Blog tour: Saving Missy

Welcome to the blog tour for Saving Missy by Beth Morrey! I can’t wait for you all to meet Missy so, without further ado, follow me behind the scenes with the author…

Hi Beth! First of all, I would like to congratulate you on the publication of Saving Missy! Can you please briefly tell us what it is about?

A: Thank you! Saving Missy is about a very prickly, diffident and desperately lonely old woman whose life takes an unexpected turn when she has a panic attack in her local park. Two women and a dog help her build a better life full of friendship and opportunity – but only if she can put her past behind her. It’s a story about love in all its flawed, rich and diverse forms – friendship, motherhood, marriage, falling in love and self-acceptance.

Did you have the plot entirely figured out when you started writing the book or did it take an unexpected turn as the characters grew on the page?

A: I had a few crucial things worked out - two initial scenes: the opening chapter in the park, and the party scene set in 1956. Then I had a vague idea of a narrative arc where a lonely person built a circle of friendship, but then that circle was threatened. I let the rest evolve organically, and really relished that process, as surprising things happened, but they felt authentic because I was letting my characters tug me along. Angela, for example, marched to the beat of her own drum. I always knew two things that would happen at the end, but wasn’t quite sure how I would get there. My characters showed me the way.

Was Saving Missy your working title? Either way, how did you choose it?

A: My original title was Why Keep a Dog. I didn’t get very far with my submissions, initially, so I re-thought it, and came up with The Love Story of Missy Carmichael. When I met my agent, she said that Why Keep a Dog sounded like a pet-owner’s manual, and she was quite right! The final title was a mutual decision with my publisher, and I think it was the right one. Titles are incredibly important - Clare Pooley (who wrote the wonderful Authenticity Project) says that a good title needs a ‘sticky word’ that people will remember when they go into bookshops. I guess my sticky word is Missy.

If this novel was going to be turned into a film, who would you cast in the role of Missy?

A: I’d love to pretend that this has never occurred to me, but of course I think about it all the time! The thing is, having worked in telly, it would depend on budget and availability… So I’d put together a shortlist of favourites: Firstly, Julie Andrews. I know that’s crazy, but wouldn’t she be amazing…?! She would bring the formidability of Mary Poppins and the vulnerability of Maria von Trapp. Secondly, Juliet Stevenson. She’s a bit too young, but I’m assuming the production team could do clever things with make-up. In the book, Missy mentions being a fan of the film Truly Madly Deeply, so it would make sense to cast its star as Missy. Finally, I really love the actress Geraldine James. She did wonderful work as Marilla (a similarly frosty figure) in Netflix’s Anne with an E, so I think she’d do a great job.

Without giving too much away, can you tell us about a scene in the book that you love or that was particularly difficult to write?

A: When I was editing the book with my agent before submission, we were nearly ready to go, but the last thing she asked me to do was write a happy flashback chapter at a certain point in the book. She was really specific, and as soon as she asked me, an idea popped into my head, which became Chapter 17 of the book, when Missy remembers her mother teaching her to breastfeed. It’s a very gentle, tender scene, and I tapped it out with one hand while the other held onto my toddler son’s as he watched television. I remember it particularly fondly.

Is there anything that didn’t make it into the final version of the book?

A: There were a few deleted scenes. One that springs to mind is an episode where Bobby goes missing around Bonfire Night, and everyone goes looking for her. When she finally returns home, Missy realises how much she loves her. Also, I deleted the original final chapter because my dad said it was unnecessary. It was a scene where Missy tells a bedtime story to Otis and her grandson Arthur, and although it was quite sweet, he was right – it didn’t need to be there. Kill your darlings, as they say…

If you are already working on your next writing project, would you mind giving us a little anticipation of what we are to expect?

A: I am SO hard at work on Book 2, and it’s such a different experience. I wrote Saving Missy as a hobby, whereas now I have various publishers, editors, and deadlines, and feel that sense of pressure and expectation. I want to write a book that offers a similar experience to Saving Missy, but also gives you something new. Without giving too much away, it’s the story of a single mother who has many talents, but whose life didn’t turn out the way she planned – her ambitions were thwarted. The book is about her getting back on track, and working out what that track should be. It’s about her relationship with her daughter, and her father, and the things in her past that hold her back. While it’s not a sequel to Saving Missy, the worlds are linked, and you might catch a glimpse of some old friends. With Missy, I wanted to write a book that makes people cry in a happy way; with my second book, I’d like them to punch the air.

What are you reading at the moment?

A: Well, nothing, currently, because I’m editing Book 2 and get really paranoid that I’m going to copy the writing style of whatever book I’m reading! Recently, I read Katherine Heiny’s new book, Early Morning Riser, and Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell. If I was CAPABLE of copying either of them, I’d be very pleased! Both wonderful writers. After I finish my edit, I’ve got People Like Us, by Louise Fein lined up, along with a fantastic pile of proofs I can’t wait to get stuck into.

Due to the popularity of social networking websites, interacting with readers – be it via Twitter, Facebook Instagram etc. – is becoming increasingly important. How do you cope with these new demands on authors and do you think that they somehow disrupt your writing schedule?

A: Someone once said to me that it’s quite strange that a writer’s life is pretty solitary, and suits introverts, but then you’re also expected to go on tours, give speeches, and engage with people like a full-on extrovert. It’s a peculiar combination of skills. I like both aspects of the job, because it means a life of variety that keeps things unexpected and stops you stagnating. The crucial thing is getting the timing right, so that when you need to write you have the time to do so. I try to have quite intense periods of writing, almost in a frenzy, and then emerge for a bit of fresh air and real-world action. I think both those things – the writing, and the real world – help keep me sane.

What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring writers?

A: Firstly, WRITE. Secondly, READ. And thirdly, SAY THANK YOU. There are so many helpful and supportive people in the book world – you have to take the time to appreciate them, and also pass on the good will, joy and love however you can. That’s what keeps us all going.

Thank you for your time!

A: THANK YOU. What lovely, insightful questions.

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