Geoff Nicholson

How did you become a writer?

I liked books and reading from a very early age (four or five years old) and I told my parents I “wanted to be a writer” but I suppose only in the way that kids who like football want to be football players. I obviously had no idea what was involved.

Growing up I mostly read novels (and wrote my first one when I was 12), but when I was in my late teens I developed a brief infatuation with the theater – wrote a few plays, some of which got performed in student productions and then on the fringe in London and at the Edinburgh festival. One play was also broadcast on BBC radio, at a time when radio drama seemed quite a big deal in England.

I also did some comedy writing for TV and radio but none of this was really very satisfying. When I started writing my first novel Street Sleeper (and I had no idea whether I could write a novel or not) it all seemed to fit into place. 

Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).

There are writers I love but whose influence don’t seem apparent in my writing – examples would be Thomas Pynchon, Joan Didion and Raymond Chandler – and in any case who would be foolish enough to claim to be “influenced” by them - but I’m sure reading them has made a difference at some level.

Ian Fleming was an early, and now incomprehensible, passion.

When I started writing plays I was in the shadow of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco – but then so was everybody else in England at that time.

At university I was taught by JH Prynne – a poet of thrilling obscurity, whose writing has absolutely no similarity to my own, but he taught me to go my own way, and also a love for the complexity of language.

JG Ballard and Angela Carter were very important to me when I started writing prose. I didn’t think I could write a Gravity’s Rainbow but I thought I might just possibly write a High-Rise or a Moving Toyshop – I was wrong about that, of course, but it seemed a reasonable goal at the time.

When and where do you write? 

I aim to work pretty much 9 to 5, five days a week – at home in a small dark room without much of a view. “Writing” in this context includes research, editing, replying to emails, and sometimes staring off into space, or into the craw of Youtube. I also try to walk every day – and the creative process certainly continues in my head as I walk.

What are you working on now? 

I’m putting the “finishing” touches to a novel that keeps changing its name, currently titled The Miranda. It’s a book about walking and torture, and about men who do bad things for good reasons, (at least that’s what I think it’s about – authors are rarely the best judges of these things, I find).

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? 

I think most serious writers constantly question the value of what they’re doing, and they inevitably experience periods of weariness and nausea with the whole business of writing, when they absolutely can’t see the point of carrying on. I experience this on at least a weekly basis. But of course that’s the moment when if you’re a serious writer you have to butch it out, get your head down and carry on, which I do. So I suppose the answer has to be no, to writer’s block.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Keith Waterhouse, author of Billy Liar, said, “I never drink when I’m writing, but I sometimes write when I’m drinking.”  Words to live by.

What’s your advice to new writers?

If you find writing easy you’re probably doing it wrong. If it were easy every damn fool would be doing it – and of course there are plenty of damn fools who are doing it, but don’t be one of them. Also, of course, do listen to advice, but then feel completely free to ignore it.

Geoff Nicholson was born in Sheffield, England, and studied English at Caius College, Cambridge, then European Drama at the University of Essex. He is the author of 16 novels and 8 books of non-fiction. His debut, Street Sleeper, was shortlisted for the Yorkshire Post First Work Award; Bleeding London (1997) was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize; and Bedlam Burning (2003) was a New York Times Book Review notable book of the year. Non-fiction titles include Sex Collectors and The Lost Art of Walking, and his journalism has appeared in, among other publications, The New York Times, Bookforum, Gastronomica, Art Review, The Believer and McSweeney’s. He is a contributing editor to The Los Angeles Review of Books. He currently lives in Los Angeles.