An interview with UK’s bestseller, John Nicholl. I got a chance to interview the author of “White is the coldest colour” whom I can’t thank enough for this opportunity :). I reviewed his book a few weeks back that you can check here.
He was kind enough to take out his time to answer my questions. He is a great writer who has braved some pretty disturbing things in his life. I admire him for that. Check out his debut novel and trust me, you will not be sorry. 🙂
When did you first considered yourself a writer?
When I began receiving positive feedback from readers, their opinions were the only thing that mattered.
What books have influenced your life the most?
I didn’t base my writing style on any particular writer. It evolved as I progressed with feedback from two professional editors. Having said that, I enjoy writers like Dean Koontz, Val Mc Dermid and PD James. In the unlikely event if I could achieve anything remotely approaching their fantastic accomplishments, I’d be a very happy writer.
Which book are you reading now?
The Black Orchestra, a WW2 spy thriller. I’m really enjoying it.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Reading editorial reports and the inevitable rewriting that follows can be utterly excruciating.
What was the hardest part of writing your book?
Communicating the truly awful nature of the crimes involved while avoiding any graphic descriptions.
How do you beat out your writer’s block?
I haven’t experienced it yet but who knows what the future holds.
When/where do you do your best writing? Like your favorite place of thinking.
I write at the dining room table with music playing.
What inspired you to join social services?
The British police of the 1980s were very different from today. I became disillusioned with the approach and attitudes to such crimes as domestic violence and decided to train as a social worker. My later joint work with the police investigating and managing cases such as those in the book was a much more positive experience.
When you work on the cases, where the closest family members (even parents) are victimizing children, did you ever get cynical about every person you met? Specially when you had your own kids?
In short, yes. When I was immersed in the work it became hard to trust others, particularly men. The world seemed a very dark place at times. I think I was probably overprotective of my children at times.
What was your coping mechanism dealing with such cases all these years?
Child protection work can take a heavy emotional toll. I used sports as a coping mechanism. I ran a kick boxing club for a time and played a lot of squash.
Did you ever get a chance to put an influential and well known criminal like Dr. Galbraith to put behind the bars?
I investigated and managed investigations relating to hundreds of sexual offences over the years, some high profile, and some less so.
Our County was the first in Britain to undertake a successful pedophile ring investigation with prosecutions and long prison sentences for six offenders. Anyone reading the book will see that investigating their cases is very much a team effort.
Did you ever let them get to you? How did you control that?
It’s essential to focus on the desired outcomes, effectively protecting the children involved and where possible, securing a conviction. You can’t let your antagonism towards the suspected perpetrator get in the way of that. Easier said than done.
What used to be your thoughts while taking statement from lil kids who had been abused? How did you get them to feel safe and open up to talk?
It’s a case of making clear that you take the allegations seriously and explaining the process in a language the child can understand. When it comes to the interview itself, open questions are essential. Potentially leading questions have to be avoided.
Were there cases where you really had to do a lot of work to get the authorities believe the kids?
When I first left the NSPCC to take up a role as Child Protection Co ordinator for West Wales in the mid 80s, many professionals were extremely reluctant to accept that a significant number of adults posed a significant risk to children. A programme of multi agency training played an important part in changing the situation for the better. Referrals significantly increased as awareness grew.
How long did a case took to wrap up? And for how long were they imprisoned?
Investigations can vary in time from a few days to many months. The ring investigation I mentioned was an extremely lengthy process. Anyone reading the book will gain some insight into the realities of the work.
About how many cases do you think must be going unreported? What steps did your team took to make sure they all get caught?
I realised at the time that the cases we were dealing with were the tip of a very large iceberg. Awareness has increased exponentially over the years and thankfully more sexual predators are being caught and prosecuted than was the case in the past. That said, there’s no room for complacently as many thousands of children around the world are in need of protection.
If one of the spouse is an abuser and the other one is not doing anything to stop it, were they punished too? Why do you think they did not stop them?
Each case is different. It’s essential to assess the particular dynamics involved when making decisions. This process involves the investigation itself followed by a multi agency case conference that agrees a child protection plan.This often includes a comprehensive risk assessment undertaken by child care social workers in consultation with other agencies. The conclusion of the assessment informs longer term decisions regarding safety. Again, anyone reading the book will gain some insight into this process.
What were your feelings on the day of the book release?
A mix of trepidation and excitement.
How long did it take for you to write this book and get it published?
A little over two years.
What can we do to aware more people about such dangers?
Child protection is very high profile in the UK at the moment. A number of well known celebrities have been successfully prosecuted and imprisoned for sexual offences against children. I think public awareness is at an all time high.
Did you ever deal with cases where the kids could be lying too? You know, just for attention or may be under someone’s pressure.
I only ever came across one case where allegations were shown to be untrue. Such cases are extremely rare in my experience. Even in the one case, I suspect the child was confused about the details rather than being deliberately misleading.
What programs are conducted for the kid to get stable, out of the trauma and be fearless again?
The availability and quality of therapeutic services varies greatly from place to place. This needs to change and be given higher priority.
Are you planning to write another book anytime soon? Any current projects?
I’m writing a follow up to “White is the coldest colour” at the moment.
It was your debut novel, that made into UK best seller list, are you satisfied with how the book was perceived?
The book entered the Amazon UK top 100 best seller list after just fifteen days and reached #1 in two categories. That’s more than I could have hoped for. I’m generally gratified by the response to the novel, although I’ve learnt very quickly that you can’t please everyone.
Do you think more such books should be written or be added to every parents to read list?
The book is primarily intended to be an entertaining psychological thriller but if people learn something useful along the way, I’m gratified by that.
What should be done if a child reports to you about any such incident?
If anyone suspects that a child is at risk they should refer their concerns to the social services, police or NSPCC.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’ll leave that to those who are better qualified than I am.
Do you have anything specific to say to your readers?
Just to thank everyone who has read the book. I was wondering if anyone would.