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O29746085wen Nichols – Author of 52 Weeks of Murder (2016)

Hi Owen, The Unconventional Book Club would like to say a big congratulations on publishing your debut novel! Is it the first thing you’ve written?

Thanks! Well no, I actually wrote something about 15 years ago on Genghis Khan, and as soon as I’d finished the book, Conn Iggulden literally released a book about Genghis Khan, and I thought well that’s it—this guy’s quite famous; his books sell well, so that Genghis Khan dream died. 15 years later, I thought I really want to write something! So I went back and edited the Genghis book and I thought this is actually pretty terrible, but I want to go back to the idea that’s been percolating in my head. So I edited it again and again and I used it to fix it in a style of writing and see what for me worked and what didn’t work.

That’s an interesting way to start! So can I ask, what do you do as a day job? And what inspired you to start writing?

I’m Head of Science at an all girls’ catholic school and I’ve been teaching there for almost 15 years. In my last school, I wrote a play for them but just before it came to fruition, I left. In terms of writing, I’ve always loved film and books and reading! Writing is something I do to relax and enjoy myself—it’s something very me and very personal. When I’ve finished with the kids at school, and my wife Emma has gone to bed, and my son Josh has gone to bed, and I’ve walked the dog—it’s my way of putting everything aside, chilling out, and entering a world of my own creation.

So you didn’t intend to become a successful published author then?

No—when Josh was born, I wanted to be able to say to him when he was older that you’ve got to chase your dreams; you’ve got to do the things you want to do. So when he was born, I was more determined to give up the time to do it. Becoming published by a big publishing company was never anything that occurred to me.

When I’d written it, I gave it to my father in law who used to work in publishing years and he said why don’t you try to get it published via the traditional route, as I was simply going down the Amazon route. So he sent it to a friend and it got around a bit—people seemed really positive about it, but there was a an aspect of it that people just weren’t keen on (spoilers omitted!). I didn’t want to change that about the book, so I thought I’m not going to bother with a publisher—I’m just going to publish it myself and that way I can say to Josh I’ve done something that I’m really proud of it. I achieved it, and that’s enough for me.

Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t read the book yet, why were people not keen on the that aspect of the book?

The book deals with what I feel is the last stigma of society. Even those who proofread it asked whether I have too much of that aspect in it. It was a fine line between getting a book out that’s exciting and dealing with this issue that I felt was new, interesting, and very relevant. But it was something people didn’t really want to go near in a way, which is a shame. At the end of the day, I was fine to just get it out there and it was something I was proud of.

The protagonist Anders is very different to other protagonists—what inspired you to go down that line? 

To me, what was exciting was for Anders to be the most intelligent, normal, sane person there and all the issues in the book to come from other people’s prejudices. A lot of the crime thrillers I’ve read, especially growing up, the protagonist is a hard-drinking, smoking, swearing, broken character. When I was picturing Anders, she was never going to be anything other than her. It makes her different and unique and interesting.

Did you always imagine writing a crime thriller? Is crime your favourite genre?

Well I’ve always loved historical fiction and I’m quite eclectic, so for me the next book I read has to be different from the last one. That’s what keeps me engaged. When I write the plot, I storyboard it so I have different scenes that play out in my head like a film, and I have music with that, and certain music inspires certain scenes. So the last scene was almost like a piece of music I was listening to. I thought this would be a great way to finish the book. Because of the ending I wanted, it had to be a crime novel!

Then other scenes came into play and worked themselves out into a story. The interesting thing was that at the same time I was developing a sci-fi novel—I wanted to look at the nature of religion and where our place is in the world. And it was the same character Anders—she fit into this world I’d created. It seemed that whether it was going to be sci-fi or crime, it didn’t matter because Anders was there. But the crime one seemed more compelling at the time.

Will you write the other novel as well?

It keeps coming back to me, and I did a lot of research for it … I like to research a lot around the topics, and I’ve got a huge notebook full of ideas for that one. But the second book after 52 Weeks of Murder keeps coming back to me again and again. I thought—I don’t know whether I’ve got the time to write the second book, but I keep getting scenes and a plot. So the sci-fi novel might have to wait a few years—it’s a big epic monstrosity that’s going to be quite unwieldy for me, and I think I need more experience to make it work.

So is there more to come for Anders—we guessed you might be setting up a sequel or even a series?

It’s been difficult because there’s been the issue of how well it’s going to be received. And I wasn’t sure what to use as a barometer: how well it’s been received, how many copies it sold, or whether it was something personal and it didn’t matter? It sold a lot more than I thought it would and it seems to be positively received.

I’d planned up to book four in my head, but after the end of book one, Anders is quite broken and ends up going to some very dark places, and I realized I didn’t know how to redeem her and bring her back in the eyes of the reader, so I’ve bought the end of book four into book two to give her that redemptive arc—it’s going to be a game changer. So there will definitely be another book…but I don’t know beyond that.

Interesting! A lot of people find it difficult to find time to write – how did you manage to balance writing a novel with family and work commitments?

No sleep! Basically, I get up at 4 every morning to go for a run or walk the dog and then work all day, then when Josh has gone to bed I spend some time Emma, and then she goes to bed, so I spend an hour and a half or 2 hours writing. The actual block of writing the 90,000 words only took about 8 weeks­—with no sleep at all! The main part is the research and I can do that on phone, on the bus, walking. Then I tend to write the dialogue when I have a spare 20 minutes. The editing process I did sat on the sofa in the evening with rubbish TV on. So it was really 8 weeks of getting by on 4 or 5 hours sleep, then fitting it in whenever I got a free moment.

That’s quite intense!

It is, but it’s worth it, and it’s really fun. I enjoyed the writing part, even though it’s difficult. In some ways, that’s what’s held me back a little bit from writing the second one. There’s that bit where you think this is going to be really intense. But it’s the summer holidays now so I’ll recharge the batteries and get into it again.

The editing process won’t take as long this time, as this time I edited and edited it straight away, probably 15 read-throughs. Then I got a former editor to read it and he sent loads of feedback and some that was really hard to hear; it was quite disheartening. So I left it for 3 months and when I came back, I thought he’s completely right! With the next one, I’m not going to have months of editing—I’m going to have one read, then leave it for 3 months.

Who is your favourite author, and what writers particularly inspired you?

Growing up, it was Patricia Cornwell and Wilbur Smith. I love John Connolly and Lee Child. There’s a part of Anders that’s very dark; there’s a side of her that’s very old school biblical in many senses. And that’s something John Connolly has—angels and demons, heaven and hell—in his main characters. I absolutely love his work!

Finally, do you have any advice for anyone who is thinking about writing a book and hasn’t started yet?

Don’t be scared! The scariest part for me was the first moment when I sat down to write. Don’t be afraid of that moment when you start it. And don’t get disheartened—when the editor sent me all that feedback, it was hard to hear a lot of the stuff and I didn’t want to believe it. There was a moment when I thought do I accept it or walk away? So I left it for 3 months, and when I came back, I realised everything he said was spot on, and in the end, it made it a better book. So don’t be afraid of the tough advice!

You feel quite naked in many ways when you get a book out there because there’s so much of you in it. People have access to a lot more of you than perhaps you realise. So don’t be afraid to stand naked in a crowd.

Thanks Owen! We look forward to the next book!

If you’re inspired to read the book, you can find 52 Weeks of Murder here. You can also read our review here.

If you’d like to be interviewed by the Unconventional Book Club or you’d like your book reviewed, feel free to drop us a message. We’d love to speak to you! 

 

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