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Nicola Pierce lives in the town of Drogheda in Ireland. Following her many successful ghostwritten books for adults, Nicola published her first book for children, Spirit of the Titanic. The book received rave reviews, and ran to five printings within its first twelve months. City of Fate is her second book for children and transports the reader deep into the Russian city of Stalingrad during World War II.
Q+A for Nicola Pierce
Q: Nicola, when did you first start writing?
From the very beginning I was a big reader and somehow writing just seemed to be wrapped up with my love of reading. I have diaries that I kept when I was a young child; they were as precious to me as my Enid Blyton collection.
Q: You write historical fiction novels – were you really into history when you were in school?
My two favourite subjects in school were English and history and in writing historical fiction novels I can combine my passion for both subjects. I absolutely love going back to something that happened years ago and trying to imagine how my characters – real or imagined – coped with it. My biggest challenge is bringing the event alive and making it relevant to the reader in 2015.
Q: Where did the idea for Behind the Walls come from?
I was asked to write a novel about the Battle of the Boyne in1690. During my research I discovered that a lot of the soldiers at the battle had fought at the siege of Derry in 1689 and so I felt that I should at least give it a mention. However, when I read about the siege it was such an exciting and dramatic story that I immediately knew it deserved an entire book to itself.
Q: Spirit of the Titanic, City of Fate and Behind the Walls – what was the most interesting time period to research?
Honestly, the most interesting time period to research is whatever I’m in the middle of researching. I set out to discover as much as I can about the event and become hugely absorbed in that particular period – thanks to some wonderful documentaries on Youtube and the books that I find in my library and bookshop.
Q: How do you write historical fiction – research first and then write, or research as you go along?
Oh, I have to research first - and sometimes for a couple of months - before I can allow my imagination to puff out a story beyond the historical facts. The research is my foundation so I can’t start building a story until I have it in place. Also because I try to use as many “real” people as possible I have to make sure I know as much as I can about them and their world.
Q: Where and when do you write?
Mostly I write in the spare bedroom which is my “office”. My desk is a large, ugly glass dining table that I have hidden beneath a table cloth.
I am not a disciplined writer. I aim to write 2,000 words a day and I try various ways and means of achieving this. I handwrite my novels so that means when I get tired of working in the house I can go out to a café and try working there. There are the days of glory when I reach 2,000 words before midday but these are usually followed by long, dark days when no matter how many times I count what I’ve written my total doesn’t add up to even half of what it should be.
Q: What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?
In my teens I re-read favourite books like “Little Women”, “Pride and Prejudice” and “Children of the Oregon Trail”. I also loved “To Kill A Mockingbird” and “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”. I also spent my teens falling in love with most of the characters in books like “The Outsiders” and “Rumblefish”.
Q: Did you think that one day you'd write a novel that would actually be published?
It was definitely a dream of mine but I think it was more of a fantasy. When I look back I don’t think I ever truly believed that I would be a published writer. When “Spirit of the Titanic” came out I bumped into neighbours and friends that I hadn’t seen in years and they all cheerfully congratulated me of finally achieving my dream. It seems that wanting to be a writer was something I shared with lots of people but I honestly couldn’t remember doing this.
Q: What advice can you give would-be children's authors in getting published?
This is a tough one as I realise how lucky I was and how difficult it is to get published today. What I can add to the reams of advice out there except to say try not be led by fashion. Ignore that best-selling fantasy book and write your own story honestly and from the heart. I’ve had some people smirk at me as they ask how long young readers will want to read historical fiction. Who knows the answer to such a question? I firmly believe there is a reader for every story.
Q: Favourite place in the world and why?
Two places: San Francisco and Portland, Oregon in America. Okay, so I haven’t yet been to either of them but that is going to change in May of this year. I can hardly believe that I am finally going to America for what I hope is just my first visit. I have read American writers for years and years and am very much looking forward to visiting the City Light’s Bookstore in San Francisco and Powell’s Bookstore in Oregon. I am also extremely excited to be anywhere near the possible destination of ‘Children of the Oregon Trail’.
Q: If you could visit any time in history for a day when would it be and why?
Lordy, what a question! I would have liked to have seen Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix in Woodstock in 1969 because they are two of my favourite singers/musicians. I would have liked to visit Paris/Berlin in the 1920/30s when they were crammed full of writers, artists and musicians before Hitler obliterated everything. I would also have liked to have been a cowboy on the great plains in America after the end of the Civil War and before Abraham Lincoln was murdered.
Q: Apart from writing, what are your passions and hobbies?
By far my number one passion has always been reading. I do it every day and can do anywhere. And I spend a small fortune on this particular hobby.
I do love watching films especially “olde” films from the 1930s, 1940s and right up to the present day. I have a thing for the movie business and collect lots of biographies of “olde” film stars, producers and screen-writers.
I love listening to music – loud, really loud! I’ve already mentioned Hendrix and Joplin. As I’m typing this I’m listening to a double album of The Temptations.
10 things you didn't know about Nicola Pierce
1. I’m left-handed.
2. I have a huge crush on Leonardo Di Caprio.
3. I can’t swim.
4. I can’t drive.
5. Pizza is one of my most favourite foods.
6. On January 2 I spent £25 on pens to start the new year/new novel with.
7. I absolutely love doing events but I usually don’t sleep the night before them as I never stop being too nervous about them.
8. I feel weird and anxious if I’m not wearing colourful clothes.
9. I have bought the same pair of Doc Martins for three years running.
10. Sometimes when I feel overwhelmed by work and tasks I should be doing I run off to the cinema or to a café with a book that has nothing to do with said tasks … for hours.
A significant slice of historic conflict is served with authenticity and sensitivity. The siege of Derry in 1689 is a fascinating subject matter, while battle, starvation and death makes for uncomfortable and at times difficult reading, the author also highlights love, trust, courage and hope. The background to the siege is explained, followed by the first few days and weeks which include the boredom of waiting, the gossip, the scaremongering, the day to day life of a city cut off from the world. The skirmishes and attack on the walls when they come, are not glorified, the confusion and fear of battle, the lack of food and water, feel very real. The author gives an identity and personality to some of the animals, which helps to bring an alternative focus to the siege and exposes the difficult decisions that had to be made by their owners. This is a book to encourage imaginations and shows with consideration and compassion how the past is connected to today. ~ Liz Robinson A Piece of Passion from the editor Susan Houlden Nicola Pierce is skilled at breathing life into long-ago events and well-known historical figures, making it all seem real and immediate. Why was there a siege in Derry in 1689? Why do people burn Governor Lundy as an effigy every year? In this book we find out the answers and what it is like to be trapped in a siege – a horror that is very real for other people around the world today. Nicola introduces us to such memorable characters as the Sherrard boys, Daniel and Robert, and also local hero Adam Murray. Through their eyes we see how the siege began as the thirteen apprentice boys close the gates; we feel the tension, the fear, the suspicion and hate. We see bombardment, people fighting, starving, injured, and diseased. The storytelling creates vivid pictures in your head. Horace, Daniel's beloved dog, is among those sacrificed for food in a scene typical of Nicola’s books – one which will tear at the heart. But the Sherrard boys and the Derry people refuse to give in. Eventually, ships are sent by the Protestant King William, and the city is saved. What now for the Sherrard boys? A call to arms goes up. King William and King James are heading into battle at the Boyne.
March 2014 Book of the Month Emotionally taut and empathic, this novel will transport the reader into the very heart of the Second World War and the lives of children caught in the middle of history. Yuri is celebrating his fourteenth birthday when the German planes comes swooping low over his home dropping bombs as they pass. The Battle of Stalingrad has begun. One of the most significant battles of World War Two and one which accounted for the greatest loss of life is described through the eyes of children. Despite the obvious suffering the children all manage to keep going in a heart-rending story of individual courage and collective endeavour as the citizens of Stalingrad fought to survive and to keep Stalingrad – and the whole of Russia - safe from the German army. A Piece of Passion from Susan Houlden, Editor, O'Brien Press When you have been working with children’s authors for over 25 years, you sometimes think you cannot be surprised or excited by any new manuscript that lands on your desk. Then someone like Nicola Pierce comes along. And there really is excitement as you turn to the first page – even when the book is in its first draft.There is a haunting quality to Nicola’s novels. Her characters will enter your life and they won’t let you put them down. You will never forget their stories. When you are reading City of Fate you have to know what happens to five-year-old Peter and his friends Yuri and Tanya as the Germans take control of the city of Stalingrad during WWII. And you feel you are on the train, crossing the great Volga River, sitting beside men and boys who may die, on the way to fight for the city, with Vlad and his classmates. You can hear Stalin, the Russian leader, with his order number 227: ‘Not One Step Back’. And you’re hoping they’ll all survive – even the bully Anton. A note from the author - I’ve always been interested in the two World Wars. Once I finished Spirit of the Titanic my publisher asked me what I wanted to write next. A good friend suggested the Battle of Stalingrad. I read up on it and discovered that this battle is generally considered to be the most important battle of World War II because it was the first time a German army was well and truly demolished. Over nine hundred lost children managed to survive for nine months in a devastated and dangerous city, and only six of those were ever re-united with their parents. I quickly decided this was the story for me.