Bowie gave me permission to do what I had wanted to do – to be experimental
Today I’m thrilled to have my first ever author interview on the blog with the fantastic Freya Morris
Her new book, This is (not about) David Bowie has been called ‘as inimitable and immersive as Bowie himself’
Here we chat about writing (of course) but also wild camping, personal revelations and…Jedward
G: First let’s tackle that intriguing title. I’m interested about how you feel writing about a real person – especially a famous one.
F: Have you ever read Zadie Smith’s story ‘Escape from New York’? It’s a fictional story based on true events about Michael Jackson, Marlon Brando, and Elizabeth Taylor. I never go as far as she does. But the idea and concept of our relationship to well-known figures fascinated me. So I never saw it as writing about David Bowie – the person. I was more interested in how the world saw David Bowie and owned him, and why. How we see famous people, and who they really are, to me, are separate things. He became bigger than a person. He became an idea, a feeling.
I guess that’s why I named it ‘This is (not about) David Bowie’. It’s more about us, than it ever will be about a man who called himself David Bowie. His real name was actually David Jones. My collection is structured and headlined with quotes from David Bowie, about his struggle with his identity/persona in his art and trying to be something ‘superhuman’. That is what at heart my collection is all about.
G: Do you need to be a Bowie fan to enjoy the collection? (Side note, I prefer the Jedward / Vanilla Ice version of Under Pressure – do you want to abandon the interview now? 😆)
F: Haha – really? Jedward? JEDWARD? Ahem. 😁 That’s what I love about art – we can all love what the hell we want! Whatever shakes your tree. Well Queen and Bowie still wrote the song.
That’s where I connect the most with Bowie – his lyrics, and his topics, and his passions. I wanted to bring two things together to inspire one another; David Bowie’s music and art inspired my fiction. But I had to take a lot out. There’s a story called ‘The last thing my father sang to me’ that everyone seems to be telling me is a favourite of theirs. The story started out with the lyrics of ‘Oh… you pretty things’ all the way through, and it worked so well it made me want to burst. But then the legal implications came up when going to print. It’s near impossible to find out who owns the copyright to those song lyrics and so I gave up.
So I guess my answer is… Hell no! You don’t have to be a fan. Not even a little bit. I guess we’re used to famous people taking centre stage all the time. But Bowie is an agent in each story, he’s a side line character in people’s lives. He is not THE story. A lot of what Bowie gave to people was permission. He gave people more than a song. Bowie became more than a person. He became an idea. And that’s what I wanted to explore in my fiction. He gave me permission too, permission to go wherever my heart would take me.
G: Were you thinking about a particular audience or reader when you embarked on this project, or did you just write the book you wanted to?
F: Both. I can’t help but think in terms of audience. I need a reason to write. I grew up in an old mining town on the outskirts of Bristol where my mum grew up. People didn’t really read. And if they did, it tended to be non-fiction. And so I’ve been asking myself a lot of big questions about fiction and why we should bother. Why should people read? How can you do that? And I think the key is working across subjects.
I had wanted to write a collection for a long time, but I wanted each story to be connected somehow. Every concept sparked a few story ideas, but not many. But the Bowie Idea was like hitting oil. It just kept spouting out stories and possibilities. Even now, I have story ideas I never got around to writing for it. That’s when I knew I had hit the sweet spot – when everything came together. It was THE idea I had been waiting for. And I was excited. You know when something is right when you get that feeling – the excited, can’t-wait-to-do-this feeling, the muse in the room. Bowie gave me permission to do what I had wanted to do – to be experimental. And anyone who would pick up my book, I knew that Bowie’s name was a sort of promise to them about what was inside. A promise of that idea: to break out of the box.
G: You’ve experienced some big changes in your personal life during the writing of this book. Did the stress of that ever make you feel like giving up or did it spur you on more?
F: The month after I got THE BIG IDEA, after I stayed up in bed all night to scribble the fountain of ideas that were busting out, I decided to break-up from a twelve year relationship that had been pretty toxic. I began the year with a series of revelations, a series of realisations, and embarked on a journey to save myself. That’s why there’s such a heavy theme of heroes in the collection, of saving people. Friends and family gave me homes, I had to go full time at work, and with the emotional turmoil of divorce, lost time, and house-moving and renovating, I’m not entirely sure how I managed to write. It helped that it was short fiction. I also went on a two week residency in Wales called Stiwdio Maelor. It never occurred to me to give up. I was used to stress. I was used to misery. I was used to drama. What I’m not used to is happy endings – seeing it published? Now that’s a new journey I’m on and its mind blowing.
G: You’re a very outdoorsy person, super fit and a big traveller. Does that make it difficult to sit down and write at a desk or is it a welcome break from all the fresh air and exercise?
F: Never, in all my life, have I ever been described as super fit. So it’s super weird when people describe me as an outdoors person (especially as I’ve been dealing with a coccyx injury all year). I was always the not-so-sporty kid, huffing and puffing at the back. But there came a point a few years ago when I realised I needed adventures. I used to get depression a lot, and part of that was because I need a lot more to keep me feeling alive than I even realised, or had even discovered at that point.
It wasn’t really something women were expected to do. And I had a lot of fights when I started wild camping. But I tell my Mum it’s her fault really. She named me after an explorer (and travel writer) called Freya Stark, and it was my Mum who always put all our money into family holidays. I’m always amazed at how she managed it. But I learnt a lot of lessons on how to do things cheaply – and camping, cycling, canoeing, hiking are all much cheaper ways to see the world. I’m also lucky that I love it too.
The lessons I learn from going on my trips (solo or adventure) bleed over into my writing-life. It always pays to get out of my comfort zone. When I’m getting out into the wild, I feel refreshed and excited again. It fills me up with a joy and an energy that helps me sit down to write. I feel brave. I get exciting ideas, connections. Although, when the weather is too good – I do struggle to stay in to write. It’s a constant battle trying to find the balance.
G: What’s next in your writing plans? Are there more books to come?
F: I could do a series of ‘This is (not about) XYZ’, and I’m considering it, along with writing a novel called Burning down the house. My problem is, there’s so much I want to do… But it’s also what makes life so exciting. The plan is to chase wherever that this-is-so-exciting feeling goes, and if people want to come along for the ride, even better.
You can find out more about Freya and her work, and buy the book, here: