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Nicola Masters: 'Don't hold things back for the author you plan to be one day. You deserve those things now.'

BY Katie Smart
17th May 2022

Nicola Mastersstudied on our three-month Writing Your Novel course with Laura Barnett. Her debut novel, Happy Happy Happy, will be published by Lake Union Publishing on 19 May.

We caught up with Nicola about the inspiration behind her novel and her writing journey so far…

You took our three-month Writing Your Novel course in 2019. How did your time on the course impact your approach to writing?

Getting accepted onto the course gave me permission to take writing seriously. Not that anyone should need permission, but it made me think that I might actually be onto something, and it could be worth pursuing. I’d always had some kind of writing on the go, but I’d also always found a reason to give up on it eventually. But I committed this time. Once the course began I finally started to make writing a priority, instead of something I did after I’d finished every chore in the house, failed to find anything to watch on TV, and spent a couple of hours on my phone.

What’s one piece of advice from tutor Laura Barnett that’s stuck with you?

It’s not really a single piece of advice, but I found the sessions we did on editing and structure really helpful because those were things I thought I knew about, and I realised that I didn’t at all. I had written one other manuscript years before I did the course and my 'editing' amounted to giving it a bit of a proofread and a tidy up. When I edited Happy Happy Happy after the course was over I ripped it to pieces and stuck it back together again in a completely different order. And doing that didn't scare me! Laura's lessons helped me to see that that’s a completely valid part of the process instead of being a step back.

Many of our students find their writing community whilst studying on our courses. Are you still in touch with any of your coursemates?

Very much so! There’s a group of us who message each other a lot. It’s been so great getting to share in everybody’s successes, and to have people to commiserate with, and to get feedback and learn from. Meeting other writers was one of the main reasons I wanted to do a course in the first place, and now I have writer friends all over the place. I love it.

Your debut Happy Happy Happyhas just been published by Lake Union. The story follows Londoner Charlie Trewin, who is forced to return to her Cornish hometown after her father’s death. Can you tell us a bit more about the story and the inspiration behind it?

Happy Happy Happy is a story about a woman who has to face up to the past she tried to pretend didn’t exist. After leaving her hometown, Charlie Trewin built the life she thought she was supposed to have - flat in the city, good job, fiancé - but as she clears out her childhood home after her father’s death she starts to realise that it might not actually be what she wants after all.

When I started writing my only 'inspiration', if we can even call it that, was that I wanted to write a funny book about a woman who needs to choose between two very different lives. I had no plan and, probably unsurprisingly, I ran out of steam very quickly. I realised that I needed to dig into why Charlie left her hometown and why she wasn’t happy with her new life either. Over lots of drafts, the book has morphed from this one-dimensional idea into a much richer story about mental health, grief, family, and belonging. I’m really glad I kept digging instead of giving up when I lost my momentum. First time for everything!

The contrast between busy city life and the sleepy village of Carncarrow provides an intriguing backdrop to the narrative and a framework for Charlie’s growth. What inspired you to use these settings?

It was actually my own move from London to Cornwall. And, I would add, this was pre-pandemic, so I did it before it was cool! I grew up very close to London and really believed that living and working there was the be-all and end-all. It just seemed to be the centre of the world. But it’s so hard to get by there and I wasn’t as in love with it as I think you need to be. I constantly fantasised about living near the sea and not spending all of my spare time on the tube. When I weighed up the pros and cons and decided to move to Cornwall, I worried that I was just giving up and that I’d regret it. So I selfishly wrote the book that might have spurred me on when I was struggling with that choice.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you – do you have any rituals?

It seems to change by season. While the days are longer I try to get up in the morning and get a couple of hours of writing done before I have to log on to my day job. I live near the beach so I want to make the most of it in the evenings! In the winter I become almost fully nocturnal. I write into the night and wake up as late as I can possibly get away with. I am almost always tired no matter the season.

I don’t have any rituals except I have recently discovered that if I block social media apps on my phone for a couple of hours a day I can be very productive indeed. I resent it, but I do it anyway.

What books have you enjoyed reading recently?

I’ve read both You And Me On Vacation and Beach Read by Emily Henry recently, and I thought they were super fun. I read each of them in a couple of days because I just kept thinking ‘one more chapter’, ‘OK, one more chapter’. So now I’ve just started her new one, Book Lovers. I also really enjoyed The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood when I read that. And anything by Beth O’Leary is always great, too. I’m generally quite an unromantic person, but it turns out I really love a rom-com!

What tips would you like to share with the aspiring authors reading this?

I would say that getting an agent feels like the finishing line. It feels like the marker for when your whole life will change. And then you get there and you realise it isn’t really, because then getting a book deal becomes the finishing line. Then publication does, and then book two, and so on, and so on forever. It's easy to tell yourself that once you’ve ticked the next thing off your list that you'll either do - or stop doing - X, Y and Z. But realistically, you don’t become a different person just because you’ve reached a new milestone. So start work on the amazing new idea you've been saving for no real reason, use the fancy notebook, create the writing space you always wanted. Don't hold things back for the author you plan to be one day. You deserve those things now.

Finally, what’s next for you and your writing journey?

I’m currently working on Book 2 with Lake Union and am really looking forward to getting stuck into the editing process again!