Hello, Nicola, and congratulations on being our Writer Of The Week!
What inspired you to write “Like Father, Like Daughter” that’s appearing in this week’s issue?
I was taking a stroll through my favourite park in Bristol, where I live, and I saw a dad at the base of a tree, looking up at his child, who was climbing to the top. I’m a magpie for things that are “ordinary but special”, since I think that’s the secret sauce of a successful Friend story. That lovely image of tree climbing fitted the bill.
For me, inspiration strikes when two or three different ideas collide. (I actually stole this concept from Stephen King’s “On Writing”, which is a must-read.) With that in mind, I’d also been thinking of writing a story about foster care.
I volunteer as a mentor to a teenager who’s in long-term foster care, making it something that’s close to my heart. There are a lot of negative images attached to the foster care system, so I was keen to write a positive portrayal of the big-hearted people who choose to foster.
So, to sum up, tree climbing + foster care = inspiration!
How long have you been writing fiction?
I can’t remember ever not writing fiction. I unearthed one of my early works of genius recently, which was a story about a monster who goes to the dentist. (I’d both written and illustrated it, although these days I’d much rather leave the illustration part to the talented folks at the “Friend”.)
I’ve always been a scribbler, but I started writing “seriously” about 12 years ago. After that followed many unfinished novels, mediocre short stories, and a whole heap of rejection. On the bright side, I learned a lot — and the desire to write never went away.
It was only a couple of years ago that I started getting professional interest in my fiction, so other writers should take heart. Keep hacking away at it and, one day, someone will take notice. You may even be Writer Of The Week!
Serials or short stories? Which do you prefer?
I love a perfectly formed short story; a whole character journey packed into a few pages. It’s a fun challenge as a writer. And, as a reader, I always enjoy a story than can be read, start to finish, in a coffee break.
What do you find the hardest part about writing a short story? Having the idea, getting the characters just right . . .?
Creating compelling characters is an uphill struggle for me. A great character breathes life into a story. I’ve found that if the main character’s flat, the story will be, too.
With that in mind, I’ve started a new process over the past year. Once I have an idea for a story, instead of diving straight in, I spend a couple of hours writing notes about how my main characters spend their days, their backstory, and what they want from life.
It makes the characters feel more solid when I come to write the story. It’s also a great way of unearthing bits and pieces of organic conflict that I can weave into the narrative.
Notebook and pencil or laptop? Kitchen table or study? Blank wall or inspiring view?
A big part of the reason I bought my flat is because there’s a tree outside the living room window. As I was viewing the flat, I thought: Ooh, I could put my desk there and have a lovely view as I’m writing. Of course, at the moment, the branches are bare, so the view is straight into my neighbours’ windows!
I always write at my computer, which is lacking the romantic mystique that we writers all crave, but I find it’s the quickest way of getting the words down. I have a nice big computer screen and an ergonomic keyboard — no hunching over the laptop for me!
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