Alex Nye writes to excite and fright with her supernatural thrillers for young people: Chill, Shiver and Darker Ends. When talking about her writing, she shows the Iceberg Illusion: you only see the success of others. But when you’re at the start of the journey there’s persistence, rejection, and much more beneath the surface.
For young people, like those in attendance, they should take comfort in the fact that there’s no route map from A to B. Like writing, you have to make it up as you go along. If you write what you’ve got in your heart, then you’re a writer, even if it doesn’t end up in a book. She was lucky to have parents who were supportive of writing, but she notes that you have to do what you want, not just what teachers and parents tell you: if you don’t do that in life, then you won’t be as happy as you could be.
For Alex, it began with a Young Writers collection. At this time there was Thatcher, Bowie, punks, mods, music was in your face. And she was at home, writing. Ted Hughes, Poet Laureate, held a writing competition: 33,000 entered, and one of her stories was published. A Mould of Flesh was about studying a foetus in biology, where she waxed lyrical about the meaning of life, and how the baby taught her more in that lesson than a teacher could in a lifetime.
It’s not all been success, though. Her first novel about Mary Queen of Scots wasn’t published (though it soon will be!). She had to take a break once she realised it wasn’t going where she hoped, and ended up in an atmospheric cottage that inspired the book that went on to be published. She overheard people talking about a ghost, and when she asked more was told nothing. “So I wrote my own story.” She gave the ghost its life.
“I like to weave modern ghost stories around historic events,” she explains. The nearby hills of Glencoe had hosted battles that went on to inspire her work. Their ghosts still live in the hills: but should the characters let them in? “Well, obviously not, but then there wouldn’t be a story!”
She loves Scooby Doo but the ghosts aren’t frightening – she wants to create ghosts where you’re compelled to ask, “What’s her story?” She urges writers to persist, that’s both the hardest and most important part. When you’re facing writer’s block, just walk away for a bit: go out, enjoy yourself, then come back.
For her, notebooks are her favourite kind of technology. It’s like writing visions down as they come to her. She doesn’t plan too much, maybe just a page or two. Really, characters should come alive through dialogue and what they do. The secret to professional writing is to cull adjectives, keep it sparse and tone it down. “Don’t over-describe, just let your characters speak.”