Draft, Fix and Finish With Confidence. She has recently released for the Kindle her first novel under her own name, My Memories of a Future Life, in episode 1, “The Red Season”, episode 2, “Rachmaninov and Ruin”, episode 3, “Like Ruby”, and culminating in today’s release, episode 4, “The Storm.” My Memories of a Future Life will be released in print on 26 September.
Roz can be reached through her blog, Nail Your Novel, and on Twitter, By Roz Morris on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.