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50/50 Interview - Lou Morgan and Me!

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There are a lot of YA and MG events this year, and one of these is YA Shot, arranged by Alexia Casale. One of the authors taking part is Lou Morgan, author of a YA horror, Sleepless. As part of the online events put together for YA Shot, Lou and I decided to do a 50/50 interview. This was a first for me, so I hope my answers make sense!
I ask Lou...
Can you start by telling us about your YA books - what genres and aspects do you like to cover?

"Sleepless" is really my first YA book: my previous ones were technically adult urban fantasy novels - although the boundaries between YA and adult are pretty permeable when you get down to it, and that's the way it should be. I don't usually think  about genre when I'm writing anything - be that a story or a book: I just sort of wait and see how it comes out. The horror fan in me, though, does seem to like steering things dark. Or maybe it's just that I'm a terrible human being? It's hard to say. Maybe one day I'll write a book that's all sunsets and feelings, and shock everyone!

Thinking about YA Horror in particular, what lead you to write Sleepless?

I lived in the Barbican for a few years, and there's something about  the layout of it that felt like it belonged in a horror story: it's an enormous labyrinth of buildings and walkways full of dead ends and locked gates. But the really interesting thing about it is that it feels very, very safe - and the best part of horror is taking something or somewhere tremendously safe and suddenly making it un-safe.

Over the last few years, I'd also kept seeing articles about the epidemic of student stress - first in the US, in Ivy League schools, and then gradually it spread to the UK, along with reports that exammed-out pupils were resorting to taking shady study drugs to help them cope with the pressure of being constantly tested. I've sat enough exams in my time to sympathise - and as well as that, I have three cousins who have been slogging their way through SATs, GCSEs, A and AS levels and university over the last couple of years. It's endless.

The final piece of Sleepless was the rise of the online pharmacy: no doctors, no accountability, no guarantee that you're getting what you think you are. Just click and pay. What a terrifying thought. And that started me thinking: how desperate would you have to be to do    that? Maybe, if you were a student at a particularly high-pressure school, with particularly high-pressure parents... maybe just desperate enough.
I know YA covers a wide age range, but how does the younger side of the readership affect you when you're writing horror, are the boundaries different, and are there subjects / issues you would avoid?

I try to be reasonably sensible about it - there's a fair amount of gore in Sleepless, but books are much more forgiving than, say, a horror film. Books only let you go as far as you want: your imagination will take you up to a certain point and then decide when it's had enough - and again, that's exactly as it should be. Like comedy, horror is entirely subjective and very personal.

In practical terms, language is obviously something to think about, and the same goes for sex and violence (does *this* or *that* actively serve the story? If it does, then there's an argument for it being there, but always thinking about the way it's presented) ... but at the same time, I don't think any author wants to be a censor. It isn't our place to decide what a YA reader - or any reader - wants or in some cases, needs to read about.

Do you think the horror is covered well enough in YA, are there any aspects you think are missing?

We're living in a good time for YA horror. There's some excellent stuff around, covering everything from classic ghost-and-monster territory to more subtle metaphorical stories. It's great, too, to see very contemporary aspects of life being looked at through the lens of horror: Tom Becker's "Dark Room", for instance, involves selfies - which opens up the wider discussion to include all kinds of issues around self-esteem and social media, and how we present ourselves to the world. The really exciting thing about horror in particular is that it gives us a new way of looking at the world we actually live in.

Is it a genre you enjoy reading yourself, and are there other YA horror writers you would recommend?

I do. I loved reading the Point Horror books when I was a teen, so I've always had a huge fondness for that kind of story, as well as the big-hitters of horror like Stephen King. My go-to YA horror reading list includes people like James Dawson, Will Hill, Kendare Blake, Matt Whyman (whose Savages books manage to be both dark and funny - no small achievement), Darren Shan, Charlie  Higson and Dawn Kurtagich - as well as all the other members of the Red Eye family. But I'm always excited to discover new stories and writers - so if there's someone out there I ought to be reading and I'm not... tell me!
And then it was time for Lou to question me...
Why do you think YA and MG books in particular have developed such a strong community around them?
There are probably lots of reasons behind this, but the one which jumps out at me is that everyone is so friendly and lovely! The authors are quite happy to chat to readers, and bloggers are happy to help each other. Of course, there are also lots of excellent YA and MG events – both online and in that thing called ‘real life’!
What's the most exciting thing about reviewing and discussing books online? And the most frustrating?
Ooh.. tough.. I think I find the interaction the most exciting part. There’s nothing like tweeting about a book, and getting a response from the author!
As for frustrating.. this will make me sound bad, but it’s the book envy! There are so many great new YA books, that no matter how high my review and to-read pile, I get envious when someone tweets about a book I don’t have!
What would you love to see more of in YA?
A while ago, my immediate response would have been ‘horror’, but as you say, things have changed, and there’s now a lot to choose from.
From a personal point of view, I would like to see more characters dealing with every day mental health issues, such as anxiety and panic attacks. As with everything, it’s important for young people to be able to read about the issues they may think affect only them.
What are your top 3 tips for someone who wants to start reviewing books (on their own site or on YouTube, for example)?
Always start by reviewing books you already own, don’t immediately start asking publishers for new books. This way you can build up your own style, and have some reviews to show publishers.
Decide for yourself what your limitations are. For example, some choose to review books they didn’t like, whilst others choose to only review what they enjoyed. This is your site, do what makes you happy.
Most importantly, have fun, and enjoy the experience!
What are your top 3 tips for authors and publishers working with reviewers, bloggers and BookTubers?
I would always suggest that publishers send out emails about new books, rather than simply posting them out. I’d much rather only receive the books I *really* want to read, instead of feeling guilty that something has arrived which I’m not that interested in.
This is probably a difficult one for publishers, because they have their own deadlines – but try not to push pressure on bloggers to review a book by a certain point. This remains a hobby for most, alongside their busy lives. I personally do much better when I pick my book by my mood, rather than feeling I *have* to read something because the review is due at a certain time.
In the same way, not everyone is going to love every book, so please accept that sometimes we’re going to not finish, and therefore not review, everything.
If I like a book, I’ll do everything I can to support it, so look for that enthusiasm, and don’t worry too much about the ones we don’t like, or don’t review by publication date.
That was fun - thank you Lou!

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Great interview - very interesting format! Enjoyed reading about the inspiration for Sleepless as I loved that book :)

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