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Nicky Singer Interview

Posted on 26 March 2008. © Copyright 2004-2024 WriteWords
A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
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WriteWords talks to author Nicky Singer

Tell us all about your writing background- what you’ve written, what you’re currently writing

I’ve written four novels for adults, two books of non-fiction, four novels for young people and have just finished a so-called ‘cross-over’ book. My first book for children Feather Boy won the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award plus a BAFTA for Best Drama when it was filmed for the BBC. It was also commisioned as a musical by the National Theatre and I worked on the book (ie script…) with producer Peter Tabern, composer Debbie Wiseman and lyricist, Don Black. I’m currently writing a libretto for Glyndebourne based on my latest book The Knight Crew – a re-telling of the Arthur legend set in contemporary gangland. World premiere – March 2010.

How, when and why did you first start writing?

I am the oldest girl in a family of five (one boy, then four girls) and I started storytelling to my younger sisters after my father died (when I was 14 and the youngest child 8 months). I developed a different set of characters for each sister (loosely based on their personalities….) and told them each a story based on these characters while my over-worked mother tidied up after supper each night. I think of my writing starting there and with chocolate – see below.

Other work besides writing; ie. Editing, dramaturgy, tutoring, and how it works for/against your own writing

I try not to do it. Tutoring is a giving out, an emptying out. I feel I should do it (to give something back) and I sometimes do, but I try to limit it to the times I’m researching rather than writing. Writing empties you out enough anyway. On the other hand, I love the feeling I get when I work with other creative people – which is why I love making plays. And I get a buzz from young people too, I see the spark lit and think, yes, this is important, could change a life. And I am doing some workshops in prisons right now…. And I sit on some literature committees…. And I co-founded and, for ten years, co-directed a charity dedicated to training writers for screen, opera and theatre…. Hmm. What was that I wasn’t doing?

Who are your favourite writers and why?

In my childhood it was Enid Blyton (yes, ginger beer and all, I wolfed it down) and C.S. Lewis (my J.K. Rowling, couldn’t wait to get the next one) and then about everything Agatha Christie ever wrote (I credit her and Enid for the importance I attach to pace in a story) and then Wuthering Heights (which I read about 20,000 times and was still in love with Heathcliff afterwards) then in my late teens Virginia Woolf and my early twenties, Simone De Beauvoir (especially She Came to Stay – though I hated the Fontana cover so much, I covered it with parcel tape), then a raft more feminist stuff – because I was slow to catch on (Lessing’s The Golden Notebook was seminal for me) – and then, McEwan and William Trevor and more recently Irene Nemirovsky and Khaled Hosseini. Each of these authors spoke to me at a particular time in my life. I like to think of books as immutable, but I don’t think they are, I think they change as you change. So if I read De Beauvoir now, or Woolf, I don’t think they’d necessarily have the same resonance. Mind you, Heathcliff probably would….

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

My first publication was a libretto for an operetta I wrote when I was 16 year old. This was organised by the composer of the piece (my godfather) and I got paid £19.15. A fortune in those long-ago days…. I imagined that that was how all publishing worked, you wrote stuff, they published it. Hahahahahaha. Later, a very prestigious agent said my work wasn’t great (see below) but I persisted……

What's the worst thing about writing?

It never goes away.

And the best?

It never goes away.

Tell us what kind of responses you get from audiences\ readers.

I never think about an audience when I write. People often ask me how did I cope switching from adult to children’s work, but I never thought about it. I just use whatever words the characters would use. It is wonderful to have to have feedback when you’ve finished though, this is especially acute in the theatre. I listen to how well the lines play to the audience and often change things according to where eg the laughs do (or don’t…) come. The novels, they have to stay the way they are. But in any case each reader brings his or her own sensibility to a book, it’s not the same thing as the communal experience of a piece of theatre, so that’s right too. I couldn’t actively write ‘for’ an audience though. I wouldn’t know how to begin. You have just to write the story as it burns you.

What was your breakthrough moment?

Winning a bar of chocolate for a story I wrote about a giraffe when I was six. This is easy money I thought, I’ll do it again.

A longer version of this interview is available to WriteWords Full and Community Members.
Click here to learn more about becoming a member.

Comments by other Members

Steerpike`s sister at 20:13 on 26 March 2008  Report this post
Nicky Singer is a fantastic writer - brilliant to have an interview with her. 'What If' is one of my starting points, too. And very encouraging re. discouraging agent...

Anna Reynolds at 23:42 on 26 March 2008  Report this post
Isn't it? and I loved; For a lonely onesome writer, playing in such a communal, creative sandpit is a real privilege. I totally identify with this, veering as I do personally between writing plays alone and then working with theatre/opera practitioners. I'm going to check out her books now.

Beanie Baby at 11:31 on 27 March 2008  Report this post
This is a very insightful and humourous interview and I wish Nicky all the best with all her work.

eve at 19:55 on 31 March 2008  Report this post
What a wonderful interview.

Feather Boy is one of my favourite books and it's lovely to find out the inspiration behind it.

Thank you.

MF at 11:20 on 02 April 2008  Report this post
Great interview - thanks, Nicky!

Sally_Nicholls at 13:48 on 01 May 2008  Report this post
Feather Boy is one of my favourite books too, Eve. Great interview!

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