AKA Morag Macrae
An interview with Morag Caunt AKA Morag Macrae
By Nicky Schmidt
It was nearly two years ago that I interviewed Morag Caunt (now published as Morag Macrae) for Words & Pictures. In the interview, More Than Words on a Page, Morag shared her passion for working with young people from difficult backgrounds.
So determined has Morag been to help young people that since the interview she attended an Arvon course with Melvin Burgess and Malorie Blackman and, following on editorial advice from the Society of Editors and Proof Readers, and ongoing support from Melvin, she self-published her short stories, The Zone, in March this year. Morag’s continued commitment to help others through her stories shines - and serves as an example to us all. As Melvin Burgess has said, despite the sad truth that most book sales are tiny, Morag’s stories are able to reach places other books don’t reach. And that is something marvellous. When Morag contacted me and asked if we could do a follow up interview, I was only too happy to oblige so we could learn more of this remarkable woman’s writing journey.
Morag, welcome back to Words & Pictures! First of all, huge congratulations on the publication of The Zone! You’ve had a really busy year and a half, and a successful one at that. What have been the greatest highlights for you in the past 18 months?
My greatest highlights have been self-publishing THE ZONE in March this year and taking part in two drama projects using my book.
|The Zone by Morag Macrae|
You did the Arvon course with Melvin Burgess and Malorie Blackman, how did you find that helped you and what did you learn?
They gave me courage and faith in myself to self-publish my book, and I learned so much from them about writing for Young Adults.
You mentioned the ongoing support that Melvin Burgess has given you – what has that meant to you and how do you feel it has helped?
I have been very fortunate that Melvin has continued to take an interest in my writing, and has been very supportive. He even visited First Floor, my youth drama group, with me and did an impromptu workshop with the young writers and was very impressed with the work they do with young people.
You chose to self-publish The Zone and were wise enough to enlist a professional editor. How did you find the process of working with an editor, and what key things did you learn?
I found a perfect editor for THE ZONE through the Society for Editors and Proof Readers (SfEP), Pat Alderman, an ex-SCWBI member who edits short stories and Young Adults. Pat immediately realized what I wanted to achieve with my book and edited it to a much higher standard, making it more appealing to the readers I wanted to reach - troubled teenagers and drama groups.
The undertaking to self-publish can be a daunting one – how did you find the process, and is there anything you can share from which other writers might learn?
Look carefully for the right self-publisher to suit you, there are plenty around. It has been technically hard for me, as my IT skills are poor, but I have been very lucky to get help from so many of my SCWBI mates - in exchange for cake! Because my book is of an unusual genre and not the usual target audience, the decision to self-publish has been right for me, and extremely rewarding. At last year’s SCWBI conference, I spoke to a publisher who agreed with my decision and confirmed, sadly, that main stream publishers are simply not interested in short stories.
They say one of the greatest challenges when self-publishing is the marketing – how are you managing with that?
The majority of books I have sold are mainly through my own efforts of researching and networking. I’d say you have to be prepared for a lot of hard work - but the reward is immense. One point I would advise: be firm about asking for money. I am not, and tend to give my books out like sweeties, though partly that’s because of the many charities I deal with.
How have you found the process of getting the book into secondary schools and drama groups – has it been easy or challenging – and what have been your greatest lessons?
My biggest challenge has been trying to get Secondary Schools interested in my book, even though it is written in an easy format to encourage reluctant readers. I also personally visit every drama group that I contact because personal referral is so important.
When you take the stories into a classroom what are you hoping to achieve – other than sales?
During the few school visits that I have made my biggest pleasure, I guess like any author, is to watch the concentration and enjoyment on the faces of the pupils. Money does not come into it.
|Morag and the NE SCBWI Group|
You have undertaken two drama projects using The Zone, one in one of HM Institutions and another a Mental Health Creative Arts Group. How did you come to do this and can you share your motivation and experiences in doing this, as well as the benefits to the people involved?
This summer I was contacted, via Linked In, by an amazing prison officer who works for the family centre, who asked me to volunteer with a pilot prison project. We used drama, games and reading (stories from my book) to run a five-morning workshop with a small number of prisoners and their teenage children. The aim was to increase bonding, communication and reading skills. The outcomes were amazing, and all involved would like to take part in further projects. Each participant was given a copy of THE ZONE. A week later, I took part in a cabaret written and performed by a local Mental Health Creative Arts Group - yes I had to act as well as recite my poem from THE ZONE! We also used the clip of my book trailer, very kindly filmed for me by Ernie Wood, another amazing volunteer.
What do you see as your greatest reward in doing what you are with The Zone?
As Melvin said, to reach people who normally don’t get an opportunity to read or take part in drama.
You have said that you see what you are doing as only as the beginning – how would you like to see what you offer extended? What is your dream for The Zone?
I hope to do further work with prisoners - especially young offenders - and have started to make contacts.
Many thanks to Morag for agreeing to be put through another of my interviews! I wish you much success with your endeavours. I sincerely hope those of you reading this will support Morag in what she does because she is a truly exceptional, selfless and inspirational soul, and there are so many young people who can benefit from the work she does through the stories she tells.
The Zone has been reviewed by SBWI’s K M Lockwood on Serendipity Reviews.
Morag has also been interviewed by SCBWI author Christina Banach on Goodreads.
The Zone can be bought at Amazon and Completely Novel.
The book-trailer for The Zone can be watched on YouTube.