Monday, 22 July 2019

A fab Q & A with Nicki Thornton, author of the fantastic "The Last Chance Hotel" and "The Bad Luck Lighthouse" (Chicken House Books)

Seth is back! And so is Nicki Thornton with the sequel to her superb "The Last Chance Hotel".

In "The Bad Luck Lighthouse" Seth Seppi and his moggy sidekick Nightshade are back for more mysterious antics, all tinged with a touch of dark magic.

We've been totally engrossed in this book for weeks, and it won our well-deserved "Book of the Week" accolade so do go and check out our review.

In the meantime we're also joining the blog tour for this fab book with a devilishly tricky set of questions for Nicki, which she answered with great gusto!

So without further ado, let's dig in!

Take it away Nicki!

5 Questions from Phil

Q1) Congratulations Nicki on your second book! Let's kick off by asking whether it was easier /

harder to work on "The Bad Luck Lighthouse" than "The Last Chance Hotel"?

A1) Thank you! I am delighted I have a second book. Particularly because The Last Chance Hotel was so extremely hard to write.

I thought about the idea for ages. I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted a detective plot. I knew I

needed to construct an entire magical world, and to create a large cast of characters from which you

had to guess whodunnit.

I really wanted it to have all those elements of classical detective stories that I love. To me, this means red herrings, not just clues. You have to be able to bring the reader up short, backtrack, mislead them into thinking the wrong thing...but without leaving them utterly bewildered, or guessing too easily!

The word count for the age group suddenly seemed too small to pack all this in! (I know EXACTLY what you mean! - Ed)

I got the world and the magic and the main characters long before I finally had a plot and a way into

the story. After my far-seeing publisher said they wanted to publish, it then took two years of editing.

I rewrote the entire book four times for structure to navigate where to put the clues / how to balance the backstory / have a complex plot – yet make sure it’s actually very easy to read.

So yes, by the second book, luckily I had a little more idea of how to do it!

Q2) You're so amazing at worldbuilding in your stories! Do you ever have real-life locations in

mind when you think up where you're going to set your books?

A2) Thank you again! Yes indeed. And you quite possibly know the inspiration for The Last Chance Hotel because I suspect you might have been to Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire? (We haven't but we're going to make it our business to do so!! - Ed)

A big, marvellous wood, and right in the middle is this really strange house. It looks like it belongs in the Black Forest – not in the UK at all. And it’s huge. To me it looked like a witch’s house, except blown up to vast proportions.

So, of course, you start to wonder: why would that house have been built here . . .? I never thought the Last Chance Hotel actually looked like that, but I loved the feeling of having stumbled on something extraordinary and that’s I wanted to create.

And, I stayed in a lighthouse once. That isolation and all that raw nature when a storm blew up. Of course I’d have to set a murder mystery there.
You don’t have to travel far to find the world is full of wonder if you have curiosity and imagination and that is pretty much the starting point for my stories.

Q3) I think we might have asked this one before but it's worth asking again. Were there any

customers from your time at Mostly Books who ended up in the books by hook or by crook

(you can tell us, we won't tell anyone else, honest!)

A3) Working in a shop is great for coming into contact with all sorts of people, which is gold dust when it comes to writing characters. Although there is no single person I consciously wanted to put in a book, you can’t help but soak up all the mannerisms and quirkiness out there. You can put in all the niceness you encounter, but also writing is definitely therapeutic for getting out all your crossness!

Q4) We know you're busily working away on book 3. Any sneaky exclusives we can share

about it with our readers or would Chicken House put you in the doghouse for revealing


A4) Ha ha! I was completely thrilled that Chicken House wanted to stay with Seth and his friends – the whole team there has been incredibly supportive. When I was trying to dream up how I could do a murder mystery set in a magical world, I inevitably ended up with a whole world and a huge sprawling story in my head.

One of the difficulties was knowing where to start, and I think that was one of the biggest struggles of writing The Last Chance Hotel – way too much story for one book.

Seth still has a whole lot more to learn about the magical world. He learns more about magic (while

solving a murder, of course). 

In book 3 the action moves deeper into being among magical people. Just as Seth gets a slim chance of a proper magical apprenticeship and a more secure magical future, it is the apprentices who are coming under attack.

In editing, things change – but I’ve just had my first editorial feedback and I’m confident those elements are going to stay! (oooh awesome, you heard it here first folks! - Ed)

Q5) Do you have any would-be author tips and tricks about planning your stories that you'd

love to share?

A5) Learn to love editing!

No, seriously. The thing is to be brave, just write, and accept you are not going to get it all perfect.

Planning for me is less important than writing regularly. Write a lot. And write what’s important to you.

I think about things a lot before I start to write. But knowing what my character wants and what I want my readers to feel is more important than having the plot all sorted out.

Get words on a page. Get to the end (so important). And usually about the end of the first draft the story will reveal itself to you and you will finally know what you are writing about.

...and now 5 questions from C and her mum (who *MIGHT* eventually let me read the book once they've finished it!)

Q6) How long did it take (roughly) to write your second book?

A6) Lovely to hear you are reading it together! Sharing books is such a particularly enjoyable way of reading.

Writing is definitely a habit with me. So I would have started it probably three years ago, working on it in between two years’ of editing for The Last Chance Hotel. 

I finished a first draft of The Bad Luck Lighthouse in September 2018 and for it to have time to go into production and be printed and distributed by summer 2019, all the changes had to be done by January. So it was a slow first two years, then a real foot-to-the-floor. My editor and I did in four months what probably took eighteen for the first book.

Q7) We love the way you describe Nightshade in the book, but are you more of a cat or dog person?

A7) That is so tough, and my answer is that I like both! I have had both cats and dogs that have been important in my life, all of which have had bags of personality, which is probably why I love writing Nightshade. 

She’s got rather a high opinion of herself, but she’s also comforting.

Q8) What made you think up characters named after plants? Great idea by the way!

A8) One of the fun things about being a writer is how you use words to give subtle messages. But these are usually just fun things a writer likes to do, knowing most people won’t even spot them – so you are very clever to have picked up on this.

I have three reasons for doing this (probably sounds like a lot for what seems a really minor part of the book). But plants have such great names. And not many people know them! It is such fun to have a name like bladderwrack, when it’s a real thing and you don’t even have to make it up.

Sorcery in my books is something that has been around for a very long time and often runs in families, so giving many of them ancient, natural names is also a way of emphasising this.

And the final reason is that Seth has lived his life being very in tune with the outdoors, something that is, sadly, increasingly uncommon for children in the UK. So it was partly my way of making plants and nature important to the story.

Q9) If your books became a movie or TV show, who would you cast as Seth?

A9) Please can I have a younger Eddie Redmayne (may need a time machine) (GOOD choice! - Ed)

Q10) What were your favourite books as a child?

A10) I grew up on my mum’s old Enid Blyton books, Paddington, devoured Roald Dahl and loved The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. But I was always a curious reader and stumbled on Agatha Christie and was completely hooked, and spent pretty much the rest of my childhood working my way through Sherlock Holmes, Dorothy Sayers, Ellery Queen, etc. That, coupled with the sorts of things they made me read at school – I think I was probably at least fifteen before I realised that you could actually read a book by a person who wasn’t dead.

Thanks for coming up with all your brilliant questions. Keep reading as a family. It is fantastic!

...And thank YOU Nicki for such a brilliant set of answers to our tricky questions!

THE BAD LUCK LIGHTHOUSE – the sequel to Nicki’s bestselling debut THE LAST CHANCE HOTEL – is out now, published by Chicken House.

Connect with Nicki on Twitter: @nicki_thornton and don't forget to catch up with all the other stops on the Blog Tour below!