YA writer NICOLA PIERCE on the 136 BOOKS she has on her shelf waiting to be read, spending the ESB money on a set of VIRGINIA WOOLF‘s diaries and buying books from her favourite INDEPENDENT SHOPS in Ireland …
Tallaght-born Nicola Pierce’s writing expertly marries fact and fiction. Not only are Nicola’s young adult (YA) stories highly engaging; they are immersed in great moments of history. The words positively leap off the page as we embark on unique journeys in time, through the eyes of courageous young people.
Spirit of the Titanic (2011) gives us Samuel, a teen ghost, who witnesses the tragic ship’s demise in 1912. City of Fate (2014) follows adolescent protagonist Yuri’s plight, as the carpet-bombing campaign of Stalingrad commences. Behind the Walls (2015) depicts the siege of Derry; as two friends help seal the city walls from the surging Catholic army. Nicola’s most recent novel, Kings of the Boyne (2016), is told from the perspectives of three young soldiers as they await oblivion.
Nicola’s genuine passion for facts, along with her devotion to detail and research have given forgotten times new leases of life and accessibility. Guardian Children’s Books has called Nicola’s work ‘Gripping, exciting and unimaginably shattering’.
Nicola Pierce lives in Drogheda with her partner, Niall. She is currently working on a non-fiction book about the Titanic.
All of Nicola’s novels are published by The O’Brien Press (€8.99 each) and available from bookshops nationwide.
I live with Niall, my partner, about five minutes’ walk from the centre of town and love the fact that I can walk to all my pet spots from Cagney’s, our local pub, to restaurants like D’Vine, The Kitchen and Toscana’s. We don’t have children and tend to eat out a couple of times a week. Most Saturday mornings we buy newspapers and head for brunch in Thyme Out Cafe. After that we visit our local Waterstones in Scotch Hall and then drop into Ken who runs Hotchpotch and is largely responsible for my wardrobe. His shop is a mixture of hippie, goth and vintage clothing and accessories. Recently he started selling LPs, so I’ve been stocking up on stuff like Janis Joplin, the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Usually I walk into Hotchpotch, fall in love with something, pay Ken and then walk out the door in it. I have no discipline when it comes to spending money on non-essentials. Niall does his best to curb my enthusiasm but sure I know how to get around him 99% of the time. I blew my parents’ Christmas present in the National Gallery shop, got it all framed by Colin on Dyer Street and now this small house feels like a small gallery, which is grand.
It must be twenty-five years or so since I lived in Tallaght. My parents are still there but they visit their Drogheda grandchildren every Monday and I tag along with that. When I think about Tallaght it’s always about the past – those long summer days when great gangs of kids played Rounders or Kick the Can. We were so lucky to have a huge field at the end of our cul-de-sac yet we spent most of our time on the road itself. When I stand on it today I marvel at how short it is, this stretch of concrete is where I learned to ride a bike, fall over, play football and skate badly. Hours of important conversations took place on it. I remember the mothers frequently grouped in the middle of the street having long, raucous sessions about husbands and laundry … stuff like that. Looking back now I think us kids really like seeing them there, laughing and oblivious. I’ve no brothers but most of the kids on our road were boys so it was sort of like an extended family that has long dispersed. It’s a quiet enough road today but then most roads are, those days when packs of kids played outside from dawn to dusk are probably long gone.
I work at home but someday I’d love an office in town, away from the ironing and hoovering. We’ve two bedrooms, the second one is bed-free and it’s where I work or should work, only this room never gets the sun so it always feels cold and dark. I do what I can to make it cosier from putting up fairy lights, pictures etc. but I always need the lights on. So, I mostly work at the kitchen table. It’s a small table, just for two, but the room has two windows that catch the late morning/afternoon sun. Right now, I should be upstairs but Virgin Media are digging up the street, drilling for hours on end, and the only room I can’t hear them is the kitchen and that’s where I am today.
There are no independent bookshops in Drogheda but I do love our local Waterstones. I buy a lot of books and always have. I remember standing in Hodgis Figgis about twenty years ago, with my first husband, a non-reader, explaining how I needed the ESB bill money for the set of Virginia Woolf’s diaries, and that I’d use the credit union to pay the bill. For years, my favourite independent was Books Upstairs facing the front of Trinity College. This shop is responsible for my love of writers’ auto/biographies/letters/diaries as it could always be relied upon to surprise me with some American edition of any writer selling at half-price. When I’m in Dublin I drop into the new shop on D’Olier Street, where they keep ‘my stuff’ in the basement. I’ve a few friends who run independents: Antonia Daly’s bookstore in Trim, Feargal and Dervilla’s Ennis Bookshop and Liz Meldon’s Rathgar Books. I’d always buy something when I visit them. Writers should frequently buy books for good karma!
On her nightstand
I don’t keep my To Be Read pile on the nightstand; I have a narrow bookcase that stands in my favourite reading corner in our tiny kitchen. I put a small armchair beside it and that is where you’ll find me most mornings before I start my day. I’ve just counted 136 books that are waiting to be read. Out of that, I’m ashamed to say, about ten are novels, the rest are auto/biographies on the likes of the Bloomsbury group, Van Gogh, Frieda Kahlo, Agatha Christie, Alec Guinness, Tennessee Williams, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Daphne du Maurier, Mark Twain, Beatrix Potter, Patti Smith, Kate Millet, Lady Augusta Gregory, Joan Didion, François Truffaut, Thomas Hardy and I should probably stop there but not before I add that I’m heading to Waterstones this weekend to buy the new Molly Keane biography. There was a time when I only read fiction but that is long gone. From time to time I think about achieving a better balance between fiction and non-fiction but that’s about it. I like to put up brief reviews on Goodreads because I hate reading a book and then forgetting all about it on opening its successor. I love reading about artists. The actors, film directors and painters inspire me as much as the writers.
On YA fiction
I think JK Rowling has done wonders for this part of a bookshop. Her books exploded upon us and reading became both cool and normal. Harry Potter is the literary equivalent of the 1977 Star Wars. She created millions of new readers amongst young children, young adults and adults, building generations of readers for budding writers. She sort of created a new market for the cross-over book – to write a book that anyone of any age could relate to and enjoy. This is the stuff that writers’ dreams are made of. On top of that was the wonderful account of her writing that first book in a nearby café, because her flat was too cold. Surely this is what most budding writers want to hear; it’s the twenty-century version of the Parisian garret. And she was a single mother – Lord above, if she could do it, then so could anyone. Then there was the gorgeously, inspiring fact that that first manuscript would receive over twenty rejections from publishers. Imagine that! A pile of professionals would think it unworthy of being published until at long, long last Bloomsbury decides to take a chance and the ultimate rag to riches story is born.
I would love to have been at Woodstock, although I’d have to forget about my aversion to festival toilets and mud. However, I’m sure I would have braved it to see Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Crosby, Stills and Nash, The Band, Jefferson Airplay, Joe Cocker, Sly and the Family Stone. It was such a wonderful time for music, music that I listen to today. I dress like a middle-aged hippie. One of my proudest moments is walking around a corner in Portland, USA, two year ago, and coming face to face with a drunk woman screaming at me with gay abandon, ‘Oh my Gawwd, like you’re Janis Joplin!’ We had come from San Francisco where I got to visit Haight Ashbury which was like a dirty, smelly kind of Heaven. Two youngsters (in their 20s) with spotty faces and greasy dreadlocks lit up when they saw me coming, assuming I was going to buy what they were selling and were genuinely puzzled when I refused their wares. We went into a bar where I overheard the most wonderful conversation – ‘She took everything, man, everything … like, she even took my mushrooms!’ I did feel like I had stepped back in time.
SOPHIE GRENHAM @SophieGrenham
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