Author Q&A with James Nicol

You may have noticed on my twitter feed recently or from my wrap up post of May that I have possibly found one of my favourite middle-grade book series I have ever read! The Apprentice Witch and Witch Alone are a middle-grade series which is written by James Nicol whom I met last month and was lovely enough to agree to do a little author Q&A here on the blog. James was an absolute pleasure to meet in person and I am incredibly excited to have him here on the blog to talk about his books!

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Hi James! Welcome to my blog, A Cup of Wonderland and thank you for agreeing to this little Q&A session! As you already know (I met James at a signing he did at my local Waterstones) I adored both The Apprentice Witch and A Witch Alone. Can you describe what these books are about in five words for those who may not have picked up this series?

Oh, thank you for asking me over. I’ve bought my own mug of tea – hope that was ok!  Friendship. Witches. Adventure. Fun. Magic. (probably in that order as well!)

When writing The Apprentice Witch, what was your inspiration? What ideas came first to you? Was it Arianwyn? The Magic System or Beryl the Bus?

Arianwyn was the first thing to come to me. I knew my story was going to have magic in it and I thought there were enough male-led magic adventures – and that witches, on the whole, tended to be the bad guys (still!) So I decided my main character was going to be a witch – but not the black pointy hat, hairy-chinned cackling sort of witch! And then Arianwyn appeared – if you pop over to the blog pages on my website you can read the very first part of The Apprentice Witch that I wrote here. It doesn’t exist like this in the finished book but all the elements of the story are there, Arianwyn, the glyphs, the shadows/darkness watching her, her grandmothers wisdom and protection. Even the title! (the book was originally called The Apprentice Witch’s Handbook but my editors made me change it!)

What is it about magic which interests you the most? Have you had an experience with magic before?

It’s the possibility of what it could do if you could control magic. But also the limitations of the magic as well. I think it’s that stories about magic filled my childhood really either through films or books and that was what made those books amazing and memorable. I know there is often a push to have children reading books where they can see their lives reflected back at them – and that’s important and needed – but as a child, I didn’t want to see my life reflected back. I wanted an escape, so I went off with Lucy through the wardrobe or with Sparrowhawk to Earthsea. (and I’ve not come back to the real world since I don’t think!) I think books can offer an escape and a shield for those children who perhaps feel all too trapped in their real worlds and don’t want to read about that.

What would you say is your favourite magical creature and will it be making an appearance in The Apprentice Witch series?

Oh, that’s such a great question! Hmm – I think it might be centaurs (half man, half horse) actually. I was fascinated by them from Greek myths and also in the Disney film, Fantasia. But I try to make up new magical creatures for The Apprentice Witch books rather than having ones that already exist – though I might occasionally ‘borrow’ one and change it about a bit! I’ve not added any centaur-like creatures into the third book so far but you never know!

Your magic system within Apprentice Witch is based on symbols called glyphs. I was wondering which of the glyphs is your favourite, and did you design them yourself or have they been inspired from somewhere else?

I did design the glyphs myself – and when you see them in the book those are my original drawings scanned in! I struggled with what they would look like and how many glyphs there would be when writing The Apprentice Witch, I knew I couldn’t use real existing symbols as that might put people off! And one day I was doodling and drew pretty much Bria the air glyph! And from there I drew more and more until I had a notebook full of glyphs. I realised many were based on letters or numbers and also musical notes. My partner is very musical so I think that’s where that bit came from though it wasn’t really a conscious decision.

Arianwyn is such a fun character, I love that she has a strong moral compass as well as being compassionate being. Was she based on anyone or a mixture? How did you come up with her character?

Thank you! I’ve tried not to base any of my characters – so far – on anyone one person that I know. Salle (Arianwyn’s best friend) is based on bits and pieces of all my wonderful friends but that’s as much as I have drawn on real life – but never say never!

Arianwyn was a trier and a good, friendly person from the outset so that as things came up as I was writing it was kind of like ok if we have this situation how will Wyn respond to it, what will she do? How will she react? Seeing her as a person and not just my character helped as it meant she would properly react and not just bend to my will as the writer or to the plot. I like to do a mind map for my characters which I think helps a bit to add dimensions to them as well.

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Apart from Arianwyn, who is your favourite character to write and why?

All of them for different reasons really. I love spiky old Miss Newman and pompous Mayor Belcher with his sash and medal. I love Estar and Aunt Grace, Miss Delafield is always lots of fun. Arrggh don’t make me choose!

Ok, lets go with Gimma, as the antagonist (and never was a word more fitting!) she is almost the absolute opposite of Arianwyn – and at the same time, there are some similarities between them. It’s quite nice to write the baddie of the story and Gimma is quite deliciously horrid most of the time! But as the story progresses it’s nice to see the development of her and the changes she goes through as well.

Which writers are your inspiration?

So many wonderful writers and storytellers have inspired me as a reader and writer but the ones I turn to time and again would be Ursula Le Guin, Diana Wynn Jones, Alice Hoffman, Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett, CS Lewis and Brian Jacques all for different reasons. I treasure them all.

Finally, if you could be a witch/wizard, would you? If so what would you use your powers for and if not, then why not?

Of course, I would! And I would certainly use my powers to help other people and maybe get rid of a few of these crazy politicians we seem to be blighted with currently. I’d also magic a lovely library with a never-ending supply of books in every school and community and add an extra day to the weekend (I quite like the sound of Smunday or Fraturday?)

Gosh, now I wish you were a wizard, an extra day on a weekend would be perfect. I quite like the sound of Smunday! Thank you, James, for joining me here today on my blog and answering some of my many many questions about your magical series!

Thank you so much for inviting me! Shall I help with the washing up before I go?

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Once again a huge thank you to James for agreeing to this interview, it’s been wonderful reading this series and I am now currently dying to get my hands on the third! If you haven’t picked up this series yet then I definitely urge you to do so because it is simply fantastic!


6 thoughts on “Author Q&A with James Nicol

  1. This is a wonderful interview! It sounds like a lovely series. Who wouldn’t want friendship, witches, adventure, fun and magic in their lives? It sounds like some of the wonderful witch based/fantasy books I read as a kid, but much, much cooler. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is a brilliant series and would totally recommend that you pick them up yourself! They are really enjoyable to read.


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