Weird Path To Fame

Whodunit diva Ann Morven achieved global popularity by inventing grisly plots, cunning murderers and a female sleuth who is a dunce at deduction.

Sounds weird, yet her short stories and novels are prolific in chills and chuckles, always entertaining. I visited her home in Kalamunda, which is a village in the forested hills overlooking Perth, Western Australia. On the back verandah of her bungalow we shared a pot of tea, watched wild parrots and honeybirds and exchanged thoughts on reading and writing.

I recorded the interview and pass on her comments here.

How do you discover the ebooks you read?

I browse online, searching for favourite genres or authors. Sometimes a new name appeals because of a striking cover or a good blurb, and then I’ll take a look at a sample. Sampling is a must for me nowadays. Too often, and even with a print copy in a bookshop, I have rushed to purchase and been disappointed. Once I find an author I like I’ll look at everything they have written.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?

I used to make up stories for my son, inventing as I went along while monitoring his expression for the effect. From age 2 to age 8 he was my inspiration (and unsuspecting tutor) in the art of creating fiction. Most of all, it was a satisfying exercise for a new mum. Later I wrote down a few of these tales and later still had a go at writing a mystery for adults. It was a short story, and I sold it for a couple of quid to Central Press, a London agency that supplied features for newspapers. Its title: “The Man Beyond Suspicion”. I have always enjoyed reading whodunits, so I suppose it was natural to begin writing them. I also love country music, which is why my female sleuth follows that vocation. Her very first case was bought by the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (The Clue of the Willy-Willy, set in outback Australia. This same story has been republished as Blood On The Wind). Since then, Sheil B. Wright has visited other lands to sing, solve murders and irritate various police investigators throughout the world.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?

I remember Myths And Legends, author unrecalled, a gift from maternal Grandmother. It was beautifully illustrated and comprised the Greek and Norse tales, creating a lifelong interest. I think I was five. My Dad read it to me, as he did Grimm’s Fairy Tales. My first full length adult book, read by myself unaided, was a whodunit, title and author unrecalled. I was eight and found it in the ship’s library on a long cruise. The plot involved a passenger liner, which explains my interest. The killer was the investigating detective!! This compelling read might explain my love of whodunits. It was followed on the same voyage by Tarzan Of The Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

How do you approach cover design?

Not being an artist, I browse online for oldmaster paintings that might fit my story. These, or details taken from them, are incorporated into a 5×8 cover using Microsoft Publisher. Of course, I have to check before using anything that it is free of copyright. Sometimes I use a photograph I have taken myself. For instance, the old and mossy gravestones on the cover of The Killing of Hamlet are in an ancient church cemetery at the village of Cromarty, Scotland. I snapped them when impressed by the ageless atmosphere. Murder Piping Hot blends Scottish tartans with my photo of sacred Aboriginal rock art.

How important is an opening hook?

I believe the very first sentence of a book must grip the reader, even if it is just the rhythm of an author’s narrative style. This is what I always look at myself when sampling a book. Naturally, I try to make my own openings appeal in this way.

What do you read for pleasure?

Murder fiction, courtroom drama, historical fiction, historical non-fiction, and gentle feel-good humour. Romance rarely appeals to me, although a well written love story can hold me captive.

What is your e-reading device of choice?

My laptop computer. But frankly I prefer a traditional printed paperback.

What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?

Hard to say, but my guess is press releases to the world’s newspapers and requesting a mention in the newsletters of special interest groups.

Describe your desk

Cluttered. One of Professor Parkinson’s laws is that when an office becomes tidy it ceases to be creative. And that’s my excuse.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?

Travelling to many lands with my parents. My father was a soldier and, in peacetime, Married Families were posted around the globe. This has certainly influenced my stories, as has my lifelong career as a journalist working in different countries. It is the reason my bumbling female sleuth, Sheil B. Wright, upsets the police in a variety of nations. As a journalist I used to raise similar ire from corrupt politicians!

What’s the story behind your latest book?

The ongoing Shakespeare Debate. Was he Marlowe, Oxford, Bacon etc? In The Killing of Hamlet, my whodunit linking Shakespeare to modern murders, I give my own suggestion and reckon it is every bit as plausible as the chancy theories put forward by learned academics.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

The knowledge that I am in total control of my work.

How has Smashwords contributed to your success?

The advent of Smashwords was a godsend providing a distribution resource previously unheard of.

What are you working on next?

Top secret, but it is a multi-murder whodunit in an exotic setting. Bumbling sleuth Sheil B. Wright will face a death sentence!

Who are your favorite authors?

At the moment, Caroline Graham, Michael Connelly, Alexander McCall Smith, Dennis Lehane. Sadly missed is George Macdonald Fraser and his Flashman comedies.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?

The thought of a brisk walk conversing with the birds in a clean dawn air.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Reading, gardening, walking, spoiling my three grandchildren.

What’s the hardest part of writing a story?

Getting the plot right, so that it fits the natural inclination of the characters without seeming to be contrived. Often after completion I discover a “fatal flaw” which needs lots of hard thought to amend. Being immersed in my story makes it easy to gloss over inconsistencies, so I put the work aside for a few weeks after completion, then read it again as a stranger. Then a painful rewrite and another and another. Then, finally joy! I love it.

Do you write from start to finish in sequence, or do individual scenes separately?

From start to finish is usual in a short story, with minor revisions later. My novels demand lots of revision after my first draft has set a basic structure. Rewriting sections is a pleasure, the first draft hard work.

Do you get fan mail?

Sometimes, and it’s pleasing to hear of the enjoyment a book brings to its reader. I also send fanmail when the author’s email address is known, just to say thanks for a good read.

Do you write on a PC, laptop or by hand?

On my laptop. Some passages, the more tricky ones, I write longhand into my notebook and then transcribe, editing as I go.

Is researching a book difficult?

It’s mostly a pleasure, entailing library visits and lots of reading. Also internet browsing. The internet is a boon to authors for fast-checking facts or discovering vital information of all kinds.