IN THE SHOES OF… James Nicol

What's life like in someone else's shoes? This month Deputy Editor Françoise Price invites author James Nicol to tell us about his day.

Meet the author: James Nicol. That's me!

So, a warning that this is fairly chaotic – which is perfect as currently, this is very much how my writing time works. It’s higgledy-piggledy, snatched half hours and bursts of intense activity between the rest of life stuff. And actually one of the things I love most about having a creative life is that there is so much variation in my working days. I also work part-time in a public library and I’m a parent with young children, so I have to be flexible – which mostly means that work has to wait until nap time or until after they are tucked up in bed. (The irony here is that the evening I was working on this piece neither of them wanted to sleep!).

In some ways, it feels like when I was first starting out as most of my writing was done in the evenings then. I struggled a bit with this when our first daughter came along but I’ve realised that this is just another aspect of having a creative life and I don’t think there are many jobs that call on your creativity quite as much as being a parent.


As for what that work is when I sit down to do it – well, these days it could be anything; writing and editing of course being the bulk of it, but there is also planning school or festival events, developing writing workshops or working with writers, delivering 1:1 sessions, something I’ve enjoyed doing more of in recent years. There are always emails and messages to respond to and all the day-to-day admin associated with being an author.

Me at a school event 

Most recently the vast majority of my time has been spent preparing for the release of my latest book, The Cloud Thief. It’s an eco-fantasy adventure set in a world where the weather only now exists in magical clouds that are created and delivered from the mysterious cloud factory. Mara, the main character, is determined to get her hands on a piece of cloud to help heal her sick father but she ends up on the run from the cloud factory masters with a boy called Eban and a seemingly sentient cloud that they name, Brume.

My latest novel, The Cloud Thief, was published on March 14th
(Published by Chicken House Books)


Preparing for a new book release is always exciting and a little different every time. It can also be overwhelming and a bit scary – will anyone like it, will anyone buy it, what if bookshops don’t stock it etc., etc. Of course, the vast majority of this is out of my control so I try to focus my attention and energy on what I can do and also what I enjoy doing. I’ve LOVED working with lots of the many fabulous booksellers in my region – we are blessed to have some truly amazing independent bookshops who are inventive and creative, know their communities so well and are great to work with.


'I’ve LOVED working with lots of the many fabulous booksellers in my region.' (Pictured from left to right)
Claire from Kemps, Malton; Gill from The Little Ripon Bookshop, Ripon; Mirren from The Book Circle, Selby

I’ve spent a lot of time recently arranging school visits and signing sessions, recording various videos, writing articles (just like this one!), preparing new presentations, and of course lots of social media posts too. I always enjoy a countdown on Instagram and this time I’ve been sharing some of my favourite snippets from The Cloud Thief in the final week before publication.


With The Cloud Thief about to come out (on March 14th), my thoughts have of course turned to what I might like to be writing next – although this is an ongoing process over a few months, a few favourite ideas are now really starting to coalesce. These new ideas will soon be shared with my agent and publisher for their feedback.

When it comes to keeping my time organised, I use a paper diary and more Post-it notes than is probably healthy. I try to keep track of what’s going on and attempt to have a plan of what I’m doing – especially the more administrative tasks like sending invoices or sorting through paperwork, which can feel like a pain when your time is limited. But I do actually enjoy getting it all organised. I love a spreadsheet! 

If there is anything urgent to be dealt with I try to do it straight away or as soon as I can, so that when I do have a decent stretch of time to myself I can devote it to writing or editing or planning stories. I find that ideas though, they never seem to strike when I do have all the time in the world to play with them or do anything with them. I always discover them when I’m in the middle of other stuff, hanging out laundry or in the supermarket, brushing my teeth etc.


When I do get time to write or edit I try to break my time up, as I found early on that, wonderful though it is to have hours and hours to write, I seem to do better in smaller bursts of time. I remember reading that Jacqueline Wilson would write for 45 minutes, then do something different for 10-15 minutes like putting the washing on, before going back to her writing. I have become a convert to this. It helps to keep things fresh in your mind and if stuff isn’t going well you know you’ll be having a break pretty soon, and the other task you do in-between can work as a nice mental refresh.


I’ve learned to become opportunistic with my time for writing work, but I also started to carve out a little bit of time last year for other creative things, as this all feeds our creative life. While writing is fun, it is now a job as well. I’ve loved rediscovering a love and interest in drawing and painting just for pleasure – although I did take part in folktale week on Instagram last year with some illustrations and a little story which you can find over on my Instagram feed.

I’ve loved rediscovering my love and interest in drawing and painting

If I had any tips for other writers, it would be to grab your moments, even if you have the smallest bit of time to write, make it count and enjoy it when you do it. Feel the joy in writing. I want nothing more than for this to come across when people pick up my books and read.


*Header image by Ell Rose & Tita Berredo;
All other images courtesy of James Nicol


James Nicol is the author of the critically acclaimed Apprentice Witch series and The Spell Tailors.
As a child, he always checked wardrobes for hidden worlds and spent hours absorbed in novels or adventuring in the woods at the bottom of the garden. He lives in Yorkshire with his husband, daughters and a black and white cockapoo called Bonnie.


Françoise Price is the Deputy Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at


Ell Rose is the Illustration Features Editor of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact them at

Tita Berredo is the Illustrator Coordinator of SCBWI British Isles and the Art Director of Words & Pictures magazine. Contact her at


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