Q&A with Nicola Skinner
Nicola Skinner has written two inventive and beguiling books for children, Bloom and Storm. They have been widely appreciated and recommended. We were fortunate to ask Nicola a few questions about Storm and the main character, Frankie and the answers are brilliant!!
Tell us about Frances and Storm.
Storm is the story of Frances ‘Frankie’ Ripley, a funny, complicated, headstrong girl, and her journey through the afterlife after her unfortunate death. After her family home gets turned into a tourist attraction, her grief for her family, and frustration at being invisible, causes her to snap, and become a poltergeist. This draws her into the orbit of a sinister showman, who has other plans for her talents…. Frankie needs to learn to love herself, and what she can do, if she has any hope of escape. Although she’s a ghost, I never think of Storm as a ghost story, though. If anything the most haunted character in the book is the mysterious green-eyed boy who can’t seem to stay away from her house, even though he doesn’t seem that interested in any of the exhibits, and never buys anything from the café … oooh look at me, leaving you on a hook.
Your book, Storm, contains some strange and ghoulish encounters, at times funny but with scary tones. How did you manage to strike the balance within the narrative?
I’d like to say that I spent hours deliberating over the balance but the more honest answer is that’s kind of how it all came out. What you see on the page is a snapshot of my inner voice; it can be dark at times, but I also love to laugh. I think humour and darkness are two sides of the same coin – and dancing between the two is where you can have the most fun. Having said all of that, with Storm I definitely wondered if I was skirting dangerously close to being too scary, but then I’d think about The Witches and Voldemort, and remember how important it is for children to have access to all kinds of books with all sorts of emotional depth to them.
Some of the scenes are sad, almost shocking…was it difficult to write some of those opening scenes?
I suppose writing the opening scenes did make me a bit sad, but it was part of the job. I felt the book needed those scenes, and I had to give the story what it wanted. The beginning was difficult to write for technical reasons, but writing the ending definitely made me cry once or twice, I guess out of catharsis.
Where did the inspiration for Storm come from?
Lots of different places – it was like a piece of old sticky playdough that kept rolling around the floor attracting more and more gubbins. My godfather lived in a castle down in Devon which is now looked after by the National Trust, and when I was little I went down there when it was being turned into a tourist attraction, and saw all the ropes going up, which Frankie also sees. I’ve always been obsessed with empty family homes; they have such an attraction for me, they hold such emotion, such power… Frankie’s empty home, and the way it gets invaded, is definitely borne out of that. Lots of short stories I read in my twenties, and films I loved, all had a hand in creating the general feel of the book too, I think. Have you ever seen The Elephant Man, directed by David Lynch? I loved that film, and that idea of being a bit of an oddity, and the risk of being held captive in a circus …. I don’t want to give too much away, but it definitely influenced Storm.
Frances is angry all the time and needs to rage and let the storm out…did you feel some of her emotions in writing?
I feel I must come to Frankie’s defence – she isn’t angry all the time, not even when alive. She’s just one of those hot-tempered children, on the cusp of turning 12 and finding lots of things a bit difficult. I don’t think I felt particularly angry while I was writing the book, I was more excited, and occasionally daunted. But I do notice, and perhaps am more attuned to, how women and girls are not really allowed to get angry, and how society finds it really hard when women get even close to that emotion, which unsurprisingly does make me angry, ha ha ha.
Both Bloom and Storm push the boundaries and are hugely inventive. Do you have future plans for more boundary pushing stories? (asked with fingers crossed!)
Well, I’ve just sent off my third book to my editor, and am beginning my fourth, both of which I am really excited about, and I hope readers will enjoy them too! I don’t quite know if I’d call my books boundary pushing, because I think I follow quite conventional storytelling devices (which I’m more than happy to do, because they work for me) but I’m thrilled you think they’re inventive. Thank you.
The books themselves, outside of the incredible stories, are works of art. How thrilled were you when you saw the covers and the hidden gems under the book jackets?
They are totally amazing aren’t they? Each time, it’s almost as wonderful as being handed your baby in the hospital. I felt incredibly moved and honoured when I saw Bloom and Storm’s covers and end papers, and what they do inside the jackets, and extremely grateful. They are beautiful and exciting and slightly provocative, and I think my publishers have taken a risk with them, and that’s a wonderful thing to do.
Bloom and Storm are published by HarperCollins and available to purchase from all good booksellers.
For a chance to win 1 of 3 copies of Storm send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with Storm as the Subject line, and be sure to include your name in the body of the email.
Any opinions expressed may not truly reflect those of the FCBG.