The Biog they put on leaflets.
Nicky has written four novels for adults, two books of non-fiction but most of her recent work is for young people. Her first children’s novel Feather Boy won the Blue Peter ‘Book of the Year’ Award, was adapted for TV (winning a BAFTA for Best Children’s Drama) and then commissioned by the National Theatre as a musical with lyrics by Don Black and music by Debbie Wiseman. In 2010 Nicky was asked by Glyndebourne to adapt her novel Knight Crew (a re-telling of the King Arthur legend set in contemporary gangland) for an opera with music by Julian Philips. In 2012 her play Island (about ice-bears and the nature of reality) premiered at the National Theatre and toured 40 London schools. She also published The Flask that year. A story about songs and souls and things which live in bottles, The Guardian called The Flask ‘a nourishing and uplifting story, with big themes and a big heart’. Nicky has recently re-written Island as a novel with illustrations by Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell.
The Biog they don’t put on leaflets
When I was six, I won a bar of chocolate for a story I wrote about a giraffe. This is easy money, I thought, I’ll do this again. And I did – entering various essay writing competitions sponsored by… Cadbury’s chocolates. Every year I won a box of chocolates, actually it was a tin in those days. I ate the chocolates, kept the tin and planned a life in writing. Two other things happened, I acquired a raft of younger sisters and, when I was fourteen, lost my father. That sounds like I mislaid him. I didn’t. He died very suddenly, very unexpectedly and he didn’t say goodbye. I often think all of us are born storytellers but those who become writers have a trigger, and it’s often a cataclysmic childhood experience. For me it was that death. I could talk more about that, but I won’t here. I would if I met you because I like talking about difficult things – that’s also what makes me a writer, I think.
Then there were the sisters. My mother had enough on her plate trying to feed and clothe a brood of five, my brother (aged 15) and then the four girls, from me at 14 to my youngest sister just 9 months old. Often, when my mother was still on kitchen duty, I went to put the middle sisters (9 and 5) to bed and part of that routine was storytelling. I developed a set of characters for each of them. For my sister Jane, a host of lunatically larger-than-life comic personae which reflected her big personality and made her laugh so convulsively I thought she had some variation of whooping cough. For my younger sister, Ros, I invented, with her help, a much safer, quieter set of people, animals mainly, taking part in cosy stories with unfrightening ends. Truth is, I even rigged up an intercom once between my bedroom and that of my elder brother and told him stories too. Or one story – I told it for hours (I think about three) and when I finally finished and asked him what he thought of it, he didn’t reply on account of the fact that he was fast asleep. Turned out he’d only heard the first five minutes of it, so I cut the intercom cord. I’m a sore loser.
Anyway – there I was, a writer in the making, when my godfather ambled into view with the idea (he was an organist) of writing a cantata for children. He needed someone, he said, to write the words. I was 16. Jonah and the Whale was my first published work. I earned just over £19 for this – a fortune then.
After that life took over for a while and I went to university (where I studied English, of course) and then I arrived in London and worked for a time in the Talks department of the ICA, meeting writers like Salman Rushdie (in fact I have a signed first edition of Midnight’s Children) and Graham Swift and Norman Mailer, and writing seemed a perfectly normal thing to be doing. So I wrote a few short stories. Two of them got broadcast on the radio in those heady times when radio did stories by total nonentities. One story was also runner-up in the Fiction Magazine competition as judged by Kazuo Ishiguro. That story – The House is Us, was actually printed in the magazine. When I got the letter from the editor – Judy Cooke – to say she would be publishing I blotted her signature to see if it was real. I thought one of my friends was winding me up.
Then, of course, I started on my first novel…..
To be frank, it wasn’t plain sailing. But that’s another story.
OH – and I’m married with three children. The children are called Roland, Edmund and Molly – and, actually, they’re pretty grown-up now.