NIKKI YOUNG is one of our amazing panel of judges kindly volunteering their time to support our charity writing competition. Nikki is an author on a mission to get children writing. She is the owner of Storymakers, a creative writing club for children aged 7+. She has written two children’s books: The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants, published last year, and book one of the Time School series which is out now.
What writing projects are you working on at the moment?
As is my way, I’m working on a number of different projects at the moment. I seem to have a conveyor belt of manuscripts that are at different stages of the production process! One is a Young Adult book (a paranormal mystery thriller) currently with an editor. Then there’s the second book of the Time School series, which has come back from my editor and now requires me to go through and make the necessary changes. This is a time-travelling mystery series that centres on four children, a school, events that have occurred during its 100-year history and how the lives of the people who have studied there connect the present with the past. I then have a manuscript for middle grade readers, almost at the stage of going to the editor (about a boy and his superhero dog!) and a newly written first draft of Time School book 3.
Can you describe your writing/creative process?
Ideas tend to, quite literally, jump into my head as if out of nowhere. However, the superhero dog story came from a picture I took of my own dog when out walking. His shadow reminded me of batman and it got me thinking about a story idea (strange but true). Once I have an idea and begin to see the makings of a story, I get to know my characters in order to give them life and a personality of their own. Following that, I plan in detail, each stage of my story. I feel it’s important to get the scaffolding up, so to speak, before you start to build anything. I personally need to know the main plot points of my story before I start the writing, even though those characters I’ve brought to life might try to steer the story in their own direction as I write it. Writing a story is like building a house. You have a plan of what you want it to look like, but along the way, you may come across obstacles you weren’t expecting, like needing to add extra steel beams, or having to move one of the walls because of structural issues. Whatever these obstacles, you work your way around them and get the house you planned in the end.
How do you select the names of your characters?
The names of my characters come from influences all around me. Friends may notice their names crop up in my books, but I make sure I mix up their Christian names and surnames and that the characters are nothing like them, in both personality and looks. In ‘The Mystery of the Disappearing Underpants’ I have a Harry, James and Stacey and these three seemed to name themselves. By that I mean by the time I’d imagined them both physically and in personality, these were exactly the right names for them. I suppose it’s a bit like looking at your dog and deciding that they look more like a Barney than a Buster.
How did you get into writing?
I don’t think I’ve ever not been into writing. From when I was at school, I always enjoyed writing stories, pretending to be a journalist by making my own magazine and keeping a diary. Everything I’ve ever done, work-related, has involved writing in one way or another, including my work as a copywriter. After having my third child, however, I decided the time was right to focus on my dream of becoming an author and nine years later, I’ve been able to realise that dream. It’s a slow process, something that doesn’t happen overnight and something you have to constantly work at. It’s worth it though.
Which of your creative projects, past or present, are you most proud of?
I’m particularly proud of my Time School series. I’ve always been fascinated by genealogy and the idea of the ghosts of the past intermingling with the present – a whispering reminder from the once-living, telling us not to forget them. Our ancestry shapes who we are and it’s important to know what the people in our family went through in order to appreciate the lives we have today.
The Time School series explores this concept and the children in the stories uncover things about their past they had no idea about, but that have a direct reflection on their current lives. This helps them to understand more about themselves, shaping who they are as young people trying to make sense of the world.