Magic is in the air on Why Words Work! Get your broomsticks ready, people. Today, I am proud to feature the fabulous children’s author, James Nicol!
James released his first book, The Apprentice Witch, with Chicken House publishing in July 2016. The book follows Arianwyn, a young witch who fluffs up her magical assessment and is sent to the dreary town of Lull (much to the pleasure of her arch rival, Gimma.) But, the town is not all that it seems, and it’s up to the apprentice witch to save the day from magical portals, dark forests and more!
I am so excited to feature James today, and learn more about his writing life. So, what are we waiting for? James, take it away!
On your website you say that as a kid, you struggled to get your start in reading. But how did you get your start in writing?
Oh, that’s a good question – and a slightly tough one as well. I’m not sure I can pinpoint the exact time and place though. I always always have made up stories, some have been written down, some have been played out with friends and family as childhood games others acted out with action figures and toys (Lego was always a favourite!) For a while I quite fancied being a puppeteer! I don’t think I necessarily saw a difference between those things – they were (and are) forms of storytelling. But at some point the writing took over more than the other forms. I’m guessing this was at some point in my teens.
Where did your inspiration for The Apprentice Witch come from?
So many things have added to the story of The Apprentice Witch. Early inspiration from the fairy stories we are all read as a child, local legends from the town where I grew up – where witches used to be rather gorily dispatched on the market place! And the books I read that featured witches in some way were all there in the back of my mind when I started to write and new before I picked up the pencil that the main character was going to be a witch – though not the pointy hat, warty nosed, cackling variety!
Then other things began to feed in, bits of inspiration from my two Nana’s and the stories they would tell me about their lives growing up and living through the second world war. I’ve always been in love with the look and feel of the world of the 20s 30s and 40s as a result. It became a bit of a melting pot in the end!
Children’s books are full of witches and wizards, casting spells and getting up to mischief – But can you tell us more about Arianwyn? What is it that makes her stand out in your mind?
Arianwyn isn’t someone who suddenly discovers they are a witch or has magical powers. So were not caught up in a story of someone learning to use magic or discovering a world behind a wardrobe or down a secret passage that only other magic people can see. Magic is a real and tangible thing that everyone in The Four Kingdoms has to deal with on a daily basis so each town and village has its own witch, like a public servant.
Arianwyn has always know she was a witch and has only ever wanted to serve as a witch. But I hope she’s also a very real feeling character, she gets stuff wrong, she’s often scared, occasionally stubborn and sometimes jealous – just like we can all be from time to time!
While The Apprentice Witch is marketed as a children’s book, I’ve met a number of adults who adore Arianwyn and her adventures. With that in mind, what’s your opinion on the “children’s books are only meant for kids” mentality?
Well I’ve never held much by that saying – having been a children’s bookseller it was part of my job to read lots of children’s books (that never feels like hard work does it!) But I know some readers would often dismiss a children’s book as being too simple or not as cleverly constructed as an adult book – when I think often the reverse is true.
I think people can feel very nostalgic about the books they read as a child and often don’t think that modern children’s novels will live up to that feeling. There’s also the worry that they might be seen reading a children’s book on the train or out in public – a fear I’ve never ever felt!
I think it’s lovely when you hear that a parent and child have shared your book or a whole family – that’s gives me lovely warm feelings and makes you feel like you’ve done your job well!
Grown ups get over yourselves and read some children’s and YA books – so much more exciting writing is happening across those two areas in my opinion! ;D
How important is it to encourage children to read? With the internet and video games, I imagine it’s getting harder and hard to do so…
Reading is so key to our lives in the modern world, think about everything we do day in and day out there is an element of reading involved in everything from sending text messages to completing applications for university or a job.
If you couldn’t read how difficult must it be to function and feel part of the world around you. I really can imagine not being able to read. But yes there are lots of calls on young people’s time today more than ever. And so often reading can seem to be linked to closely to something you have to do for school as opposed to something you choose to do for pleasure, fun and relaxation.
I think the key thing is to allow children to choose books that they want to read, encourage the love of reading for pleasure as soon as you can, share books with your children, let your children see you reading for pleasure as well but also allow for those times when perhaps they won’t want to read, or they only want to read a series for the millionth time.
I was a reluctant reader when I was young, but it was a novel that hooked me and novels that kept me going more than any structured reading scheme.
Okay. It’s writing day. A new chapter needs to be written. What’s the first thing you do to get into the zone?
The delicious excitement of a new chapter and or the crippling fear of a new chapter – it can go either way really! I usually have a plan for the book as a whole so I might refer to that if I need to – though this isn’t broken down into chapters – I don’t plan to that level of detail or I might go crazy.
If I’m first drafting then I might have a few notes jotted down on a post-it note to help jog me as to where the chapter is going but I usually just get on and write something, even if its part way through the chapter, sometimes even the end comes first and I work my way back from there.
I might take a cup of tea with me, I might have some music on (nothing with lyrics though!) I might refer to notes or images on Pinterest for inspiration. If I get really stuck then I take the dog for a walk or bake a cake – I find either of those usually works!
Now that you have one novel under your belt, do you think you’re better equipped to face the novel writing process?
I think I found it easier to get to the end of the first draft and to do the early edits myself before sending it off to Kesia (my main editor at Chicken House) I think I also knew that an outline plan would help in terms of getting from one thing to the next and saving time.
I’m also better prepared for how the editing process works with Chicken House, how feedback is given, how I respond to it, how its best to let things sink in for a day or two before doing anything drastic! And also just to trust in my own imagination to help resolve things as well, again its about allowing your mind space to work stuff out when you’re not staring straight at the problem or question…we’re back to cake and dog walking again!
Speaking of novels, do you have any in the pipeline that you can share with us?
I’m working on A Witch Alone, which is book 2 in the planned trilogy featuring Arianwyn. (Due March 2018) I’m so excited about all the work that’s gone into it so far and I think everyone at Chicken House have been great in helping to make sure we get it as great as possible – which does mean a slightly longer wait but I think it will be worth it!
Time for the hard question: Which two authors have inspired you the most and why?
Alice Hoffman would be the first one – I’ve been in love with her books for years now and she is just a wonderful writer who makes it all feel effortless and she sees the epic stories of peoples ordinary lives, she also writes for all ages groups which is such a talent.
Ursula Le Guin would be the second. I remember picking up The Earthsea Quartet in the local library and just feeling as though that book had been written for me and me alone.
And finally, what is the one piece of advice you can give to all the people out there with a book in their hearts?
WRITE the story you want to tell, that you feel passionate about and that you are interested in. You can work on it once you have it written but you can’t edit or develop or improve something that only exists in your imagination.
Another HUGE thank you to James for giving such a wonderful interview. Don’t forget to check out his website and Twitter for more information on Arianwynn and her magical adventures! And hey, if you’ve read The Apprentice Witch, why not share your thoughts below!