Nigel Stewart – Q&A

Nigel Stewart
Nigel Stewart
Nigel is a writer and musician. His first novel, Colouring In, was published in 2019, then The Lines Between Lies, followed in September 2020. Secrets We Hide From Ourselves was published on 21 September 21. All three have been in collaboration with Purple Parrot Publishing.

​Based in Kirkham, Lancashire in the North West of England, he also write and record his own songs.

Contact details for Nigel are:
Twitter: @MeNigeStew
Instagram: @menigestew

Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?

I wanted a new creative output, having been a musician and songwriter since my mid-teens. But after moving to Lancashire, I found a music scene was all about covers bands, and I didn’t want to do that. So I decided to have a go at novel writing. And the subject inspiration was people I seemed to be surrounded by whose talents were suppressed by “life” – career, family, mortgage – and therefore their talents were wasted. The idea for the book came from that, really. I just asked myself a lot of ‘what if?’ questions.

What came first the characters or the world?

I think in Colouring In, the character definitely. I knew him before I started writing, how he would behave and so on. But in the subsequent novels it was the world, or at least behaviour and events.

How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?

Hard! It took me 20 years! When I first finished the manuscript in 1995 I honestly thought it would be easy to just get it published. But I found the whole process complex beyond words, and really elitist and closed. And in truth I didn’t understand what I was doing and the book was sub-standard. But I kept working on it, and when I found that self-publishing was a real opportunity, I doubled the effort and really focused on quality. It was self-published in 2016 and that led to the deal with Purple Parrot Publishing which saw a much better more refined edition in 2019.

How long did it take to write?

The first draft, about four years. Then, over the next 20 years, I probably spent another 12 months on rework but in phases, sometimes with nothing being done for months on end. Total time on it, probably around 6 years. I finished my 5th novel’s first draft in less then 3 months.

Do you have a writing playlist? If so do you want to share it?

I never listen to music while I’m writing. It would distract me too much. But there is a playlist I made with all the music that features in Colouring In and I’d be happy to share it.

How many publishers turned you down?

Back in the 90s I just got ignored, despite making queries with about a dozen agents and publishers. After self-publishing Colouring In, I met the people at PPP and we struck a deal for 3 novels. It’s been a good collaboration.

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

People have been really positive about it. One or two reviews are incredibly enthusiastic and people have privately told me they found it moving and real. There’s also a lot of good feedback about how I write dialogue. So it’s all positive, but it frustrates me a little that people won’t give less positive views. I’m sure there are people who don’t like Colouring In, but no one ever says so. I think I can’t learn without that. Would be good to have a constructive “here’s what could have been better” discussion.

What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?

This one:

“A really satisfying novel. It manages the difficult trick of being an exploration of weighty themes like rootlessness and the dangers of nostalgia, while remaining a thoroughly readable page-turner. Since its rooted in schooldays…. A+”

What can you tell us about your next book?

Since Colouring In, I’ve published two other novels: The Lines Between Lies; and Secrets We Hide From Ourselves. My next novel is called Justinian’s Daughters. It’s about retribution by powerful, potentially otherworldly women, taking revenge on the men and their families who did harm to the women’s ancestors. It’s finished and I’m looking at my options to publish it, making occasional queries with agents.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I don’t spend time searching for them, but if I happen to look I always read them. I get a lot of feedback on Twitter – not reviews as such, just positive Tweets. In many ways that’s more satisfying.

Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?

I’m so bad at ‘genre’ and really tend to dump my work in to the catch all ‘literary fiction’. Sometimes that feels like a cop out. I don’t really write ‘for’ a genre so I guess the truthful answer is – No I wouldn’t write outside the genre. I wouldn’t know where to start!

What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?

I still have a day job as a purchasing manager in the IT industry. But I feel now that writing is ‘what I do’, and given that I might be retired in the next 4 years, writing will become my full time work.

Which author(s) inspire you?

Iain Banks. Virginia Woolf. Evelyn Waugh. Kazoo Ishiguro. Jo Nesbo. Thomas Hardy. Ian McEwan. I recently read Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor and will definitely be reading more of his. And Heidi James, The Sound Mirror utterly captured my imagination.

Which genres do you read yourself?

As above, I’m really not good on genre. I think during my teens I read what I was told. In my 20s/30s I picked up on what was being touted in the media and it was mainly mainstream, conventional stuff rather than specific genres. Since then, just whatever looks and feels good based on recommendations, or a buzz around social media. I’m more interested in themes than anything.

What is your biggest motivator?

As a writer, it’s definitely the need to learn and improve. It’s impossible to be perfect, but I get a buzz out of learning from mistakes or things that could have been better, and preventing them happening again.

What will always distract you?

Social media, especially Twitter. Also, I’m a big football fan and sometimes don’t resist the lure of a good match when I should be working.

How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?

I want to be involved and to generate my own ideas. Then work with photographers, artists, designers, and ultimately publisher to create the final piece. That’s how we did it with all three novels. I get a real buzz out of it and wouldn’t like to be told “here’s your cover – we think it fits”. I believe it’s my decision about what fits but I’ve been really lucky to work with simpatico creatives who’ve made the final product amazing.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Sometimes, but didn’t need to be encouraged. I don’t recall being read to though. I think studying English at school made me less inclined to read because it felt like work. I think it made me read less worthwhile things.

What were your favourite childhood books?

The usual suspects – Winnie the Pooh, The Wind In The Willows, then White Fang. I loved reading old WW2 books that were non-fiction (The Dam Busters for example) but I never liked fictional war stories like my brother read – Sven Hassell kind of stuff. My dad suggested I read Three Men in a Boat when I was ten and I loved that. Then All Quiet on the Western Front when I was 12 which was a colossal shock. I also really loved Spike Milligan’s memoirs and that made me read Puckoon which is so funny.

Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?

My local one in town is also a cafe and it doesn’t really inspire me. I try to use Plackett and Booth in Lytham when I can get over there because it’s a great shop. When I was on holiday in St Davids last January, the bookshop there was excellent.

What books can you not resist buying?

I think I stopped buying books as a ‘must-do’ part of life many years ago. So I can easily resist the need to grab them.

Do you have any rituals when writing?

Plan the time and use it productively. Have a pen and paper nearby. I like to have a candle burning if it’s dark. As above, no music. I try to never sit in the same place to write and will often take laptop to the pub or café or even just into the garden so I get a different motivation. I am lucky to be able to shut down outside distractions when I’m on a roll.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

17. I am a terribly slow reader these days.

What is your current or latest read?

Kololo Hill, by Neema Shah. It’s excellent.

Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?

Working through my TBR list, I’m looking forward to each of them so won’t single any out. The next on my list is Chris Brookmyre’s The Cut.

Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?

I’ve started work on a set of short stories and I’m thinking of publishing them direct from my own website. That could be fun. Otherwise, it’s all about finding right publishing deals for 4th and 5th novels – irons in fire.

Any events in the near future?

No, none. I’m billy no mates. Haha.

and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?

I think I lump myself in to literary fiction because it’s what I’m most likely to read. That’s inspired, perhaps, by really being quite conventional and perhaps quite low-risk in my reading historically.

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