Nicola Morgan and I were supposed to meet last summer. I was planning a most monumentous event for scottish children’s authors to celebrate Homecoming and Nicola was top of my list for helping me achieve this alongside author Linda Strachan. I was ill that day, or had car trouble, can’t quite remember and therefore never did get to meet her. My monumentous event never happened thanks to the slow and lingering demise of Borders Books where I worked at the time. So it was a great delight when I did finally meet Nicola, quite unexpectedly. She called into the Children’s Bookshop to buy a copy of Timeriders having become intrigued by it due to a post on a blog. I waxed lyrical about it, we got talking about blogs and the next thing you know, Nicola is inviting me to take part in her blog tour for Wasted and I am inviting her to meet my glorious book club members. Luck, happenstance, fate, destiny, chance call it what you like, believe what you like, but I guess one way or another Nicola and I were meant to meet eventually!
I am delighted to take part in her tour blog for Wasted, not only because it gets my very new, still wet-behind-the-ears blog “out there” but also because I get to rave about her new book. It gives me great pleasure to do so because Wasted, quite frankly is one of the most intriguing books I have read in a very long time. Unique in style, I have never, ever read a teen read so thought provoking. I finished it at 2am in the morning and spent the rest of the night deep in thought about life and the way things turn out. A few tears were shed, there were wistful sighs but mostly there was delight in life’s achievements so far. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reviewing the book, alongside book club member Douglas. You can see his review and mine here.
Below are the questions our book club put to Nicola and her fabulous answers. Just like Jack in the book who flips a coin to make decisions we came up with a ‘heads’ question and a ‘tails’ question for Nicola at the end of the meeting.
“Jack worships luck and decides his actions by the flip of a coin. No risk is too great if the coin demands it. Luck brings him Jess, a beautiful singer who will change his life. But Jack’s luck is running out, and soon the stakes are high. As chance and choice unravel, the risks of Jack’s game become terrifyingly clear. An evening of heady recklessness, and suddenly a life hangs in the balance, decided by the toss of a coin. In the end, it is the reader who must choose whether to spin that coin and determine: life or death.”
Nicola flipped a coin and answered ….tails (bet it’s killing her wondering what the heads question was)!
Why did you choose to write Wasted in such a unique style?
Well, I knew I wanted the narrator to be looking down, able to see and know everything, including things that don’t happen. But as for “choosing”, I always find that I have less choice about the style than you’d think. It just sort of happens. Once it gets going, then I can control it and tweak it, but the basic voice is the lucky bit that I just have to cross my fingers about.
Did you base any characters on real people?
The physical appearance of Jack is based on a boy who was staying in the same hotel as I was when I was just starting to write Wasted. He was kind of cool and arty and had sweeping hair. (I did tell him and his family why I was looking at him!) And Spike, the cat, is an amalgamation of all the four black cats I’ve had. No one else is based on anyone, though. It’s risky to use people you know!
The name choices remind us of Jack and Jill! We’re intrigued as to why you chose Jack and Jess.
Sorry – I wasn’t thinking of Jack and Jill at all! Jack came to me easily but Jess was going to be called something else. (I can’t say what because there’s a competition on my Wasted blog at the moment to guess her original name. http://talkaboutwasted.blogspot.com/2010/05/competition-guess-name.html) But my younger daughter didn’t like the name so I had to find another one. I wanted a name that was likeable but unremarkable, so you wouldn’t have any judgements or pre-conceptions about her when you thought of her name. I didn’t want it to be too feminine, or too posh, or too odd, or too boring, or too anything. Just unnoticeable. Jess seemed to work.
How did you decide on the theme for Wasted?
It’s an idea I’ve been playing with in my head for years and years. I am fascinated by how tiny unseen decisions affect our lives in huge ways; I love the mystery of quantum science and whether anything can be predicted – whether we have free will or any choice at all. I wanted to tell a story that would get other people fascinated too. So, the key was to find characters we’d care about, and then show their lives in the light of all the things that could happen or didn’t happen.
What was your intention in writing this book and where do you see it going?
I wanted to stir people up and make them think, in a way that would make them wonder about the world around them and what it all means. I didn’t know it was going to turn into such a major love story but I loved how it did. As to where I see it going: I just don’t know. What I DON’T want to do is teach or tell anyone anything. All I’m doing is saying, “Look at these characters, looks what happens to them, see what doesn’t happen or what might have happened.” And then people will go away and do what they want with those thoughts. Of course, I’d love the book to do well but I have no control over that so I just have to let it go. Argggghhh.
How did you feel when you had finished writing it?
Relief! The moment when you write the last sentence is the absolute best and I think most writers would agree. Even though there are then many hours of re-writing ahead, I don’t mind that at all. When you write the last sentence you know, at last, that the story worked.
Did you ever want to give up writing it?
No! I had a great time writing it, actually, and it was easier than some of my other books. There was no bit in the middle when I thought I couldn’t go on or that it was all unravelling. The only other book that has felt so comfortable to write was The Passionflower Massacre. I think because these are the two books that come most from my heart.
What have you read that’s really inspired you?
‘Skellig’ by David Almond inspired me to be a writer for young people. Before that, I’d been writing for adults. ‘Skellig’ showed me the possibilities of writing for young, open-minded readers. And my copy of ‘Skellig’ is signed by David, congratulating me on my first YA novel, ‘Mondays are Red’! Wow!
If any of your books were made into a film, who would you want to direct them?
Yikes, I can’t answer that – I’m useless with names of film people. I’d LOVE ‘Wasted’ to be a film though. (We then had a conversation about who would play the parts – but it was the kids who had the ideas, not me! Someone said Tim Burton should direct it – that would be amazing.)
If you had to write a picture book, what would it be about?
I’ve often tried to think of an idea but I’ve never managed. It’s really hard to think of something that hasn’t been done and it’s surprisingly difficult to write such a short story. You realise I have written Thomas the Tank Engine books…??!
How do you write? Specific routine / environment etc?
No routine – I wish I did! I spend far too much time being distracted by emails to have a routine… But I ALWAYS write at my laptop, never on paper – I hate my hand-writing and I’m always crossing things out. If I’m writing non-fiction, I have silence; if I’m writing fiction I have loud music, and I play the same albums over and over again. (Apologies to my neighbours.) I hate being cold but I’m mean about heating, so I often sit with a hot-water bottle. And I do need a tidy desk before I start.
Top 3 tips for getting published.
- Read lots and lots of the sort of books you want to write.
- Keep practising – don’t try to get published too soon.
- Think of your readers more than yourself.
Have you ever dreamt about your characters?
No. But I have a sleep habit / disorder which means that as I fall asleep and as I wake up, I have what I can only call “waking dreams” – I know I’m awake because I am aware of things in the room, but I am dreaming because things are happening that are not in the room – conversations etc. Each one can only last a few seconds but they do often have the book I’m writing in them, and are often a good way to solve whatever plot problem I’ve been having. (Did I mention that I am quite strange?? Yes, well, I’d hate to be ordinary.)
If you were a character in any book in the world, who would you be?
The girl in ‘The Little White Horse’ by Elizabeth Goudge. Lovely clothes, a pony, and someone brings her creamy shortbread during the night.
The TAILS question:
If you were locked in a room with nothing, what would you do?
Wow! It depends whether I was scared or not and what the situation was. For example, is there a guard outside? If so, am I afraid of him / her? Why am I there? Am I likely to be found or will I need to do something to escape? Am I cold? Am I hungry? Am I the last person left in the world? Am I meant to be locked in or have they got the wrong person? Am I a prisoner or have I accidentally locked myself in? So, assuming that I’m a prisoner but there’s nothing I can do to escape (yet), I’d focus on a plan to suck up to my guards and eventually trick them into letting me go. I might think of a story to tell them that would frighten them so horribly that they’d have to release me. Or I’d pretend to be ill with a highly infectious disease and I’d tell them that if they let me die in here, I’d haunt them and their children and their children’s children until the end of time. That should do it.
Thanks for your GREAT questions. I so enjoyed meeting you all and chatting about this and that. Happy reading!