Nicola Skinner was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where she spent an idyllic early childhood mostly watching some very dramatic telenovelas, reading comics and going to the beach. When she was nine, she swapped all of that for a few strict British boarding schools, which weren’t nearly as fun. Now her debut novel, Bloom has hit the shelves we couldn’t wait to invite her to My Book Corner…
Tell us about you in 25 words or less.
How about: a bit scruffy, with a laugh like Muttley from Wacky Races.
Your debut novel, Bloom, has been published this year by HarperCollins. Can you tell us a little bit about how it came to be?
They say all journalists have a ‘nose’ – a sort of twitchy alertness that happens when you stumble across the beginnings of a story. The moment my daughter blew a dandelion at my head, and I joked about them sprouting from my scalp, my ex-journalist nose began to twitch and I felt I had something interesting to write about. But it wasn’t straightforward. My first draft was too short, at 22,000 words. It also wasn’t very good. Yet on my third re-draft, a sad intriguing subplot started to emerge and that was when Bloom took shape properly.
Ok, here’s a challenge… can you sum up your book in five words? [runs and hides!]
The Secret Garden, but weirder.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I lie in bed thinking about how good a cup of tea would be. Once I’ve worked up enough mental energy, I’ll make it, and if I have enough time I drink it in bed. Bliss. Okay that’s enough about tea. If I’m feeling really virtuous, I’ll walk the dog first thing, which is lovely in the winter, when the sun is just rising and the ground is all frosty under my feet. Then it’s breakfast and packed lunches and the school run, and then I go to my desk. If it’s warm I’ll sit in the garden shed, in the winter I tend to alternate between the sofa, bed, desk, or somewhere new entirely just for a change of scene, otherwise I can get cabin fever. I alternate between research, book writing, or freelance work. At some point I force myself to do yoga because I love it once I start and it’s so good for my back (and head.) Then I pick up our daughter from school and make dinner. In the evening I’m usually at home, or occasionally at the cinema, swimming pool, or pub.
What makes you happy?
The fact that I’m alive, healthy, have amazing people in my life, and am doing what I love. I’m really lucky. If all else fails, dancing makes me happy. I really wish nightclubs were open during the day, so you could dance to some banging tunes for an hour or two before heading back to work.
What’s on your TBR pile at the moment?
‘The Time of Green Magic’ by Hilary McKay, ‘The Somerset Tsunami’ by Emma Carroll, ‘Educated’ by Tara Westover, ‘The Science of Story Telling’ by Will Storr, ‘Deeplight’ by Frances Hardinge, ‘The Mercies’ by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, ‘The Trauma Cleaner’ by Sarah Krasnostein, ‘The Institute’ by Stephen King, and at some point I aim to read everything written by Jess Kidd and Sarah Moss. Oh and whatever Max Porter writes next.
What’s your worst habit?
Depends on the hour.
Your favourite word(s)?
I really like slithery. Also, when said by someone else, the words ‘Shall I make dinner?’ are profoundly beautiful.
What are your top tips for budding writers?
1. Read as much as you can, as often as you can. Read so much that it looks weird to other people.
2. Start a diary and write in it often, as honestly as you dare. It gives you the discipline of writing and helps your voice evolve.
3. Seek out quietness in your life. When stories first appear, they are often only whispers. You need to be able to hear them speak, and if things are too noisy you might miss them.
4. Never be afraid of writing badly. Usually it’s the only way to start.
5. Believe in your story. You must have total faith in it, and yourself, against the odds.
Can you give us a glimpse / hint at your current WIP? (I can bribe you with cake!)
My second book has just gone into the copy-editing stage. It’s about a girl who has a temper, which is both her strength and her weakness. Plus there are ghosts and a really bad baddie. It’s being published next April.
Did we forget anything?
How about, why do I like writing for children? That’s an excellent question Nicola, thank you for asking it. Writing middle-grade fiction is like walking into a land of limitless possibility, because children at that age still want magic, yet they are beginning to want and understand complex, difficult, often thorny themes. So you can explore ideas that are relevant to you but – and this is the best bit – in an imaginative, naughty, occasionally bonkers way, without having to be too solemn or grown-up about it. I’ve worked in some very corporate environments in my time and I can’t tell you the sheer relief I have at being able to let my imagination run riot, without anyone telling me: ‘No, Nicola, you definitely can’t do that, it’s simply not sensible.’
Just for fun
Tea or coffee? Please don’t make me choose, that’s just sadistic. I love them both, passionately. Tea extends my life, coffee quickens it, and they’re both very good at their jobs.
Paper books or e-books? Paper books.
Cake or chocolate? Cake.
Write or type? Type.
Poetry or prose? Prose – but if it’s poetic once in a while, that will be awesome.
Hot or cold? Hot. Definitely. Warmth and heat and flames, please. I’m even wearing a red jumper, under a blanket, next to an electric heater, as I type this.
Nicola’s novel, Bloom is blooming marvellous (can I get away with that?!), and is one that My Book Corner HIGHLY recommends – full review coming soon.