The last Wordy Wednesday for 2015 but not the last Word Wednesday is an interview with Chris Nickson. Chris grew up in Leeds and then spent 30 years living in the US, playing in bands and writing. He’s made a living as a writer since 1994. Chris is the author of The NPR Casual Listener’s Guide to World Music. Chris has also published 28 other non-fiction books, most of them quickie biographies, and has had a pair of one act plays staged in Seattle.
So are we sitting comfortably? then we'll begin...
When did you start writing?
I was 11, and in English class at school we had to write a story in three paragraphs. I did, and somehow something clicked in me. Never mind that I had no experience with defusing unexploded bombs (why that? No idea), I saw how this could work. After the usual teenage angst of poetry and very arty short stories, as well as songwriting, I moved to novels. And more than 30 years later I finally had one published.
What 3 things (not including paper, computer, pens) would you like to facilitate a good days writing?
Tea, very definitely. Toast is also a must (homemade stoneground wholemeal) with plenty of butter. And the Internet to distract me, primarily Twitter and Facebook, damn their evil souls. (gotta love twitter!)
Do you write to a schedule, eg every day or three times a week, set times, etc or do you write as and when the mood strikes?
I write every single day. It's almost like an obsession, I feel incomplete if I don't write. I have to be working on something or my world is out of kilter. I generally do 1,000 words a day on a project, actually not a huge amount. But I might be working on two projects, or I might have an edit to do, etc. I don't relax very well. However, I did realise that, as I got a late start in being published, and there's so much I still want to write, I'd better take advantage of time.
Is writing your main source of income, I read lots of articles saying writers make no money, and my readers asked this question a lot! Can you survive on book writing alone? if not, what else do you do?
Writing has been my only source of income for quite a long time (apart from a couple of small, brief, part-time retail jobs to get me out of the house and around people). Originally I made a living from music journalism and writing those quickie unauthorised biographies of celebrities that used to abound. These days it's a mix of novels, press releases, and some niche, artisan music journalism - I tend to cover world and folk music, which isn't a market with a huge audience.
What are your favourite biscuits?
This has provoked much internal debate. Go with digestives, the perennial standby? Jaffa Cakes, always an indulgence? Or milk chocolate digestives, which are lovingly sinful. But I think I'm going to have to settle for ordinary digestives, he says, stuffing his face.
Where do you do most of your writing?
My laptop is set up on the table in the living room, giving me a view out of the window to the fields. And my bookcases are two feet to my left.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I'm currently re-reading Susanna Clarke's short story collecting, The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which I found last weekend in a charity shop for £1, as well as non-fiction on the 1940s (research) and A Celebration of Ralph Thoresby, essays about the first Leeds historian.
Have you had a good or bad 2015 and why do you think it was good (or bad) ?
It's been good. Bad sciatica for the first couple of months, but that vanished and my health has been good. I stopped smoking, which is probably good, and I've been very productive. Tried my hand at something new - teaching creative writing - that's challenging in a good way. So, yes, good.
If you could genetically cross and animal with a fruit or vegetable what would you choose and why? I'm currently keen on an armadillo coconut, you'd never get into that!
A cat and a cantaloupe melon. A cataloupe.
If reading and writing were banned on pain of death, what would you do instead?
Be a musician. A very bad one. I played in bands for years, then solo, before quitting, to the relief of many. They'd just have to suffer for my satisfaction.
If you could bring a dead person back from the dead for one day to have tea and a natter with them, who would you choose and why?
My father. I'd make sure I got all the stories of his life and his father, grandfather, that he never told me when he was alive. And write them all down I imagine, it's so often small family stories that are lost isn't it.
Skin Like Silver is Chris Nickson's latest Novel:
Leeds. October, 1891. An unclaimed parcel at the Central Post Office is discovered to contain the decomposing body of a baby boy. It’s a gruesome case for Detective Inspector Tom Harper. Then a fire during the night destroys half the railway station. The next day a woman’s body is found in the rubble. But Catherine Carr didn’t die in the blaze – she’d been stabbed to death, and Harper has to find her killer.
The estranged wife of a wealthy industrialist, Catherine had been involved with the Leeds Suffragist Society, demanding votes for women, the same organization for which Harper’s wife, Annabelle, has just become a speaker. Did the husband Catherine abandoned kill her? Or were her radical politics behind her death – and can the Inspector keep Annabelle safe? When Catherine’s brother escapes from the asylum, steals a shotgun and arrives in Leeds, Harper needs to race to find the answers.
Skin Like Silver was published in November and can be bought from Amazon
Big thanks to Chris for answering my (often silly) questions.