A Top Ten, A Book Club, And What I Think Beautiful Is

It’s been a busy online week for me, which is a bit of a change. The week before last I was back teaching at the BBC which was brilliant fun (and it’s always nice to be asked back). Look! Elmo this time!

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And last Tuesday was the last session with the lovely junior writers I’ve been working with at Bollington Library. And that means there’s only one more place I need to be to teach before I break for the holidays and, hopefully, sleep for all of them.

And, of course, there was all the judging for the 150 Words comp – winners, runners-up: your prizes are in the post.

A little while ago I was interviewed by the brilliant Susan Tepper for Black Heart magazine. Read it all here. I really liked that one – it felt very much like me talking, and not only about myself, for a change.

“- beautiful is different for every single person. I think it’s something, anything, that can be celebrated, that causes us to stop and appreciate it, or just give it an extra second’s thought. It definitely doesn’t have to be perfect. And it can be nothing more complicated than a moment.

So, what do I think of when I think of beautiful? I think I think of life, of nature. The depth of a sunset. The potential of a new life. That one perfect smile shared with a stranger. A hummingbird.”

The equally brilliant Jane Davis also interviewed me for her book club, which I enjoyed an awful lot too.

“I don’t have any qualifications as far as writing goes (which is weird as I spend an awful lot of time teaching it). I don’t think everyone needs formal training. I believe people need a good story and the confidence to tell it their way without being embarrassed by themselves or their own voice. Practise helps a lot too, of course.”

And Beautiful Trees has made this Top Ten Fiction Books of The Year list over at the splendid Book Chase. All of which makes me very happy indeed. As I said to my publisher the other day: ‘We’ve made something beautiful and people like it’ and that, to be honest, is all you can ask for.

And the Winner Is…

A little while ago, to help me celebrate the launch of my fifth book, Beautiful Trees, I ran a competition. 150 words inspired by trees.

I had a lot of entrants.

And I mean, a lot.

And I read every one of them, at least a couple of times.

And I drew up a long list (here).

And I drew up a shortlist too.

And, finally, after many moments, I picked my winner.

First, the runners-up.

 

1000 Leaves, by Rosie Lewis

 

He closed his eyes, as with every first bite of something never tasted before: a habit kept from childhood. Incisors sank through brittle layers. Mould. Earth. Heavy, dusky, damp on the nose. Some dry morsels clung to his closing lips. The flavour intensified as he chewed, thin leaves broken by molars to dusty fragments. The mote-weighted taste of spores and rained-on ground, and the sour-sweet redolence of dawn hoar frost rushed through his thoughts with the air in his nostrils.

He thought of slowing sap flow and brittle branches. He was chewing dry leaves that had died with the summer. He swallowed, with the help of the glass of water paused on the table. Leaf pieces stuck to his teeth, in his throat. He met her waiting gaze across from his

“What’s this called then?”

“Mille-feuille.”

“Oh. It’s lovely.”

He swallowed again. Now the rest.

 

THE TREE, by Stephen Wright.

 

 

The Dodge pickup’s insect-mobbed headlights illuminated the

tree, its spindly branches clawing at the stars. The only sound the

engine ticking under the hood and the chirp of a million insects.

 

Five men, bathed in the stagnant Mississippi heat, stood still now,

 

an excitement slowly leaving their eyes.

Jessie, struggled no more, chained against the tree, his hands

 

bound behind him, links biting into skin. This was his tree all right,

 

he and Maisie shared their first kiss here last summer. He’d carved

 

their initials encircled in a heart. With that kiss he felt finally he’d

 

moved from boy to man and now from man to ghost. The tree had

 

seen it all.

 

The men had done some carving of their own, the large letter Ks

 

criss-crossed his bare back. With the slamming of the pick-up’s

doors the Dodge drove off leaving the tree with its memories.

 

Cherie, by P.N, Warnes

 

For seventeen years I have watched over you

Watched your shadow in the streetlight

Edge further from home

Your branches stretch and brush the garage roof

Next door.

When you were small I cut the stake

That tethered you,

Stripped the creeping ivy

That strangled you

Raked the leaves that you shed

Like tears

As the cold came.

 

“Is tree dying?” my daughter asked me

One spring

When your blossom iced the lawn

and you were both very young.

 

No,

The blossom always returns.

 

Profligate Beauty, by Melissa Fu

 

Every year they do it:

Shower coins of gold

onto the streets,

spend their splendour,

blaze away months

of steady growth

in one clarion bright week,

drop crimson banners

and falling flames,

fill the gutters

with jewels.

 

And when the tossing,

waving limbs finally

unleave themselves,

all that remains are

bare arms, with

not even a stitch

left for winter.

 

And the winner is, and thoroughly deserved – I love this story…

If A Tree Falls, by Hannah Coyle

 

The trees came walking that night, the ones we cut.

“Run!” someone shouted.

“Fight!” cried another.

The trees took them both, slashing their bodies as we’d slashed theirs.

“I’m sorry.” I stood before them, these deformed things, with shorn limbs and shattered trunks. We’d cut them for fire, for land, for the ignorance of pretty things in pretty homes, as if four walls could keep the world out. Around me people cried, people screamed, they ran and they died because nature is the ultimate victor. “I’m sorry,” I said, and truly I was, but the trees cut me down anyway, because sorry could only do so much, and sometimes regret is not enough.

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Again, huge thanks to all who took the time to enter and write good things – loads of you did and it was a pleasure to be able to read so many great, and tree-inspired, pieces. Huge congrats to the runners-up who were all so close to winning, and a massive bunch of congratulations to Hannah for a brilliant piece.

 

By the time this is up you should have all been contacted. If you haven’t been, then sit tight – I’m on it.

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Long List! And a Bit of a Catch-Up

A few things today.

First, and most importantly – I have spent a good amount of time over the past couple of days with the entries for my 150 Words Competition. It’s taken me a little longer to get through them than I’d expected, quite simply, because there were loads more entries than I’d expected to get – and the standard of them was hugely pleasing. Thank you to everyone who took the time to write something for it – even if you haven’t won you’ve definitely given me good stuff to read.  I’ll be announcing the runners-up and the winner very soon (who should also expect an email over he next day or so), but for now HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to everyone who’s made the long list. Which is as follows …

Cobnuts – Sherri Turner

Jack Beamed – Helem Somers

Peeled – Liz Hedgecock

Quercus Robur – Simon Nicholls

Williwaw Shores – Saxon Pepperdine

If a Tree Falls – Hannah Coyle

Cherie – P.N. Warnes

Tree Love – Olivia Templeton

Levelled – Karen Ashe

Profligate – Melissa Fu

Barcodes – Rachel J Fenton

Hurricane Ivy Was Passing Through – Suzie Burnett

1,ooo Leaves – Rosie Lewis

Maple and Basil – Downith Monaghan

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In other news (and I know this is very late) – a couple of weeks ago I was handing out the books to the younger writers I’d been working with at Ecclesall Library. It was, as these things tend to be, a hugely enjoyable few days and we really did produce some excellent work. And student journalist Jack Denisov was good enough to come along – here’s his write-up over at the Southwest Report. Enormous thanks to him for that, and to all at The Library Service and the fab library’s staff.

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Last, for now, is just a wee reminder that you still have a couple of days to be in with a chance to win a signed copy of Beautiful Trees over at the super-brilliant (and I really mean that) Bookmonster’s place.

 

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And you can still get all three of my books published by RoastBooks for £20 here. That’s 1/3 off a perfect present/presents if you ask me.

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That’s definitely enough for now (not least because Im’ trying to back things up and everything’s running at half speed). More soon.

 

10 Things You Might Not Know about the World of Illustration

I’m very, very proud to a have piece up at the amazing InkTank (I’ve been a huge fan for many a year). It’s about illustrations and some interesting things you might not know. And there’s a Donald Trump reference. Go see

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The Boy Under The Mistletoe – 50p

As I hope you’ll have seen over the years, this blog isn’t only about me. And I think that’s a good thing because I can be very boring (and mumble on about me and my books as little too much). It’s always a pleasure to point you in the direction of good writing, especially when it’s by good people and Katey Lovell most certainly qualifies as one of those.

And Katey has a new short story out (and God knows how much I love them) with Harper Impulse very soon for Christmas and you can pre-order it here for only 50p. That, in real terms, is bugger all. And here she is to talk about Christmas traditions…

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When I wrote the first seven stories in the Meet Cute series back in spring 2014 it never even crossed my mind to set one at Christmas. It was only when Charlotte Ledger, my editor at Harper Impulse, suggested adding a festive romance to the mix that I realised this was the story I’d always wanted to write.

I’m a big fan of Christmas. I love cosying up with a good book, a blanket wrapped over my knee and a hot chocolate at my side, with the twinkling tree lights as my backdrop. I love watching the candles on the advent wreath being lit at Sunday mass, counting down to December 25th. I love the carols, and mince pies, and wrapping presents. I love the way the days around Christmas blur together, how time loses its significance. And I’ve always loved romantic fiction set at winter time, so to get the opportunity to write my own was an enormous thrill.

I knew I wanted to convey as many traditional aspects of Christmas as I could in The Boy under the Mistletoe. Protagonist Chelsea has been working hard all day on Christmas Eve, and as much as she loves Christmas, she finds it hard to muster up the energy to go to her Gran’s party. So many people will be able to relate to that – it’s an exhausting time of year. However, when she gets there, she finds herself in a familiar, comforting scene; her Gran handing out nibbles whilst the scent of mulled wine wafts through the air, the same glass baubles that adorn Gran’s tree year upon year catching the light, and her attention.

Then, of course, there’s the mistletoe of the title. And we all know the tradition that goes along with that! However, it’s fair to say Chelsea and Simeon’s is not the most conventional of meetcutes…

I won’t say any more because it’s a short story and I don’t want to spoil it for anyone planning to read it, but hopefully I’ve managed to capture the magical essence of Christmas in The Boy under the Mistletoe. It was a pleasure to write (in the middle of August!) and a dream come true.

Merry Christmas!

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The Boy under the Mistletoe

Every Happily Ever After began with a Once Upon a Time…

After working a busy Christmas Eve shift at her family’s flower shop, Chelsea can barely keep her eyes open for her Gran’s annual festive get-together. Can her Christmas dreams come true under the mistletoe?

A festive short story by romance author Katey Lovell, part of the Meet Cute series.

The Boy Under the Mistletoe is published in ebook format on December 17th 2015 by Harper Impulse, the digital first romance imprint of Harper Collins. It is available to preorder now from:

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Kobo

Nook

Sainsbury’s

 

Katey Lovell is fanatical about words. An avid reader, writer and poet, she once auditioned for Countdown and still tapes the show every night. Getting the conundrum before the contestants is her ultimate thrill.

She loves love and strives to write feel-good romance that’ll make you laugh and cry in equal measure.

Originally from South Wales, Katey now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and their seven year old son.

 

Find Katey online! Twitter – @katey5678, Facebook – , Instagram – katey5678.

 

 

Reviews are like Buses

There is so, so much to report and to catch you all up on but I have people waiting for things from me and about a hundred tabs open and I’m starting to get a little stressed so all of that really cool stuff will have to wait for now.

And I’ve my 150 Words Competition to judge too – which I’m genuinely really excited about – and more than a little astonished with just how many entries I’ve had (and there was me thinking I wasn’t very popular).

So, in the meantime I’ve seen three really great reviews of Beautiful Trees today. (I notice it’s out of stock – along with Beautiful Words and Not So Perfect – thank you for buying them! – you can still order a Beautiful Bundle (all three for £20) direct from my publisher.) If anyone has read it and would be good enough to put their thoughts somewhere (Amazon and Goodreads are always useful places) I will love you forever. That kind of thing really does help.

Sue Guiney, who I’ve both liked and respected (she has done incredible work) for many years said:

“You might notice that I called both of these books collections, but I didn’t say collections of what. Some might call them flash fiction, others a linked narrative. Others, like me, might just throw away the need for a label and enjoy this quirky blanket woven together by Nik’s words plus the drawings of the equally idiosyncratic artist, Miranda Sofroniou.” Click for the full review.

Hannah Symmonds liked it here.

“It is a very interesting mix and I absolutely loved it. It is a very relaxing read as Nik seems to bring a poetic side to the words. Such a clever way to bring a book to life.”

And it is in some very fine company over with the very wonderful Jessica here.

“The story will pull at your heart strings so you might want to have a tissue or two next to you when you read this one”

Massive thanks to all – and, again, a massive thank you for all of your support and to everyone who’s bought or liked (or both!) my books and to everyone who’s taken the time to say nice things about them.

More soon…

 

 

 

 

Monsters and Trees and Competitions

A brief post today, because, again, I’m busy and because there are trains to catch and people to phone and workshops to plan and general things to do.

The 150 Words Competition has now closed and it’s had a remarkable response. I still can’t quite believe how many entries we’ve had – huge thanks to everyone who took the time to write things for it. I can’t wait to start reading them.

There’s a lovely review from the ever-wonderful Bookmonsters here. Here’s an extract (click here for the full review):

“Nik’s Beautiful series of books aren’t just books with pictures, they are pieces of art, an education and most of all they are heartfelt writing at its best. Beautiful Trees follows the story of Alexandra and Lily’s relationship, but what is so fantastically clever about the book, is the way in which their story parallels and intertwines with their love of a huge variety of different and beautiful trees.”

And, because said Bookmonsters (who were on here a little while ago) are ever-wonderful they’re running a competition too – to be in with a chance of winning a signed copy of Beautiful Trees have a look here.

And a reminder that I’ll be at The Fly in the Loaf, reading, and presenting Poised Pen competition winners THIS FRIDAY.

I notice, too, that there’s an article up on the presentation we did with the junior writers at Ecclesall Library a couple of weeks ago – I’ll talk about that in greater detail very soon (big thanks to Jack Denisov for that).

More soon.

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Black Friday Offer

This Black Friday thing seems to be trendy these days so I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon, if only a little (I’ll be staying way out of the way of any shops, don’t you worry about that).

So here’s a special offer. It will last today ONLY. (And, all you have to do is click things on the internet – there’ll be no fighting in the aisles here, I can assure you.)

It’s for my online short fiction course (which I’d taken a break from running because I’ve been so busy over the past few months).

 

It’s six parts long.

It is for writers of flash and short stories.

You can do it in your own time (there’s no time limit on completing it).

It is for ALL abilities.

People like it. They’ve been published because of it and won stuff too.

So, if you sign up today, it will only cost you £111.

Click here for all the details and to sign up.

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And there’s still time left to get your hands on the Beautiful Bundle RoastBooks are offering: Everything they’ve published of mine for £20. Click to order. And we can arrange for those copies to be signed too. As you were…

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Three Words: Women, Comics, Creators

I honestly think that Rachel Fenton’s one of the coolest, most talented, and nicest people I’ve never met (I’m determined that, one day that’ll change). I’ve long been an admirer of her work (just look at what she did for Beautiful Words last year) and I really couldn’t be happier to have her back here today. She’s talking about something I’m super excited about – and not just because it’s about brilliant comics, or because it’s about brilliant comics written by women. It’s because the whole thing just drips with goodness – it’s the sort of thing that anyone and everyone should be excited about. It’s an excited thing. So, over to Rachel, who’ll explain things far better than me…

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Nik, thank you so much for having me on your brilliant blog to talk about something incredibly dear to my heart: Three Words, an Anthology of Aotearoa/New Zealand Women’s Comics (Beatnik).

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“A brilliant, collaborative, manifold project, Three Words features all kinds of comics from all kinds of Kiwi women, a vast and varied representation of the beautiful diversity that makes up women’s comics in New Zealand – a completely unprecedented collection.” – Beatnik Publishing 

 

Three Words grew out of a very real need to redress the gender imbalance in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s comics publications and events. Women comics creators weren’t being represented, leading to statements such as “there just aren’t any women comic artists in New Zealand”.

‘NZ’ comics event/publication Women featured
Actual Percentage
(2012) Aotearoa: Clouds from New Zealand (Treviso Comic Book Festival) 1/11 9%
(2012) Frankfurt Book Fair New Zealand as Guest of Honour (comics zone) 0/4 0%
(2012) New Zealand Comics and Graphic Novels (Hicksville Press) 10/65 15%
(2013) Nga Pakiwaituhi: New Zealand Comics (St Pauls Gallery) 3/32 9%
(2013) From Earth’s End: The Best of New Zealand Comics (Random House) 4/31 12%

 

But Sarah Laing, Indira Neville – accomplished and long-standing comics creators – and me, knew that the literature didn’t represent the reality: many women have and are making comics in Aotearoa/New Zealand and we wanted to make them visible.

Word about Three Words spread fast on social media. Within a month of us putting out a call, we had over sixty submissions from women all over the country.

With comics by Adele Jackson, Alex McCrone, Alex Wild, Alice Tumblescribbleson, Alie Macpherson, Andra Jenkin, Bek Coogan, Anna Crichton, Beth Duckingmonster, Beth Sometimes, Carolyn Anderson, Celia Allison, Claire Harris, Dawn Tuffery, Demarnia Lloyd, Diane Rimmer, Elsie Joliffe, Emma Blackett, Erin Fae, Debra Boyask, Giselle Clarkson, Indira Neville, The Rabbid, Jem Yoshioka, Jessica Dew, Jessica Hansell, Joanna Anderson, Judy Darragh, Kayla Oliver, Kerry Ann Lee, Lauren Marriott, Margaret Silverwood, Olga Krause, Linda Lew, Lisa Noble, Liz Mathews, Loux McLellen, Lucy Meyle, Maiangi Waitai, Marina Williams, Mary Tamblyn, Mengzhu Fu, Mirranda Burton, Miriam Harris, Pritika Lal, Rachel Benefield, Rachel Shearer, Rae Joyce, Raewyn Alexander, Rebecca Hawkes, Renee Jones, Rosemary McLeod, Warsaw, Sally Bollinger, Sarah Laing, Sarah Lund, Sharon Murdoch, Sophie McMillan, Sophie Oiseau, Stella Corkery, Susan Rugg, Susan Te Kahurangi King, Suzanne Claessen and Zoe Colling.

 

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See more on Susan Te Kahurangi King here.

Comics Publisher Pikitia Press were first to interview us.

As soon as the interview went live, there was a backlash from some of our male peers, who perhaps felt their power-hold on the scene slipping. But the support for Three Words was undeniable: we were invited to panel discussions by Wellington City Library , Auckland City Library and Auckland Zinefest; Hamilton Zinefest asked us to give a presentation; RAMP Gallery invited us to curate a Three Words exhibition; Stuff News interviewed us; and we’re running a Three Words workshop at Otago University as part of the Trans/forming Feminism Conference.

One of the most awesome consequences of Three Words has been the dialogue it’s opened up about the need for diversity in the comics industry; it’s given rise to debates about “competent boy comics” – comics that were previously deemed to be representative of all Aotearoa/New Zealand comics – and made space for alternative aesthetics and, crucially, given a platform to people who don’t fit the dominant profile of white middle-class male. It’s no longer OK for men to tell us “there just aren’t any women comic artists in New Zealand” – we know different. And, being the first all women comics anthology to be picked up by a publisher in Aotearoa/New Zealand’s history – thanks to the brilliant women at Beatnik Publishing – means our phenomenal women comics creators can no longer be denied.

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But the most outstanding aspect of this project has been the community that it’s built. When we set up the Three Words Facebook group, women told us we had created a safe space for them to discuss comics – that’s a big deal. A bunch of the “competent boys” have even joined the group and are our staunch allies. Everyone has come together in support, on Facebook, Twitter @threeword3, Blogger – Aotearoa/New Zealand is talking Three Words. In short, we’re making history. We’d love you to pre-order a copy and be a part of it.

 

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How good does that sound? You can, and probably should, PRE-ORDER your copy here.

 

 

 

Poised Pen Long List – and December 4th

I’m absolutely delighted that the long list for The Poised Pen’s Another Place Competition is up. If you entered and your name’s not on there do have a read about what I said here. There were some brilliant stories that didn’t quite make it.

And if your name is on there: CONGRATULATIONS. You’ve done wonderfully well because the standard of stories I read was very, very high. And if you are on it – go and do something to celebrate. It’s not often we get to feel like actual writers because, mostly, we’re stuck at desk and behind computer screens, or glued to notebooks. Or hoovering or ironing or cooking or putting children to bed. So go, eat cake. Drink something fizzy. Or just have five minutes to yourself and say: I did this. I’m good, me.

The winners and the rest of the results will be announced in Liverpool on December 4th at the Another Place Results night at the Fly in the Loaf, Hardman Street, Liverpool, where I’ll be reading too. It sounds like it’ll be a great night – lots of other writing and reading (and, I think, musical) goodness on offer and I’d love to see you there if you can make it. I might even buy you something fizzy myself.

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