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Tandem by Alex Morgan

Date: 2 April 2014

A Lancaster University graduate has fulfilled the ambition of a lifetime after seeing her first novel in print.

Alex Morgan, of Low Road Close, Cockermouth, has written Tandem, a novel set in Scotland, in a place inspired by her own childhood. It tells the story of Paula, who abandons her London life and runs away in the hope of escaping a painful loss - but finds herself involved in the tangled world of Sanders, a complicated 12-year-old who lives in the seaside village. It's a funny, quirky tale of love and friendship, which shows that life can never be simply black and white - with the attempted kidnapping of a celebrity penguin thrown in for good measure.

Alex, who is married to Trevor and has two daughters and a granddaughter, is originally from Edinburgh, but moved along the Scottish coast to North Berwick at the age of 10.

Her dream has always been to write a book. An avid reader, she loves authors as diverse as Jane Austen and Hilary Mantel. After eight years of trying, Tandem has finally been published after she won an international competition run by publisher Hookline.

Alex says: "When I was in the first year of primary school, my teacher, Mrs Brown, told my mother I was going to be a writer. The idea stuck and, apart from a short time thinking I might like to be a fashion designer, it was all I ever wanted to do. I can remember sitting at the dining table in our flat, aged about eight, writing stories with a set of coloured biros. I had a Ladybird Book about Florence Nightingale so she was the heroine of everything I wrote. Sadly, those early efforts haven't survived.

"I just wanted to be a novelist - to tell stories and share them with others. For years, though, I believed I didn't have the imagination to write novels - but at the same time, it was all I wanted to do. It was very dispiriting, so I pushed the idea of writing fiction to the back of my mind and got on with a career in journalism."

Alex has had two parallel careers, spending 30 years as a journalist, including roles ranging from running the features desk of a daily paper to sports sub-editing on the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times. For the past eight years, she has also worked for the National Trust at Wordsworth House and Garden in Cockermouth, the poet William Wordsworth's childhood home, where she is now Interpretation and Communications Manager.

Alex's first attempts as a novelist began 16 years ago. "My first two manuscripts were awful," she says, "but they taught me a lot - as did studying for a Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University. I firmly believe the only way to learn to write a novel is to write one, realise it's dreadful, throw it away and start again.

"The idea for Tandem didn't come from any one place. I just wanted to write something I would enjoy myself. When I'm reading a book, I have to care about the characters, to really want things to work out for them, and for the writer to have a very light touch - to write clearly and simply without drawing attention to themselves. That's something I have tried to do with Tandem.

"I imagine all writers put something personal into a book - consciously or not. For me, there was the idea of travelling into the unknown with your life in boxes in the back of a van -something that happened to my husband and me when we first set up home together. And I've always been very taken with the bonkers idea that Edinburgh Zoo has a celebrity penguin called Sir Nils Olav - who also features in the book.

"I used the names of several old friends too, including a couple called Kyoko and Felice, who were forced apart by circumstances in real life - in Tandem, they get the happy ending I feel they deserved. I'm beginning to suspect that, for me, part of the appeal of being a novelist is that it gives you the power to fix things for your characters."

Tandem has gone through countless drafts and been sent out about 30 times to agents, publishers and competitions. Alex adds: "I've had some deafening silences, some standard one-line rejections and some lovely, encouraging feedback. You have got to accept that your work can always be improved. I was never tempted to self publish. Having a publisher say that what I'd done was good enough, as Hookline has, was an essential part of the process.

"I never expected to win the Hookline competition and I cried when I heard. The competition is unique in that the winner is chosen by readers' groups and that makes it particularly special. My book was selected for publication by real readers."

Alex has already started work on her second novel, which combines two of her loves - journalism and historic houses. "I'm not tempted to write a sequel to Tandem," she says. "Paula and Sanders are fine for now, just getting on with their lives. But it might be nice to return to them in a few years to see what they're up to."

 

Further information

Associated departments and research centres: English and Creative Writing

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