In a series of articles, Northern Soul’s Phil Pearson talks to all manner of fascinating folk about the room they use to write in, paint in, and do all things creative. This week it’s author Nicola Mostyn.
Being a writer is not just something Nicola Mostyn does, it defines everything she is. For as long as she can remember, the 44-year-old has wanted to spend her days with a pen in her hand bringing imaginary worlds to life with words on a page.
Born in Stockport in the winter of 1975, urban fantasy author Mostyn is an alumna of Rusholme’s Xaverian College and Liverpool University, where she fell in love with the musings and verse of Philip Larkin and Morrissey.
“They both had a miserabilist vibe,” Mostyn says. “It appealed to me and their language is beautiful. That sense of being outside and looking in. Being different, that sense of isolation that you get. I wasn’t a lonely kid, but as writer there’s that sense of being an observer.”
Although hugely influenced by the The Smiths’ former frontman, Mostyn shakes her head at his recent support for the far-right. “He’s gone a bit wrong. I’m just glad I never got a Morrissey tattoo back then.”
We meet in Mostyn’s immaculate ground floor flat in Chorlton-cum-Hardy. A poster of Iggy Pop surveys a room full of books, pictures and a kitchen table, where we sit with mugs of coffee and talk about the love of her life.
“I always wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. I was always writing little poems and loved reading. I was never happier than when I had a pile of books.”
After university, Mostyn took a job at Blackwell’s bookshop on Manchester’s Oxford Road in 1997 because “that’s what working class kids with a humanities degree did. The posh ones went straight into the BBC.”
She spent her 20s in Manchester before heading to London to begin her career as a writer. She started her first novel, The Gods Of Love, working for three hours each morning in the British Library before spending her afternoons in her flat toiling as a freelance copywriter.
An agent soon came calling and it all looked good for the publication of her debut work, but a difference of opinion led to a five-year writing hiatus where Mostyn abandoned the novel, returned north and “got on with life”.
“I wasn’t ready,” she says. “My agent would make suggestions and I would make changes that I knew weren’t right. I couldn’t do it, so I didn’t. I let it go. My heart has to be in everything I write.”
Mostyn returned to her craft with a complete rewrite of her debut novel. It paid off. A new agent was secured, publication followed in February 2018 and she was shortlisted for the prestigious Writers’ Guild Best First Novel Award this year.
“I thought they’d made a mistake. There were Booker Prize-nominated writers and then my book, a lunatic, urban fantasy story.”
Mostyn’s latest offering, The Love Delusion, is the sequel to The Gods Of Love and is already receiving favourable sales and reviews, with one calling it ‘refreshingly odd’ and another ‘Bridget Jones by way of Neil Gaiman’. Its success has also led to both books being translated into German.
Former City Life journalist Mostyn writes in her study in the spare room of her flat. It is sparse with plain walls largely untroubled by pictures. Her desk is in the corner and is guarded by a chair shrouded in her “writing cardigan”.
Although a full-time writer, she doesn’t make a living from fiction and subsidises her income with copywriting work. Recently, she also started a business called The Unstoppable Artist and published a self-help writing book called Seven Creative Gremlins with creativity coach Teresa Wilson.
But it is talking about being a full-time novelist that really makes Mostyn’s eyes shine. She describes Stephen King and Margaret Atwood as her literary parents and is enthusiastically trying to follow in their footsteps.
Here Mostyn, in her own words, describes her My Space.
“I get up about 7.45am, make a massive cup of coffee and sit and watch the birds from the study. I always start the day by writing three pages of absolute nonsense in longhand on a pad, whatever is in my head, I just pour everything out. It’s an idea from a book called The Artist’s Way and it clears your mind. I don’t know how, but it works.
“I like a blank room. To me, it doesn’t matter where you write, it’s not important. It’s nice to have your special pencil if you need it, but it’s nonsense to get too hung up on that stuff. I face a blank wall and that works for me. As long as I have a desk, a pair of headphones and a laptop then I can write. I don’t need silence. I listen to an album I know really, really well, so it’s just like white noise. It’s usually melancholy, indie stuff like Bright Eyes or Rilo Kiley. It creates a sound cave around me.
“When I write, I enter the novel and describe what I see. I’m in that world, and not this one. I don’t want any reminders of where I am around me.
“I do 9am to noon. I can’t have any appointments. I don’t go on the internet and my phone is out of the room. The writing is better when you are completely immersed.
“In writing, there’s Pantsers and Planners. I’m a Pantser, I write by the seat of my pants, I don’t like to know what’s going to happen and like to be surprised. My subconscious is doing the work and not my brain. People say I didn’t see that coming, and I say neither did I.
“I try and write a chapter a day, usually 2,000 words. You can’t be too rigid with yourself, but it’s nice to have a target. I don’t go back to my writing in the afternoon because I’ll have a tired brain and I’m only going to undo the good work I’ve done and make it worse.
“It’s a joyful graft, but it can be lonely. You don’t get any validation writing a book. Nobody knows you’re writing, and nobody cares. But it’s magical to me. I can’t predict it and it’s out of my control. It’s just something I have to do. My job is to turn up at the blank page and have a go. It doesn’t have to be good, a full chapter or a certain amount of words, you’ve just got to turn up. Eventually something good will come out.”
She also runs Unstoppable Writers sessions every first Sunday of the month at Manchester Art Gallery.