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William Nicholson - Author

About the Author

William Nicholson was our Guest Editor in April 2010 - click here - to see the books that inspired his writing.

William Nicholson was born in 1948, and grew up in Sussex and Gloucestershire. He was educated at Downside School and Christ's College, Cambridge, and then joined BBC Television, where he worked as a documentary film maker. There his ambition to write, directed first into novels, was channelled into television drama. His plays for television include Shadowlands and Life Story, both of which won the BAFTA Best Television Drama award in their year; other award-winners were Sweet As You Are and The March. In 1988 he received the Royal Television Society's Writer's Award. His first play, an adaptation of Shadowlands for the stage, was Evening Standard Best Play of 1990, and went on to a Tony-award winning run on Broadway. He was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay of the film version, which was directed by Richard Attenborough and starred Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. Since then he has written more films - Sarafina, Nell, First Knight, Grey Owl, and Gladiator (as co-writer), for which he received a second Oscar nomination. He has written and directed his own film, Firelight; and three further stage plays, Map of the Heart, Katherine Howard and The Retreat from Moscow. His novel for older children, The Wind Singer, won the Smarties Prize Gold Award on publication in 2000, and the Blue Peter Book of the Year Award in 2001. Its sequel, Slaves of the Mastery, was published in May 2001, and the final volume in the Wind on Fire trilogy, Firesong was published in May 2002. A further epic trilogy – Noble Warriors – has seen been published to much acclaim and began with The Seeker, continued with Jango and culminates in Noman. He lives in Sussex with his wife Virginia and their three children.

Q&A

Where do you get your ideas?
There’s where, and there’s how. Where is easy to answer. The material that forms my ideas comes from my life, from the people round me, from the books I read, and more than I sometimes realise, from newspapers and magazines. I pick up a lot of strange stuff from news reports. Also of course, travel opens the mind to other ways of doing things, and I have travelled a lot in my life.
 
But then, when you have such a vast mass of trivia lodged somewhere in the memory, how do you pull out the bits you need at the time you need them?
I find the answer is day-dreaming. Often I know what I want to happen next, but not how or where it will happen. For example, I might know I want my hero to face a terrible danger - but what danger? So I let myself daydream. I let the situation float about in my head for a while, sometimes for days. Then along comes some random thought that goes click! and connects. It’s not quite as random as it seems. By preparing, by being ready, the useful idea has somewhere to go when it comes along. I think it’s important not to force this process; and equally important to be willing to make changes later, when a better idea surfaces. Finally, there’s something about this having-ideas game that people often forget to mention: it’s blissfully satisfying.

What inspired you to write ‘The Wind Singer, your first novel for teenagers’?
There were two spurs to writing the first book. One was simply a desire to write something for myself, not for a film production company, in which I could make anything happen – anything at all. I wanted the fun of invention, of story-telling my way. The second spur was an irritation with the amount of tests my children were put through at school. I don’t like or value exams, and I hate to see the way children are being judged by their performance at these strange rituals. So I invented a world that took the obsession with exams to its logical extreme, and started writing. Then of course, the story went off in unexpected directions. And that’s the fun of writing. Who is your favourite character? I love all my characters, of course, but I have a way of loving best the ones I've been writing most recently. So that means I love Seeker, Morning Star and the Wildman most right now.

How do you come up with the names of your characters?
I take a lot of trouble over names. Often I’ll change a character’s name several times during the writing of the book, until it settles down and feels right. The meaning of the name, or the associations of the sound, have to connect with the character – so Kestrel is fast and dangerous and beautiful, like the hawk, and Mumpo is mumbly and pooey, at least to start with. Also I try to give people from the same group similar names. All the Manth people have names ending in –th or –ch or –sh, and all the mud people have names ending in –um. This is very much what happens in the real world.

How long does it take you to write your books?
It all depends how many other things I’m writing at the same time – I also write film scripts, and plays – but in general, a book takes me about a year to finish. Have you always wanted to be a writer? Yes, I have. Even as a child of five I was trying to write books. But it’s taken another forty-five years to get anyone to publish them.

Did you know The Wind Singer would be part of a trilogy?
When I started writing The Wind Singer, I thought of it as one book. I didn’t know if anyone would like it or want to publish it. Then when it was accepted by a publisher, I realised there were many unanswered questions in the story. So then I planned the other two books. Are your characters based on real people? None of my characters are direct portraits of real people, but nothing comes from nowhere, so of course there are characteristics in them from people I know. The person I use most in creating characters is myself. I have many different types of people inside me – so do you – so does everybody. I’m shy and I’m confident. I’m gorgeous and I’m hideous. I’m young and I’m old. I’m male and I’m female, and sometimes I’m a cow or a pig. It’s all there if you look for it.

What tips would you give someone starting out as a writer?
If you want to write books, you have to do two things: read books, and write. It sounds obvious, but only by writing a lot will you get any good. The better the books you read, the better your own writing will be. Then it’s just a matter of keeping on writing. You won’t get good by giving up. I was useless for a long time, but slowly I got better. You can do it too. If you feel strong enough, show your work to others, and listen to their criticisms. It hurts - but if you listen, you'll get better.

What is your favourite book by another author?
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.

Click here to read a Q&A with the author from top children's publisher Egmont.

Featured books by William Nicholson

Other books by William Nicholson

The Wind Singer

The Wind Singer

Author: William Nicholson Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 06/04/2017

The first book in William Nicholson's award-winning fantasy adventure series, perfect for fans of Philip Pullman, Mortal Engines and Star Wars. `Gloriously cinematic and completely enthralling' - Independent This Modern Classic edition contains special bonus material. I hate school! I hate ratings! I won't reach higher! I won't strive harder! I won't make tomorrow better than today! In the walled city state of Aramanth, rules are everything. When Kestrel Hath dares to rebel, the Chief Examiner humiliates her father and sentences the whole family to the harshest punishment. Desperate to save them, Kestrel learns the secret of the wind singer, and she and her twin brother, Bowman, set out on a terrifying journey to the true source of evil that grips Aramanth . . . 'In terms of imagination and sheer scale, it's as ambitious as books get . . . think Star Wars and then some' - Daily Telegraph Fantasy books for children don't get more spectacular than The Wind Singer. William Nicholson's Wind on Fire trilogy has been translated into over 25 languages and won prizes including the Blue Peter Book Award and Smarties Prize Gold Award. One of the greatest writers of our time, William Nicholson has not only sold millions of children's books worldwide, but has also written for the screen and the stage, including the Oscar-winning film Gladiator and the BAFTA-winning play Shadowlands.

Clever Bill

Clever Bill

Author: William Nicholson Format: Hardback Release Date: 02/06/2016

A beautiful brand new hardback edition of one of the greatest children's books of all time, from the renowned artist William Nicholson, illustrator of The Velveteen Rabbit. The perfect balance of words and pictures, this charming story of a busy day and a forgotten toy paved the way for the modern picture book and still manages to capture the heart with its winning simplicity and uniquely gripping story. A brilliant piece . . . never fails to grip three- and four-year-olds. Shirley Hughes Clever Bill, I have long felt, is among the few perfect picture books for children. Maurice Sendak Sir William Nicholson was a distinguished British artist and graphic illustrator. He was renowned for his images of the famous, from Queen Victoria and Rudyard Kipling to Mark Twain and Theodore Roosevelt. He illustrated Margery Williams' classic children's book The Velveteen Rabbit which was published to great acclaim in 1922. Nicholson went on to write and illustrate two more children's books, Clever Bill and The Pirate Twins.

Seeker

Seeker

Author: William Nicholson Format: eBook Release Date: 01/05/2006

On the rocky island of Anacrea, in a garden within the great castle-monastery called the Nom, lives the All and Only, the god who made all things. He is protected by an elite band of fighter monks. These are the Nomana, the Noble Warriors. Seeker, who lives on the island, is now sixteen, at last old enough to follow his brother into the ranks of the Nomana. Far away, Morning Star, also just sixteen, is leaving home to achieve her lifelong wish to join the Nomana. And when a beautiful, violent river bandit known as the Wildman finds himself helpless before two Nomana, he, too, is determined to become a Noble Warrior. But these are dangerous times. Secret enemies have sworn to destroy Anacrea, and in the imperial city of Radiance, where human sacrifices are thrown to their deaths every evening, elaborate plans to attack the Nom are in place. Soon, in a shocking turn of events, Seeker, Morning Star, and the Wildman are caught up in a bloody and harrowing race to save the god of the Nomana and themselves from destruction.

Firesong (Vol 3 Wind On Fire)

Firesong (Vol 3 Wind On Fire)

Author: William Nicholson Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 28/05/2003

Led by Hanno and Ira Hath, thirty-two mostly Manth survivors of the fall of the Mastery search for the fabled Homeland. Ira knows that as long as she feels the warmth on her face, despite the wintry conditions, they are heading in the right directino. She also knows that, according to the prophecy, she will die when they reach the homeland. She grows weaker with every step. Hanno must keep up the spirits of the marchers on the gruelling journey. There is dissent, wretched hardships and terrifying brushes with death. Violent bandits abduct the young women; Captain Canobius attempts to poison them; evil passion flies, lives are lost and all the time, they know they must reach the homeland before the wind on fire, which will scorch the land, purging it of the evil brought by the Morah. But there is also love in the air: Sisi loves Bowman; Pinto loves Mumpo; and other new friendships and relationships are forged Mean while, Bowman waits for a summons from the people of Sirene. It is a call that will mean he must leave his beloved family and make the ultimate sacrifice to save his people. Kestrel, too, waits. But she doesn t know what for, and she dreads it. Eventually, the summons comes. But, to his surprise, before being taken to Sirene, Bowman must be trained - by none other than the Master, who was rescued by Jumper, one of the Singer people of Sirene, when the Mastery was destroyed, in order to train Bowman for his future role. Also, Kestrel is to join him. Neither is sure why Bowman thinks his future role is to join the Singer people in their ultimate sacrifice, but in an electrifying mind duel with Kestrel he discovers he is wrong: it is Kestrel who is to give up her life to save their people; Bowman must live to rule them. Just as Kestrel is consumed in the ecstasy of the wind on fire, her people reach the Homeland and Ira dies. Bowman and Sisi marry and rule the kingdom of Gang. Years later, we see the marchers happily settled in their new homeland.

The Wind Singer

The Wind Singer

Author: William Nicholson Format: CD-Audio Release Date: 06/05/2003

Smarties award-winning novel, read by the author. I hate school! I hate ratings! I won't reach higher! I won't strive harder! I won't make tomorrow better than today! In the walled city of Aramanth, exams are everything - not only for children, but for whole families. When Kestrel Hath dares to rebel, the Chief Examiner humiliates her father and sentences the family to the harshest punishment. Desperate to save them, Kestrel discovers that life in Aramanth was once different - and if she can find the secret of the Wind Singer, maybe life can change for the better once more. So she and her twin brother, Bowman, set out on a terrifying journey - to the true source of the evil that grips Aramanth...

Slaves Of The Mastery (Vol 2 Wind On Fire)

Slaves Of The Mastery (Vol 2 Wind On Fire)

Author: William Nicholson Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 22/04/2002

The Wind Singer

The Wind Singer

Author: William Nicholson Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 01/06/2001

Harry Potter, stand back! Philip Pulman, get your coat! The Hath family has arrived! Hanno, Ira, Bowman, Kestrel and Pinpin Hath are an unhappy family in the world of Aramanth, ruled over by Maslo Inch and his Examiners. Life there is strictly regulated. From the age of two, every citizen must sit regular examinations, the results of which dictate the entire family's social standing, right down to what they can wear. Everyone must live by the Oath of Dedication, they must 'strive harder to reach higher.' But there is no soul in Aramanth and Kestrel and her twin brother are becoming increasingly rebellious. Kestrel is drawn to the wind singer, an ancient statue which stands in the city's square which, myth has it, used to sing until the evil spirit lord, the Morah, stole its voice. Somehow Kestrel knows that to restore happiness to Aramanth, she must restore the voice of the wind singer. She embarks on a dangerous and thrilling mission with Bowman but they also find Mumpo in tow. Mumpo is the school dunce who nobody likes but who adores Kestrel. As their journey progresses, they pass through many diiferent lands and meet some very strange races. Each step of the way they learn th

The Wind Singer

The Wind Singer

Author: William Nicholson Format: Paperback / softback Release Date: 20/04/2001

In Aramanth, exams are everything, deciding where people should live and what they should wear. When Kestrel rebels, her family are sentenced to the harshest punishment. In order to save them and to restore happiness to Aramanth, Kestrel knows she must restore the voice of the wind singer, an ancient statue standing in the city's square. She embarks on this dangerous mission with Bowman, her twin, and along the way they encounter Mumpo, the silly, smelly school dunce who adores Kestrel. Their daring journey encompasses the Mudpeople, the malevolent Old Children and bloodthirsty desert tribes.

Author Info

Author's Website

http://www.williamnicholson.co.uk

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