A Dream Come True at 72 – Maris Morton on A Darker Music

Maris Morton has always loved to write but has never had a book published. At the age of 72 she will finally see her name in bookstores when her winning entry to the CAL Scribe Fiction Prize, A Darker Music, hits the shelves at the end of this month.

While there is no doubt Maris is delighted to see her work in print, Scribe believes that it’s not just the older writers that benefit from the prize; it’s good for readers too. There are many examples of late bloomers when it comes to writing.  Scribe’s Fiction Acquisitions Editor, Aviva Tuffield, says, ‘It seems that many novelists, especially women, only find the time and have acquired the life experience to write novels later in life.’ Maris agrees; A Darker Music was a long time in gestation and is her third attempt at a novel. ‘A lot of people knew I was trying to write a book, it’s been a twelve-year effort, so I’m not an overnight success, far from it!’

A Darker Music is a mystery novel set on a merino stud in rural Western Australia, and draws on Maris’s own experiences as a shearer’s cook. ”It is essentially a crime novel,” she says, ”but it’s not a conventional police procedural – they’ve been done to death. I am interested in the way characters interact, how the situation deteriorates and violence is done.”

I caught up with Maris to ask her a few questions about A Darker Music, writing and what advice she has for aspiring authors.

What was it about this story that made you want to tell it?

A long time ago I met a farmer’s wife who told me she used to be a violinist, until her instrument was accidentally smashed. This started me thinking about what it must be like to live in an isolated place, and lose something that is precious, with no hope of ever getting it back; and then, to make matters worse, to see the same thing shaping up to happen to another young woman. The plot took a long time to germinate, but when it did it grew into something quite powerful.

You’ve worked as an English teacher, shearers’ cook, shed hand, artist, art restorer and director of an art gallery. Do you think all these experiences took away time or added something to your writing?

Have had such a varied work history has given me a rich store of experiences, people and places to draw on for my stories. For example, in A Darker Music I was able to use my experience as a shearers’ cook.

Having always been an avid reader, I’d always thought that writing a book would be a fine thing, but somehow I never had enough confidence to get started. It’s only through my various jobs that I’ve accumulated the belief in myself, and my skills, to tackle the challenge. No experience, however painful it may seem at the time, is ever wasted.

How did your family react when they heard?

My family’s reaction was surprise! Although they knew that I was busily writing I don’t think any of them expected me to have any real success. Only one of them has even read my work, and even she hasn’t read A Darker Music.

A Darker Music is your first book. Will you be resting on your laurels or do you have more planned?

Although A Darker Music is the first of my books to be published, I have another four almost ready, plus another two started. Most of them feature the character Mary Lanyon, and have an element of crime or mystery; some of them include murder. I wrote the first draft of the first book (Portrait of the Artist as a Dead Man) in 1997.

Finally, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

For aspiring writers: Don’t give up! You’ll get many rejections but you must develop a thick hide, and learn to profit from criticism.

Gather as much experience as you can, keeping a journal if you don’t trust your memory.

Organise your research material so that you can find what you want when you want it.

Don’t ever let yourself think that near enough is good enough, it doesn’t matter if you get things wrong. Somebody will always spot mistakes, and your credibility will be gone.

And if you’re not in love with writing, and with your characters, forget it.

The CAL Scribe Fiction Prize is for an unpublished manuscript by an Australian writer aged 35 and over. The winner receives $15,000 and a book contract from Scribe. This year’s competition has closed, so if you are a budding writer who has lost the bloom of youth, you have lots of time to get cracking on your entry for next year.

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Sadhbh Warren

Sadhbh Warren is a freelance writer and proud booklover. Her name is pronounced Sive - like five – an Irish name, easier to say than spell! She lives in Sydney, writing travel and humour articles, and is always on the lookout for a great new book.