The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Nigel McClea

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The Interview: Bookbag Talks To Nigel McClea


Summary: Sue thought that A Word Glittering with Spikes was a long, indulgent, romantic read and she had quite a few questions for author Nigel McClea when he popped into Bookbag Towers.
Date: 2 February 2015
Interviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee

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Sue thought that A Word Glittering with Spikes was a long, indulgent, romantic read and she had quite a few questions for author Nigel McClea when he popped into Bookbag Towers.

  • Bookbag: When you close your eyes and imagine your readers, who do you see?

Nigel McClea: This will sound egotistical but when I close my eyes I see... myself. Why? Because if my writing does not make me laugh or cry or sigh or frown, then what hope is there for my readers? I still get a lump in my throat when I read the death of Harry.

  • BB: Lump in your throat? I cried! What inspired you to write A Word Glittering with Spikes?

NMcC: A heady mixture of vanity and mortality. All my working life I was a lawyer aware of the power of words but no-one was ever likely to read one of my leases for pleasure. So could I write something that would live, that might be read long after I was gone? And from that arose A Word Glittering.

  • BB: What a wonderful way of looking at it. I'd love to know what happens to your leading characters. Do you have any plans for a sequel and will we meet David and Jenny and Bill and Charlotte again?

NMcC: I adore each and every one of my characters but whether we shall ever meet the four youngsters again I simply do not know. I think they deserve a little rest while they come to terms with marriage, but there are plenty of others who have a full history in my mind. There was simply not enough room in A Word Glittering to be able to tell all their stories. So a second novel is under way - not a prequel or a sequel but a "side-quell", where the action will take place on a single day a few months earlier and with, as its hero, a character so peripheral that he has but a single mention in A Word Glittering. Now he will have a book all his very own!

  • BB: I'm having a lot of fun trying to work out who he could be! I know that you've recently retired. Have you found the transition from a high-profile professional career to a 'life of leisure' at all difficult?

NMcC: I was very lucky, being allowed to scale down my work over a number of years rather than fall off the professional precipice. Even now I keep out of my wife's way by sitting on any number of unnecessary committees. But writing has been my best recreation; the ability to pick up an imaginary world and to put it down at will; to lose myself for hours at a stretch in something entirely of my own creation.

  • BB: Where and how do you write? How did you learn to write fiction?

NMcC: Everything is laborious in my study using two fingers on a laptop. Although I cannot type very fast, similarly I cannot think very fast so all works out well. I have a plan in my mind for where any story line should be going and, usually, how it will end but the characters often ambush me on the way and carry me off to unexpected places. That, to me, is the most exciting part of writing - the pleasure of the unexpected.

I do not know that I have ever learnt how to write. Certainly I have never attended a creative writing course, but then neither did Dickens or Shakespeare! I have always adored stories, ever since I was a child, both creating them in my head and living those of others. Putting the first cut of an idea down on paper has been surprisingly easy, almost as if a character is whispering inside my head. What has been difficult, and it has surprised me how difficult, has been the re-writing needed to polish that first draft. I live in awe of the great writers whose first effort is so close to their finished work.

  • BB: I think very few writers are that lucky, Nigel. Are you a keen reader? What are you reading at the moment and can you recommend it?

NMcC: I cannot imagine life without a book.

In a year for major anniversaries I am reading Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell and can thoroughly recommend it. A complex battle is brought vividly to life although occasionally he switches from third to first tense and this can be startling, and he does have a habit of repeating phrases.

  • BB: What would be your desert island book?

NMcC: Without a doubt Les Miserables. It may be monumentally indulgent (a model for my own writing?) but all human life lies within its pages and it contains possibly the greatest single creation in 19th Century literature - Jean Valjean. "To die is nothing; but it is terrible not to live."

  • BB: If you hadn't been a lawyer, what would have been your second choice of career?

NMcC: At university I wanted to be a toy boy. A young man in my year ran a car and it seemed to my juvenile mind there might be an explanation: a rich, middle aged lady to be seen draped like a fox fur about his shoulders. When that ambition proved... over ambitions, I thought about being an architect with enough high explosive to blow up all the sixties buildings I hated then, and for that matter hate still.

  • BB: I don't think we've had anyone suggest the toy boy option before! What's next for Nigel McClea?

NMcC: I want to visit all the Teatime Islands - all those little specks around the world where the British flag still flies. When I was a child I used to sit in bed for hours devouring the atlas, my little chest swelling with pride at all the red bits that belonged to us. By the time I was a man we had given most of them away!

  • BB: What a wonderful ambition. Good luck with the new novel, Nigel - I'm still trying to work out who it's about.

You can read more about Nigel McClea here.

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