Nicki’s story Turnstone was placed first in one of our short story competitions last year. You can read it on our website here, as well as in our first print anthology (still a handful of copies left to buy, before our new flash anthology is released in November).
Nicki has been a London commuter, a Brussels bureaucrat, a brass teacher and a magazine editor. She now lives near the sea in Devon, which provides more opportunities for walking, swimming and writing. When she has a bee in her bonnet about something she can appear obsessive, she says, but she tries to remember that no-one else will ever find that particular bee as fascinating as she does.
Here in our continuing author profile series, we find out a bit more about one of our winning writers.
Firstly, tell us a little bit about yourself, and the kind of stuff you like to write.
I love beauty in language, and economy of expression. I try to make every word count and if I’ve described something in two or three sentences, I’ll see if I can condense it down into one pithy, powerful phrase. I don’t think readers always need a lot of descriptive detail, just enough to spark off their own imaginations.
The sound and rhythm of language are also important to me; I often read aloud what I’ve written to see if I can improve it in that respect. And I love that moment when, as the writer, you turn the kaleidoscope so that everything shifts slightly, revealing a new pattern or perspective, a new insight. If I’ve done it well then hopefully it will be powerful and memorable for the reader as well.
How long have you been writing, and what was it that first got you started?
I’ve always written, but I’ve found good creative courses invaluable in providing stimulus, confidence and the support of other writers. Arvon’s ‘Writing for Children’ course gave me the impetus and skills to write my novel for 10-12 year-olds, Accidentally on Purple, and my winning entry in the Cranked Anvil competition was prompted by Faber Academy’s online ‘Short Story in a Weekend’ course.
What does your writing day/schedule look like?
I write best in the morning and early evening, in terms of sitting down and actually producing prose. But for me, the writing process extends well beyond that and can go on at any time – while out walking, doing the ironing, even sleeping. Sometimes the very act of moving away from the table seems to produce the word or phrase I’ve been searching for! Walking in particular seems important in allowing thoughts and ideas to develop, and I go for a long walk on most days, usually in the afternoon.
I wrote my children’s novel while working full-time but these days I’m able to devote more time to my writing, which feels an enormous luxury.
How have you found writing during lockdown times? Has your writing day changed much from how it was pre-lockdown?
Lockdown has been great for my writing. My writing routine hasn’t changed significantly, but there are significantly fewer distractions! I also feel very fortunate to have had my writing to occupy me during lockdown and, as I’ve been writing historical fiction, it’s a wonderful escape into a world where Covid doesn’t exist.
Tell us about the last thing you were working on. And also, a little about your very next project.
I recently finished a piece of historical fiction, Art at Ten Paces. This started out as a short story, but at just under 8,000 words it’s ended up somewhere between that and a novella. My next project is a historical novel, so writing this story has been the perfect apprenticeship in discovering how to weave a compelling fictional narrative around the known historical facts. There might be a short story or two to be written first though, to cleanse my creative palate before immersing myself in a new historical and geographical setting.
What successes have you had in the past? How do you feel when you see your work in print?
I’ve won a couple of prizes for my poems and been longlisted a few times for fiction; these days I’m firmly focused on fiction. Completing my children’s novel was an important personal success, even if I haven’t found an agent or publisher willing to take it on – yet! Winning the Cranked Anvil competition was a great confidence boost, and publication in the anthology an unexpected bonus. Above all, it’s helped me to trust my own instincts as a writer and, as Seamus Heaney puts it, strike my own note.
Do you have a particular place where you go to write?
My writing place at the moment is one half of the dining table. On it are my writing journal, my fountain pen and a ballpoint; a small pottery vase full of pencils; a novel, a short story collection, a poetry anthology and a catalogue from an art exhibition; my laptop and current notebook, a writing magazine and the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Sitting down at the table each day with these things around me is like re-joining a conversation with good friends. When I’m deep into a narrative, I’ll often take my laptop, notebook and pencil to another room or (lockdown permitting) to another location entirely, such as a café or library.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
I find my writing journal really helpful. It’s a private place where I discuss my writing with myself: what’s working, what isn’t working, how I feel about what I’ve written, what will help with what I want to do next. I jot down any thoughts that strike me from things I’ve read, heard on the radio, or discussed with friends. I don’t write in my journal every day but I often begin my writing there, and the transition to writing fiction is then an easy one.
I also have a collection of quotes that have inspired me. These are written out on index cards, so when I’m lacking confidence or motivation I shuffle through them till I find one that resonates. One of my favourites is from Vincent van Gogh: ‘If you hear a voice inside you say “You cannot paint”, then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.’
Finally, some quickfire answers:
Planner or pantser? I usually begin with a fair idea of a story’s overall arc and destination, but then just let things flow.
Computer, pen & paper, or typewriter? Pencil and paper for creative thinking/playing with ideas, laptop for the actual writing, back to pencil and paper if I get stuck and for knotty bits of editing. And a fountain pen for my journal.
Do you write every day? In terms of actually creating prose, no; but on most days I spend time thinking about my writing, which is part of the process.
Do you have a daily/weekly word count target? Not at the moment, but I did find a daily target of 200 words helpful when writing my children’s novel.