I am happy to welcome Persephone Nicholas to Book’d Out today. Her first novel, Burned, was the winner of the National Seniors Literary Prize 2013 and will be published by Random House Australia in July this year.
As a journalist, Nicholas has written for The Australian, The Daily Telegraph and magazines including Reader’s Digest, Prevention and Holidays with Kids. UK born Persephone is married and lives with her husband and two young sons at Balmoral Beach on Sydney’s Lower North Shore. When she isn’t writing, Persephone likes being outdoors with her family and friends.
How inspiration found Persephone Nicholas, author of Burned
I’d been thinking about writing a novel for a while before I wrote Burned. I had lots of ideas, particularly about characters, their personalities and things that might happen to them. But it took a while to connect those thoughts. For example, I knew there would be a child called Noah in my story, I knew he was interested in space travel and I knew, unfortunately, that he would be bullied. But I didn’t know why or how.
I’ve always been intrigued by human-interest stories; the quirky little snippets you see in the paper or find on the web or that friends tell you about. Then, when I was in the UK a few years ago, I read about a horrible crime. Some teenagers had set fire to a homeless man. The newspaper reported it as a senseless and isolated act of cruelty but I started thinking about the bigger picture.Why had those kids done it? Had they done anything like it before? What was the victim’s story? How would the community be affected by what had happened? Burned began by building on some of those thoughts but the story quickly found its own momentum.
What I mean by this is that although I usually have a broad idea of what’s going to happen when I’m writing, sometimes what emerges surprises me. Of course I’ve created the characters in my story but once I’ve given life to them their own personalities take over and I don’t control what they do or say. This is particularly true when I’m writing the more emotional or darker scenes – I’m sitting at the computer, supposedly responsible for what’s happening on the page, but the words that come out of the characters’ mouths can shock me.
One thing that wasn’t a surprise is the importance of place to a story. I deliberately set Burned in two locations – the UK where I’d lived most of my adult life, and Australia, my new home. Both these places are integral to the story and essential for the development of the plot. They also reflect the timing of the story; the past tense sections are all set in Sydney and the present in Salisbury.
I moved to Australia from the UK in my 40’s and found it a very inspiring experience. It felt like having a second chance at life; starting all over again in a place where people don’t know you or have any expectations of you feels very liberating. You can become whoever you want to be. It was fascinating for me personally, and as a writer thinking about fictional characters. Kate, Noah’s mum and one of the main characters in Burned, is British but has lived in Australia too. Her love of Australia is really important for the story and to some degree is inspired by my own feelings when I first moved here almost 10 years ago.
The other life experience that inspired me when writing Burned was becoming a mum. I’ve found being the mother of boys fascinating. I come from a small family; I have a sister, but no brothers. And I went to an all girls high school, so boys were a bit of a mystery for me when I was young. But while there’s been a lot to learn, it’s also a very enriching experience and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Parenting gives you the opportunity to see life through the eyes of a child, which is wonderful in itself. I’ve found experiencing life through children of the opposite gender even more amazing and this was definitely something I wanted to write about.
People often ask where writers find their inspiration. In all honesty, I can say I didn’t go looking for it; the people, places and events that inspired Burned, found me.
Burned by Persephone Nicholas
Published by Bantam Australia
Available to Purchase from