Report by Sarah Noon
Louise Morrish Writes about forgotten women in history, using them as inspiration for her stories.
Her writing journey began when she entered her unpublished novel “Operation Moonlight” for a Penguin competition in 2018 (before the world had heard of COVID). “The Coffin Club”, as it was titled at the time, was inspired by her late gran. Louise had also read about an elderly lady who wanted to be the oldest lady in the country and had the idea of killing anyone who was older than her in order for this to happen. Louise says she didn’t tell anyone she’d entered the competition as she did not want anyone to know she’d “failed yet again.” However, in 2018, she received a phone call from Penguin, telling her she’d won. It was then that she felt able to tell her family.
It was winning this competition that spring-boarded her writing career. Louise explains to us that her first page was drafted and re-drafted several times. She says that it was the potential of the book, rather than a liking of the whole book which “… piqued their interest,”. However, as a result of winning the award, Louise secured an agent. She admits this was “terrifying,” having her work placed under such scrutiny (her editor worked with authors such as Lisa Jewell and Anthony Horowitz).
Through working with Penguin, the title of the book changed to “Operation Moonlight” and, at their advice, the focus became more about the protagonist’s covert work in the Second World War as an SOE (Special Operations Executive) agent, rather than her mission to kill people so she could become the oldest person in Britain. When the book was picked up, Louise explains, many older people were dying of COVID, so it was “not the right time.” Also, by Betty (the protagonist) murdering others, it would be hard to make her likeable.
Louise then shows us a short film entitled “School for Danger” (Imperial War Museum)
As part of her research, Louise “endured” her own parachute jump in order to “feel what it was like.” She says, “It was awful…” but needed to understand how it felt to jump out of a plane. The only way she could do this was to experience it herself. She remains adamant that she will never do this again!
Louise explains that before she won the competition, she had no idea how many people were involved in the publishing of a book. She mentions the editors, agents, marketing executives, legal people, proofreaders … the list goes on.
She finishes her talk with a comparison between writers and SOE’s agent and the skills that they need (“courage, tenacity, focus …).
Louise has previously written two novels which have “… yet to see the light of day,” but there is hope for the future. She is working on a novel which is set in the First World War. She’s also hoping to sign a second contract soon with Penguin but declines to talk about this as she “… doesn’t want to jinx it.” However, we wish Louise much luck with this.
Operation Moonlight will be published on 21st July 2022 and is Louise Morrish’s debut novel which won the 2019 Penguin Random House First Novel Competition in partnership with the Daily Mail.