On this Bank Holiday Monday author John Nicholson takes part in my feature A Life in Books.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
I was born in Hull in the early 60s and brought up on Teesside. I’ve lived in over 20 places in the last 35 years, everywhere from the north of Scotland to southern California, and have been writing professionally for 16 years, first about football (my book We Ate All The Pies was long-listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year) then about food (The Meat Fix) before moving on to write fiction. I’ve now written 14 novels in the last four years, 12 of which form the Nick Guymer crime series, which I’ve lately taken to describing as literary soap opera.
Having been snapped up by a publisher for two books, I quickly realised that the only way to give yourself a chance to make a living at writing was to set up your own publishing imprint. So that’s what I did, establishing Head Publishing in 2012 and publishing
all my books through it. It worked well from pretty much day one, and in the first month I’d made more money than in three years with a publisher. I surround myself with talented people to edit, proofread and design the books, all of whom are tasked to make me look better than I really am!
I know I’m fortunate to be able to write for a living, but it’s exactly the position I wanted to get into as I entered the second half of life, figuring that as long as I’m compos mentis, I can keep earning a living until I cark it. I won’t be retiring because I’ve nothing to retire from!
Outside of tapping away at a Chromebook, I am a vinyl record collector with over 4,500 albums. I live in Edinburgh with my partner of the last 37 years, Dawn, who is one of those annoying people who is brilliant at a lot of different things. Currently, she’s set up a jewellery company, but is also a well-respected artist and graphic designer. We live in a lofty apartment in the New Town, in a state of permanent semi-chaos.
1. What was your favourite book from childhood?
My parents encouraged me to read from a really early age and while I was a voracious consumer of Enid Blyton, it was the Brer Rabbit stories that really captivated me, especially the Tar Baby, which taught me at any early age, how to get out of sticky situations. I was also mad about Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.
2. What type of books did you read as a teenager?
As a young teen I loved the Lone Pine series of books because the characters had relationships and fell in and out of love. I was quite a soppy boy and was never a fan of adventure books supposedly aimed at me, such as Biggles. As I got into my mid and late teens, I read anything that was part of the late 60s counterculture such as Kerouac, Kesey and Wolfe. On top of that, I’ve always had a love of poetry and can usually be found with a slim volume of difficult verse in my pocket. I especially love the Beat poets, who opened my mind to how you could forge art from experiences.
3. When you were at school what was your favourite book you studied?
This is easy. It was Kes by Barry Hines. It was the first novel I’d read which was written in the working class vernacular that I was so familiar with. It felt less like a novel and more like a documentary. It allowed me to believe people from my background could write books and that it wasn’t just a middle-class thing for middle-class people. Kes has been incalculably important in my life and even now, it informs and inspires.
4. What is your favourite classic book?
I went to college to study English and History and in doing so developed a love of Russian Literature. The gothic darkness of Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky captivated my soul and seemed to tell me eternal truths about the human condition that have stayed with me ever since.
5. What is the best book you have had over the last 5 years?
I’m a bit biased on this but my pal Dan Gray recently published a book about football culture called Hatters, Railwaymen and Knitters. He has such a romantic, heady prose style that, even if you’re not interested in football, he pulls you into his world view.
6. What book do you think you should read but never get round to?
Tristam Shandy by Laurence Sterne. My old English teacher Dr Day was an expert on the book and I’ve always thought it sounds fantastic. The parts I’ve heard read are really funny, but I’ve never sat down and read it, cover to cover. I don’t know why really.
7. What do you consider to be your favourite book?
If I had to choose one it’d be Tom Wolfe’s Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. It’s a joyful, crazy, multi-hued beast of a book, full of wit and far out philosophy. Every time you dip in, it it’s like you’re putting on psychedelic glasses and are transported to the late 60s. When you finish the book, you really do feel stoned. I also adore Sara Paretsky’s VI Warshawski novels. All of them are excellent but I’d go for Double Indemnity. I set out to be Teesside’s Sara Paretsky!
8. Is there a book that you have started but been unable to finish?
I tend to struggle on with books, feeling that pain is good for my soul. I once tried reading The Prime Minister by Tony Trollope, as I like to call him. It was so dry it almost hurt my eyes. Didn’t finish that. I also struggled with Emma by Jane Austen, who I don’t much like. I get why people do like her, but to me, they’re nowhere as smart and funny as they think they are, every book seems the same and there’s only so many women in bonnets that I want to read about. Oh and I read Alan Alda’s autobiog. I’d always loved him, but the book was so teeth-grindingly dull that I couldn’t finish it.
Which two books would you take to a desert Island?
I’d have the Record Collector price guide, which details all manner of interesting things about vinyl records. I’d also have to have the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, just to grok on the trippy vibes…err…man.
10. Kindle or Book?
It’s not an either/or for me. I’m happy to have each to read in different contexts. I think novels are quite disposable, so Kindle is ideal for them. But I also have massive volumes of poetry and music reference books and I couldn’t be doing with them on a Kindle. So I think they have to co-exist. The snooty attitude to digital books is completely anathema to me and those who perpetuate it, are, as far as I’m concerned, howling at the moon.
John Nicholson’s Nick Guymer Crime series is available to buy now.