Ann Morgan is the author Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer and Beside Myself. Her latest novel Crossing Over is exclusively available on Audible.co.uk
Ann kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about Crossing Over.
Crossing Over is the story of an unlikely friendship between an elderly woman with dementia living alone in a cliff-top farmhouse on the Kent coast and a traumatized Malawian migrant hiding in her barn. On the surface, the two characters have little in common and in some ways they can never fully understand one another, but through their interaction they gain new perspectives on their own experiences and uncover more similarities between their lives than you might expect.
2. What inspired the book?
For several years, I’d wanted to write about the little ships manned by civilians that were sent to rescue soldiers from the beaches in Dunkirk early in the second world war. I knew this would probably involve an elderly character who had been involved in the evacuation effort. Then, when reports started to surface of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean and more recently the Channel in small boats, the parallels and contrasts between the two types of crossings seemed powerful. While the historic episode is often discussed with pride and awe, the contemporary situation evokes pity but also fear and suspicion – particularly among those keen to draw a distinction between refugees and economic migrants.
In addition, I’m fascinated by representing altered mental states in narrative and how mental illness affects storytelling (something I explored with bipolar disorder in my first novel, Beside Myself). Many therapies are built on the theory that telling a story can help a person move past a traumatic event – so what are the implications for people who are unable to articulate what has happened to them coherently? It struck me that bringing together two characters whose storytelling is compromised – one through linguistic limitations and PTSD and the other through dementia – might provide an interesting way to explore this.
3. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?
I find planning too meticulously tends to kill novels for me. I like to have a sense of where a story is heading – the final destination – but usually I have little definite sense of the route I’ll take to get there. Often this changes dramatically between drafts.
4. Crossing Over is available exclusively as an audio book. Did you plan for it to be audio only and if so did that alter how you wrote the novel?
I had no idea that the book would come out as audiobook first when I wrote it. However, reading my work out loud is a key part of my writing process, so I think I often write as much for the ear as for the eye. That said, knowing the book would be audio-only, at least at first, did necessitate a few small changes. In the original manuscript, there was a scene in which Edie was writing in a notebook that had a lot of crossings out in it. That had to be altered because there isn’t really a neat way to read crossings out aloud.
5. Having been through the publishing process a couple of times is there anything about the process of creating a novel that still surprised you?
In my experience, each book brings its own surprises and challenges. These might be to do with the difficulty or ease of the writing process, or issues with changes in personnel at a publisher, or unforeseen research discoveries or challenges, or unexpected reactions to what you’ve written. There is so much you can’t control in writing that the route each book takes to get into a reader’s hands (or a listener’s ears) is always surprising.
6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?
I like to go running by the sea. And I sing.
7. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life which book would it be?
That sounds like a nightmare. I don’t think I can answer. My brain has frozen in horror.
8. I like to end my Q&As with the same question so here we go. During all the Q&As and interviews you’ve done what question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
The question would be: what needs to change in publishing? And the answer would be: There needs to be more support to help writers (and editors) build long-lasting careers that enable them to develop and hone their work. There’s so much emphasis on ‘dazzling debuts’ these days and we humans love novelty but when you think about it, it’s quite a crazy approach. If you went to hospital to have an operation, you’d hardly be delighted to hear that your surgeon was a first-timer. A writer’s debut novel is rarely their best. Like any complex craft, writing well requires years of trial and error, and it may take decades for an author to reach the peak of their powers. Sadly, because of the relentless focus on the new, too few writers get the chance to deliver on their early promise.
About the book
Edie is struggling. She’s increasingly confused but she can’t let the women in the village find that out, they’d only talk. But she’s forgetting so much – forgetting to wear matching clothes, forgetting to bake one of her walnut cakes for the church sale… and forgetting to lock the front door… until one day she wakes to find Jonah in her house and herself in her past.
Jonah is struggling. The journey to England was dangerous and he’s the only one who survived – and he still hasn’t made it to London. England is not the Utopia he was promised, but everything will be fine if he can just get to London. But can he leave Edie to look after herself? And can he hide from the authorities? And from his past?
An affecting and absorbing tale of two people afraid of the outside world, can Edie and Jonah rely on each other when they can’t trust anyone else?
About the author
Ann Morgan’s writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times and the New Internationalist. Her first book Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer (Harvill Secker / WW Norton) was published following the success of her Olympics-inspired project to read a book from every country throughout 2012. Her bestselling debut novel Beside Myself (Bloomsbury) was released to great acclaim in 2016