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Not Quite Lost…Thoughts on Disappearing in Your Own Backyard

January 5, 2018

I met Roz Morris where I meet most of my fellow writers…at our virtual watercooler in one of our Facebook writers groups. That may sound strange, but believe me, I’ve met people I consider real friends in the “cloud” world of social media. How else can a homebound worker with her face in a computer screen all day get to know new people?

Roz felt familiar to me from the get-go. Not only do we share “resume” similarities – both of us write personal essays and thrillers, and teach others how to write – but a sensibility. The culture of a close marriage and a struggling family. A desire to watch behaviors and immerse ourselves in the quiet histories that surround us.

In other words, she’s perfect for COLD and I think you’ll really like her. To that end, I wrote up some questions for Roz, so you can get to know her better. And once you do, you’ll want to click on her links below and order her books. Good ones like this don’t come along every day.

Roz Morris 4

This is Roz

ME: You and I talked a bit about the culture of a relationship, which I got a very strong sense of while reading Not Quite Lost (in fact, your culture with your husband felt very similar to my own marriage. We’re both writers, work from home, and love to go on weird little trips. Only difference is the kids part).

ROZ: How lovely that you do that too. Dave and I certainly enjoy our ‘weird little trips’. I think it’s the writer mindset. I was listening to a podcast where Grayson Perry was trying to define what an artist does, and he said ‘artists notice things’. I think that’s true of all artists, not just visual. It’s the details that hold our attention and create verisimilitude as much as the big scale. So if you’re a hard-wired noticer, you’re never far away from being entertained. And it’s brilliant to be married to someone else whose brain works that way.

fishing net

“Fishing Net”

ME: How have your trips evolved as your marriage has matured? Or haven’t they?

ROZ: I can certainly see an evolution. We started big – we married abroad, in a hotel in Mexico City. For our honeymoon, we spent three weeks touring the Maya ruins of Mexico and Guatemala.

Roz n Dave wedding

Roz and Dave’s Wedding

ROZ: Since then, we’ve never been anywhere so exotic. We always intended to do more foreign travel, but as our writing careers gained traction we stopped thinking so far in advance, which you need to do for big expeditions. We also couldn’t afford to go far or for a long time –  freelance life is great for artistic fulfilment but doesn’t leave you much spare cash.  So we went on more last-minute trips, looking for a mop-up booking on line. We get wet a lot because it’s usually raining.

it's usually raining

Raining Again

ROZ: As I say in the book, we might go to the quietest corner of the country, but if it’s new to us, we’ll have adventures.

keepers cottage tea on lawn

Tea on the Lawn

ROZ: So our trips might have got simpler, but we’re just as entertained by them. Which is just as well because we’ve done most of the cities we could go to for short breaks. We do special expeditions on our birthdays and have become quite inventive. If we pass an interesting signpost on our way to somewhere else, we’ll plan a proper expedition there when we next decide to take a day off.

Recently we were looking for a shortcut through Surrey and we passed the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. It was just a sign on a set of gates in the middle of nowhere. We’re both kids of the space age so it went on our list. On Dave’s birthday we drove there to have a proper look. We knew it wasn’t open to the public, but we just enjoyed mooching around the area, walking the footpaths, poking through the villages and finding a nice place to eat cake.

mullard space science lab

Science Lab

ME: Where do you and your husband differ in how you approach your travels? What have you learned about your relationship through your “local” trips?

ROZ: With such a long partnership our differences become rather interesting, especially with ruins. Dave likes castles and Roman remains. I try to take an interest in those, but they don’t excite me nearly as much as more modern dereliction – disused airfields, World War II bunkers and ruined stately homes. I love those particularly – because they seem to have fallen so far.

In Not Quite Lost, we had an amusing mishap on a trip to Suffolk. The first half of the week, we stayed in a cosy, stripy cottage – Dave’s choice. The second half was my idea. We moved to a Martello tower – a Napoleonic gun emplacement on the coast that had been converted as a holiday let. Dave was dubious. He was right. It had a seriously leaky roof and I did a lot of apologising.

Martello tower crop

Martello Tower

ME: One of the things I loved about NQL is that you treat visiting Bath or Shropshire much the way you might approach going to small village in Vietnam. There is the same feeling of wonder and curiosity. Do you feel you learn as much from your own countrymen as you do from distant cultures? Or is this an apples to oranges comparison?

ROZ: Not apples to oranges at all. We all have our own customs, our own peculiar wiring. Keep your eyes open and you’re always rubbing up against them. In NQL, we stayed next door to a retired Prime Minister, and an entire micro-culture had grown up around his security arrangements. There were things you couldn’t do and places you couldn’t go because of it. Different cultures are everywhere, even within your own country.

ME: Compare and contrast traveling abroad with traveling “in-house.”

ROZ: This will probably appal globe-trotters, but I far prefer travelling in-house. I don’t need documents or vaccinations. I can throw everything in the car and take it with me, instead of having to create a capsule kit to fit within a plane’s baggage allowance. I can speak the language and understand the road signs. I can rummage through second-hand bookshops – one of my favourite holiday activities, and quite pointless in a country whose language you don’t speak. Here’s a wonderful bookshop we came across in a disused chapel in Suffolk (you can see more on my Pinterest page).


I love Roz’s Pinterest page

ROZ: But when I have gone abroad, I’ve enjoyed the variations on the everyday. Supermarkets with completely alien sets of staple foods. Flavours that are unobtainable on these shores (the supercharged basil and tomatoes that grow on the Veneto Plain). The curious texture of grass in Singapore; the sidewalks and pavements made of marble and limestone in Verona and Padua. The babble of unfamiliar language, which makes the stuff of routine life sound so vital and uninhibited. Yeah, perhaps I should get out once in a while.

ME: What is the most unusual place you’ve visited within your own country? 

ROZ: I have a place that’s on my wish list, but I don’t know how I’ll ever get there. It’s an underwater billiard room in an ornamental lake in Surrey. It was originally built as part of a stately home, Witley Park. The house was destroyed by fire, but the underwater room is still there – like a glass igloo resting in the silt on the bed of the lake. I put it in my novel Lifeform Three, as the last remnant of a grand country house. It’s never been open to the public, but I live in hope that I’ll one day get the chance to visit. Perhaps if Lifeform Three becomes wildly famous…

underwater ballroom for Vic piece

I wish I could make this picture bigger. It’s amazing.

ME: I feel like you could have written a whole book about visiting the house (now school) that your mother lived in with her childhood sweetheart after your family broke up. You wrote with tremendous reserve about that experience, and what I found particularly powerful about it was how many questions were left unanswered for you. The fact that you weren’t even let inside of the house and had to wander around on the grounds, drawing your own conclusions about your mother’s life there.

ROZ: But isn’t that like life? We get our own story in an uninterrupted stream, but we might only be granted glimpses of somebody else’s. Even your closest relative might have stories that you know little of.

ME: Was that chapter the most difficult to write, or was its very mystery and paucity pretty straightforward, and therefore easier to capture?

ROZ: It was quite easy, exactly for the reasons you say. We weren’t a communicative family and I had very little information about the place or my mother’s time there. I had only those scraps, so I had to fit them together as best I could. indeed I wrote that piece just after the actual event as my way of sorting it out. It was as much for me as it was for the book.

But then, I’ve always been a house detective. I grew up in an Edwardian villa that had hidden fireplaces in the walls and a garden path that went under the bungalow next door. I wrote about that in the book too, when a school friend gave me the news that it had been demolished. I needed to keep its story, as much as I remembered it. Visiting the house my mother then moved to brought the threads together

Sulis Manor

Sulis Manor

Roz Morris is an award-nominated novelist who writes about people who are haunted by buried pasts (My Memories of a Future Life; Lifeform Three). She is a book doctor to award-winning writers (Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2012), has sold 4 million books as a ghostwriter and teaches writing masterclasses for The Guardian. Not Quite Lost: Travels Without A Sense of Direction is her first collection of essays. Find her at her website and on her blog , contact her on Facebook   and tweet her as @Roz_Morris

Roz’s Links:

Memories of a Future Life

Lifeform Three

Not Quite Lost

NQL ebook cover smlr for websites

  1. Great interview! As a huge fan of Lifeform 3, I’d love to visit that underwater room as well. 🙂

  2. What a great interview! I loved reading it. And the pictures were so sweet. Thanks!

  3. Fantastic interview. Always nice to learn something new about Roz. 🙂

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The culture of a close marriage and weird little trips – guest spot at Victoria Dougherty’s COLD | Nail Your Novel

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