Sunday, July 30, 2017

GUESTOPIA: Author Nikki Sheehan

Nikki Sheehan

I am super excited to welcome the second YAtopia guest for July who is the brilliant author of three moving, touching, and engaging novels. Today she's talking about her latest YA novel.

Nikki Sheehan is a former convent school girl who studied linguistics at university before becoming a subtitler on the Simpsons and then a journalist.

Nikki now lives in Brighton with her husband and three children, and works as a journalist, author, and a story facilitator for the Brighton branch of the Ministry of Stories. She loves dogs, adores reading, and is never happier than when she is talking to kids about stories.

Is this your first published book?
No, astonishingly, it’s my third!

What’s it called?
Goodnight, Boy

Which genre?
Contemporary, slightly literary (in that it’s in poetic prose)

Which age group?
YA/adult crossover

Is it a series or standalone?

Are you an agented author?
Oh, yes. I couldn’t do it without my agent, Julia Churchill at AM Heath in London

Which publisher snapped up your book?
Rock the Boat, the children’s arm of Oneworld.

How involved have you been in the whole publishing process of your book?
I don’t know how to answer that! I’ve had a lot of discussions about cover and layout, and I like to be active around publicity, but beyond that it’s not really my job.

Do you have another job?
I’m a freelance commercial writer and journalist too. But nowadays a lot of my time is taken up with school visits and events.

Did you receive many, if any, rejections prior?
I expect so, but thankfully my agent doesn’t bother telling me bad news if she doesn’t have to!

What created/what were you doing or watching when the first idea for this book sneaked up on you?
I was at home alone with my dogs. The book is set partially in a dog kennel, and, while it explores how the main character, a 13 year old Haitian boy became locked in the kennel, a lot of it is focussed on what it’s like to live with and love a dog.

How long did you plot/plan until you started writing it?
I don’t really plot much beforehand. I know the characters, setting, and ending and then write until I get stuck. Then I plot out what I’ve done, make adjustments, and carry on. It’s only the finding out what happened that keeps me going!

Once you started, did the story flow naturally or did you have to step in and wrestle it into submission?
All of my books have been slightly unruly - but I’ve found that if they’re not it’s because I’m not thinking deeply enough, and trying to overly control the story. My best ideas come from the ‘back of my head’, rather than the more conscious part of my brain.

How many drafts did you write before you let someone read it? Who was that someone?
Probably two or so. Then it went out to four writer friends, who all came up with very similar comments, which made further changes very easy.

Did you employ an editor/proofreader or did you have a critique partner/beta readers before
you started querying?

I used my four friends (above). But I’m also in a crit group. We meet every three weeks, so they also heard parts of it, which was helpful. Because my main character is black, and I’m white, I also used a wonderful sensitivity reader, which was essential.

Roughly how many drafts did it take before you sent the manuscript off into the real world?
Maybe four? But this is my third novel, so I’m a bit more used to what I need to do now.

How many drafts until it was published?
Not many. Unusually for me, the book was in a pretty good state by the time I sent it to my editor. My second book however, took about 20 drafts - but that’s another story!

Has the book changed dramatically since the first draft?
Yes, in format. I rewrote the fragmented text between the boy and the dog in an iambic rhythm because I loved how empty and yet whole it made it feel. I also added in a lot of white space around the text, so some pages only have a few words on, to show the passing of time.

Are there any parts you’d like to change even now?
There are always parts I’d like to change! When I read out from my books I always change something, and, realistically, if it was possible I’d keep on editing all my books forever, but you have to learn lessons, move on and write the next thing.

What part of writing do you find the easiest?
The part where I’m buried so deep inside a story that I forget who I am. Is there a technical term for that? That’s the easiest and also the most weird and wonderful.

What part do you find hardest?
The first read through of an editorial letter. I find that I have to read it and close the document a few times until I can bear to hear what it says. After a few days though, I usually realise that the editor is right.

Do you push through writing barriers or walk away?
Both. Sometimes I need more time to think. And by think, I mean, not actively dwell, but to process. Other times I stop and write a different scene. This often unblocks me, and stops me from losing confidence in myself as a writer.

How many projects do you have on the go at the same time?
I write poetry as well, so usually a story and some poems. And, of course, there’s a ton of half started books languishing on my laptop too. That’s normal.

Do you think you’re born with the talent to write or do you think it can be learned?
That’s a hard one. My instinct is that you have to be a born story teller with a sensitivity to language. But, I’ve known a few people make such astonishing progress as a writer that I’m not sure anymore. Basically I think the only prerequisite is the drive to write. If you can’t not write, then you’re a writer.

How many future novels do you have planned?
Oh, God, none! I’m too busy thinking about the one I’m currently writing.

Do you write other things, such as short stories, articles, blogs, etc?
Yes. It’s part of my job. You have to be versatile.

What’s the highlight of being published so far?
A school recently made one of my books, Swan Boy, into a musical. It’s hard to see how anything will beat sitting watching my words come to life on a stage.

Give me one writing tip that work for you.
Shitty first drafts are supposed to be shitty. You’re doing it right, even when you’re getting it wrong.

And one that doesn’t.
You have to write a certain number of words a day. Discipline is good, yes, but be kind and flexible with yourself too.

Can you give us a clue or secret about the next book?
It’s essentially about fear and I had to stop writing it because it scared me too much. Yes, my own book scared me!

What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? What would the answer be?
Q: Would you like to do a book tour of Australia?
A: Hell yeah, where do I sign?

Wonderful! Thank you for joining us today, Nikki, and for your words of wisdom. I for one feel better about my shitty drafts and poor plotting! We wish you heaps of luck with Goodnight Boy, as well as your other fantastic novels, and hope to see plenty more novels from you in the future.

If you would like to know more about Nikki and follow her writing journey, the following links might just help!

And if you're keen to get your mucky mitts on a copy of Goodnight Boy, try these!

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