The Troll at Christmas

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or my facebook and twitter feeds, then you won’t have been able to miss that, this year, I wrote and published a trilogy of thriller novellas called THE TROLL. What you might not know is that the first story in the series is a Christmas story. Perhaps not quite so full of cheer and goodwill to all men as some, but nonetheless, set at Christmas.

All of my novellas are on promo for the next few days. And, in the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to give y’all some extracts of the first story to read on this blog for free.

So here is the very opening of the first book; a kind of prologue. Tomorrow and the day after, I’ll publish chapters one and two.

You can buy all three novellas for £1.98 on amazon here  🙂

Happy reading and Happy Christmas, folks. Much love for a fantastic 2016.

Niki

Extract from THE TROLL, book 1, The boy with the sliver of ice in his heart

Long ago, which is always a far off land, there lived a young boy with a sliver of ice in his heart. The ice had always been there, ever since he was born. His mother noticed it right away. She tried to melt it by keeping him warm and wrapping him in blankets. She tried to cure it with help from the doctor, and consulted a witch, but nothing worked. In the end, she accepted that her little boy would always have a sliver of ice in his heart and she loved him just the same.

The boy grew tall and strong, in spite of his heart. He got on wonderfully with other children. There were two girls and a boy who were his best friends. They played children’s games together and, when they got older, they played different games. One day, the four children got lost in the woods. Sitting by a tree, one of them crumbled green buds into white paper. Another carefully removed small paper squares from a film wrapper; each had a tiny picture and looked a bit like a stamp. A third child opened a bottle that said Thunderbird on it, and poured the liquid into her throat where it burned her insides. The fourth child looked on, and didn’t stop any of them. After a while, he joined in.

They ate and drank all of the potions they had brought with them and the magic was set. One of the girls was transported to an enchanted grotto, with lights wound tightly around the trees like vines, and frogs that talked. It was a place she’d read about in a book. The boy with the ice lay in the grass and stared at the sky, and he could see the future and all it held. The other girl fell so deeply into her own mind that she forgot where she was and she stayed there, under an enchantment, for hours and hours. But the fourth child went to Hell. The fourth child was in Hell for a very long time.

The other three children lived happily for many years. Then there was a troll. It hid under the bridge and watched for them. The troll knew that the children would need to cross the bridge one day. And so it waited. Silent. Patient. But poisoning the air with its breath so that the children knew, deep inside, that it was coming for them and had bad dreams that they could never explain…

 

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A new breed of social media?

So, today I came across tsu. This is a new social media site that looks a lot like facebook but appears to behave more like YouTube, with users keeping rights to the content they post and being paid a share of any related advertising revenue. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Apparently, facebook have blocked tsu and you can’t share or invite people on your wall there. And you need an invitation from a current user to join so this could slow down how quickly the site grows. I’m not entirely convinced that facebook are quaking in their boots, the way the Huff Post article suggests, but who knows. It could even be clever marketing by the tsu people. In any case, should you wish to check the place out, here’s an invitation from me. Don’t say I never give you anything 🙂

Maybe see you there…

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So, you want to be a writer?

I came across a video on YouTube today, a TED talk by Nathan Filer that pretty much said everything about writing a first novel that I would ever want to say. It’s perfect. You can watch it yourself, below. But to pick out a few key points.

  1. Your debut novel is unlikely to be your ‘debut’ novel. In other words, you’re likely to write at least one or two that aren’t of a publishable standard before you finally write one that is.
  2. Focus on the things you can control. You have no say over whether your book will win prizes, whether critics will like it, whether it will sell millions of copies. The only thing you can control is the next sentence.
  3. Set yourself specific and achievable goals. Writing some words (not necessarily a thousand), sitting at your desk trying to write for a set amount of time, finishing a chapter. (More on this below.)
  4. Allow yourself to fail. It’s part of the process.
  5. If your book is rejected 30 times, it might not be any good. That doesn’t mean that *you* are not any good. It doesn’t mean that your next book won’t be any good. It only might mean something about that specific book and, even then, it’s only *might*.

Finally, just a little quote from Filer. This is what he did that finally helped him finish the novel that had been sitting in his drawer.

“I replaced ‘I want to be a writer’ …with ‘I will write something today’…”

If I had one piece of advice for aspiring writers (apart from watching Filer’s talk) it would be to try to do exactly that.

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In other news. The Troll.

The latest book in my TROLL series is out now, on Amazon. To celebrate, the first book is currently free on Amazon UK, and the second is reduced to 99p. Fill yer boots, ducks.

If you’re USA based, watch this space.

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Pigs, trolls and other stories

Okay, so I was hoping to bring out my third book in THE TROLL series of novellas on a slow news day. Just goes to show you can’t plan these things… In a way, though, it’s apt, with the whole of twitter trolling our very own Prime Minister. It’s certainly bringing out some inventive puns. But, honestly, I do wonder if we’re missing the point, slightly.

I mean, I don’t care about the drugs allegations, particularly. ‘Young man parties hard at University’ is hardly news. And, if it is true, then Cameron has at least avoided lying to us about it.  He even campaigned for an end to the futile War on Drugs earlier in his political career. As for the allegations involving the pig… /pauses /giggles /takes a big deep breath

It’s funny but, on a serious note, the story behind this does have some more disturbing aspects. No, honestly. I really think so. /stifles giggle

The two things that strike me as actually important (rather than just funny) are Ashcroft’s motivation for telling the story, and his claims that Cameron knew about his non dom tax status back in 2009. The latter, if true, is simply outrageous and would mean that we were mislead by the response to this in the run up to the 2010 election.

The former tells us a lot about how power and privilege work in certain parts of Broken Britain. According to the Guardian, Ashcroft writes about being offered a junior whip position: “After putting my neck on the line for nearly 10 years – both as party treasurer under William Hague and as deputy chairman – and after ploughing some £8m into the party, I regarded this as a declinable offer. It would have been better had Cameron offered me nothing at all.”

I’m left wondering what, exactly, Mr Ashcroft feels his £8m should have bought him, and if he believes that he should have been able to guarantee high office and influence by handing over all that cash.

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Protecting us from the threats of poetry

Today I read the prime minister’s ‘vision for a smarter state’ and, as I glanced across the page, I misread a line about how he intended to protect us from ‘terrorism, poetry and climate change’. It actually said poverty, which is a laugh. I’m pretty sure the way I read it was more accurate.

You see, the thing is, they’ve cancelled Creative Writing A level. The reasons? Apparently, there’s too much overlap with English Literature and the qualification is too focused on skills rather than knowledge.

Excuse me?

I don’t even know where to start.

Actually, you know what, I do. Let’s start with a couple of quotes..

“We have got to make sure that we have got… an education and skills system that provides people with the skills they need to take the jobs that are being created.” David Cameron, April 2014.

“Ensuring young people leave school with the skills they need to get a good job, an apprenticeship or a place at university is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan.” Department for Education Spokeswoman, April 2014

“We inherited a system where far too many children left school without the qualifications and skills to get on.” David Cameron, February 2015.

I could go on but it’d get pretty boring. If you don’t believe me have a look at this google search, or  a speech like this one, where the word skills occurs eight times. David Cameron generally seems pretty keen on skills. Helping young people gain more skills was his reason for further investment in apprenticeships, and also part of the rationale behind the National Citizen Service initiative he’s so very keen on. As he has mentioned before, getting a bunch of exam certificates doesn’t necessarily guarantee that students leave schools with the skills they need to work in industry. Y’know, small things like literacy, creativity, initiative and ability to analyse, or work on self-guided extended projects. The kinds of things a student might learn doing an A level in Creative Writing.

So, is it really true that most A levels are packed full of content and less focused on skills? It depends which A levels we’re talking about, I suppose. History, politics, economics, even the sciences, of course, have lots of facts. I think most teachers of those subjects would be rather offended, though, if you suggested they were not teaching skills as well. In fact, I’d go as far to say that the skills part of their curriculum was really what counted at A level. That it was far more important than the facts. And what about the subjects that present easy parallels to writing, such as Art and Music? So far, so obvious. But I want to make what is perhaps a more surprising comparison for a lot of people. What about maths? That’s all about skills. Are the DfE about to cancel that?

It’s funny because, although I teach Creative Writing now, I studied maths at University and taught the subject for many years. People often comment on how strange they find this but I often point out it’s not that different. That both are about developing and practising skills, rather than filling your brain full of facts. That the talents I have that make me a good novelist (depth of thought, thinking in abstractions, imagination, visualisation, making unusual connections, problem solving) are exactly the things that made me precociously good at maths when I was at school.

In my experience, A level maths was all about skills and practice. I remember my maths teacher walking up to me just before my final exam and asking if I’d revised. I told him that I hadn’t. I had known how to do everything and finished all the past papers months ago. Why would I need to revise? I could *do* the exam because I had learnt the skills. I got an A. I’m not telling you this story to show off, but so that you understand I am not making this up!

I don’t often agree with David Cameron but when he says that what our young people need are skills to equip them for life, I can’t help but nod along. So, after all that talk about skills, cancelling an A level because it teaches such things seems utterly bizarre.  The other justification, about overlap with English Literature, is also very strange. I’m not sure it’s even true. I mean, sure, they both involve reading. They both involve words. But I’ve done English Literature A level and a Creative Writing degree and I can’t say that the former prepared me for the latter particularly well. And, anyway, A levels overlap. Get over it. Look at Maths and Physics. Or Chemistry and Biology. Or Politics and History. etc etc.

This decision doesn’t exactly come as a shock to me. I do honestly wonder sometimes if this government is trying to protect us all from poetry. From art in general, and radical thinking. From things that challenge the established order. But the justification for this decision is the most ridiculous I’ve come across since a certain Russell Group University cancelled a course and said it was because the tutor left. As a graduate of a Creative Writing masters, a practitioner and teacher of the subject, I’m appalled and disappointed. As a graduate of a Mathematics degree and an ex-teacher of this other, skills focused subject, I am left utterly confused.

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Words and how to use them, number 1: Internet Troll

In a bizarre moment of synchronicity, I was reminded today of one of the factors that influenced me when I was writing my latest book series THE TROLL.

It was all to do with a recent post someone made on facebook, in which they referred to not feeding trolls. And it was interesting, because I knew exactly which internet experience this individual was referring to, so that I also knew it was a total misuse of the word troll. I noticed this happening so frequently on the internet back in 2012 that it felt like a theme. Internet troll no longer meant someone on the internet, trawling for a reaction. It wasn’t used to refer to a psychopath or narcissist having fun at the expense of others. A new meaning was emerging. Troll: someone on a different side of an argument from you.

I’m interested in the meaning and use of words, so this is something I explore in the series of novellas. Of course, I couldn’t resist bringing in some fairy tale references. I made one of my characters an academic who studies these things, which gave me a lot of room to explore that too. I’m also interested in the ways people interact online and how that leaks into real life. The way teenagers will use words like lols and hashtag in everyday conversation. The way these things influence the way we think and our internal monologue. I explore this with my other point of view character, who is a radio presenter. Working with these two different voices was a lot of fun.

I usually find when I’m writing that a number of different influences will come together all at once, culminating in something with a coherence, when you’re lucky, anyway. I remember very clearly how that happened with my first novel and it happened here too. I’d been experimenting with a stream of consciousness narrative where I introduced a change of point of view with something like a twitter ID, @louisa or @kelly, and changed the focus of what they were talking about with hashtags; #prometheus or #5fingerbargain. I realised that I had to write about the internet, really, to use that structure.

The thing about the troll that haunts the friends in my story is that it’s not really a troll at all. It’s someone they know, set on revenge. You’ll have to read the books to find out who 🙂

THE TROLL, book 1. The boy with the sliver of ice in his heart

THE TROLL, book 2. The girl who was eaten by stories

THE TROLL, book 3. The man with a tale to tell – coming soon!

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David Kershaw

A lovely tribute from one of my University of Nottingham students.

The Book Word

Today I went to the funeral of one of my favourite lecturers, David Kershaw. It was brilliant to see so many people there who had clearly been touched by him.

You see, David was not only clever and knowledgeable but he was also supportive and inspiring. David helped me and looked out for me when I was in the grip of my eating disorder. When I fell into an episode of depression, he was there cheering me on and celebrating my little victories with me. He knew my father died suddenly just before I started university and always liked to make sure I was doing okay, and at certain times of the year when he knew I was more vulnerable than usual, he’d take the time out to listen to me and check on me almost like a surrogate father.
David was always there for any of the students who…

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More than the sky

To my youngest sister and my newest sister

A soppy little note on the occasion of your marriage ❤

A wedding day flies by so quickly. And that’s fine. Because with luck, love and determination, a marriage lasts for life.

May all of your problems look tiny compared to your love for each other. And may nothing feel insurmountable except the idea of not being together.

I wish you all love, light and happiness. I love you more than the sky and I always will.

From Nic xxxxxxxxx

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Neil Gaiman on writing, publishing and ideas

The latest video on my YouTube channel is of Neil Gaiman answering questions from various interviews. I’ve pulled together the ones I liked the best. He’s wise and very funny, as one might expect. I hope you enjoy.

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