I’m guessing the book writing’s maybe not full time?
If not, what’s the day job and can you give us a quick biography of yourself?
Born in Liverpool, grew up in Preston, moved to London to go to college and stayed there for quite a while. The music scene there and the access to the arts fitted me perfectly and the need to create took hold. I moved up to Scotland in the year 2000 and have been here ever since.
I’m a primary school teacher and have been for over thirty years. I moved from leading a class about twenty years ago to move into special education and then returned to the mainstream to take on my role as a support for learning teacher (SENCO in English money) and do my best to help those who struggle. When I became a father, I dropped to teaching part time and currently work for three days a week.
I live in Dunbar on the east coast of Scotland. I have three mostly-wonderful teenage children who are growing quickly and who make me very proud. I have OCD, which has led to struggles with addiction over the years, and was saved by becoming a father when I realised that the best addiction to have was giving things up (I’ve not smoked, drunk alcohol or gambled for over ten years now and feel the better for it). I’ve been a vegan for four years and I do a weekly crisis shift with Shout where I try to help people who are struggling with life.
From reading some of your work over the years (not enough of it mind you), you’ve done novels – both stand-alone works and a 4 book series, novellas, short stories and poetry. Can you remember what your first published piece was and when?
My first published piece was a story called Sea Minor. It was taken on by The Reader and that meant an awful lot given their reputation and quality. The icing on the cake for me was receiving the magazine and seeing that in the same edition was a poem by Seamus Heaney and a story by Vanessa Hemingway. That was early in 2010.
Later that same year, I had my first crime fiction published in Crimespree Magazine, alongside Scott Wolven. That’s still a real highlight.
Do you have a favourite format to work in?
I suspect the short story is my favourite format, though I’ve not written one for a good while. It suits the capacity of my brain, I think, and is a close fit to my attention span.
Do you have a typical writing schedule?
It fluctuates a little, depending which part of the novel-writing cycle I’m in. When in full flow, it’s any time I can find, otherwise it’s in the mornings of my days off and in snippets through the evenings when I have the energy. I also find myself stranded in various places as I take my children to activities and writing is a great way to use the time in a positive way.
My teaching work has grown substantially in the last few years and that has had a big impact on my output. I hope to do something about that in the not-too-distant future.
Do you insert family, friends, and colleagues into your characters?
In Loco Parentis is littered with them and I didn’t make too many changes either. And in the third book of the Southsiders series, By The Time I Get To Phoenix, the three students are loosely based on some of my closest friends (I was challenged to put them in and so I did).
I sometimes use the physical characteristics of people I know, but that’s only because I have such a poor memory that linking a character to someone real helps to keep me straight.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct your story – do you know what the end result is roughly going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I’m not much of a planner and when I’ve tried it my notes are so confusing that I just ignore them anyway. I generally let an idea ferment for a while and allow it to work its way through to an ending of sorts. Once I have the start and finish, I try to guide the story from A to Z in any way that the characters and plot developments allow.
Are there any subjects off limits?
I don’t think so, no. Anything should be open to exploration. The difficulty can be writing about something I’m uncomfortable with, but the beauty of being in control of what happens is that I only have to push myself to my limits and no further. The most painful and despicable things in our world are difficult to look at for too long, but they need to be examined to help us try to come to an understanding of injustices and the extremes of human emotion.
I really enjoyed your latest novel, Let it Snow – a police procedural with undertones of McBain’s 87th Precinct and Hill Street Blues. I particularly enjoyed the multiple case angle in the plot.
How long from conception to completion did Let it Snow take? Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
First of all, thank you for that and for taking the time to post a review. That kind of support is incredible and all writers need help to spread the word. I’m very grateful.
Let It Snow had an interesting journey. The undertones of McBain’s 87th were important to me, and the multiple cases angle was the most interesting aspect of the work as well as being the most confusing and difficult to cope with.
It wasn’t a smooth road, really. I worked hard on the first draft and was lucky enough to have Allan Guthrie helping me along the way. The original story had the premise that the British police were experimenting with carrying guns as a matter of course. I had a bee in my bonnet about how dangerous such a thing might be and wanted to paint a picture of what could go wrong – in this case, a member of the public stole a police constable’s gun and shot him with it. I was hopeful about getting it published that way, but after initial readings by Al and a few others, there was a strong feeling that the idea didn’t work because it stretched things too far. I unpicked the story to change that element and the murder weapon in the opening chapter became a knife. It wasn’t easy, I can tell you.
However, it almost did the job. The novel got over the first few hurdles towards the hoped-for publication, but fell at the last and I began trying to find it another home. Thankfully, Down And Out books took it on and also signed the next two books in the series.
Did the end result mirror your expectations at the start of the process, or is it a very different book to what you imagined?
I think it comes close. The change of the gun to the knife was the biggest alteration.
I found it difficult working with a broader range of characters than I usually would have. And I struggled with balancing the three cases involved in the story and could perhaps have bulked up the two more minor strands. I had also assumed that because I’ve read so many police and detective books and watched so many police-themed films and TV dramas that it would be easy for me to step into the police-procedural. That definitely wasn’t the case and I’m sure my lack of knowledge is visible at times. That tells me that those who put fiction and drama together so effortlessly are even more talented than I imagined.
What I hope surpassed my expectations were the characters. By the end of the novel, I felt they’d become well-rounded individuals who I really enjoyed spending time with.
Can you pitch Let it Snow to potential readers?
Can I let some others do that for me?
“You’ll want to spend time with the characters in this book. They’re ordinary people in all their glory and folly. Bird even manages to make one of the most hated characters in fiction (or life—the cop killer—engaging and interesting. Highly recommended, even for those who don’t usually dig police procedurals.” —Chris Rhatigan, Publisher, All Due Respect Books
“Let It Snow is an enjoyable fireside treat, though it certainly isn’t sanitised, it’s a warming police procedural for any point in the winter.” —Mal McEwan, Crime Fiction Lover
“Bird manages to create more than enough suspense to keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens.” —Charles Salzberg, The Big Thrill Magazine
“The tension is well-paced and, as in real life, there’s more than one case running together. Police personnel’s home lives are part of the problem. I found this a really good read.” —Kath Middleton, Ignite
“A young policeman is killed by a suicidal teenager while the city – and the murder investigation- is crippled by a snowstorm. Nigel Bird’s Let It Snow smoothly combines kitchen-sink social-realism with a Brit Grit police procedural and is as authentic as it is involving. Let It Snow is the first in Nigel Bird’s new series and is highly recommended.” Paul D Brazill
“We see grief, loss, shock, regret, anger as well as the distress and guilt borne by the family of the killer. There's sympathy and compassion for the troubled perpetrator and his parents and an awareness and understanding of the pain associated with managing mental health and the demons that sometimes escape when the methods and processes in place fail. In addition there's welcome elements of humour and black comedy interspersed throughout, especially in the strands concerning the department store heist.” Col 2910
“Great read, numerous characters, multiple cases, humour, emotion, dark.” Doodles
Christmas can be murder is the tag.
Any plans for a second follow on with some of the same characters?
The second book in the series is has already been sent to Down And Out. I’ve not had feedback yet, but hope that they like it. Once again, it has a couple of threads. A serial killer has returned to the city and is absorbing the force’s resources, while PC Ore Iwobi has a personal issue to deal with. The characters are the same and I hope they’re even more well-rounded than they were at the end of book one. It’s called My Funny Valentine.
I’m currently writing the third which involves a murder, an abduction and an underworld threat to one of the main detectives.
Which of your published books would you press into a new reader’s hands first?
That’s another great question. They all feel different and I suspect someone could really enjoy one and then seriously dislike another. I think Smoke would be a good starting point for a noir fan and The Shallows one for someone who is a little more mainstream in their taste.
Do you have a personal favourite amongst your canon of work?
Today, I’ll pick In Loco Parentis. I feel that the central character’s motivations work really well and that his breakdown is painfully explored.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Not a gem and not unpublished. My first novel (I don’t think I’ve actually admitted to this before, so you have a world exclusive) is called Recluse which goes under the pen name Kitty Wakes. I really love it, but have no idea how it stacks up. It tells a story of a British journalist investigating some loose ends discovered after his father dies. He sets off to America to put together a programme about a musician heavily based on Captain Beefheart and discovers things he could never had anticipated.
What’s the current project in progress?
It’s that third in the Rat Pack series. I’m twenty thousand words in and even though it’s a bumpy ride, I’m enjoying the journey and am settling into the groove.
What’s the best thing about writing?
It’s an outlet that helps me to break circling thoughts, which means it helps to keep depression at bay. That’s pretty important. Instead of sinking, spiralling towards the plug hole and disappearing down the drain, I can switch my mind and stay afloat.
The creation of something new is also very important to me and when everything is flowing and feels just right, it’s wonderful.
It’s bloody hard work. Not like manual labour or turning up to your job every day, but the fact that it doesn’t need to be done and yet you still have to put in a ton of mental effort and time to get things done is tough. To add to the frustration, there’s no guarantee that it will end up selling, so the reward has to be intrinsic.
Writing a novel is like climbing a steep and very big hill when it’s so misty and cold that you can’t see the top. You struggle up the slopes and there’s still a ton of walking to be done, then the rain and wind start and the place you thought was the summit was just a false peak. You get blisters and your sandwich is soggy and you start wondering what the hell you’re doing. And then you get there. The view is amazing, the sun shines and the sense of satisfaction is hard to beat.
I believe you have also done a lot of editing work as well.
Is it an easier gig than the writing or more difficult? To the uninitiated what’s actually involved in the process ……. correcting punctuation, tidying up clunky sentences, advising on pace, plot, character, direction???
Easier, I think. You never have to start with a blank page and fill it.
I do enjoy editing, especially when it’s a story I enjoy. Mine comes through All Due Respect, so you can imagine that it’s always in that category.
The things that I try to work on include pronoun agreement, dialogue tags and clarity, trimming back sentences, repeated words or phrases, consistency, maintenance of point of view, punctuation, getting to the point, back story, cliché, context and your bog-standard typos and spelling errors. Where possible or necessary, I try to explain my thinking and use it to offer tips for the next work.
While on the subject of editing, I recently had the opportunity to work on something really special. It’s called The Ancestor and it’s by Lee Matthew Goldberg. It’s seriously good work and a substantial novel that’s difficult to categorise. It comes out in September of this year, I think, and it shouldn’t be missed.
Are authors always receptive to suggestions and perceived improvements or can there be resistance and resentment?
As far as I know, I think people generally receive my edits well (at least when they’ve had time to think about them). I tend to be thanked rather than chastised, which feels good. I do worry that I only have one gear and way of presenting myself and suspect that it can be rather blunt, but that’s my style and I doubt I’m going to change it any time soon.
Is it easier to edit the work of a stranger or a friend?
A stranger, for sure. And friends if they’re experienced enough to understand the process. I’ve ruffled a few feathers in my time and I’d rather avoid repeating that.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Reading has been a struggle of late. It has something to do with the lockdown. The last five were:
Ed’s Dead by Russel D McLean
Slow Bear by Anthony Neil Smith
He Died With His Eyes Open by Derek Raymond
Bad People by Craig Wallwork
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet
Who do you read and enjoy?
When I need a comfort blanket and a guaranteed winner I’m likely to turn to George Pelecanos, Georges Simenon, Ed McBain, Don Winslow or a dip into Richard Brautigan. If I need a rubber stamp, if it carries the All Due Respect or the Fahrenheit Press logo, it’s probably up my street.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Today, I pick The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
Paddington 2. It had its TV premiere at Christmas and it was fantastic family viewing. A brilliant crime movie.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Bird household?
The must watch for the whole family would be Race Across The World, The Apprentice or The Great British Bake Off. For me, I’m stuck in a time warp – Columbo and Frasier are where you’ll find me and I recently added Kojak to that list.
What are the last three pieces of music you’ve listened to?
The Milkshakes vs The Prisoners Live
The Golden Groups – the best of Premium Records
The Cactus Blossoms – You’re Dreaming
RANDOM TRIVIA FUN QUESTIONS
What’s your favourite vegetable?
Potato (so versatile)
When did you last have a fist fight?
Last actual fight, I was probably around twenty, which makes it around thirty five years ago. Last time someone had a go at me, maybe ten years more recently than that, but it wasn’t a fight - I was just very drunk and just stood there being hit until they got bored.
Have you ever been thrown out of a bar or a club?
I don’t think so.
Do you have any tattoos?
Two very small ones - a butterfly with a bluebell on one shoulder and a heart (no names) on a shoulder blade.
What was your first pet’s name?
What’s the worst meal you have ever eaten?
Tripe and onions.
Do you have any irrational fears?
On the surface, they seem irrational, but they’re mostly about death and dying which means they’re probably not really irrational at all. My middle of the night sweats come from thinking about the cliff walk at the end of my road…
What’s your favourite holiday destination?
When did you last tell a lie?
One that really mattered? It’s been a while.
A white lie? Probably last night when my youngest did the cooking. If you’re reading this Donald, it really was delicious.
Many thanks to Nigel for his time
You can catch up with him here.....
His blog .... Sea Minor , on Facebook and on Twitter - @amouseandaman
His Amazon author page is here
and do yourself a favour - have a read of Let it Snow. You can thank me later.
At the zoo, a rhino is killed for its horn. With no evidence trail and a broken heart, DS Sue Nolan turns to an old flame, a man who always has his ear to the ground. Gangland boss Johnny Yen is only too happy to help, but only if he can get a little something in return.
In the centre of town, the biggest store in the city is robbed by a mannequin. It's the perfect inside job and the owners of the store know exactly which officer they want on the case, only the officer doesn't feel quite the same way.
If that wasn't bad enough, record snowfall has created chaos within the police department.
It's going to be one hell of a Christmas.
Praise for LET IT SNOW:
"You'll want to spend time with the characters in this book. They're ordinary people in all their glory and folly. Bird even manages to make one of the most hated characters in fiction (or life - the cop killer - engaging and interesting. Highly recommended, even for those who don't usually dig police procedurals." - Chris Rhatigan, Publisher, All Due Respect Books