Nicola Ashbrook – Q&A

Nicola Ashbrook
Nicola Ashbrook
Nicola Ashbrook is an indie author of two novellas-in-flash – The Anatomical History of Violet Vee, and Mae in Quinquennia published with indie publisher Selcouth Station. Her debut flash fiction collection is upcoming with Bearded Badger. She is always writing a novel.

Flash fictions are tiny stories of usually less than 1000 words. A novella-in-flash consists of many flash fictions which both stand alone and, when read in order, tell a bigger story. Nicola likes to write about interesting women – women who are different, quirky, contradictory, naughty, challenging. She likes a story with humour AND tears.

Nicola lives in the north-west of England with her family, two cats and an overly friendly Boston Terrier. When she isn’t writing, she works as a speech and language therapist for children.

Nicola can be found at:
Twitter: @NicolaAWrites
Instagram: @NicolaAWrites

Tell me what inspired you to write your most recent collection?

My most recent book is The Art of Escapology, a flash fiction collection centred around the theme of escape. I wrote much of it during the first wave of the pandemic when my mum also unexpectedly became very unwell (and died five months later.) In retrospect, I think I was writing to escape my own reality so the theme must have been lurking in my subconscious.

What came first the characters or the world?

In The Art of Escapology, there are many different characters and many different worlds. In my previous books, two novellas-in-flash – Mae in Quinquennia and The Anatomical History of Violet Vee – the characters definitely came first. They are both strong, quirky women but very different in their life experiences and approach. Mae experiences many challenges in her life but handles them all with a trademark dark humour. Violet, on the other hand, lives every day as though it’s her last, with a flagrant disregard for rules, morals and societal conventions.

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

Getting Mae In Quinquennia published was quite challenging. She got a few rejections. She was actually rejected by her eventual publisher initially but they offered feedback and I accepted it. When they re-read to provide it, they changed their mind and offered to publish!

Violet Vee had the smoothest journey of the three. The Art of Escapology also got its rejections but found it’s perfect home at Bearded Badger Press. I was only able to submit there because I was born in the midlands. My grandparents had immigrated there from Poland in 1946 – something which has become very poignant as one of the key stories is loosely based on my grandmother’s experiences in a concentration camp during the war. I feel the book has found its spiritual home.

How long did it take to write?

It’s hard to say how long The Art of Escapology took to write because I wrote it slowly, a story here and a story there, probably over the course of a year or so.

Violet Vee is my quickest write – 3 weeks from start to finish because I was desperately trying to make The Bath Novella-in-flash competition deadline!

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

No, I definitely don’t because I can’t concentrate with music on! Unfortunately, I need silence. Or quiet anyway – my household is rarely silent!

What kind of reactions have you had to your book?

The reaction to Mae in Quinquennia was amazing – the first print run sold out in 24 hours! She’s now on her third run with people still buying and messaging me about her over a year later.

Since the other two have come out, I feel the landscape has changed – we’ve entered the Cost-of-Living Crisis and, understandably, it’s harder for people to spend now. I feel that has impacted book selling and the reaction to them has been more muted. However, those who have read Violet Vee, have found her uplifting, irreverent and funny.

The Art of Escapology is only just landing – I really hope people enjoy it but we’ll have to see…

What can you tell us about your next book?

I currently have two novels waiting for a good home. One is a coming-of-age story with another strong female lead and the other, which is currently having a re-write, has a very unusual setting. I would love one of these to be my next book but again, we’ll have to see.

Do you take notice of online reviews?

I do when they’re positive! They’re extremely encouraging in a world where positive reinforcement is pretty hard to come by. Luckily, I haven’t had any that are too negative as yet but I know my time is coming.

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

I am a speech and language therapist working with children on a part-time basis.

Which author(s) inspire you?

So many. Kristen Loesch, Ronan Hession, Marianne Cronin, Susanna Clarke, Kate Sawyer to name a few.

Which genres do you read yourself?

I think my tastes are pretty contemporary and mainstream with a touch of something different. I read flash too. I love that feeling of getting so drawn in you can’t put the book down.

What is your biggest motivator?

Not wasting time and not being easily satisfied, I think. I like to feel productive and as though I’m progressing somehow.

What will always distract you?

Social media is tricky I think. You have to be there for marketing and staying up to date with what’s going on in the world of books but at the same time, it’s very easy to waste hours with random scrolling!

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

Because all of my publishing experience so far has been with small independent presses, I have been very lucky to have lots of creative input with all of my covers. With Mae, we worked with Kerry-Anne Mayes, a very talented artist who brought my idea to life. With The Art of Escapology, Matt Oakley is a graphic designer who has done most, if not all, of the Bearded Badger Press covers. His works is amazing – all the covers would stand out on a shelf but for completely different reasons. Mine is based on the idea of a cabinet of curiosities. I love all of my covers.

Were you a big reader as a child?

Yes! I read my way around our local library.

What were your favourite childhood books?

All the eighties/nineties classics like Judy Blume, Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew etc.

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

I love The Bound bookshops in the north-east, especially The Accidental Bookshop in Alnwick. I know I’ll be buying a stack the next time I’m up there. There are a few bookshops in the midlands who stock The Art of Escapology – Buk, Dormouse books and Scarthin Books and I hope to have a little drive out to visit them all soon.

How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?

Maybe about 40. I do try to curb my buying until I’ve read enough of them because it easily gets out of hand!

What is your current or latest read?

I’m currently reading Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller. I try to alternate between something from the bestseller shelves and something from a small indie.

Any events in the near future?

I’ve recently been interviewed for the Ellipsis Zine podcast so look out for that and I will hopefully be at Derby book fair next month.

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