Some weeks ago I introduced you to my lovely writer friend, Morag Caunt (AKA Morag Macrae) whose collection of short stories, The Zone, was published this year. Today I'm delighted to welcome this kind, unassuming and inspirational woman back to the blog to chat about her work with young people, and, of course, let us know a little more about her book.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog, Morag and congratulations again on the publication of The Zone.
Before I ask you about your book could you tell the readers a little about yourself?
I am now retired, with two beautiful grandchildren aged 6 and 4, with whom I am very privileged to spend a lot of time. They have a gorgeous new puppy and I have a cat. I am always busy and love baking, Nordic walking and Pilates, and I enjoy fundraising and belong to SCWBI and a local writing group. I write short stories for teenage reluctant readers, and to help them work through some of the problems that young people encounter in their daily lives such as bullying, abuse, self-harming and alcohol.
You had a long and successful career working with children. What did that entail?
Throughout my career, I have always worked with children and young people, mainly as a paediatric community nurse and then latterly, before my retirement, as a family support worker.
What inspired you to produce a book of short stories as opposed to a novel?
I have met so many young people who never had the desire to, nor been given the encouragement or support to, learn to read. My goal is to reach one young person and get them to read one page of my book and then want to read on (The Zone's format is easy reading for the reluctant reader). Ever since I started writing nearly five years ago, I have always written short stories and have no desire to write a novel. Most of my stories are taken from my own life and career.
Can you tell us a little about the short stories in the collection?
The Zone (see video below) is a collection of nine short stories about teenage drama and teenage lives, each one with a different theme and character, but all the characters attend a youth drama group, The Zone, where they can feel safe and be themselves. The stories include: Zac runs away from home to escape his mother's abusive partner; Lucas is challenged to jump off a cliff; and Josh learns that his girlfriend is seriously ill. The book is soon to be reviewed by a year 10 group from a local school, and KM Lockwood of Serendipity Reviews has already reviewed it. You can see what she thinks of it here.
Do you have a favourite story in the book? If so, why?
My favourite story has to be The Black Headscarf, because I have nursed many courageous young people who always made the most of their short lives. Interestingly I wrote this story long before The Fault in Our Stars was published.
You’ve taken The Zone into schools? How did you feel the very first time you stepped into the classroom? How did you feel after the event?
My first school visit was to Waid Academy in Anstruther, on the East Neuk of Fife. I chose to go there as one of my stories The Sea Tunnel is based there. I was very nervous beforehand, but the staff were very welcoming, and the pupils very attentive, so I came out on a real high. I quite like drama, so it was fun to read to the pupils.
I believe that you went on an Arvon course some time back. What impact did this have upon your writing?
I have been very fortunate to attend two Arvon courses with amazing tutors. At my first course, I was given two invaluable pieces of advice: to put my short stories into a collection with a theme, and to volunteer with young people in some form of group. Shortly afterwards I started to volunteer with an amazing group of young people who attend the First Floor arts group at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds. The idea for a collection around a drama group was born, and I volunteered for two years, where they listened, acted out and filmed and uploaded on to YouTube. You can see the results of their efforts here:
What advice could you someone who wants to write short stories?
I am afraid I just write what comes into my head so maybe I’m not a good example to other new writers!
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently involved with a mental health group, who are using some of my stories to perform a cabaret. I’m also awaiting a possible project which will be to work with prisoners and their teenage children using drama. This will be very exciting.
Now for some random questions:
If you could give your fifteen-year-old self one piece of advice what would it be?
That the world is full of opportunities grab them all; I certainly have tried to.
Write for adults or write for children? Why?
I just like writing for young people, perhaps it’s because I can help them avoid making the mistakes like I did.
Spaghetti or risotto?
Holiday at home or abroad?
I love to holiday in Scotland and abroad, especially in Cape Town.
Your greatest pleasure?
Spending time with my grandchildren. I also love reading books.
Your pet hate?
I guess my pet hate is people who put on airs and graces, and who think they are superior to everyone else.
When you were a child what did you want to be when you grew up?
From the age of twelve I always wanted to be a paediatric nurse.
Jam or honey?
I love so many but possibly my favourite is Junk by Melvin Burgess because when I first read it I loved all the characters and it made me realise that you can write gritty stories for teenagers. He has always been my role model and I want to write the kind of books he does in order to reach out to young people.
Lark or an owl?
These days, a lark, but I do like an occasional lie in.
Kindle or paperback?
I prefer to read real books to Kindle, although I have one.
Chocolate or crisps?
Thank you for stopping by, Morag. It has been a real pleasure featuring you on the blog. I wish you lots of success with The Zone and hope it reaches lots of young people.