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Sally Nicholls Interview

Posted on 24 April 2007. © 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 debut novelist Sally Nicholls about her first book, out early next year

Tell us something about your background.

My first novel, Ways To Live Forever, is going to be published by Marion Lloyd Books at Scholastic in January 2008. Itís structured as a scrapbook written by an eleven-year-old with terminal leukaemia, full of things like pictures, lists, questions, stories and definitions. Running along behind them is Samís own story about everything thatís happening to him in the last three months of his life. Scholastic UK are marketing it at teens and adults and Scholastic America are marketing it at nine-to-twelves and adults.

Iím currently working on a second childrenís novel, working title The Green Man, based around the pagan myth of the summer god who dies in winter and is reborn in the spring. The rebirth story is mirrored in the grief narrative of Molly, a nine-year-old whose mother has just died.

I work three mornings a week as an administrator for a little charity in the LSE. I donít do it for the money, but because everyone I live with has nine-to-five jobs. We donít have Internet in the flat and if I was stuck at home with nobody but a laptop to talk to, I would actually go insane.

I also find that when I write for long stretches Iíll do loads of work on the first day, a fair bit on the second, about three hundred words on the third and by the fourth day Iíll spend twelve hours playing FreeCell. I need a break.

How did you start writing?

When I was three years old I wanted to be a builder. By the time I was five I realised that Iíd make an appalling builder and decided to be a writer instead. Iíve never changed my mind.

I love stories. I see the world in stories Ė my boyfriend remembers directions as a sort of spatial map, I remember them as a story Ė ďwe turned right at the pub with the hairy barman, then left at the statue where we were having that conversation about baked beans, then ÖĒ Iíve written stories in my head ever since I was a lonely little girl walking around the school playground. (Iíve also been giving imaginary interviews since then, so itís very exciting to be able to do it for real). I started writing seriously last year, when I did an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa.

Who are your favourite writers and why?

I love childrenís books; thatís one reason why I write for kids. I love Hilary McKay Ė especially Saffyís Angel Ė Frank Cotrell Boyce, Lucy Boston, Mary Norton, Noel Streatfield, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Rudyard Kipling Ė particularly The Jungle Book and Puck of Pookís Hill Ė Watership Down, Skellig, The Eagle of the Ninth Ö My top five childrenís books are The Secret Garden, The Little Prince, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, The Borrowers and Ballet Shoes.

How did you get your first agent/ commission?

The literary agency PFD offer a prize of £500 and a meal with an agent for the most promising childrenís writing on my MA, which I won. The agent was initially doubtful as to whether anyone would buy a childrenís novel about a dying child, but she agreed to read the manuscript anyway. Three days later she rang me up saying she wanted to represent me. I put down the phone, shrieked, rang all my friends at work and then spent an hour telling a family friend (who was painting our door) exactly why having an agent was so exciting.

When she sent the manuscript out, I had five offers from five different childrenís publishers. It just goes to show that you should always write the book you want to write Ö

What's the worst thing about writing?

With Ways to Live Forever it felt like Iíd solve one problem and six more would appear. I wrote the book in lots of disparate scenes. This was wonderfully liberating when I started, because Iíd think ďThere should be a scene about snow and it should go somewhere near the endĒ or ďSam would like that story, that will go somewhere in the middleĒ and then Iíd just write it without worrying. The problem came when I tried to sew them all together with something approximating narrative thread. I think I wrote twelve entirely different opening scenes, for example, before I found one that I liked. Other problems included getting the tone light enough to appeal to children without trivialising the issue, getting all the medical details right and having it address all the philosophical and emotional questions that I wanted it to address, while keeping it funny and interesting.

And the best?

The best bit for me is when I first start writing a story and I donít have to worry about where itís going, I can just write what I want to write and enjoy it. And the last three months when people have been saying nice things about the book and things like translation deals keep happening have been the most exciting of my life.

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

Ways to Live Forever makes everyone cry! And Iím not just talking about my boyfriend and my mum, it makes whole publishing houses cry. Thatís pretty exciting. As far as I know, no children have read it yet though, and thatís the real test.

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

Luisa at 11:46 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Wow, what a fantastic, interesting and inspiring interview. Thanks, Sally! I can't wait to read your book.


Nik Perring at 11:53 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Brilliant interview, Sally.

All the very best with WTLF!


MF at 12:41 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Fab interview, Sally!


Tori Lloyd at 12:49 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
God bless you. Even the interview brought a tear to my eye, never mind the book.

Sally_Nicholls at 12:56 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Thank you! I feel like a real grown-up author now. Squeak!


Steerpike`s sister at 13:50 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Lovely interview, Sally, and many congratulations once again! :)

Sappholit at 14:47 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Excellent interview, Sally.

I'm really looking forward to reading this.

Congratulations on this massive achievement.


PS. Keats did talk a lotta crap, but he wrote lovely poems, so I think we should forgive him.

nessiec at 15:34 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
I like this a lot, and it's encouraged me to continue with my own children's novels which deal with difficult subjects too. Congratulations Sally and best of luck with the next book too.

RT104 at 16:34 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Something that makes whole publishing houses cry, I have to read!!

Great interview, Sally, congrats on the book, and all the best for the future.

Rosy x

rogernmorris at 16:55 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Great interview Sally. The book sounds brilliant. Can't wait to read it.

Shika at 17:32 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Lovely warm interview. I wish you all the best. S

annatomic at 17:32 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Your book sounds wonderful, Sally, and this is a really inspiring interview, thank you.

Lammi at 19:48 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
I want to read that book! Congratulations, Sally.


EmmaD at 21:26 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Fantastic story, Sally! Many, many congratulations.


ashlinn at 22:08 on 24 April 2007  Report this post
Well done, Sally. Your story sounds sad but lovely. I'll certainly look out for it next year.


Sally_Nicholls at 10:53 on 25 April 2007  Report this post
Many thanks :-)
I have been to so many talks by writers who talk about writing like Keats, as something almost mystical, that I wanted to acknowledge that it's actually really hard sometimes too.
Glad you like the sound of the book ... I enjoyed writing it ...

Account Closed at 18:52 on 25 April 2007  Report this post
How fantastic, Sally, very inspirational interview.


mariaharris at 22:16 on 27 April 2007  Report this post
Hey Sally,

great to read this...sorry for delay, I've been out of the country since we met. Mega congrats and hope to see more of you at other publishing functions!


Gillian75 at 14:52 on 02 May 2007  Report this post
Very interesting interview - thanks for that!
best wishes

Murphy at 19:32 on 02 May 2007  Report this post

Account Closed at 15:21 on 12 May 2007  Report this post
Coming to this late, but great interview. Very inspirational, thanks!

funnyvalentine at 09:17 on 14 May 2007  Report this post
Dear Sally
This was brilliant - also wanted to thank you for encouraging us all to keep going and to write the books we want to write. Good luck for next January. How thrilling!
Best wishess, Hannah.

Myrtle at 10:05 on 14 May 2007  Report this post
Great interview, Sally. I'm the same with directions! Very much looking forward to reading your book.


Sally_Nicholls at 11:03 on 15 May 2007  Report this post
Thank you all!
I can't wait for January either!

Sally xxx

vassago at 18:29 on 12 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Sally

I just googled you and this interview came up as the top result. I had to join up just to say Hi and Congrats on a great interview and what I'm sure will be a fantastic book :-) I can still remember sitting around at uni reading Whinnie the Pooh stories to each other... it's amazing to think you've actually gone on to write a real children's novel of your own :-)

Anyway, I have my pre-order with Amazon... so roll on January

Have fun
Col x

P.S. Let us know if you are doing any book signings :-)

180p!nk at 22:34 on 02 April 2008  Report this post
i am reading the book at the moment
you are a very good writer !
my little sister has leukaemia so this book is close to home !

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