Hey, kids! It’s time for another installment of Debut Author Q&A. This week, longtime music journalist Chris Nickson gives us the inside scoop on his first work of fiction.
Name: Chris Nickson
Name of book: The Broken Token
Book genre: Historical Mystery
Date published: October 2010 in the US, May 2010 in the UK
Publisher: Creme de la Crime
What is your book about? Ian Rankin meets Charles Dickens. Seriously, in 1731 the Constable of Leeds has to catch a killer who’s murdering prostitutes and their clients. To his astonishment, one of the prostitutes is his former housemaid, whom he thought happily married and living in the countryside.
You are an accomplished music journalist and nonfiction book author. What made you decide to cross over to the world of fiction? I’ve always written fiction, have done since I was 11, and I have six thankfully unpublished novels. My father was a writer, with TV plays produced, and his own unpublished novels, so I grew up with the idea of writing, especially novels. I think most of us who write feel that the novel is the pinnacle, it’s “real” writing. I’ve published about 30 nonfiction books and no idea how many reviews and interviews, but this feels like really making it.
Most challenging part of the novel-writing process: The start. The first couple of pages have to be just right for me to be able to move forward.
What motivates you to write? Truthfully, I don’t need motivation. Writing is just so much a part of who I am that it really defines me. In the last 18 years, I doubt there have been three months overall when I haven’t written something. In part that’s because it’s my bread and butter as a freelance writer. More than that, it’s because I love writing. Being paid to write is my dream job. It’s not work. It’s pleasure, whether fiction or otherwise.
Did you experience writer’s block during the writing of your novel? No, I can’t say I did. For me writing is a habit. I had setbacks, bits I had to delete, but never a block. Mostly it’s just a case of writing down what’s happening in this movie playing in my head.
How long did it take you to write this book? With revisions and so on, probably about nine months.
What was your favorite aspect of the writing process for this book? Seeing it unfold, which isn’t always easy. At times it can be like walking through a tangled wood where you can barely see a yard ahead. Then it opens up a little and you see where to go. Sometimes, on those rare occasions, you turn a corner, and the path is across open country. When you hit that, it’s a glorious feeling. The other part was the character of Amos Worthy, a pimp, who appeared fully formed and could have taken over the book. I love him.
How difficult was it to find a publisher? Do you think your success as a nonfiction author helped in any way? My nonfiction success made no difference at all. It was very hard to find a publisher. I had a bad experience with an agent – I’ll leave her nameless – and that put me off for a while, so I let it sit fallow. Then I found a book published by Creme de la Crime, which is a small publisher specializing in crime and located close to where I was living. I thought, hmm, and sent it in. Lynne, the publisher, really liked the book and got behind it completely. I’m very grateful to her for that.
What is the biggest misconception about writing a book? That anyone can do it. It takes real perseverance to actually complete a book, and I have admiration for anyone who’ll stick to it. The adage about it being 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration is very true. But it’s also a craft and one you have to master. Whether I’ve actually mastered it is for readers to decide, I think.
I understand that you have already finished the sequel and are beginning work on a third book in the series. What made you decide to create a series rather than write an entirely different novel next? Yes, the second in the series is done. Because of various things, it’s up in the air who’ll put it out at the moment, or even if anyone will, but I’ve had some interest from a couple of publishing houses. With my main character, Richard Nottingham, and his family, as well as his deputy, I feel I have some good creations, people I wanted to know more about, so I wanted to go back and see what was happening to them. I’m about 10,000 words into the third book and they still seem to have things to say or do. Going in, I never envisioned a series, but it actually felt right and natural.
Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer? I’d agree. You make your luck, and usually there are years of hard work behind it. There’s 40 years of writing behind The Broken Token. The trick is to make it look effortless!