Susan Nickalls, whose story ‘Nymphaea’ was published in issue 5 of Lucent Dreaming, was born in New Zealand where she started writing stories at a young age. After studying journalism and working in New Zealand television for several years she moved to the United Kingdom and now lives in Edinburgh working as a writer, editor, broadcaster and film producer. She recently graduated with an MA in Creative Writing where she started writing her first novel. Her influences include her compatriot Katherine Mansfield and Nora Ephron. Susan has adopted Ephron’s mantra that ‘everything is copy’, so her fiction is inspired by chaotic and crazy life events and her vivid dreams.
So, what inspired your piece ‘Nymphaea’ and how did it find its way to Lucent Dreaming?
I’m fortunate to live in Edinburgh, a city that has inspired many writers over the centuries and continues to do so with a wealth of courses to fire up the imagination on offer. Several years ago I went on a Saturday morning writing class at the National Galleries of Scotland led by the brilliant writer Regi Claire. We had to choose a painting to write about and Charles Curran’s 1888 Lotus Lilies caught my eye and virtually wrote itself on my computer. The first thing I noticed about this painting was that the two women in their finery surrounded by extraordinarily tall lotus lilies were sitting in a boat with no oars. That started me thinking. Who were they? Where were they? And what were they doing in a boat amidst a sea of lotus lilies dressed in their Sunday best? I wrote something very quickly at the time and made it into a slightly longer story as part of my MA in Creative Writing with the Open University. When I saw the posting from Lucent Dreaming on the Scottish Book Trust’s website, which is an excellent resource for writers, I thought it might fit the bill and sent it off.
What does writing and art mean to you?
All the arts, especially writing and music, are the oxygen of my life. To not write, or listen to and play music, go to an art gallery or a film or to dance would be like not breathing for me. I can’t imagine having a life without art. It is everything, it is life itself. I’ve been fortunate to have had words and music in my life from a very early age and I think every child should have the opportunity to fully engage with the arts, especially literature and music, as a birthright.
What are you most excited about right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
As part of my MA I started a novel Perfect which I now have to finish, so I’m not sure I would use the word ‘excited’ as I still have a long way to go. Perhaps when it’s finished! It’s a story about a woman’s search for the perfect man so I’m having a lot of fun dreaming up charming men and seductive locations. I have lots of ideas all the time and want to develop a few of these into short stories, which I really think is my métier. I’m definitely more of a sprinter than a marathon runner but there is always pressure on writers to produce a novel. But I think the tide is turning and at last shorts stories are coming into their own and are, like aqueous martinis (an unfortunate Lemony Snicket reference there), now ‘in’. So watch this space.
Tell us about some of your favourite books or art you’ve experienced – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
Goodness, it’s so hard to choose there are just so many books I’ve read and loved. As a child I read all the Boys’ Own adventure stories and W E Johns’ Biggles books made me laugh. In my teenage years, I couldn’t get enough of F Scott Fitzgerald, his world then seemed glamourous and romantic but now when I reread these novels I find them more tragic and poignant. I love foreign writers like Ohran Pamuk, Ishmael Kadare, Arturo Pérez-Reverte and Alessandro Barrico. Many of these authors write so sharply and sparingly, their work is just a joy to read. They also adhere to my maxim on all things, less is more. And I would also put in a word for the plethora of fabulous literature for children. My mother was a primary school teacher and said I should start reading to my baby son from day one, which I did. So together we worked our way through an amazing library of works. I read all of J K Rowling’s Harry Potter books to him aloud and our other favourite writers included Anthony Horowitz, Darren Shan, Mal Peet and Philip Pullman. I think writing for children is very tricky as they are the most demanding of readers, so all these writers have my utmost admiration.
But my desert island books would be poetry with T S Eliot, Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage and Shakespeare my trusty companions who make my soul sing and imagination soar.
What advice would you give those who want to do what you do?
Never stop reading, writing and watching the people who go about the world around you. Plus get a job that will pay your bills and give you time to write. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way offers a great regime for writers.
Where can people see more of you and your work?
Anyone in Edinburgh can usually find me at an Usher Hall concert or at one Edinburgh’s many galleries, the Scottish Gallery is a favourite or at a book reading event at one of our excellent bookstores. Toppings is the latest to open – so much for books being on the way out – or the wonderful Scottish Poetry Library. Hopefully my work will be sitting on their shelves soon.