Montana Morris is the fifth and final author in our Launch Collection. Her short story Hollywood is a powerful short story about a day in the life of a ‘troubled’ teenager. In this interview, Montana talks about her influences as a writer and her creative highs and lows.
THE JELI: Tell us about yourself (educational background, work background, where you’re from, etc.)
MONTANA MORRIS: I’m 21yrs old and a recent graduate in Creative Writing and English Literature. I spent most of my childhood in London and only moved out of the SE postcode in my teens.
My family is from the Caribbean and despite being 2nd generation it very much influences my family life; and family life is very much firmly rooted in all other aspects of life.
THE JELI: When did you start writing?
MONTANA MORRIS: I don’t know the exact age. But I would say that the first thing that I wrote that was worth the ink was a poem called ‘Trees’ when I was seven. It’s embarrassing to admit that at the time every member of my family got a laminated copy, on yellow paper and a clipart tree picture. My parents were very proud.
THE JELI: When did you begin writing this story/these poems? How did you come with the idea?
MONTANA MORRIS: I often find that I have stories that I don’t know how to tell yet so the stories and the characters have to wait for me to write them. The idea for this story waited for a long time but I finally got around to starting it last summer when I did some research on the dilution of cultural practices down the generations. It was after conducting this research and finishing the subsequent project that I finally felt as though I knew how I wanted to tell this story.
THE JELI: Where & how do you write? Do you have a particular writing spot, a writing buddy or any writing rituals?
MONTANA MORRIS: I write alone, this seems like the most poignant part of my writing process and perhaps the only part of it that doesn’t waver. I usually prefer to be alone, at home, in bed, wearing my favourite t-shirt and surrounded by a snack collection that could make Willy Wonka jealous. However, before I get to the point of rage-quitting multiple times by scrunching up bits of my notebook and condemning them to the side of the bed with the ‘healthy snacks’, I will usually procrastinate. This usually involves, cleaning, shopping, series binging or deciding to cook a four course meal at 3am.
THE JELI: How do you create your characters?
MONTANA MORRIS: I often find that by the time I come to write my story the characters have pretty much formed themselves in the recesses of my subconscious. I’m unlikely to start writing until the characters, the settings and even the style of the piece have come together in my mind. So I suppose that my characters, a lot like my stories, are the products of gross over complication and an inability to half-do, half-form or just a general aversion to half-arsing and poor planning which in my case often leads to poor execution.
THE JELI: What did you enjoy most about writing this story/these poems?
MONTANA MORRIS: I enjoyed the freedom of Hollywood’s character. The youthful voice and with a combination of knowing and unknowing that are both beyond her years gave me so much freedom. Personally Hollywood was one of my easiest characters to voice because it felt so unapologetically honest. Therefore I often revisited both the characterisation and the narrative with the hopes of creating a story that , if nothing else, was honest.
THE JELI: Apart from this story/these poems, what other things have you written recently?
MONTANA MORRIS: I’ve recently been writing quite a lot of poetry and reading at and attending spoken word and performance poetry events. However I always feel that poetry comes from a different place to my fiction writing, somewhere deeper, somewhere more me and less concerned with external expectations. So I have recently found myself unwilling to share my poetry with others as I try and identify and navigate the hidden meanings and sometimes the relevance of those meanings that are painstakingly obvious.
THE JELI: What are your ambitions as a writer?
MONTANA MORRIS: My ambitions as a writer are quite simple, to continue to write if I’m lucky. If I’m very lucky: to inspire.
THE JELI: What are your thoughts about the writing publishing scene in your country?
MONTANA MORRIS: I think that on the surface there appear to be plenty of opportunities for people that can just be ‘writers’. However, for those people who have to earn a living in order to live the dream I would definitely comment on the closed ‘feel’ of the industry. I think that the publishing business is very concerned with niches at the moment. and not the ‘average’ person who doesn’t want to amplify their differences. The industry is somewhat unforgiving for someone who just wants to write fiction, for example, without the racial implications of black or white or any other qualities that help with the process of external categorisation.
THE JELI: What are your thoughts about the writing publishing scene in your Africa and the Diaspora
MONTANA MORRIS: The ‘scene’ as it was is aptly named to reflect the insular complexities surrounding the industry. There is no objectification without classification and instead of the internal definitions of identity being taken for their meaning I often find the identification warped to fit pre-cut boxes of external categorisation. I want the works of the African Diaspora to be judged not on the colour of their authors but on the content of their pages, to borrow a sentiment from Martin Luther King, Jr.
THE JELI: Who is your favourite writer and what is your favourite piece of fiction?
MONTANA MORRIS: I don’t have a favourite writer or a favourite piece of fiction at the moment. It depends on the ‘me’ that is reading at the moment in time.
THE JELI: What are your biggest creative inspirations?
MONTANA MORRIS: My biggest creative inspiration is the power. There is so much power being able to tell a story through whatever medium in such a way that people are inclined to believe it.
THE JELI: What are your biggest creative challenges?
MONTANA MORRIS: My biggest creative challenge is the delete button. Although not directly creative it does add a sense of futility to my writing, especially once I’ve become somewhat disgruntled with a project
THE JELI: What else have you got coming up that you would like people to know about?
MONTANA MORRIS: I have just begun a story, in the loosest interpretation of the word, that can only be described as experimental. However, it is coming together to form collection of urban shorts that correlate into one coherent narrative.