Leather, lycra, or spandex for this superhero. Read on and find out which he opts for…
If you were to write the ‘origin’s episode’ of your writing what would be the most important scenes?
At primary school my best friend Chris and I had to write a story about the Abyss. I don’t remember too much about it, but it was an adventure about two boys in a giant bubble drifting down through the ocean, filled with scary sea monsters, shipwrecks and skeletons. We were really slow writers (I still am without the keyboard), and we were still working on the tale and cover when everyone else had finished days ago. I think our teacher became pretty fed up with us to be honest. We rushed the ending – the boys found a magic lamp that took them home… Hurrah! The cover was in black in white! Both our handwriting was atrocious; when everyone else had moved onto using ink, we still had to use pencils. Chris visited me in February – he commented that he can write on lines now, but I can do the curly shapes reasonably well (the lines are more like guidelines right?).
Skip forward to when I was seventeen and I ended up playing a lot of online fantasy games where you had to act out your character. It was pretty good fun, made you think on your feet, to be creative. It allowed me to explore my characters thoughts and action in-depth – a bit like method acting! Method writing then?
What did your early efforts look like? Are they still around to be used as bribes and blackmail material?
Eek! My first full story – of about seventy thousand words – was based on Arthurian Mythology, and followed two hunters on a bloody, tragic path of revenge whilst King Arthur’s kingdom collapsed about them. I was fourteen when I started writing it, and had just suffered my first heartbreak. It was pathetically self-loathing and full of angst against the world. No doubt I’d have been labelled an ’emo’ if the term existed then.
Is it still around? Maybe… My wonderful grandparents collected every painting, poem, short story, ink sketch etc from all of the grandchildren. We each had our own folder. Sadly my grandma died last year, and I have a feeling my sister pilfered the folders… I detect a mission of espionage when next I return to my native North East England.
All super heroes have their mild-mannered secret identity, what is yours? I promise we won’t tell.
Hah! Well I’m actually a chemistry teacher by day, in a little High School in the British Channel Islands – but all that’s set to change soon…
So my secret identity is ‘Mr Smith’ or ‘Sir’. He’s a pretty nice teacher truth be told, but he does have to tell children off for their poor behaviour, when deep down he knows it’s hilarious that they’ve hidden Tommy’s shoes atop the bannister where he can’t reach!
Who are your partners in crime? What are their superpowers?
Well there’s my wife – Gulen – she’s a Kurdish Turk, or a Turkish Kurd, depending upon how she’s feeling. Her superpower is that she makes an awesome carrot dip with stuffed vine leaves. I challenge you to find a better power…
Where do you get your superpowers from?
There have been a lot of artists in my family going back through the generations, perhaps creativity has filtered through my genes? I was also very much encouraged by my fantastic English teacher in the last year of school. She was young, fresh out of university, pretty – and I hung upon her every word. Ah… Miss Whitton.
So I’ve always loved writing, and I find the words flow very fast from my fingertips. A famous TV chef once said cooking is the most fun you can have alone. Whilst I do love to be in the kitchen, I have to disagree with him. We lucky writers get to create people – actual people – in our heads, we get to live through the greatest adventures, the most tragic of romances – and then we get to share them with other people! Wow!
Where is your secret lair and what does it look like?
My wife and I are pretty nomadic. We used to live in a car! It was the best secret lair ever. It had curtains, a bed, cooker, everything! And it kept on moving so our enemies couldn’t catch up with us. It was known affectionately as ‘Dusty’ – which it always was. We travelled all over Australia in Dusty, for about six months crossing deserts, dossing beside beaches, drinking cheap red wine from boxes, befriending Germans, Italians, Spaniards, Israelis…
At the moment we live in a tiny five hundred year old granite fisherman’s cottage beside the sea on the island of Guernsey. I sit at the windowsill whilst writing, distracted by the calls of seabirds, the passing yachts and ferries, and occasionally – very occasionally – the odd tall ship, with full canvas in the wind. Our secret lair next year? Who knows…
What kind of training do you do to keep your superpowers in world saving form? How do you insure they are used only for good?
For the power of good? Well I’ve never been tempted to write cheap erotica! I write constantly – didn’t you know, all the cool kids are doing it! I blog when I have time, and I read history and other works of fiction extensively. I try to read outside the historical genre too. There are a lot of great authors out there, and we can learn a great deal from them all.
When I need to work out a plot, or an interaction, I walk across the beach, breath in the sea air. That, or have a beer!
Granted, you probably don’t get to wear your superhero costume a lot, but if you did, what would it look like?
Hmm… I think I’d definitely have to wear a pirate tricorne hat. I have a friend who wears one as standard – he’s my hero, and looks such a dashing cad! Then there’s the tough call between leather, spandex or lycra… but I think I’d settle for leather – it’s better for crashing through windows and landing on rough surfaces. It’s also pretty fireproof, and at some point in a superhero film, the hero always goes through fire…
What is your kryptonite?
People. Don’t they understand I want to be left alone to write? How dare they come around to visit bringing gifts of cake and beer! Just leave it on the doorstep and go thank-you-very-much!
Teaching can also inhibit my creativity. It’s a more respected profession here in the UK than the US. We have to study at University a year longer than everyone else; but teaching itself is such a small part of the job – endless paper trails, supporting students and staff, dealing with poor behaviour – trying to understand the poor behaviour. It’s almost like a social worker role crossed with a children’s entertainer crossed with a parent. It’s never dull! It can be mentally draining however. It will sap your energy quicker than a triathlon, and can leave your head numb. No writing is done on those days…
What are the biggest challenges faced with in your writing? · What was the supervillian that threatened to stop your latest project and how did you vanquish it?
The biggest challenge for any writer of Historical Fiction is the authenticity. It can’t be skimped! It’s great though, because it means I have learnt so much in the process of writing my novels. I have yet to meet the supervillain who can stop my writing projects, it’s probably because at six foot two with a lot of hair I can look intimidating. Bring it on supervillain! (that, or they can’t find me due to my nomadic lifestyle).
What important lessons have you learned along the way? · What have been the best/most memorable experiences along the way?
Discovering online communities – like this one! The whole blogging thing – like smart phones – took off when I was AWOL from the world of technology. Sometimes it’s interesting to take a step back and watch how the world moves on without you. (I still have a crappy b/w nokia phone though. It’s very small, and the battery lasts two weeks+).
If you did this again what would you do differently and what would you not change?
I spent a long time crafting letters and searching through books for UK agents’ addresses. With the way the publishing world is going, I needn’t have bothered. I could have utilised that time more wisely by checking my doorstep for packages of cake and beer.
What is the best (writing or otherwise) advice you have ever gotten and why?
I’m going to link to a youtube video here. It’s a talk about finding the thing you love doing by the estimable British philosopher Alan Watts. I show this to my students sometimes. Maybe even a few of them get it:
Tell us about you new book and why we need to drop everything and get it now?
One line tag? How about: “Wanted for murder, Jacob descends into a dark world of blood and gold – the world of Pirates.”
It’s pretty gritty. I love Historical Fiction from the likes of Bernard Cornwell et al, so expect blood and some dark themes. Hopefully my love of Cornwell comes through in my writing.
Gentleman of Fortune is my latest novel set in my Buccaneer series. All my works are set around the War of the Spanish Succession, which was arguably the First World War – it saw grand alliances, massive pitched land battles (the Battle of Blenheim), and vast naval actions (the Battle of Vigo Bay), conflicts in Europe, North America, the West Indies. It was also smack bang in the middle of the Golden Age of Piracy. The politics of the era naturally filter through the books.
The novel follows Jacob Hollum, a sailor and sometimes smuggler, from Whitby in North Yorkshire. He ends up implicated for the murder of a rival and so flees the country – and his sweetheart Cait – to an estranged family in North Holland. They turn out to be pirates. They take him under their wing so to speak. The novel follows his descent into their dangerous world, of how his actions take him further away from fading dreams of home and his dear Cait.
On taking the most wonderful prize of a Spanish Galleon he discovers not only a hold packed with indigo and silver, but the most beautiful of souls – Maria Fanez, Spanish maiden (and the heroine of my first novel Rogues’ Nest). His thoughts of home dissipate further. When a bloody disagreement between his fellow cutthroats strips everything away, Jacob is caught between pursuing his new sweetheart, or the lure of riches. He ends up in a perilous situation, where even his skill with the cutlass may not be enough to see him safe…
He’s pretty fickle, and more of an anti-hero. Even though he does some pretty bad things, and makes some poor choices, I hope the reader will still cheer for him.
It’s realistic too – I pour my knowledge of the sea and martial arts into the novel to make it authentic.
What’s in store for you in the future? Do you have any other big projects on the horizon?
Plenty! On the same theme of piracy, and featuring the same characters, I have two novellas completed, and two novels in progress. On top of that I have almost finished a Young Adult steampunk novel – it’s completely different from the meticulously researched Buccaneer series, and let’s me go a bit wild with my imagination.
You can find Nick at: