Wednesday, July 18, 2012


I first heard of Niki Valentine when I read her excellent novel The Killing Jar (published as Nicola Monaghan) which I found utterly gripping, a dark story of drugs and family. So it's with great delight that I welcome Niki here to the blog in honour of the imminent publication of her new book, Possessed (published by Sphere), which sounds just as gripping! (My copy is on its way to me, I can't wait. How beautiful is that cover?). Here's the blurb:
Emma's life has always been a struggle, and now she's been accepted at a prestigious music school, she is determined to excel. But when the impossibly chic twins, confident Sophie and quieter Matilde, come crashing into her life - surrounding her with champagne and parties - they demand Emma's full attention. Then shy Matilde commits suicide and shockingly, her identical twin Sophie flourishes. Now odd things are happening to Emma: blackouts, waking up in strange places, bizarre dreams. Something, or someone, is consuming Emma's mind. Terrified, Emma begins to doubt everything and everyone around her, especially the beautiful Sophie... Powerful, twisted, atmospheric and disturbing, Possessed is a terrifying psychological thriller. 
Possessed is published as an ebook on July 25th and as a paperback on Oct 25th.

I thought I'd get nosey and ask Niki, who, as well as writing, teaches creative and professional writing at Nottingham University, my set of writing&place questions, which seem simple but I always find them very revealing! Welcome, Niki!

Tania: Where are you?

Niki: I’m in Aspley, Nottingham, just a couple of miles from where I was born, and streets away from where I spent much of my childhood, and where my first novel is set.

T: How long have you been there?

N: I’ve been living in Aspley again since last December, when my husband and I bought our first house. I lived on the other side of Nottingham before that, but was here again when my first novel came out, and when I got married. I’ve spent more time here than anywhere else in the world, despite all my travels. It’s a very working class area, with council and ex-council houses, and it feels like home when I walk the streets. I’ve been back in Nottingham, after wandering far and wide, since 2002, so ten years now. I came back to study at Nottingham Trent University, on their MA Creative Writing.

T: What do you write?

Niki and Allan Silitoe at the Broadway in Nottingham
N: I write gritty, realist literary fiction but also, more recently, psychological thrillers with a supernatural element. My last novel was a modern take on the ghost story set in the Highlands of Scotland and the new one, as the title might suggest, explores the idea of spiritual possession. I like stories about the paranormal that feel real, and where you can find alternative, psychological explanations for what’s happening to the characters.

T: How do you think where you and where you've been affects what you write about and how you write? 

Niki at the Empire State Building, New York City
N: Because I’d lived all over the world, for a long time I wrote about the big, glamorous cities I’d lived in, such as Paris and Chicago. When I came back to Nottingham, though, I realised how interesting my home city is and wrote a novel set here. Now, I tend to focus on ordinary characters in extraordinary situations, instead of the big cities. Being in Nottingham, especially close to the estate I grew up on, reminds me of being little. The world felt different then; more magical, perhaps, full of possibilities. Full of shadows too, and darkness. Walking these streets takes me right back there when I’m in the right mood.

More specifically, though, The Haunted was inspired by my honeymoon. Considering that it’s about a failing marriage, that might seem a bit ironic, but there’s the fiction in it. We travelled to the highlands and walked in the hills. We ended up walking through the dark one day, when we set out too late, and I was really struck by how quiet it was, and how lonely, and how frightening it could have been had I been with someone I didn’t trust. There are so many rumours about haunted bothies too, and I can understand why. The dark and the damp and the rugged landscape evokes the ghosts, I think.
Niki in her garden
I work at the University of Nottingham and, walking around its older campus, I’m often thrown back to what it felt like to be a student, away from home for the first time. Then I think about York University, where I lived for four years, and how young and naïve I was back then. I settled to it so easily but I was one of very few people from my kind of working class background. That got me to thinking about how the University experience could feel, especially if you were shy, and pushed into an environment where there was a lot of pressure. I love music, and taught myself to play the piano when I was younger, so all of that fed into my planning for Possessed. It’s not based on any of the Universities I know well but, in a way, inspired by all of those I’ve visited.

Thank you so much, Niki, it's really interesting to hear how you were inspired by your hometown after coming back from your world travels. Lovely to hear that you are enjoying living where you grew up, this is something that fascinates me, I can't really imagine it, I always think if I did, there would be too many ghosts of my childhood!

This makes me even more eager to read Possessed. You can pre-order it now from the Book Depository or Amazon (ebook & paperback). and do visit Niki's website for more about her books. Thanks for stopping by, Niki!


Sara said...

I really enjoyed this interview, it serendipitously appeared in my twitter feed. I've been reading lots of NF lately and studying and really feel the need to get totally transported by a good story. Ordering now!

Rachel Fenton said...

I love a good ghost story, whatever the ghosts may be. Thanks for the great interview, ladies.