An interview with Emily Morris, who won two Manchester Blog Awards in 2009 for ‘My Shitty Twenties’, her blog about life as a single parent, which one of the judges described as “Moving, thoughtful, funny and wise. Sometimes heartbreaking, always uplifting.” As well as her blog, she writes short fiction and she is currently working on her first book, a young adult novel.
If you had known how many people would end up reading the blog, are there things you wouldn’t have said? And if so have you gone back and edited things out?
Yes! I think the thing people enjoy about the blog is that it’s so candid, but it isn’t as much as it used to be because my son is growing up and he didn’t ask to be written about. I also never blog about my love life because I think it would be intrusive. That’s hard sometimes because obviously it has an impact on our story, but I just think it’s best to keep it separate. I do worry it looks as if I just don’t date though! Sometimes I do go back and edit things which make me uncomfortable, and I don’t rule out removing the whole thing at some point in the future if I felt it was time.
You’ve won two Manchester Blog awards for My Shitty Twenties, have the awards and the blog helped get people interested in your fiction writing?
People liked something about my style; I think I’m good at documenting everyday life. And my blog posts have a structure to them, a beginning a middle and an end, which appeals to readers. People have approached me with different projects as a result of the blog and I’m currently writing a young adult novel after the idea was proposed to me by an agent. I really need to start sending in my short stories into literary magazines, but I’m too lazy to use snail mail! You have to buy all those envelopes and then walk to the postbox…
Did you do a lot to publicise the blog before you won the Manchester Blog Awards?
Yes, I would comment on other people’s blogs and I used Twitter. At first it was really fun seeing how many visitors I got, and I would go and check the site stats regularly, but after it got into the hundreds it stopped really meaning anything.. It got a bit scary actually. It was relatively easy to get a readership because there’s this whole network of ‘mum blogs’. Most of them I think are mothers who are bored, who are trapped in the house and want to speak to someone, or they want someone to reassure them they’re doing the right thing or that what they’re going through is normal. And I would read those sites, but for my blog I wanted it to be a showcase for my writing as well. Also I think it stood out because of the name. [The title of Emily’s blog came from the parting shot of her son’s father, who said “Enjoy your impending shitty, snotty, vomitty twenties.” (!) ]
Has the blog been good writing practice? Or is it a very different kind of writing?
It is a different kind of writing, but you know, athletes do daily stretches to keep them in shape and I think getting into the practice of observing things around you and then writing regularly, it’s got to be a good thing.
Has anyone ever complained about your use of them in a blog post?
My mother! My mum is a massive help with my son, and I don’t think I could have done any of this without her help. But there are still times when we have arguments and she gets upset with me if I blog about them. Sorry mum!
Manchester has a strong blogging culture, do you think this breeds novelists or is it stopping them from getting on with the business of ‘real writing’?
I know people have different opinions on this but for me it’s good exercise, it gets you into the habit of analysing and observing and writing. And the two aren’t mutually exclusive, you don’t have to blog every day, you could write a blog and a book. For me personally I wouldn’t have had the time to write a book when I first started the blog. But I would never post my short stories up there, I think that is a really bad idea – for one thing it means you can never enter them in competitions because they’ve already been ‘published’. But essentially I believe blogs are supplementary to ‘real writing’, and not a replacement for it.
Did you ever consider turning the blog itself into a book?
If someone approached me and suggested it, and offered me the right money then yes I would consider it. It would be very different to my fiction but at the end of the day I’m a single parent and so yes I would have consider it, but it would be with some apprehension because of the privacy issue, and also I’m so enjoying writing about my fictional characters now; it’s just so refreshing and not guilt-ridden!
The nature of the blog is very personal, and you have started to use a pseudonym for you and your son – how problematic has the issue of your privacy become?
It’s a double-edged sword really, because on the one hand this blog has changed my life for the better, and given me so many opportunities, but the question of my anonymity has been extremely difficult. People sometimes ask how my son will respond to the blog if he reads it when he’s older, which upsets me because I would never want to hurt him… I think if I could have complete control over when my son gets to read it then I could talk it over with him and I he would understand, but my fear is that a teacher or a kid in the playground will come up to him and say ‘oh your mum writes that blog’… It’s gotten more and more difficult to write as my son has got older and it frustrates me because I feel like I’m not being as frank as I used to be – as I’d like to be – because of who might read it.
So if any readers were thinking of writing their own personal blog, would you suggest total anonymity, from the start – like Belle de Jour used to have before she was ‘outed’?
Absolutely. If I had had a crystal ball and could have seen what the blog would have become I would have made it completely anonymous, I wouldn’t have even set it in Manchester. It could have been a mother-son piece from anywhere in the UK…
Are there any blogs out there that you would recommend?
God too many to name and I wouldn’t want to miss anyone out, so I would say Kate Feld at The Manchizzle is a great one-stop-shop to find out what’s going on in the Manchester blogging world.
I feel like I’ve caught Emily at the end of one phase of her life and the beginning of another, and I think we spent a lot of time talking about the issue of privacy because it’s something that’s becoming increasingly complicated as blogs are picked-out and publicised by the old media, and more and more people are becoming aware of them. But also Emily’s son is getting older and this changes things; what clearly started out as her story has become theirs, and she understandably feels unsure whether it is her story to tell anymore. When describing how she would have done things differently in terms of anonymity, Emily looks wistful, but as she says, it is too late, it’s already out there. I tell her that I really admire the blog for being honest and for talking about something many women go through and few talk about, and then I tell her that my mum thought it was very brave, which seems to have more of an impact – Emily smiles and admits that,
When I was pregnant I genuinely thought my life was over, I was terrified the whole time, and looking back I wish I had known it was all going to be okay, and I could have enjoyed it. When I get emails from women, which I frequently do, who are in the same situation as I was in and are young and pregnant and scared, they tell me that reading my blog has made them feel more hopeful. That’s what I set out to do.
Interview by Daisy Baldwin