Wednesday, 15 July 2015

An Interview with the Award Winning Writer and Author Nikki Owen

Nikki Owen is an award-winning writer and columnist. As part of her degree, she studied at the acclaimed University of Salamanca – the same city where her protagonist of 'The Spider in the Corner of the Room', Dr Maria Martinez, hails from. Born in Dublin, Nikki now lives in Gloucestershire with her family.

A very warm welcome to you Nikki, and can I thank you, for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.
It’s an honour to be here – thanks for having me!

For the benefit of our International readers can you tell us a little bit about the part of the world that you are currently resident in and why do you like living there?
I live in Gloucestershire, right in the middle of the rolling Cotswold countryside. It’s beautiful here. The summer has started and the flowers are blooming, the fields are vibrant green, long grass rustling and swaying in the light breeze, the chocolate box villages are brimming with tourists. Very atmospheric!

Can I ask what sort of books did you like reading as a child?
I loved Enid Blyton – was very much into the Mallory Towers series. But I also loved something with a bit of mystery, a bit of thrilling magic. I was, as a result, an addict of the Narnia series.

Do you think the books that you read as a child have influenced your writing in any way?
Most definitely. They transported by mind to another place and I lived in my imagination as a result. The magic of the books never left me, the thrill of the read, of not knowing what would happen next.

Do you have a set routine when you are working on a novel?
When immersed in a project, I start work at 5am, sometimes 4am if a deadline is close. I’m a lark. Working early hours seems to be my efficient thing. That and necking a lot of strong coffee…

Where do you do your writing best?
Anywhere, really, but I mainly work in my study. It has a view of the hills by Cam Long Down and, at 5am, you can hear the distant bleats of the sheep and their lambs. My dream place would be to have a writing bolt hole by the sea, though.

Can you tell us what actually helped you in deciding to become a writer?
 I have always wanted to write, well, have always written really. Aged 5, I re-wrote 'Thumbelina' (with paint & scribbles); at 14, won a competition for a book jacket and blurb design judged by Quentin Blake; at 27, was long-listed for a BBC Talent script for Casualty; and at 34, was short-listed for a Guardian travel writing competition. In 2013, I was awarded third place in the Wotton-Under-Edge Arts and Literature Festival Short Story Competition. In between, I have been an advertising copywriter, so have always written, but books were my goal. Nice to know I finally got there!
When you are writing a novel, how do you place yourself into the time period that you are writing about?

My imagination takes over. I think very visually, very cinematically, I guess, and pictures of the scenes I am writing float into my head. This helps not only for the time period, but for intricate details, too, like the smells in the air, the quality of the light or dark – you name it.

How do you go about imagining, developing and giving real lives and personalities to the characters that we read about within in your book?

I’m big on day dreaming. Productive day dreaming, I call it, where I let my mind wonder and see where it takes me in the story I am developing. I imagine their face first, then their voice maybe. Often, I imagine what it would be like chatting to them or how they would react to similar situations I myself have been in – this helps to make the characters three-dimensional, for me, and therefore real.

Did you encounter any difficulties in getting you book accepted and published?
I was lucky - no difficulties. Seems like Spider was always meant to be! I submitted an unsolicited manuscript to agents and four offered to represent me. I was blown away. After that, when I signed to PFD, Adam, my fab agent, worked with me – with the help of Tim, the editor – to polish the script to get it ready for publisher submission. The first publisher to offer a three-book deal was France (Super-8), and then it was pre-empted by Random House, Germany, and then the rest came through one by one. It was a (surreal) dream come true J

Did you have to undertake any research for your novel?

I did a tonne of research as the main character has Asperger’s, so it was vital I got it as correct as I could. As well as observing and speaking, I did a lot of research on forums and blogs. There are some amazing people out there on the spectrum who share with us what their lives are really like. It’s the little things - like I didn’t realise how hard airports often are for those with Asperger’s – the sights, sounds, smells. It’s all an assault on their hypersensitive systems and can trigger a sensory overload, which can lead to what is wrongly perceived as ‘erratic’ behaviour to cope with it all (rocking, leg bouncing etc.)

Reading the blogs  - so many, over and over – helped me to really get a gauge on how their lives are actually lead. And it made me see that women with Asperger’s can be different to males, which is, for my protagonist, crucial. For example, adult females can be more prone to both temper tantrums and crying meltdowns, even in public, yet on the other hand, they can also be better at socializing in small doses, but they tend not to have many girl friends nor do ‘girly’ things. When writing Spider, I constantly went back to my research - the blogs, forums - to remind myself how life for those with Asperger’s really is, what they really think, so that way I could, in the wider context of a fiction novel, at least try and paint some small semblance of real life.

Can you tell us briefly a little bit about what your latest novel ‘The Spider In The Corner Of The Room’ is about?

Spider is about Dr Maria Martinez, a Spanish Plastic surgeon who finds herself in prison in the UK for the murder of a Catholic priest. Only, she isn’t sure if she killed him or not. The book goes from recent past of her in prison to present scenes of Maria having therapy with a psychiatrist. But, due to Maria’s Asperger’s and strange events, it fast becomes apparent that nothing – or no one – is quite what they seem.

It was a great book to write because Maria is an amazing, complex, strong character, and, mix that with themes of deceit, corruption, religion and power, and we have ourselves and explosive read.

What is your favourite book and why?
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee – so well written, a timeless classic and, sadly, containing themes that are still so relevant and alive today.

Are you currently reading a book at the moment, and if so what is it?

I am Currently reading ‘The Bell Jar’ by Silvia Plath. Always meant to read it and finally got round to it this summer. Love her prose style.

Do you have any other hobbies or interests that you enjoy in order to give you a break from your normal routine and your writing?

Yep, I love exercise – it’s my relaxer, my way to work out a writing niggle and my way to feel darn good! Consequently, I do a lot. I get up at four or five a.m. to write then swim at 6.30a.m, four to five mornings a week. I run three times a week and cycle at least twice a week. On top of that, I go to the gym two evenings a week, and also dip in and out of circuit classes, gym tabata & TRX classes and spin classes. That doesn’t, actually, include, also, the core strength exercises, knee physio and yoga I do each evening at home. Ooo, I also compete in triathlons, ski and (try to) surf (although my 11 year old daughter is way better than me…). So, um, yeah, quite a lot. Wow, I’m just tiring myself out listing this…

Can you give us a hint about any other books that you may have in the making at the moment?
Spider is the first in a trilogy – the Project trilogy – so am currently working on editing book two of the series. Also drafting new book ideas, which I seem to be able to conjure up quite easily at the moment. Must be all that exercise!

Nikki to conclude our interview can I ask if you have any guilty secrets that you can share with us?

Chocolate. I can eat an entire bar of Green and Blacks milk chocolate in one sitting. Ssshhhh….

Nikki, I have been absolutely delighted and very honoured that you agreed to be interviewed for my literary site. I would also like to thank-you again for taking the time to speak to us today.

Released on the 4th June 2015:- 'The Spider in the Corner of the Room' by Nikki Owen, published by MIRA, paperback, £7.99

If you would like to find out more about Nikki and her writing, the link to her website is given below:

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