1950s Communist Noir – an Interview with Laurence McMorrow

British crime fiction writer Laurence McMorrow recently published The Underground with Pen Press. The short novel iset in 1950s New York, a time of searing anxiety given the Cold War, the HUAC hearings in Washington, and efforts in New York City government to weed out and fire anyone associated with the Communist Party. The novel’s principle character, Maura Connolly, is Irish, a Communist, and living in New York.

Mr. McMorrow took questions from Noir Nation‘s  Eddie Vega about his life as a writer and his views about the writing craft.

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Noir Nation: At what point did you know you were a writer? What was the process of discovery like?

McMorrow:  There was no moment when I became aware of being a writer.  I loved writing when I was at school.  Essays were the only thing I enjoyed.  I continued writing stories for myself after I finished with college.  In a way, I wrote selfishly.  When I aired my first manuscripts to publishers, I was taken aback by their criticisms.  A book on plotting by Orson Scott Card helped me to tighten and hone in my material.

Noir Nation: Why crime fiction? Why not write about travel or continental cuisine?

McMorrow: I would consider crime fiction a more important arena for a writer.  To eat and travel are means to an end.  I cannot see them as ends in themselves.

Noir Nation:  Recently, the term noir has been used very broadly. Here in the States it has become like the word martini, which many use for any drink served in a cocktail glass. Pour beer in one and it becomes a beer martini. At some point the word becomes useless. In your view, what are the elements that distinguish crime noir from other forms of crime fiction?

McMorrow: The term noir, like the term post modern, conjures up an amorphous mass of material.  You may not be able to define it but you sense it.  I see it as essentially driven by existentialism.  The protagonists are isolated.  They are not in control — they are buffeted by events.  They are out of sync not just with society but with the government.

Noir Nation: Tell us about your most recent book, The Underground.

McMorrow: The protagonist in my novel is an Irish girl named Mary Connolly who is desperately seeking to navigate into the mainstream of life but her past and involvement in left-wing politics drives her literally underground and hence the title.

Noir Nation: What was your writing process like?

McMorrow: I enjoy writing.  The first draft of any work is difficult as it is all uphill.  I love the revision process, as you can sit back and tweak the words and sentences without having to work too hard.

Noir Nation:  Do you socialize with other crime writers? If so, does it help your creativity? Or hinder it?

McMorrow: I don’t.  Ultimately writing is a solitary activity and there are some great books that will assist you.  Socialising with writers is enjoyable but I wouldn’t say helpful.

Noir Nation:  What’s the market like for crime fiction in the UK?

McMorrow: Crime fiction is very popular over here.

Noir Nation: Do you use online social media to create awareness of your work? If so, which platforms do you think work best?

McMorrow: I am not an expert here.  Obviously Amazon is a great platform.  I leave it to my Publisher.

Noir Nation:  Tell us about your literary influences.

McMorrow: I enjoy the Irish writer, Brian Moore.  He tackled the problem of alienation by concentrating on its antidote — religion.

Noir Nation:  What is the most important element in fiction?

McMorrow: The milieu, plotting, characterisation and allegory are all obviously important, but I think that we must never stray from the ancient art of storytelling. Plotting may be primitive but without it, your audience is lost.

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