Author Q&A: Terri Nixon

Today on Becca's Books, I'm completely over the moon to be welcoming Terri Nixon to the blog for an author Q&A.
First of all, could you introduce yourself to readers? Tell us a little bit about you and the books that you write.

Thanks for inviting me onto your fab blog, Rebecca! Delighted to be here. I live in Plymouth, and have scribblings of various types going back to when I was 7 years old – but was first published in 2002, in an anthology of short horror stories. (I was considerably older than 7 by then!)

 In which genre/genres do you write?
As a self-published author I write horror and fantasy (contemporary folklore) But for the purposes of this post I’ll concentrate on my traditionally-published books, which are Historical Dramas, set in the early twentieth century; late Victorian right up to the conclusion of WW1… so far. Plenty of action, too. Think: early Downton Abbey, meets The Crimson Field, meets The Thirty-Nine Steps!
Tell us about your most recent book, and where can we find it?
My new book, Penhaligon’s Attic, is due out on December 1st   (which I’ve just realised isn’t as far off as I’d thought!) It’s the start of a brand new saga, set in a fictitious mining and fishing town on the far west coast of Cornwall. It follows the arrival in town of a young Irish widow, and her impact on the close-knit community… in particular a struggling fisherman, Matthew Penhaligon, and his daughter Freya.
Are there any particular themes which you try to incorporate within your books?
I don’t consciously try to incorporate themes, but I find all my books have had a common thread of strong family ties, and developing friendships, and overcoming huge obstacles to protect them both. There is always a degree of physical danger, too, and I do find it very interesting writing villains, because I love exploring how they justify their actions, believing them to be the right ones. I keep finding myself taking their side! (but only while I have to, to write them!)
How do you hope to make readers feel while reading your books?
I want people to feel they’ve made new friends, or at least met people they care about, and to become immersed in the world they inhabit. I want my readers to close the book feeling they understand those people, and to be interested in what happens to them next, because I’ll be more than happy to tell them!
If you had to choose three words to describe your most recent book, what would they be?
Ooh, that’s a toughie! How about: layered, community-driven drama?
When it comes to creating your characters, are they completely fictional or do you gather ideas from the people you know in real life?
If I’ve built a character around someone I know in real life, it’s been blatant and obvious, and the result of a request, usually! So the main characters will be completely fictional, with the notable exception of Mary Deegan, in Maid of Oaklands Manor. The book was inspired by my late maternal grandmother’s stories of her time in service, so although it took off on a tangent and changed completely, I wanted to keep her character and some of the incidents that really happened to her.
Just to add onto this one: a character (Jessie Goulding) in Daughter of Dark River Farm was created as the result of a competition win. When the winner contacted me she asked that I use, not her name, but that of an ancestor who died as an infant at the hands of notorious baby-farmer, Amelia Dyer. She wanted the child to have the life she was denied, and the story was so fascinating that when I researched it I changed the tragic ending of it and allowed her to grow up.
How do you choose the settings of your books?
I was born in Devon, and grew up in Cornwall. Every day I’m reminded of how lucky I am, and I’m surrounded on all sides by dramatic, natural beauty of one kind or another. Almost all my books have had some connection to the English West Country, but for my new one I’m firmly back in Cornwall –not because Poldark made it popular again, but I’m very grateful to him for it!
Have you visited any of the areas which you’ve written about?
I’ve spent a lot of time on Dartmoor, of course, and the town and nearby fishing hamlet I’m writing about now are fictitious, but based on Helston and Porthleven – amazingly beautiful part of Cornwall.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
I’ve been reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series for around fifteen years, so she’s right up there. Other than Diana, I’ve been a fan of Stephen King since I was eleven, and I also love Terry Pratchett, Sir Walter Scott, Jilly Cooper, and George Eliot. Fairly eclectic!
Do you like to plan strategically, or do you let the characters lead the way?
Oh, I make all these careful plans, determined to stick to them, but all too often I’ll be led a right merry dance by a wayward character! Most of the time I let them have their way, and just rein it in if it looks like messing everything up. Usually they’re right, anyway… I’ve learned not to slap them down too quickly!
If you could sit down and have lunch with any author, who would you choose and why?
I think it would have to be Stephen King. I’d want to probe into that extraordinary mind of his, and find out how he creates such vivid characters without making them all the same.
Is there a particular part of the writing process which you enjoy more than others?
That moment when things start clicking together… You’ve started, you’ve set a rough path to follow, and you’ve met your main character. You’ve opened that vein and just done some serious, head-down, keyboard-hammering, just seeing where it takes you, and then something small slots into place and you realise why you’ve written some of the things you have. The task then, which I find exhilarating beyond belief, is sorting the relevant from the irrelevant, and tidying it up so you can see the shape of what you’ve made.
When it comes to the cover of a book, how important do you feel they are?
Vital, really. Even if some of the best books I’ve read have had dodgy covers, it’s still that visual impact you’re looking for, especially nowadays, when you have so many to choose from. Knowing other readers rely so heavily on the visual appeal of a book makes it doubly important to try and present my own with appealing covers.
How do you keep track of your writing progress? Do you use daily word goals? Do you aim to get a set number of chapters written?
No, I quite often aim to get a particular scene ‘in the bag,’ and when I’ve had a good day I enjoy seeing how many words I’ve done, but I never set word count goals, or numbers of chapter – in fact at the beginning of a book I don’t put in chapters at all. I’ll split the scenes, but the chapter headings will come later.
Tell us the top three books you’ve read so far in 2016.
I’ve been reading for research, so I’ve only read a couple of contemporary books. One was ‘Without You,’ by Saskia Sarginson. Another outstanding, visceral read. Total immersion. I’ve also discovered a love of E V Thompson’s books and loved Ben Retallick, and re-discovered classics like Jamaica Inn, which I’ve just re-read and discovered that the village where I grew up is featured heavily in it. I’d not even noticed before!
When did your love of writing first begin to blossom?
When I was growing up in that little village I just mentioned, on Bodmin Moor. I used to walk the moors every chance I could, and my friends and I would play for hours out there. That was where it started, I think – all that wide open space, rich in folklore… who could fail to be inspired by that?!
How did you celebrate your most recent publication day?
I think I was at work! What fun! (sigh.) Unless you count the paperback release of Maid of Oaklands Manor, in which case my best friend was visiting from the States, and we had a massive carpet picnic with my parents and my son, and a glass (or two) of Prosecco!
What are your thoughts on the book-blogging community?
I’m completely in awe of the time, effort and selfless energy that bloggers go to, in order to help us promote our work and to let readers find their new favourite reads. I know I could never spend so much time on someone else’s behalf without begrudging it – so you’re all super-heroes as far as I’m concerned, thank you.
Which, if any, other genre would you like to try and write in?
I’ve written a contemporary thriller that has never seen the light of day, and I’d love to go back to that and tidy it up, see where it goes. It’s an action-packed chase-through-the-Scottish-Highlands thing, with all kinds of corruption and dastardly double-deeds… I think I’m talking myself into digging it out again!
What has been your biggest accomplishment so far in your writing career?
Oh, without a doubt, seeing an entire tableful of my paperbacks in my local Waterstones! To get into print was a huge struggle, and an amazing accomplishment when it happened, but I couldn’t stop taking pictures of that blimmin’ table - fully expected to be forcibly ejected from the shop!
Are you working on anything at the moment? If so, tell us a little bit about it.
I’m currently halfway through the sequel to Penhaligon’s Attic, which I’ve called Penhaligon’s Pride. It’s turned into a bit of a murder-mystery, in the same town, and with the same – and some new – characters. I’m loving getting to know the inhabitants of Caernoweth better!
What was the best piece of advice you ever received?
I have a handwritten note from Dean Koontz, that I remind myself of every time I sit down to write. He said, “Good luck with your writing, do it always for the love of it, and in my experience the success will follow. Although also in my experience, perhaps slowly!” I loved that!
What do you class as a successful writing day?
If I haven’t spent some time researching, or making notes, and I’ve been able to plant my bum and just write, I would say 5-6k would be a good day. I’ve done more, once or twice, but that was in the days when I could write by the seat of my pants, and not consider the complex plotting needed for an Historical series.
Writing in an apartment in New York City or writing in a cottage in the English countryside?
English countryside, no question!
Writing with a cup of tea or writing with a cup of coffee?
Coffee. Now, please!
Writing with a sandwich or writing with a cupcake?
Sandwich. Cheese and Marmite!
Writing with music or writing in silence?
Writing in silence, editing with (instrumental) music
Writing outside in the sunshine or writing inside as the snow falls?
Inside. I’m a Winter-lover!
And lastly, if someone told you that they wanted to be a writer, what would you tell them?
I’d tell them that if they’ve got as far as making that decision, they probably already are a writer. And then I’d tell them what Dean Koontz told me – with the same caveat!
About the author
Terri was born in Plymouth in 1965. At the age of 9 she moved with her family to Cornwall, to the village featured in Jamaica Inn -- North Hill -- where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. She also discovered apple-scrumping, and how to jump out of a hayloft without breaking any bones, but no-one's ever offered to pay her for doing those. 
Since publishing in paperback for the first time in 2002, Terri has appeared in both print and online fiction collections, and is proud to have contributed to the Shirley Jackson award-nominated hardback collection: Bound for Evil, by Dead Letter Press.
She is currently under contract to Piatkus (Little, Brown) and has new book due out on December 1st 2016: Penhaligon’s Attic.

Terri also writes under the name T Nixon, and has contributed to anthologies under the names Terri Pine and Teresa Nixon. She is represented by the Kate Nash Literary Agency. She now lives in Plymouth with her youngest son, and works in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at Plymouth University, where she is constantly baffled by the number of students who don't possess pens.

You can find Terri Nixon on Twitter

1 comment :

  1. What a lovely interview with Terri. And I can vouch for the fact that she is just as nice in real life as she seems here. Thank you for sharing