Friday, 18 November 2016

Peter Morrison in Headingley Library

No gadzookery, plenty of mud and blood - by Richard Wilcocks

It was a shabby affair, by a poor northern road, in the May of 1214. That was how it all began, thirty years ago. Often I wish to God I had been somewhere else.

Peter Morrison
So begins Peter Morrison’s novella A Lonely Road, a definite page-turner set in a time of political flux and shifting loyalties. In the aftermath of violence on the York to Lincoln road, a young advocate, Thomas Sturdy, comes upon a grave at the edge of the forest...

In Headingley Library yesterday, the author soon captured our interest by reading from the opening pages, and later on in the evening picked out some really dramatic passages which had us gripped, including one where the young protagonist is lured into a dark corner of York Minster, grabbed round the neck and threatened with a knife by a certain William Scarlet. There is plenty of mud and blood in this story, and no attempt to glamourise life in the thirteenth century. Morrison is not a romantic medievalist. Robin Hood (Robin Locksley) plays a part only in reports and memoirs, his life and activities as an outlaw described only in the words of a kind of deposition, a document written by one of the very un-merry men as part of a deal to save his skin. Lawyers are well used to such things, then and now.

It is written in the English of today: Morrison was meticulously careful in his choice of language, avoiding what professional editors describe as “gadzookery” – the use, or overuse, of archaic expressions – and in his determination to supply the reader with just enough period detail, in spite of the extensive research. “It is too easy to weigh the story down with material like that,” he told us. "It has got to move forward constantly and easily."

In fact, he told us much more about his methods, and about how A Lonely Road came into being, sharing with us his initial enquiries, the way he sought out advice, not only from friends (who usually simply flatter) but also from professionals who need a fee, his polishing and revising and his relationship with the company (York Publishing Services) which enabled him to enter the universe of self-publishing, which is expanding all the time.

“It is not vanity publishing,” he said. “Steer clear of the companies which offer that.” He was interviewed about his motives by YPS (“They were happy to hear I was not in it for the money and not one of those authors who thinks he has a killer manuscript to make a fortune.”), given plenty of advice and some alternative cover designs. Apparently big publishing houses usually do not give choices like that to the captive authors in their stables.

Novellas, he told us, are not treated with respect in this country. He gave the example of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, which appeared in 2007 as a ‘novel/novella’. Some reviewers, and some readers, were outraged. Why was it “too short”? Were they worried about not getting value for money? Are doorstep novels always the ideal? “The Germans appreciate the value of novellas,” he said. “ They have a long history of reading them.” He recommended that we read works by the London writer Gerald Kersh (especially The Implacable Hunter) and by the post-WW2 German writer Heinrich Böll. Böll’s The Train Was on Time (Der Zug war pünktlich) was picked out as memorable.

A Lonely Road can be bought online (£3.99) from

Peter Morrison will launch a full-length novel – A Cause to Mourn – in 2019.

Audience comments

Inspiring to hear how you began writing and persevered, to self-publish your novella

Really interesting to consider ‘the flaws of heroes’ and to put these into historical context.

Looking forward to reading the book!

Enjoyed this interesting talk, thanks!

Absolutely wonderful!

Lovely clear speaking – very informative and put across beautifully.

Wish my husband had been here!!!

Most enjoyable.

Interesting talk. Peter Morrison’s novella needs to be more widely known.

I shall follow up his suggestions about Heinrich Böll. Modern German literature (in translation) should be better known here.

Seems like this is the better kind of historical fiction.

1 comment:

  1. Came to this event; got so taken with the storyline that I bought the book and read it at one sitting. It's a cracking read and a real antidote to the 'men in tights' riff you get in so many films. Really uses the historical research Peter must have done. Look forward to the next book!