Wednesday 8 April 2020

Confessions of a Debut Author - Guest Post Nikki Smith

I met today's guest, Nikki Smith, at a lunch for psychological thriller writers in London last year. We hit it off straight away and I was happy to hear that her debut thriller, 'ALL IN HER HEAD', would be coming out this year. That time has come and I'm delighted to welcome Nikki onto Wendy's Writing Now to answer a few questions.

Here are her answers.

Describe your latest novel in one sentence.

ALL IN HER HEAD is a timely psychological suspense novel that explores the darkest corners of a mother’s mind.

I’m sure my readers would love to hear about your road to publication. Was it long and winding or did you take a short cut?

I did an English degree & wrote a novel after leaving University, but it wasn’t very good & unsurprisingly wasn’t picked up by an agent. So, I gave up trying to write a book and went on to have a career in finance – it wasn’t really what I wanted to do, but it paid the bills. I still wrote, but just things for me. Then a couple of years ago, someone I was at school with contacted me on Facebook to ask if I’d ever done anything with my writing as she still remembered the stories I used to read out in class. It was a now or never moment, and I signed up for a Curtis Brown creative writing course, which I absolutely loved, and started writing All In Her Head. I subsequently won a competition that another author, Amanda Reynolds, was running and she became my mentor. After I’d worked on the first few chapters of my novel with her for a while, I sent it off to the amazing agent Sophie Lambert who had read my cover letter on the Curtis Brown course, and who I really, really hoped would like it. She agreed to represent me, and a few months later we submitted the manuscript to publishers where Orion offered me a two-book deal.

Are you a plotter or a pantster and how long does it take you to write your thrillers?

I’m a plotter. It might be down to my background in finance but I love a spreadsheet and plan my books on one – dividing it into chapters that I colour code so I can easily see what’s going on. For me, it’s a bit like working with post-it notes, but easier not to lose! I can write a first draft quite quickly – in around 2-3 months, but it takes at least a further 6 months to edit it.

Could you describe your typical writing day?

I’m more productive in the morning, so my ideal writing day would involve dropping my children at school and then writing until about 2-3pm. If I’m on a deadline I may then write more in the evening or at the weekends. I was working full-time when I wrote All In Her Head so I had to get up very early and work late. However, from Monday, I’ll be starting home schooling with my daughters, so I have no idea what my schedule is going to look like!

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing I like to read, watch films and box sets, cook and travel. I love seeing new places and meeting new people. It is one of the things that I am going to miss most over the next few months.

When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?

I have always enjoyed making up stories since I was really young. Creative writing was by far my favourite lesson at school, and I loved reading anything I could get my hands on. So, from that point of view, I would say that from very young I knew I wanted to be a writer. But it was only when I got my agent, Sophie Lambert, that I realised I had a real chance of getting a book published, and when my editor, Harriet Bourton, bought my book I knew I was going to become an author.

What does your family think of your writing?

My parents were on holiday in Australia when I told them I had a book deal and I’m not sure they actually believed me! All my family have been so supportive of my writing – my two daughters are my biggest cheerleaders – I dedicated my novel to them as I couldn’t have written it without them and I am so grateful for all their encouragement.

How important is social media to an author?

I think it is becoming ever more so. For two reasons – firstly because I think we can all see that in the current situation, the power of social media comes into its own. My physical book launch event, and all other publicity events (as with everyone else who is published at the moment) have been cancelled. I’ve found that online people have been wonderful at offering support – I have joined in Facebook Live virtual book launch parties and will be attending online events and festivals. Secondly, even before this horrendous situation arose, I found the writing community to be so willing to share their advice and expertise. I have made friends online through Twitter and Instagram who I have gone on to meet in person, and have set up WhatsApp groups with other authors who are a wonderful source of daily support in what can be quite a lonely business.

What next for Nikki Smith?

I’m working on my second book which will be published in 2021 – I can’t tell you much about it, except that it’s a psychological suspense novel which involves families and secrets!

About Nikki

Nikki Smith studied English Literature at Birmingham University, before pursuing a career in finance. Following a ‘now or never’ moment, she applied for a Curtis Brown Creative course where she started writing this book. She lives near Guildford with her husband, two daughters and a cat who thinks she’s a dog. All In Her Head is her first novel.


You can discover more about Nikki on social media

Thursday 2 April 2020

Writing in Lockdown - The New Normal

This is a very strange post to write because we are all, writers and readers alike, in a very strange, unprecedented situation.

social distancing

A few months ago, I'd never even heard of these things and if you'd told me they would soon be part of my everyday vocabulary, and affect every aspect of my life, I wouldn't have believed you.

So, how has this odd and scary situation affected me in general and as a writer in particular?

I thought I'd start with the not so good things and then finish with the good things (the best way I'm sure).

Not so good things

  • Even before we were required to stay in our homes as much as possible, I had anxiety issues about large social gatherings and travel in particular. My safe place was my home. I'm afraid that when this is all over, my brain will be whispering see you were right and my issues might get worse.

  • Despite what I've written above, I love going out and meeting people as long as it's in small groups or individually... and as long as it doesn't involve travelling long distances. I like to do this in measured doses though as too much socialising cuts into my writing time and I do like my own company and space. Because we can no longer go to cafes, WhatsApp, social media and video conferencing apps such as Zoom have come into their own. BUT... there are so many WhatsApp groups being formed, so many group chat requests, so many messages, so many phone calls. Frankly, it's overwhelming but, if I don't join in, I feel like I'll be judged or will be missing out on something.

  • Anxiety in the first week (before the full-lockdown) meant I wasn't able to concentrate on writing, so little was done.

  • I'm a full-time writer. I write on my own at home with my dog. I have my own space and time to organise things as I want. Now, I have both my husband and my adult daughter at home which requires a different way of working and thinking. Every day feels like a weekend. Thankfully, at the end of week one, we've found ourselves a routine of sorts and it doesn't seem to have affected my productivity (more of this in the 'good' things section).

  • My eldest daughter is a key worker in the prison service which is a constant worry.

  • I miss going to cafes. I miss visiting National Trust Gardens. I miss my ballroom dancing. I'm desperately sad I won't be visiting the Highlands and Skye for the first time in May. I miss seeing my friends and the members of my family who don't live with me. 

Good things

  • At the moment we are all well.

  • We live in a small town in the country so we have walks from our doorstop (river and downland). It would be nice to go further afield but I know we're very lucky.

  • As I said earlier, my husband is now working from home and I have my youngest adult daughter living with us. Despite my worries about how it would affect my working day, now that we're all used to rubbing along with each other, it actually makes the day more varied. There's always someone to chat to when I need a break and people to share the dog walk with. As long as I get my daily word count done at some time in the day, there are now other interesting things to do and share with my family.

  • I am still able to have my monthly teacakes and goal setting with writing pal Tracy. We've been having monthly meet-ups for the last eight years and a bit of social distancing isn't going to stop us!

  • Despite all of the clubs and activities I belong to closing (I do ballroom and Latin dancing, badminton, choir, Pilates and Fitsteps) my daughter and I have discovered a wealth of material online to help us stay fit. We've tried Pilates, yoga and have started Jo Wicks' morning workout (that was certainly a killer the day after).

  • As a family, we've rediscovered activities we used to play when the children were younger: boules, swingball and indoor darts. And have realised you don't need children to still enjoy them.

  • My daughter and I have also been learning new skills. She's learning German and we're both learning to play the ukulele. It's a really easy instrument to learn and we now have a repertoire of around ten songs which don't sound too bad, if I do say so myself.

It's and odd situation to be in but we're making the best of it.  

I'd like to finish this post by wishing all my readers the very best in these difficult times and hope you stay well and happy.